To be honest, I’d been saving that quote since week two of the semester. I have a document on my computer where I kept ideas for future blog posts and relevant quotes. I thought that that line from Star Wars was going to be the perfect tone for how I wanted to return home after a semester of adventures. I never planned on needing to use that quote so early, but because of COVID-19, I woke up last Thursday to an email from DIS that said our program in Denmark was cancelled.
The next couple of hours were a blur. I kept getting texts from friends who were finding flights home or already boarding them and I called my parents several times to try to figure out when and how I should get home as I helplessly watched the prices for flights soar. My whole world in Denmark had just collapsed around me and the only thing I could think of were the people—the friends I was never going to see again, the host family I was being pulled away from, and the greater Danish population. At the end of the day, Denmark is just a place. What makes Denmark an amazing place are the people. I am truly sad that I won’t be able to spend the rest of the spring with the wonderful individuals I met in Denmark.
Although I am certainly looking forward to going back to my school in the fall, DIS has changed my outlook on how academics can be taught. I really enjoyed the emphasis on in-class discussion—even in my (often very) technical computer science classes. And while I wasn’t able to go on a study tour to another country (mine was going to be this week), I only heard wonderful things from my friends who went.
All I know is that DIS is doing something right because they’ve been around for over fifty years. And though I can’t speak for DIS Stockholm, I would hands down recommend DIS Copenhagen to any interested students. This has been the only semester of my college career where I can say with certainty that I have loved every single one of my classes.
Keeping with CDC guidelines, my first (and soon-to-be second) week at home has consisted of a self-quarantine. This has given me a lot of free time to reflect on my time in Denmark and I know that I would do it again in a heart beat. No place outside of my hometown (including my college town) has made me feel quite as comfortable or at peace as Denmark. The attitude of the people here, their way of life, and the government’s attitude towards carbon neutrality are just a few examples of the myriad that have made my time in Denmark one I will remember for years to come. There is a reason that it is considered one of the happiest places in the world.
And sadly, as my time in Denmark has come to an end, it is time for my blog to do so as well. I want to thank each and every one of you who joined me on my journey. If you ever want to talk, please feel free to leave me a comment below or reach out to me at slyons.social “at” gmail.com. I am sorry that things were cut short, but sometimes that’s how life is. In the words of Dr. Seuss,”Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
Most of my time in Denmark so far has been spent in Vestergade 23 (or V23), the hub of DIS in Copenhagen. While DIS is technically spread out among several separate buildings and streets, the library, some student lounges, and many classrooms are located on one of the six floors of this building. I happen to have all but one of my classes here, so I’ve become quite acquainted with it over the last few months and it has become like a second home away from home for me. Though I’ve tried working in other buildings, some things just keep pulling me back to V23.
We all find our own nooks in different places. At DIS, my nook has been the game lounge on the third floor. Tucked away behind two sets of doors and equipped with a computer lab, couches, several TVs, and four different game consoles, it is a rarely occupied space that lends itself to many different experiences. Because it has very nice natural light, I often spend time just doing work in the room (it’s where many of these blog posts have been written). Beyond work, I also enjoy hanging out with people there. We’ve messed around with games on the computer, tried out the virtual reality (VR) system, and also just sat around and talked. And though I haven’t tried it (yet), some people come here to take naps.
The game room is what I would call my chill space. If I ever need to escape life for a little while or decompress after a class I can go there to relax—and that’s important. I think all students need a space in their academic lives where they can feel totally at home. Back in the states, that space was the top floor of the science building on my campus. I would go there anytime I was feeling overwhelmed or needed a place to concentrate. The game room in V23 has fulfilled that roll for me.
While I truly enjoy working in V23, there have been some things I’ve needed to get used to at DIS. One of those things was the fact that we are going to classes in the city. What shocked me most about coming here was finding out that DIS doesn’t really have a campus. Aside from the blue and black street signs marking DIS buildings, the school is integrated into the city landscape. Coming from a small but sprawling college, I was quick to notice some of the other differences.
To start, it feels like almost every door in the building has a scanner to open it. After swiping into the building and then again to get onto a specific floor, I have to remember to bring my wallet if I leave one of my classrooms because there are two sets of scanners between me and the bathroom. I understand that this is probably for security reasons but it’s been a weird change to get used to from the relative openness of my college back home, where the only scanners are to get into dormitories.
