Thanksgiving Reflections

On Sunday, November 24th, I was given the opportunity to speak at the American Chamber of Commerce in Denmark’s Annual Thanksgiving Dinner. DIS chooses one student every fall to talk about their experiences in Denmark at this event. This year, I was asked to speak on behalf of DIS. I was honored to be given this opportunity to share what I’m learning while abroad and the event was so lovely and SO American! Here is a copy of my reflections/ speech. A huge thank you to both DIS Copenhagen and the American Chamber of Commerce for giving me this opportunity!

“Thankfulness has been at the heart of my study abroad experience from the very beginning. From a generous DIS scholarship to being with the most wonderful Danish family, I’ve been overwhelmed with gratitude that I get to be here and share in the Danish way of life. I remember not being sure of what exactly immersion in Danish culture would entail— I thought, surely it must not be so different from American culture. Sure enough, as soon as I landed, my host family offered me a pickled herring open-faced sandwich for lunch. From that point on, the surprises kept coming. Why do people bike so aggressively? What is handball? Will I ever be able to pronounce rødgrød med fløde? How many cinnamon rolls is too many for one day?

These rich cultural points can prove to be overwhelming, confusing, comical, and delightful. As an American, it might be easy to think that the way things are back home is better. I miss being loud, giant grocery stores, being able to use a measurement system that makes no sense, wearing color, and all I’ve been craving for the last 3 months is Chipotle. But, I’ve once again found myself just feeling thankful that I get to have these experiences and feel the emotions they bring. Our cultural differences keep me on my toes, trying to fit in. Living abroad, there’s never a dull moment.

Because of my constant contact with cultural differences in my daily life abroad, this is something I’ve come to appreciate even more about the United States— the way our nation fosters diversity and has become this mix of different cultures. Even in my classes and friend groups at DIS, we all have very different backgrounds but we bond over being different. Just like my friend group here, a nation is stronger when it embraces diversity and difference because we learn from one another. My life is so much richer now that I have dipped my toes into the Danish way of life. My perspective has broadened; I’m constantly growing. When cultures meet, wonderful things happen, something the American Chamber of Commerce knows well and promotes with its work here in Denmark.

Because of this, I’m grateful not only for this experience, but for the time and place I stand in now. A time where I, an American, the daughter of a Costa Rican immigrant, can stand here in Denmark and deliver a speech for Thanksgiving. A time when I can teach my 11-year-old Danish brother Spanish while also strengthening his English while he helps me with my Danish homework. We’re living in a time when this meeting of peoples, language, and culture is more prominent and widespread than ever before. I can’t help but reflect on how lucky we all are to not only have the careers and experiences we have, but to be born in a time and place where all of this crazy cultural contact is possible.

So, I want to thank all of you for being part of this experience with me and for being here, in this time and place, with me. I want to thank DIS and the American Chamber of Commerce for the work they do to make more of these intercultural exchanges possible for more people. May we be ever aware of the blessings we get to be a part of and the ways we are able to learn from one another. May we keep growing as our perspectives broaden. And may we all remain grateful for the ways of life we get to share in. Happy Thanksgiving.”

Why Choosing a Homestay was Right for Me

Choosing your housing at DIS Copenhagen is one of the most important decisions of your study abroad experience. From my perspective, where a DIS student lives really impacts the way in which they get to experience Denmark. When I was choosing my housing, I had a tough time deciding what I wanted my first choice to be. Initially, I was leaning toward joining the Social Justice Living & Learning Community because I’m passionate about being a just person and building a just society. I thought it would be really fun to live with people who are passionate about the same things I am. 

As I considered my housing options more and more, I decided to put homestay as my top choice, and I’m so glad I did. Being part of a homestay means living with a Danish family and sharing your lives with each other. I made the decision to put a homestay as my first choice because I was afraid of feeling lonely, homesick, and isolated being far away from home. I thought that having a family to be a part of and come home to every day would help me feel more comfortable and at-home in Denmark. Thanks to my wonderful host family, this has definitely been the case for me! Here are some of the things that have been unique to my study abroad experience because of my homestay.

our backyard; my Danish family has a lovely home!

