Sophia Christou (@sophia_christou17)
Age: 23 | Profession: Graduate Student
Sophia is an adventurous, intelligent, well-travelled millennial who lives between Toronto and Denmark. She has stories to share from all around the world, and her travel experiences are far from over. In this Millennial Spotlight, we talk about some of Sophia’s passions which include sustainability, forestry, and feminism.
Please note that responses have been paraphrased.
Hey Sophia, thank you so much for participating in this Millennial Spotlight!
To start, what does the term ‘millennial’ mean to you?
I think the word ‘millennial’ has a bad connotation to it.
People think that millennials don’t work hard and that they have everything in their life given to them. In my experience, that hasn’t been the reality at all. Every generation thinks that the next generation is screwing everything up because people don’t like change, but I think change is always for the better. I know a lot of very impressive women who work hard, are successful, and haven’t necessarily been given as many opportunities as baby boomers. For example, I completed a Bachelors of Science in Forestry Science at the University of British Columbia, and all the women in my program were really impressive. Although forestry is a male-dominated field, half the people in my program were women who all worked really hard.
Do you think that you have any traits in common with other millennials?
Millennials have to work really hard in this job market.
I moved to Denmark last Feb 1, 2019 to be with my long-distance boyfriend, and it was really hard finding a job there because everyone is so educated – everyone has their masters! I’ve been taking internships to get whatever experience I can, and I’ve also been thinking about doing my masters. People are spending more time getting higher education, unlike past generations. For past generations, you could find a really good job with just a bachelors degree, but you can’t do that now.
I also think our generation is doing a lot more travelling and is more culturally aware. This isn’t true for everyone, but it is more common to travel compared to before. There are many ‘global citizens’ – people who may have a lot of travel experience or have more than one citizenship.
Can you talk more about your interest in pursuing higher education?
I have been working for the past year in sustainability, and it’s a really competitive industry. A lot of millennials want to work with companies that are sustainable and environmentally friendly, so there is a lot of competition which made me want to do my masters. I also think that educating myself and pursuing higher education is a good investment. So I want to do a Masters of Science in Environmental Science in Chemistry, Toxicology and Health.
The company I worked with in Denmark was focused on building partnerships for sustainability, so it’s something I’m passionate about. I saw a Ted talk about how India is investing in solar energy which will be good for the environment because they are moving away from coal. This would also be good for people’s health because burning coal causes smog and pollution and air particulates. I love listening to Ted talks. There’s another one that talked about how there is enough unused land around the world to plant about one trillion trees, which would be enough to bring our emission levels down to about the 1960s emission levels.
Going back to the fact that millennials love to travel, you recently returned from a year living in Denmark. What are your main takeaways of the country, and did you learn anything new about travelling in general that you’d like to share?
I did live in Germany for a year and that, for me, was a lot more of a culture shock than moving to Denmark. Germany (Bavaria) was very traditional and people often didn’t speak English. My year abroad in Denmark might have been less of a culture shock because I already lived in Germany. I found Denmark to be a very interesting city. It is quite industrial so I missed the natural beauty that I was used to in Vancouver where I was able to look out into a vast landscape of trees and forests. In Denmark, I would look out to see a lot of industrial buildings and wind turbines, which is its own kind of beauty.
Socially, everyone speaks English perfectly so that was really helpful, but they would rather speak their own language. I did try to learn Danish but it’s a really hard language to learn. For example, just saying “My name is Sophia” is spelt “Jeg hedder Sophia” but the way you pronounce this is nothing like the spelling. That was the case for the entire Danish language. All the Danish people are very highly educated, and the country really understands the value of investing in education. It is free to study here, and they even give EU students about $1000 per month to study.
In regard to feminism, there is much less gender inequality in Denmark which was very noticeable to me. For example, women make up half the workforce and there are about 30-40% of women in engineering (a field that is traditionally dominated by men). It’s the same with other Nordic countries. Gender equality is still far from perfect, but they are on the right track and trying to do something about it. I’m reading this great book called Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Perez, and it talks about the systematic gender biases in way our world is designed. I would recommend that everyone read this book, especially men. If you are a woman, you might have to read it in chunks because you might get very mad.
Another observation I had about the Danish lifestyle is that people are generally quite active. Everyone goes to the gym and rides their bike frequently. There’s a very low obesity rate here. Finally, I found that it is very expensive in Denmark and there is a lot that goes to taxes. People with the lowest incomes can be taxed about 36%, and those with high-incomes can be taxed over 50%.
Are you happy to be back in Toronto? Would you consider Toronto your home?
I grew up in Toronto. I haven’t been here for six years because I got my bachelors degree in B.C. and then moved to Denmark, but I grew up here. My family lives here so it definitely feels like Toronto is my home. But Vancouver is also my home in a sense because I lived there as an adult and I had my own unique space in B.C. I wouldn’t call Copenhagen my home yet, but hope to soon.
It seems like you are very well travelled! Do you have any other travel stories for me?
I have been to around 25 countries to date. The only continent I haven’t been to is Africa (although I’d like to) and Antarctica – but who is going to go there? I’ve been to most of Europe, and my family is from Australia so I do get to go there every few years. I love Australia, and I really want to live there at some point. I went to Indonesia last Christmas because my mom is Indonesian (but she grew up in Australia). It was really nice to see the country where my descendants are from.
Earlier this year, I went to Japan which was really cool. Indonesia and Japan both have such different cultures from what we normally experience. One of the places I visited in my life that was very different was Brazil. This was a while ago, when I was 16. We camped in the Amazon for about three days and I got to hold a python, swim with wild pink dolphins, and see caimans in the river. I definitely want to go back and experience more of South America.
Travelling for a week or so is better than not doing it at all. Even being somewhere for a few days gives you a better perspective. But living somewhere else is a whole other experience. It’s not really travelling at that point because when you live somewhere you get to pick up on aspects of a culture that you could only understand if you stay in one place for a long period of time. I would still encourage people to travel even for short periods!
Now that you’re back in Toronto, what are some of your main priorities?
I really like to plan ahead. I know I shouldn’t live too much in the future but I’m trying to figure out my next steps. I’ve applied to a masters program in Denmark and I’m trying to figure out what would happen if I didn’t get in. Currently, I’m listening to a lot of audio books and podcasts, and I’m also trying to learn French. It’s nice to have a lot of time, but it kind of stresses me out to be idle because I like to stay busy. I’m also rekindling friendships with my friends from Toronto. It’s really amazing to have friends in a bunch of different parts of the world.
I hope you get in! Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share with millennials?
I would say that millennials should be adventurous. No matter what you do in your life, whether it works out or not, it’ll be a good experience. Don’t be scared to do something if you think it’ll be a waste of time, because at the end of the day it will add to your life experience so just try to make the most of it. If you are unhappy with something, then don’t be afraid to change it because you have nothing to lose!
Update: Sophia got accepted into the Denmark Master’s Program, and is preparing for her trip back to Denmark soon. Yay! We wish her the best of luck.