Another thing I’ve noticed at DIS is the lack of musical practice rooms. Because I’ve never lived in a city before, I’m assuming that I don’t really understand the real lack of space, but one thing I always enjoyed at college in the US was wasting away some time messing around on a piano. Instead I’ve adapted to singing (softly) in the shower and on my bike rides (which is a very good workout).
The last and funniest difference I’ve notice about DIS is the plethora of stairs. Because city space is so limited, everything is built up and in DIS, where elevators are few and far between, most everyone has to take the stairs. I find this amusing because most people come into class quite winded, as they’ve traversed upwards of eighty stairs to get there.
While coming to DIS has involved some adaptation of my usual academic routines, it has also showed me some of the many benefits of urban schools. DIS offers immediate access to the city and with this comes a multitude of places to explore and study outside of academic buildings. I have a few places that I love to frequent and many more on my list of places to visit. I’m so happy that I have gotten a chance to try out school in Copenhagen and I look forward to spending the rest of the semester here.
Everything started when I walked into the bagel shop where we had agreed to meet up. Lugging my carry-on beside me, I cautiously approached the table where two girls were talking, one eating a bagel and the other doing her makeup. This was my first time seeing the faces of my two unknown travel-mates, the people behind the text messages in our “Travel Week 1” group chat that I had been a part of for several weeks now. Many thoughts had been swirling around in my head. Would they like me? Will I fit in? What if things go terribly wrong and I’m stuck with these random people for the next week with no means of escape?
With these worries filling my head, my heart jumped as the girl eating her bagel stopped and turned to me. “Hey, you must be Sam,” she said with a smile.
A sudden feeling of relief gripped me as the waves of anxiety and tension that had been building up inside me leading up to this meeting evaporated. These two girls now had faces, personalities, and lives that impacted me. Without ever meeting them, I had signed a tacit agreement to coexist with them for the duration of the trip. In my opinion that is a big undertaking. So many things could’ve gone wrong, but I’m happy to report that my travels with them were nothing short of awesome.
Maybe it’s just me who feels that pressure in these circumstances, but after you’ve had your fair share of botched interactions, it’s hard not to be somewhat wary of agreeing to spend a vacation with people you might have nothing in common with. I guess I might’ve had a different childhood than most people though, living in a small town and growing up with the same group of people for most of my life. But studying abroad and even just going to college is about challenging your norms, and that’s what I feel like I did (on a small scale) this week.
I know it is very clichéd for people to say that “studying abroad changed me,” but I feel like you are missing the point of it if you just fall into your normal routine in another country. While I don’t have the greatest history of following through on my promises, the best part of going on a trip like I did was that all it takes to commit is the ability to say “yes.” That works well for me because it takes the burden to follow through off of my easily-swayed willpower and into the hands of social obligation, something I’m much better at listening to.
Yes gets you so many experiences in life, which is why I try to say it to most of the opportunities I am offered. Yes to studying abroad, yes to living in a homestay, and yes to traveling with new people. This past week, I said yes to going on an adventure and I met some great people along the way.
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
— Viktor E. Frankl
Denmark’s school break happened to be this past week, so my host family capitalized on it by taking a trip to Guatemala. This left me to have a week of independence and experience living like my peers in apartments (albeit mine was a bit outside of the city). I was very much looking forward to this week as it would allow me to compare different life styles abroad. Now, with that time past, I’m glad I tried both, but am happy I am living with a host family.
The weirdest part of this experience was definitely living alone in someone else’s house. While I realize that my host family’s home is also my home for the semester, it still felt a bit weird being in it all by myself. Mornings and evenings were always a bit lonely because the lack of sound could be unsettling. One great part of this, though, was being able to sing my heart out in the shower (something I’m too embarrassed to do when others are around).
My first reaction when my host family actually left was a sense of freedom and independence. One of the most difficult elements of living so far outside of the city is not being able to participate in weekday night life. Many late-night events felt out of reach from my homestay and now I was able to test those waters without missing quality time with my host family.
One of my favorite memories of this past week was doing another escape room. After thoroughly enjoying the mind-bending puzzles of the first one I did with my class, I eagerly found a group of friends to go experience another one with. Our 7pm booking got down to the wire as we solved the whole puzzle with only a minute and fifteen seconds left out of our hour! It was crazy and so much fun and I definitely recommend that everyone (of any age) tries it out.