Being part of a Danish family has meant greater cultural immersion and connection to locals. Some DIS students don’t get much interaction with actual Danes; for me, it has been enjoyable and enlightening to be able to ask my host family for their perspectives on social, economic, and political issues in Denmark. Whenever I learn about things that are unique to Danish culture in class, I like to bring what I’ve learned to my host family to see what they think. As I recently described to a friend, in my Danish Language & Culture class, I learn about Danish culture in theory while my homestay is Danish culture in practice. Living with a Danish family has given me a more comprehensive and inclusive experience of Denmark. I’ve also been able to 

Most homestays are not located in central Copenhagen, so students learn to use the public transportation system to get around different parts of the Greater Copenhagen Area. I rely heavily on the S-train, metro, and buses to make my way around Denmark and I love it! I’ve found that being able to figure out how to get around on my own is empowering and provides me with more independence. I also feel more like a Dane as I become more familiar with the city and how to navigate it. I’ve been able to see a more suburban life that encapsulates a different experience of Denmark; most Danes do not live in central Copenhagen and I’m able to be part of this larger experience.

I pass this colorful building on my walk to DIS every day and have become quite fond of it.

Living with a Danish family has also been a good decision financially. Out of the various housing options, homestays probably help DIS students save more money as we don’t have to buy groceries. Any food that I spend money on is a conscious choice and not a necessity. 

Some students are worried that homestays isolate you from other DIS students. I haven’t found this to be the case at all as it is super easy to get into town. I’m really lucky also because I have great people in my homestay network that I get along with well. A homestay network is a group of students living in homestays close to each other that DIS Housing connects with each other. We’ve done different events together and it’s nice to have people nearby. Most nights when I’ve been in the city pretty late, I’ve been with other homestay network friends who can ride the train back home with me at night. I’ve appreciated these connections so much.

coffee with Grace, a homestay network friend

Finally, I cannot emphasize enough how thankful I am for my host family; DIS matched me with a family that has been a really great fit for me. There is nothing that makes me happier than coming home at the end of the day and being able to laugh with my two host brothers. Admittedly, I was nervous about how I would get along with two tween boys, but my host brothers are absolutely wonderful and I love them dearly. Growing up, I always wanted to have a little brother and now I have two! My host family has been so gracious, patient, and welcoming; they’ve made it clear that they care about making sure I have a great experience in Denmark. They’re definitely accomplishing this; choosing to be in a homestay was one of the best decisions I made and it’s shaping my semester abroad to be something very special.

Long Study Tour to Kosovo

Every core course at DIS takes a week-long trip somewhere in Europe for more hands-on learning. For my Humanitarian Law & Armed Conflict core course, we ventured to Kosovo for five days. Kosovo is located in the Balkans (think Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, etc.) and is one of the newest nations in the world, gaining independence in 2008. Its status as a nation is disputed as Serbia claims it as a province while 100 members states of the United Nations recognize its independence. From 1998-1999, Kosovo was engaged in a bloody conflict with Serbia; our class was in Kosovo to learn specifically about this conflict, its continuing impact on Kosovar society, and how the Kosovar people have gone about building a new nation.

Our time in Kosovo was filled with lots of academic visits, sightseeing, and traveling around the country. Every day we did something different and learned about Kosovo in a new way. Here are my highlights from every day of our trip.

