Foreign Student Faces America Head On

Originally from Herning, Denmark, Rasmus Lybæk is an exchange student at SUNY New Paltz.
Originally from Herning, Denmark, Rasmus Lybæk is an exchange student at SUNY New Paltz.

Miles away from New Paltz, fourth-year journalism student Rasmus Lybæk laid sleeping in a stranger’s bed after a long night of drinking. When he opened his eyes, “Hannah Montana” and “Twilight” stared back at him in the form of posters that decorated the room.

“Where the fuck am I?” he said. “What did I do yesterday?”

Lybæk described this to be one of many interesting experiences of his time studying abroad at the State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz.

Growing up in the small town of Herning, Denmark, which Lybæk characterized as the “bible belt” of his country, the 29-year-old came to New Paltz because of his desire to discover new things.

At 6 feet 2 inches tall, Lybæk does not characterize himself as any typical person would. To him, descriptions are all about “types.”

“I would not describe myself as a boy or a man, or neither by my sexual orientation as gay,” he said. “I think I’ll describe myself as an arts and culture loving, hopefully open-minded, younger than the rest of his 29-year-old colleagues kind of guy.”

Before arriving to the United States as a foreign exchange student, Lybæk first moved to Aarhus, the second biggest city in Denmark, to study at the Danish School of Journalism. There, he said he was able to observe a more interesting world and avoid becoming “a safety addict.”

After writing a handful of applications, Lybæk was required to sit with a school official and explain why he wanted to be a journalist.

“I sat there five years ago and what I said was that I wanted to see the world, that I liked to write down and contemplate on what I’m experiencing and that I like to tell stories in the best way possible.”

After some exams, Lybæk was able to get a spot in his exchange program and has currently found himself studying at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

With the final weeks of the semester approaching, Lybæk said his school assignments have been piling up. But despite the added language barrier, he has been able to maintain good grades and work harder than ever before.

“English is not my first language, so I have to compensate for that all the time,” he said. “I think that’s my biggest accomplishment so far.”

When reading texts in class, for example, Lybæk said he is sometimes required to look up words he doesn’t understand. By doing this, he has been able to sustain a firm grasp on the English language and keep his writing the best it can be.

Living in Copenhagen for two years, Lybæk interned at the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, a television production company that expanded his interest in all forms of media, and not just journalism.

“I don’t think I’m going to be a journalist for the rest of my life,” he said. “I think I’m going to use it for the rest of my life, but not as a full-time journalist.”

Before becoming interested in journalism, Lybæk said he enjoyed being on stage and acting in films. Even though he takes pleasure in performing, he has decided to be on the other side of the camera for now.

When he returns to Denmark after this semester, Lybæk plans on beginning the production of a documentary, which will count as a final project before he graduates in October. Lybæk hopes to extend his work on fiction films and eventually be accepted to Danish film school where he can continue learning about his passion of arts and culture.

Currently, Lybæk’s biggest idol is the “multi-talented” David Bowie. Other than acting in many “B” films, Bowie has also inspired Lybæk through music, paintings, sculptures and even clothing.

“He’s all around creative,” Lybæk said. “I think you don’t have to limit yourself to one thing once you find out you’re good at that.”

In order to stay productive while in New Paltz, Lybæk has tried to avoid staying “too insulated,” which he said is something many exchange students should refrain from doing.

“You go to New Paltz to see a new country, to see a new university and to experience everything. Actually to meddle with Americans,” he said jokingly. “That’s why I came here.”

When Lybæk first arrived in this small college town, he was a complete stranger to his surroundings. Even though he didn’t know a single person on campus, he was able to adjust and is now enjoying every moment he has left of the semester.

Here in America, Lybæk said he enjoys getting into cars when he is drunk and ending up in “weird places.”

One night at Cabaloosa, a local bar in town, Lybæk said he decided to catch a ride with an “attractive” boy and his sister instead of taking the boring option and going back home.

After being driven for a long time in a dark thunderstorm, he ended up far outside of New Paltz and arrived at a mansion with the words “bless this house” written on its door.

Waking up dazed and confused the next morning in the tween decked bedroom staring at that fateful poster of Edward Cullen, Lybæk knew his hunger for adventure had led him astray. But these new encounters are exactly what he strives for.

“I think that a lot of people grow old and boring too fast,” he said. “You’ve got to be open and ready to experience knew things.”