Along with the escape room, I was able to participate in game night at Bastard Café, explore the Danish Design Museum, and go to a couple of evening workout classes at a gym in the city. All of these activities helped me feel so much more connected to the DIS community and my friends, though this week was not without it’s discomforts.
I found cooking to be the most difficult part of living alone. While I am nowhere near a good cook, I pride myself on being able to successfully manage a bit more than just pasta (when given a recipe). I had been looking forward to testing my cooking skills this week and am sad to say that it didn’t really happen—most of my meals ended up being bought in the city.
Aside from being expensive, my choice to eat out was disappointing in that I didn’t even attempt to tackle the challenge of cooking. One of my hopes for studying abroad was to become more independent and cooking for one’s self is a mark of that in my opinion. I had thought that I would naturally be able to start cooking for myself regularly even though the last time I did that was probably in high school. This expectation of an easy transition between lifestyles and habits has been a theme in other areas of my life (as talked about in my blog post last week)—especially the harsh reality of unmet goals. While cooking on my own didn’t quite work out, I’ve shifted my perspective and now want to try cooking again, except this time with a bit of help and support from my host mother.
In reflection, this week forced me to adapt to a new situation and I think that that’s what studying abroad is all about. It’s safe to say that I’m glad I’m living with my host family. I appreciate the routine we’ve established and the flexibility I have within it; however, I am looking forward to spending more time exploring life and the city with friends.
You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.
— Jonathan Safran Foer
Sometimes I just don’t feel like being a functioning human being. For about ninety percent of my time, I do the “right” thing—homework, sleep, exercise, socializing, etc.—but for the remaining ten percent, I am just not in the mood to deal with life’s normal rigamarole. I usually don’t sweat those periods as long as they aren’t too long or too frequent, but during my month and a half in Denmark, I have spent a bit more time in a funk (as I call it) than normal.
Ok, I have to come clean. In my third blog post, I mentioned that over that weekend I had gone on an adventure. To be honest, after my journey to Christiansborg Palace (on a Friday), the rest of my weekend was quite the opposite of an adventure. I don’t recall if it was because I was feeling overwhelmed or tired or sick, but I remember that I just shut down and cooped up from Friday night to Monday morning. I neglected to do any homework or socialize, preferring the company of computer screen and the comfort of my sheets to the unknown beyond my room.
Both during and immediately after that weekend I was ashamed of myself. Everyone had told me that going abroad was “going to be an amazing experience” and that “I would be traveling and exploring every weekend.” I felt like I was squandering my time here and wasting away in my room. In hindsight, this feels a bit like the lie we are sold about college. Everyone says that college is going to be “the best four years of our lives,” and while that isn’t untrue, there’s a much more nuanced range of emotions we all experience. The same is true for study abroad. Am I having a good time? Absolutely. Am I sometimes sad? Of course, it’s human.
My trick to dealing with any of these funks, as I like to call them, has been finding the little things that bring me joy and remind me of home: snuggling up with a good book, snagging a pack of sour cream and onion potato chips at the supermarket, watching my favorite YouTube channel. All of these things have helped me stay in the realm of functionality while I’m here.
When I left from home (which for me happened to be on New Year’s Eve), I set up several strict goals for myself abroad: daily exercise, no added sugar, and no TV. Two months since then and I have more or less abandoned all of them. A month in, I realized that it just wasn’t feasible to push myself in that way at this time in a new country where I’m already faced with other challenges. Now that doesn’t mean I stuff my face with sweets in front of the TV for several hours every day, it’s just that I’ve found a better way to balance those freedoms and a sustainable routine. A dessert or two a week won’t kill me, and neither will skipping the gym after a long day of classes or watching a few funny videos at night. Similarly, one night of going out per weekend has proved to be enough, letting me enjoy those loud environments with friends while still giving myself some alone time to recharge.
What I’m trying to get at is balance. I’ve so often viewed things in my life as black and white, good or bad. In that way I had hoped to achieve perfection in my life. That has led me to project some distorted expectations on myself and on others. To that Sam I say “be gone.” A new goal I have set for myself is to embrace the murky gray between every black and white decision I see. In this way I hope to strike a sustainable balance in my life.
Life happens wherever you are, whether you make it or not.
— Uncle Iroh
To start off last week, our class was challenged to a 12 hour game jam. Similar to a hackathon, we were given a team, a time frame, and a goal: to make a video game prototype. What my group ended up making was not everything we had hoped for, but much more than I could’ve imagined.