Sunday: we flew from Copenhagen to Vienna to Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. We checked into our hotel (which was VERY nice!) and explored the city. The highlight of this day was eating a traditional Kosovar Albanian dinner and meeting some local students. We exchanged stories and asked each other questions about our upbringing and the places we live. I ended up spending quite a good amount of time with the students we met and they proved to be excellent tour guides.

a class dinner

Monday: My favorite academic visit on Monday was to the Kosovo Security Force base. We learned specifically about an exclusive program they have that is similar to the American ROTC. Although I tend not to be super interested in military stuff, this visit was wonderful as everyone we met was extremely welcoming and did everything they could to make us feel at home. They gave us personalized tours with cadets and we had plenty of opportunities to ask all of our questions. 

class photo at the military base

Tuesday: We visited Mitrovica— the divided city. The northern side of Mitrovica is populated by people who are ethnically Serbian while the southern side is populated with ethnic Albanians. A bridge divides the two sides of the city and movement across the bridge is limited. KFOR (NATO peacekeeping forces) troops patrol the bridge to make sure it’s safe; our tour guide asked if it would be safe enough for us to cross the bridge as a class and we were the first DIS class that has been allowed to do so. Upon entering the Serbian part of Mitrovica, we noticed differences in architecture and development, the use of the Serbian rather than Kosovar flag, the use of the Serbian Dinar instead of the Euro, and the prevalence of Serbian language and writing. Crossing the bridge is like crossing into an entirely new country and the persistent ethnic differences are evident here.

Gračanica Monastery

Wednesday: in small groups, we visited local NGO’s to learn about the work they do in Kosovo. My group visited the Kosovo Women’s Network. The representative we met with was knowledgeable about the many issues of gender inequality and gender-based violence that women in Kosovo continue to face. As a passionate feminist, I found this academic visit to be informative about the work that still needs to be done in building a nation where everyone is equal.

Kosovo Women’s Network

Thursday: We took a bus up into the mountains and visited Prizren, Kosovo’s second-largest city. Prizren was very quaint, with lots of culture, architecture, and history to explore. Our class enjoyed the fresh air on a walking tour. One of the most interesting parts of the walking tour was seeing a Catholic church, Orthodox church, and mosque all right next to each other. This is indicative of the ethnic and religious diversity of Prizren. We had the evening off in order to see more of Prizren on our own before flying back to Copenhagen the next morning.

Prizren

Kosovo is a lovely country and I’m so glad to be part of a core course that visits such a unique place. Were it not for my course at DIS, I don’t think I ever would have thought to visit; I’m walking away from this trip having learned much more about conflict and peace-building and very thankful to the wonderful and hospitable Kosovars that we met along the way. They truly made our time in Kosovo special and I would love to come back someday and see more of the Balkans!

Week 8: What I Missed While Away

Each core course at DIS goes on a long study tour during the first week or last week of October (Travel Week 1 or Travel Week 2). If your core course is not traveling during a Travel Week, you get the week off to do some independent travel. My long study tour is at the end of October, which means that I got Travel Week 1 off. During this week, I visited Rome, Palermo, and Paris with my new friends at DIS. 

I had such a good time eating great food and seeing a bunch of sights. In Rome, we went to the Colosseum and Roman Forum, saw the Spanish steps and Trevi fountain, attended mass at the Pantheon, and ate some of the best food of my life. We went yachting and snorkeling in Palermo. In Paris, we went to the top of Eiffel Tower and took a sunset boat tour on the Seine River. I loved seeing new places and trying new things; however, being away from Copenhagen, the place I currently call home, made me appreciate it even more. Here is a list of what I missed about Copenhagen while I was away.

Sunday mass at the Pantheon

Public transportation: public transportation in Copenhagen is easy, efficient, and reliable. Even when I’m visiting a part of the city I’ve never been to before, I can easily figure out how to get there. The trains are clean, the metro is super quick, and the buses are never more than a couple of minutes late. Everything is clearly marked and people are helpful if you ever have questions. We had a very tough time using public transportation in Rome, and, in Paris, we found it difficult to locate metro stations at times. These experiences made me realize how much I rely on and appreciate public transportation in Copenhagen.

inside the Colosseum

Danish: it was fun to be in countries that speak different languages. My Spanish was especially helpful in Italy and thankfully we didn’t have much trouble communicating. Yet, when my friends and I overheard tourists speaking in Danish, we got excited at the familiarity of it. Even though none of us have a good grasp on Danish, hearing it while abroad was like having a taste of home. 