The first phase of this project was to come up with an idea for a game. We were given a theme (“one button”) as a guideline but were otherwise free to create whatever we wanted. As we were all new to this environment, several of us brainstormed together and ended up with an idea that we all liked: poop. Now, let me explain. Our professor mentioned at the beginning of this project that we were not intended to make a full-fledged game by the end of the 12 hours, but rather a prototype (not even necessarily a working one) that could showcase our innovative game design, mechanics, graphics, etc.—whatever it was that we wanted to focus on. He emphasized the fact that the game might end up being “crap”, but that the effort was the important part. As we were all workshopping, someone brought up the notion that if we were meant to make a crappy game, why not make a crappy game? And so, Puppy Pooper (my group) and Pooping Puppies (the other group) were born.
The game development process was a bit haphazard after this. We laid out a blueprint for everything we wanted in the game, tackled chunks of it individually until they were working, and ended up scraping the other half of the ideas we didn’t have time to implement. When it was all over, we definitely had a working prototype and a playable experience. Our game was based on the premise of a person walking their dog and trying to get the dog to go to the bathroom on the grass instead of the sidewalk or a crosswalk. The person and dog would walk forward and accelerate and decelerate based on the player’s input on the spacebar (hold to slow down, release to speed up). The ground that the person and dog were walking on would be either grass, sidewalk, or a crosswalk and a timer would count down the seconds until the dog was going to go to the bathroom again. Points are gained for poops on the grass and lost for poops on the sidewalk, with lives (shown as doggy bags) being lost for poops on the crosswalk.
This whole experience was a ton of fun as we were able to experiment with game design in a pressure-free environment. This and visiting the Lego House (mentioned below) were the unmatched highlights of the week.
The next leg of our trip involved traveling to the second largest city in Denmark, Aarhus. While we were there, we visited several different tech and gaming companies and went to the ARoS Museum. I found it very interesting to see what each of the companies had to offer and how they were going about it. Here is a little snippet I took about each of the companies.
Our adventure started off at Kanda, a virtual-, augmented- and mixed-reality digital development studio. After a short presentation, they brought out some VR headsets that we were all able to try. It was really fun to see everyone in our group try VR (some for the first time)! Everyone was laughing and screaming together as they projected what was seen in the headset on a TV so everyone could watch. Several of us took a try at a satellite assembly program—one of their developed products. I am happy to say that I was able to assemble the satellite in one minute and forty five seconds.
Later that day, our next stop was the ARoS Museum, which is famous for its rooftop panoramic rainbow walkway. From there, you can see the entire city of Aarhus materialize in different colors around you. It is a truly wonderful experience that I had been looking forward to since I first came to Denmark. Though the roof is definitely its most well-known attraction, there were several other installations in the museum that I quite enjoyed as well.
After ARoS, we hustled to our hotel and ate a delicious dinner. Several of us then poked around Aarhus and ran into some fun places, including a playground that may or may not have been meant for children 😬.
The next morning, we started our day at Aarhus University with the creators of ScienceAtHome, a video game-oriented approach to scientific research. They talked us through some helpful steps in educational video game development and let us play-test their new project. After this, we stopped for lunch at Aarhus Streetfood, an indoor marketplace full of different food vendors (ranging from tacos and sushi to Nepalese and Jamaican cuisine). The food was good but the group bonding was better.
Our final company visit was to a couple of small indie game companies working near each other in a gaming incubator. After a couple of presentations about the game development process and some of the challenges faced by indie developers, we got to walk around the space and see how these small groups function.
Now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the Lego House. We woke up on Saturday and quickly made our way to Billund, Denmark where the Lego House is located. While it was a pretty dreary day, my spirits were immediately lifted when we got inside. You are immediately greeted by the massive Tree of Creativity which stands at fifty feet and consists of over 6 million Lego bricks. I was blown away by the scale of this creation as I wound the staircase that surrounds it. Once you get to the top, you are greeted by five unique areas for playing, building, admiring, socializing, and creating with Legos. We had about three hours to explore and in that time I was barely able to scratch the surface of what is offered at the Lego House.
My favorite areas were the building and admiring ones. In the former, there were several pits of Legos sprawled out around a room where people were just building whatever their hearts desired. In a corner of that room there was a sectioned off area where there were only yellow and black Legos and we were meant to create our own interpretations of a giraffe. I spent close to a third of our time at the Lego House making my giraffe, but I think it was worth it.
The other area that I really had fun exploring was a room with three massive miniature models made completely out of Lego. These creations took over 24,000 hours to make, which is more than 600 full work weeks if you are counting. While these were impressive at a macro level, the true beauty of each model shone when you took the time to examine them closely. Each is packed full of fun pop-culture references ranging from movies and superheroes to musicians and art.
The end of the day sadly came very quickly and we were soon bussed away from a place I could’ve spent a week exploring. We arrived back in Copenhagen exhausted and content and with that, Core Course Week was concluded.
When we were choosing housing options for our time abroad, it never occurred to me to pick anything but a homestay. I am living in Denmark so I want to see how the Danes live. While I was skeptical at first, I can say that in week four, I am very satisfied with my choice. While I certainly understand that a homestay is not for everyone, I think that it strikes the perfect balance between independence, sociability, and culture.
Independence was my biggest concern when I got here. As a college student, I am used to living on my own schedule—often eating at weird hours of the day—so living with a family initially proved to be a bit restrictive. Though my host family was and is very flexible about meal times, I am still adjusting to a fixed dinner schedule where I have to be back at the house around 7 every night. At first I was a bit jarred by this, but I have grown accustomed to it and now really appreciate coming back to a cooked meal every night. I have been hearing stories from people living on their own and I can say I’m glad that I’m not joining them for their box mac and cheese dinners.
But speaking of mac and cheese, I found out last week that my host family has never had mac and cheese before! As an American, it is stunning that someone who consumes much more dairy than I do on a regular basis has not tried it. I have now promised them that I will make my mom’s mac and cheese recipe soon so they can experience one of my all-time favorite comfort foods.
Now about sociability. This has not been as difficult as I had imagined my first week here to be. To that Sam, it felt like everyone was off in the city having a great time without me. Current Sam realizes that most of their evenings are spent similarly to my own—food, homework, bed. This change in perspective has let me see that living outside the city with a 30 minute commute is not the worst thing in the world. On weekends, I have been able to eat dinner with my host family and then go out with people in the city later—most night life in Denmark doesn’t start until 10 or 11. On week nights, if I have plans in the city, it’s as easy as letting my family know that I won’t be back for dinner. My only wish in terms of socializing is that my homestay network (a group of homestay students living close to one another) gets a bit closer. We haven’t really interacted much since our initial get-to-know-you event which I feel is a big lost resource.
It’s no contest that living with a host family has given me much better cultural insight than students living on their own. From learning about the Danish political system to pronunciation help and travel tips, I have felt very well informed compared to my non-homestay peers. I also think I’ve gotten to know much more of the city with my host mother than I would have on my own. Having grown up here, she just has so much more knowledge about where to go and when than any website I could find.
A few weeks ago, my host mother introduced me to Matador, a Danish TV show from the 70s and 80s that was extremely popular in its time. It follows the lives of several characters from all social classes in the fictional town of Korsbæk in the 1930s.
Diving into Danish cinema with them has been one of the highlights of my past few weeks. On nights when I don’t have much homework and my host brother is free, we all curl up on the couch, get our hygge on, and watch one of the 50 minute episodes.
Being from the late 1970s, the pace is quite slow, focusing on the characters and their personal drama instead of on action or jokes. Don’t get me wrong though, the show is quite funny in an old-timey way (think Cheers) where it doesn’t try to be funny but funny things happen. This change of pace has been refreshing at a time when I have felt pretty drained by current TV offerings.
We just finished season one the other night and have eighteen more episodes left in the show. I am optimistic that we will be able to finish them before I leave in May!
Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.
― Albert Einstein
To start, Copenhagen has been a wonderful city to explore. I am so happy that bike lanes exist as they have been my primary means of movement throughout the greater Copenhagen area. Every day I have been riding my bike to the train station, taking it on the train, and then riding to DIS. This has cut my previously 50 minute commute down to a solid 32 minutes—on a good day. I am still figuring out the kinks of public transportation though and have cut it close to class a couple of times.
The other day (of course one of the days I was already running a bit late), my train decided to stop in the middle of the tracks for about 6 minutes. I later found out that this happens when the computer system controlling the trains encounters an error to avoid catastrophe. I wish I could do that and just stop whenever I thought I was in imminent danger. For example, yesterday in my Danish class we were learning numbers and thought I was going to die when she asked me to pronounce 795 (syv hundrede og femoghalvfems). It would been nice if I could’ve just stopped moving and people could tell my professor “oh yeah, he shut down to avoid a catastrophe.”