Hygge: basically, comfort and coziness. Traveling can take a lot out of you; navigating a place you’ve never been to before is overwhelming. At one point, my friends and I were having an impossibly difficult time getting around Rome and finding a place to eat. I exclaimed, “I just want hygge!” In that moment, I was just tired of being uncomfortable and missed the hospitality and coziness of Denmark.

Our homestays: of course! My friends and I had a great vacation traveling around Europe. By the end of it, though, we were ready to get back home to our Danish families. Both my friend Chelsey and I kept making little comments about missing our host siblings. I think these sentiments were especially revealing to me about the life I’ve built in Copenhagen in such a short time. I feel at home with my host family and enjoy spending time with them to the point where I missed them while away.

Traveling and seeing new cities was tons of fun. Every place has something new and different to offer. However, being away also reminds me of everything unique to Copenhagen and what makes it such a great place to call home.

Affording a Semester in Copenhagen

Affording a semester abroad anywhere in the world comes with added expenses. Studying in Copenhagen, specifically, has greater expenses than most other places. When I was considering studying abroad, I knew that Copenhagen is an expensive city to live in and had to take my finances seriously. Additionally, each home institution has different policies for how financial aid functions when studying abroad. In my case, a semester at DIS Copenhagen is slightly more expensive than a semester at Eastern University, so I was responsible for paying the difference. 

Financing my time abroad definitely brought me a lot of stress when I was debating whether I would go or not. This is a big factor that I think should really be taken seriously. However, the cost of going abroad should not immediately rule out the possibility. I knew that I really wanted to participate in DIS Copenhagen, so I took certain steps to make that dream more feasible financially. These are some tips on how I am affording a semester in Copenhagen.

  1. DIS scholarships. DIS is aware of the costs of studying in Copenhagen and does its best to provide students with the resources they need. DIS offers need-based, merit-based, and diversity scholarships. I received an email as soon as scholarship applications were made available and applied as soon as possible so that I would have the best chance of receiving funding. The application was simple and straightforward, and I heard back from DIS in a timely manner. I ended up receiving a significant portion of the funds I needed from DIS scholarships. This helped me establish a good relationship with the program from the start and inspired me to try to find ways to give back to the program in my time here.
  2. Outside scholarships. DIS was super helpful in notifying me of not only the scholarships they provide but also scholarships from other organizations. The organization that ended up helping me out a lot with funding my time in Copenhagen is the Fund for Education Abroad. Outside scholarship organizations have different types of applications so it’s important to pay attention to what’s required and when everything is due.
  3. Housing. There are a million reasons to choose a homestay (more on that in a future post), but one is that living with a host family makes studying abroad much more affordable. Host families receive a stipend that covers the cost of having a student and I receive all of my meals from them. My host family is especially generous because they will buy toiletries for me or pay for me when we do any sort of activity together. Students in other housing options rely on a stipend that DIS gives them that is not meant to completely cover their expenses. 
  4. Start saving way before you get here. I got accepted to DIS for the Fall semester in February. At that point, I started putting more money away for my time abroad. When I would get my paycheck from my campus job, I would try to put as much of it as possible into a short-term savings account and the rest of it into my spend account. I once heard this piece of advice: “save your hundreds, spend your twenties.” I tried to stick with this tip as much as possible. I was also lucky to be able to get a well-funded research position over the summer that contributed a significant amount to my savings. If you plan on going out and traveling while abroad, I would recommend having at least $3,000 in savings for a semester at DIS.
  5. Take advantage of student discounts. Whether it’s getting a coffee at Emmery’s or going to the top of the Eiffel Tower, there are plenty of discounts available for students and/or people under 25. Try to shop more at places where these discounts are available. If you’re not sure, don’t be afraid to ask if there’s student discount because they are way more common in Europe than in the US.
  6. Use a budgeting app. There are a bunch of apps out there where you can set your own budget and stay accountable. My personal favorite is Mint because it’s easy to use and it notifies me of when I’m going over-budget.

These are just six things that I, personally, have found to be useful while studying abroad. It was important to me to plan ahead because I knew this was going to be one of the most unique times of my life and I wanted to be able to have as much fun as possible and not miss out on any opportunity that comes my way while abroad.

Week Six: Study Tour to Hamburg

This semester at DIS Copenhagen, I’m taking a class called “Holocaust & Genocide.” During Week 6, we took a trip by ferry and bus to Hamburg, Germany for more firsthand learning. Our first stop was the Bullenhuser Damm School. This school was used as a subcamp of the Neuengamme concentration camp for housing prisoners who worked clearing rubble in the area. On April 20, 1945, 20 Jewish children, their caretakers, and 24 Soviet prisoners were brought here and killed. Today, the Bullenhuser Damm School has a rose garden memorial for these children, with a plaque for each child that lists their names and a message from their family. Our professor, Torben, walked our class through the garden, reading the memorial for each child. I thought recognizing the individuals who suffered, learning their names, and sitting with their stories together was very impactful.

We arrived at our hotel and my roommate and I went out to walk the city and explore before meeting the rest of the class for dinner that night. I was able to sit at a table with my professor and I savored this time of being able to get to know him more, hear his stories, and share our impressions of the Bullenhuser Damm School.

The next morning our class headed to the Nikolai Kirche. Toward the end of World War II, Hamburg suffered relentless bombing that culminated in setting the entire city ablaze. The bell tower on this incredible church was one of the only structures to survive the fire. There are some sculptures sitting where the church used to be that are artistic expressions concerning the burning of Hamburg. Our professor pointed out one particular sculpture which shows a man of Hamburg heartbroken after having lost everything in the fire; however, this man is seen sitting on top of bricks made by those imprisoned in the nearby Neuengamme concentration camp.

We were able to go to the top of the bell tower; as someone who is terrified of heights, I was nervous but I ended up being so glad I went to the top. From the bell tower, we got a gorgeous view of Hamburg. We also got to see how parts of the bell tower were blackened from the fire. This put into perspective how huge the fire was as it scorched the top of this structure, over 400 feet in the air.

After a delicious brunch, our class headed to our last stop: the Neuengamme concentration camp itself. There were many things that surprised our class upon first glance. For one, I was expecting the camp to be completely isolated, but there was a quaint town a few blocks away and a farmer’s field on the other side of the street. Our professor reminded us that what happened at Neuengamme was not a secret— many people in the area knew about the camp and saw the prisoners with their own eyes. Our class was also struck by the juxtaposition we were experiencing while visiting Neuengamme. It was an absolutely beautiful day, the sunniest day any of us had seen for weeks and the area around the camp was similarly beautiful. Yet we were seeing the place where people had gone through immeasurable suffering.

I was blown away by my time in Hamburg and the firsthand learning I was able to be a part of. Our class was constantly surrounded by rich history and I was able to learn about World War 2 in a way I haven’t ever before. DIS’s slogan, “Scandinavia as your home, Europe as your classroom,” is ringing true and I feel privileged to be learning in such a unique and powerful way.

Week Five: Getting to Know Home

Last week was full of exploring distant parts of Denmark. This week, I got many opportunities to explore life more fully in the place I’m calling home right now. On Saturday, my host mom, Veena, showed me some shops in a part of Copenhagen I hadn’t been to yet before going to her sister’s apartment for her birthday party. This was a nice time of feeling more like a part of the family; I had a lot of fun chatting with Veena’s mother and we made plans to cook Indian food together for dinner next week.

On Sunday, I went to a football game with Morten, Marcus, William, Caitlyn, and another friend, Julia. We cheered on our local team, Brøndbyoster. There was one section of the stadium where the super fans all sit together, singing and making gestures in unison. It was pretty cool to watch. As someone who lived in Costa Rica, I definitely was happy to watch a football game and cheer on the local team.