But aside from those occasional hiccups, I haven’t had too much trouble with the transit. With it, I have been able to visit so much of the city.
I have really been enjoying all of my classes. My video game ones are letting me dive into a subject I have had no formal education on and my other classes are pushing my academic boundaries.
One thing that I still haven’t been able to wrap my brain around is the fact that in three of my classes I am studying video games! It still feels like an amazing dream that I will have to wake up from in the morning, but so far it’s stuck around. Earlier today I went on a field study with my Rhetoric of Gaming class to an escape room—and that was it. We literally just did an escape room. Coming from my academic background, this has all been a breath of fresh air.
Shadow Wars has been a truly eye-opening class. We are learning about the methods and strategies that Russia has used to wage a cyber war against the west. On Monday, we actually had a guest lecturer, Jon Kyst, come in and discuss his work as the Russian media expert in the EU’s East Strategic Communications Task Force. It was a fascinating experience to hear from an actual member of a part of the EU. Up until now, the EU was really just some big entity that I knew of but didn’t really feel a connection to. After Jon explained his job and the tactics employed to combat Russia, I have some newfound faith in a peaceful resolution to the current tension we have.
Next week is Core Course Week and I am quite excited to visit the Lego Museum and make some video games!
Since my last post, things have been getting a bit better socially. I am happy to report that I did indeed go on an adventure this weekend! For my Danish class, I had to visit Christiansborg Palace and fill out a worksheet on the tapestries that live in its great hall. As the packet was quite thick, a classmate of mine suggested that we visit together. On Friday, we met up for food beforehand and then blasted through it in an afternoon. It was honestly very nice to have some one-on-one time with another American for a bit. Because I live in a homestay, most of my interactions with other students have been in classroom or group contexts. We talked a lot about life here and how it varies from our home lives in different ways (she’s from Seattle).
Beyond that, I also went to a DIS-sponsored bowling night on Thursday. This was honestly so much fun as I haven’t been bowling in several years. This was a really great chance for me to meet people I might not have otherwise run into during this semester. That’s the great thing about these events and I was actually introduced to two people who go to my school!
So overall I’m feeling much more comfortable socially. I am starting to get the hang of things and have been able to make plans to meet up with people at different times of the day so I’m not as lonely. One thing that I do need to get onto, though, is booking travel plans for upcoming weekends. These first few weeks I have just been focused on getting my feet on the ground, so now it’s time to get them off this ground and onto somewhere else. While I do want to visit a few places in Europe, I also want to make sure to explore the rest of Denmark and get to the mainland one of these days.
It has been a little over a week now since I arrived in Copenhagen. Everything goes by so quickly but the days seem to stretch on forever. One of my biggest goals during this time has been to step out of my comfort zone. In my mind that has meant exploring the city (alone and with people) and not cooping up in my room in the evenings. We are all creatures of habit and it is very easy to fall back into old routines, especially as a coping mechanism in a new environment. One of my worst habits is scheduling my days too full to experience life and adventure. In the US, I rarely find the energy or desire to venture out of my pre-established commitments. My days are me running from one place to another, checking off items on a never-ending to-do list. I know that is not going to work in Copenhagen. If I want to gain anything from my time here, I will have to take initiative to do so. Experiences will not just be handed to me, I will have to make them.
It’s for this reason that I have endeavored to block out time in my day to journey. What I don’t mean by that is finding the top ten places to visit in Copenhagen and then visiting them one by one. I have set aside time each day to venture forth and explore. The first few days I did this on my bike, opting to breeze through neighborhoods and sketch out a mental map of the city as best I could. Since then, I have transitioned to journeying on foot. I love the intimacy and flexibility of wandering down a block and stopping at will—it’s not as easy on a bike with traffic to worry about. The other day, I came across an elementary school in one of the suburbs of Copenhagen. The children were outside playing a ball game that looked like a mix between four square and kickball. All of the children had smiles on their faces and were running around in play. That image is still in my mind because it gave me a peek into the daily life of some of Denmark’s resident however young they may be.
I have also been afforded the opportunity to get other glimpses of Danish life through my host family. My host mother is a biological researcher by trade and a caring mother to her son (13 years old). It has been really interesting to watch them interact as their relationship is both similar and starkly different to US families. The biggest difference is that my host brother is treated as a mature person in the family. All negotiations between him and his mother about computer time, dinner, chores, etc. are civil and have never devolved to yelling or crying. That was stunning to watch as so many of my young teenage years involved raging mood swings and tense familial relationships. While he is not babied, he still receives the love and care you would typically heap upon someone his age. When we visited his father (who lives down the street) for dinner, he plopped himself right on his father’s lap after we finished eating.