One of my classes is called Identity Lab: Overcoming Prejudice, Discrimination, & Conflict. This class explores prejudice and discrimination that is rooted in clashes in identity. We utilize psychology and sociology to think about how we can bridge the gap between people who are very different from each other. This week, we went on a field study to Khora, a virtual reality workshop. Here, we were able to play virtual reality games that are supposed to encourage empathy by putting you in the shoes of someone else. Some of the virtual reality games we used included learning more about homelessness, being a refugee, blindness, and more. Afterward, we had a discussion with one of the game developers about the impact and effectiveness of these games. 

On Wednesday, I went on another field study, this time with my Danish Language & Culture class. We had a walking tour of Christiania and learned from a resident who had lived there for about thirty years. For anyone who isn’t familiar with it, Christiania is a free town inside Copenhagen. It was started when some hippies began squatting in an abandoned military compound. Today, Christiania is a thriving community that is a bit like a commune. Instead of abiding by Danish law, Christianites believe in being able to do whatever one desires as long as others are not hurt. The community has eight rules that they follow and they all own the land of Christiania collectively. Christiania is often raided by the Danish police force and seems to be a source of quite a bit of controversy in Denmark.

My favorite part of this week has been connecting with friends. On Tuesday night, I hosted a hygge dinner at my homestay. Hygge is a Danish word that refers to the comfort and warmth of spending a peaceful time with people you care about. My host family was delighted about not having to cook as I and other DIS students made everything ourselves. It was nice to be able to introduce more of my friends to my host family and my host parents really enjoyed meeting some other students and making jokes about me. Though I’m still learning what it means, I think our time was hyggeligt— and most of all I’m happy that I’ve formed friendships that allow me to experience hygge. 

That’s the highlight of what I’m feeling this week: just really thankful for those around me. It can be a little overwhelming to keep up with at times (especially with midterms around the corner). There are friends I met in the beginning of the semester, new ones I met during Core Course Week, those in my homestay network, my host family and their family, and the friends and family back home who keep up with me and reach out with love when I need it the most and expect it the least. I was worried about finding friends in my time here— people that I would enjoy being with and that I could also give something to. I am having a great time and I have so many people who are making this experience richer and richer. So, to everyone who is making my time here even better, thank you. I am having one of the best experiences of my life thanks to the love, support, friendship, and quality time I get from those around me

Week Four: Core Course Week

Part of studying at DIS includes selecting a Core Course, a class students spend a significant amount of time traveling with. Every Core Course at DIS takes part in Core Course Week, which consists of traveling somewhere close by for three days and spending the other two days of the week going on field studies in Copenhagen. My Core Course is Humanitarian Law & Armed Conflict with Professor Alexander Hviid; together, we explored Aarhus and other spots in Jutland (mainland Denmark). Here is a peek at what my Core Course Week looked like.

Monday: We all loaded onto a bus and made our way out of Copenhagen toward Aarhus in Jylland (Jutland). We stopped at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense to hear a lecture on strategic communication and information warfare. We then went rock-climbing, which turned out to be an excellent way for our class to bond. This was a time for people to try something new (though my professor seemed like a pro) and learn more about the people around us as we cheered everyone on. We then made it to Aarhus where we had dinner and drinks with our professor and had some time on our own to explore the second-largest city in Denmark.

Tuesday: After checking out of our hotel, we drove to the Royal Danish Air Force Base, where we participated in three sessions to learn about the Danish military and humanitarian law. We also got to go inside a huge military helicopter. For many in my class, hearing from a military legal advisor was the most impactful part of this trip. She told us about her job evaluating the the legality of high-pressure situations and advising military commanders on what to do. We then went to the ARoS Art Museum where we had a very brief tour before having time to look through the museum on our own. I really love art museums and would have liked to spend more time here as it was a stark contrast to what we had done for most of the day. I kept thinking about the importance of taking time to look at the beauty that there is in the world. After being immersed in the world of war, I needed to contemplate the goodness and beauty of humanity.

Military helicopter we got to go inside

Wednesday: At Aarhus University, we learned about eurocentrism in international relations and how we cannot rely on the European experience to understand the future of international relations. I thought this session was super well done and fascinating. We spent the rest of the day at the Moesgaard Museum where we learned about Danish warfare in the Iron Age. This museum was so fun because it’s set up as an interactive museum and our tour guide encouraged us to interact with the exhibits around us. The museum also provided a delicious and scenic lunch for us. Then we headed back to Copenhagen and I was able to make it home for dinner with my host parents.

A famous sculpture titled “Boy”

Thursday: I met my class at a nonprofit organization called DIGNITY— the Danish Institute Against Torture. We really enjoyed hearing from this organization about their work to combat the use of torture around the world. After lunch, our class went to the Danish War Museum where we walked through an exhibit following the journey of a Danish teenager who fought in Afghanistan. Everything in the exhibit is real and we were able to interact with everything here as well. For example, one part of the exhibit is set up like a military camp in Afghanistan, complete with a lookout tower and even dirt from a military base in Afghanistan. Another exhibit showed an actual truck that had been damaged by an IED and students were able to climb inside the truck to see more of the damage. Finally, we watched a movie about a Danish soldier in Afghanistan who had to go to trial and face charges for not complying with humanitarian law.

Entering the Danish War Museum

Friday: In the morning we had a speaker talk to us about conflict resolution. Then we went to Peder Oxe where we had smørrebrød, traditional Danish open-face sandwiches. Some students really enjoyed these and others did not, but it was nice to get to try them regardless. Finally, we went to our classroom for a wrap-up discussion and reflection on the week.

my Danish smørrebrød. eggs and shrimp seems to be a common combination.

Core Course Week was a lot of fun! I was able to try new things and see parts of Denmark that I may never have visited otherwise. As someone who greatly enjoys museums, I felt lucky to get so many great tours of the museums that Denmark has to offer. I made some new friends and got to know a lot of people in my class better and am excited to continue learning with these people.

Week Three: Celebration and Grief

This week my host brother, William, turned 11 years old. Since I arrived in Denmark, I’ve been looking forward to celebrating his birthday so that I could learn more about Danish culture. I had been grilling him with questions about what presents he wanted, what cake we would eat, and who was invited.

The day finally arrived and I woke up early in the morning with the rest of the family to sing to William. Together, we ate bacon, eggs, and croissants— exactly what William had asked for. In the evening, we went into central Copenhagen for an American diner burger. As we were walking through the city, it started to pour. My host family explained to me that in Danish culture there is a joke that if it rains on your birthday it means you must have misbehaved. If this is true, the entire Danish population must be misbehaving as it rains nearly every day!

Over the weekend, we had a party for William where I got to meet the whole family. I spent the morning helping my host parents bake William’s cakes and cleaning the house to get it ready for our guests. I had a wonderful time at the party, chatting with my host mom’s family and eating delicious treats. One of the most interesting parts of celebrations in Denmark is the use of flags. The Danish flag is used on all occasions for celebration; William’s birthday breakfast and birthday cakes were decorated with Danish flags. While in the USA, we would see the use of the flag as a patriotic symbol, my host family explained to me that in these cases the Danish flag isn’t used as a sign of patriotism but is simply a symbol of celebration.

William’s birthday cakes

While the week was filled celebrating with singing, laughter, and food, this was also a week that brought about a shift. I caught a cold and had to learn to cope with it the Danish way— no cold medicine, just tea. The weather changed from sunny, warm, and bright to rainy and gray as we move into autumn. The change in season also brought about a change in my disposition as something happened that reminded me just how far from home I am.