My host mother has also given me chances to explore Danish life. On my first day here, she drove me around a bit of Copenhagen to get a general layout of the area and where we lived in relation. A couple of days later we took a walk around the lake behind our house and she pointed out different types of fauna and various landmarks—including the official house of the Danish prime minister—that were nearby. This past weekend, we ventured to The Little Mermaid statue, the royal palace, Kastellet, Amaliehaven, and various other surrounding areas. Throughout that, I learned a bit about Danish royal and military history as well as some of the architectural contributions the founder of the Maersk company has made to Copenhagen.
While my host family and I have been getting along very well, I have been having a bit more trouble connecting with other students at DIS. When I originally signed up to do a homestay, I thought that most people in the program would be doing one as well. It turns out that a majority of people are living in apartments together in and around the city. So, for someone like myself with a 50 minute commute to the city, it’s not as easy to go out for bar nights or have a default group of friends I am living with. Right now it’s hard not to feel a bit of FOMO and isolation, but I know this difficulty will lessen as the semester goes on. I’ve been doing my best to connect with people from my classes in the afternoon and evening to go play board games and grab meals, which has been helping.
My goal for this upcoming weekend is to go on an adventure with someone.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
— Lao Tzu
Drengene og pigerne drikker mælk og siger “godmorgen.” That’s about the extent of Danish I have managed to learn over the past week on Duolingo. I’ve been slowly making progress towards my goal of entering Denmark with a basic understanding of the language and culture. While I’ve been told that many (if not most) people in Denmark speak English, it still feels weird to enter a country and not be able to speak in its native tongue. With this in mind, I have also endeavored to read some Danish literature (albeit in English). I just finished reading The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen and my next book is Havoc by Tom Kristensen.
While this is good preparation, I can’t help but feel a bit nervous. With a little over three days left until I venture to Denmark, I still get sommerfugle (butterflies) in my stomach whenever I think about my journey. I feel like going abroad for a semester is such an important reset in our time at college. This is a chance for us to break bad habits that have formed in the last two (or twenty) years and is an opportunity to rebrand ourselves. Even just thinking about this is so thrilling that I have been counting down the days until I am free of the commitments and expectations of college and home that have been weighing on me for some time. A tabula rasa.
With all of this freedom, there also comes the ominous notion of change, discomfort, adaptation. Most of us have a routine way of doing things and we don’t often appreciate having to change them. I’ve been lucky enough to have travelled a fair bit in my life and I have not had trouble adapting before. However, in those cases, I was living out of a suitcase and such the change was temporary. When you know the change is temporary, you don’t force your mind to break your routine and leave your comfort zone. Having gone through the process of packing up a semester’s worth of stuff into two suitcases (something I hadn’t needed to do for college as I lived close enough to drive) has triggered a new set of feelings. My heart knows that this is more than a couple of weeks in Nicaragua or Barcelona.
Though I can’t be sure of what I will face in Denmark, I’m expecting my confidence to undergo the biggest change. At home and at school, I’ve never been the most outspoken person on the block. I generally defer to others over social decisions, my wardrobe consists of mostly shades of blue, and I can count the number of times I’ve honked my car horn on one hand. I think this has come from my comparatively sheltered upbringing in rural Massachusetts and homogenous Vermont. Parental and social support has never been far away, which has left me feeling like I’ve been living and tiptoeing in other people’s shadows. For example, until this past summer, I was miserably on the pre-med track and following in the footsteps of my parents. It took me two years and several grueling bio and chem classes to finally say “enough.” This has been a pattern in many other areas of my life. I want to change that. My hope in Denmark is that I will be set free, like that moment at the top of a swing when gravity briefly releases its hold on you and you are weightless. I want to make my own decisions because of what I want and I want to escape the ever-loving grasp of my parents. I don’t think this will be a fun or easy process for me, but I’m looking forward to meeting the man who emerges from the other side.
If you are following this blog, then you are embarking with me on my travels. Any goals I set for myself will be noted here with you as my witnesses. Comments and suggestions are appreciated.
So, welcome to my journey as I start learning to Cope(nhagen)!