When I decided to study abroad, I knew that while I would be gaining so much, there would also be some things I would miss out on. This week, I missed out on a huge part of one of my closest friend’s life; her mother had been battling cancer all year and passed this week. While there is a sense of powerlessness and longing that everybody feels when someone they love is hurting, being so far away amplified these feelings. I would have given anything to hold my friend for just a minute. The distance between Denmark and home felt greater than ever.

I was reminded of the realities of the people I love. Their lives don’t get put on hold just because I’m away; we all keep going, and that means missing out on being there for some of the change. I was glad that DIS offers support services through the DIS Care Team and I made an appointment to talk with someone about what I was feeling and how I could still be a good friend from thousands of miles away. The social worker helped me put into perspective that missing out is a reality of being abroad, but it doesn’t need to define my time in Denmark. Indeed, I am constantly aware of how much I am getting out of this experience and how thankful I am to be here, even when I miss home. Going forward, I know that there will probably be more that I miss out on, but there is also so much to be gained here.

Week Two: Sunshine and Joy

I’m a person who loves perfect little moments. You know, the ones when it feels like time slows down and everything comes to a halt as you take in the fullness of the world around you— the beauty of a flower, the warmth of a ray of sunshine, the laughs of the people you’re with. Whatever they may be, these are the moments that create memories. I chase these moments, continuously searching for the pure joy of everyday life because I know that this is the only time I will be exactly where I am, when I am. I want to remember this moment in its fullness.

Week Two brought about routine. My classes and schedule are solidified. I don’t need to use Google Maps on a daily basis anymore. I’ve found ways to consistently pitch in at my homestay. I’ve formed the friendships that I hope will last during and beyond my time in Copenhagen. 

As my daily life in Copenhagen becomes more normal, I’ve been savoring its perfect, fleeting moments. Because feelings of anxiety and novelty have subsided, I’ve been able to focus more on what my life is going to consistently look like for the next four months and where pockets of joy lie. I’ve been able to stop for a second and think about how I really am here and this really is my life and I really get to live it and living is so, so beautiful and the people who are also here and living with me are so, so beautiful. 

a rare sunny day in Copenhagen

So, here are some of those people and some of these moments:

On Thursday I tried Thai street food for the first time with a new friend. We sat outside eating for about two hours, sharing personal stories and some of what we’ve been processing in our short time in Denmark. The man sitting at the table next to us heard us speaking in English and started up a friendly conversation. I walked away feeling full of good food and conversation.

Fridays are special everywhere but Fridays are especially special if you are a Danish child. It is traditional in Denmark to take children to a candy store on Fridays to celebrate the weekend. Along with my host brothers, I too was allowed to pick out 15 krones (about $2.20) worth of candy for myself to be eaten that evening.

For obvious reasons, I didn’t expect to walk out of my first Holocaust & Genocide class feeling immense joy. However, my professor, Torben Jørgensen, came to class sharing his unique perspective on why he entered this field. He told us that we can only learn about loss if we understand how precious and beautiful life is. He ended class early, telling us to go enjoy the the sunshine outside and be thankful for the gift of life.

On Saturday, my host brother’s fifth grade class had a picnic at the King’s Garden, something that is apparently quintessentially Danish. I chatted with some of the parents a bit but mostly relished in the world around me: blankets laid out on the earth, laughter and chatter in a language I don’t understand, lots of delicious cake, two different bachelorette parties, kids playing soccer, and more sunshine.

Danish picnic cake

These are just some of the many moments of joy that have caused me to pause and reflect over the past week. Denmark is constantly surprising, joyful, and giving. I’m excited to continue to discover more moments of joy in my time here.

Danish Highlights:

Jeg taler ikke dansk – I do not speak Danish. Haven’t had to use this yet but I was adamant about learning to say it.

Jeg tager toget – I take the train

Hvordan går det? – how are you?

fødselsdag – birthday

spansk – Spanish

engelsk – English

Jeg bor hos en dansk familie – I live with a Danish family

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