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

Week One: on Arrivals and Belonging

Where to start? I had quite a bit of anxiety about getting to Copenhagen without any complications, but I’m happy to report that I’m here, I’m safe, and I’m thriving. Everything went well with travel; all in all, it didn’t feel as long as it was. I was like a little kid in a candy store during landings, turning to my friend, Caitlyn, and exclaiming, “we’re in Germany!” and a few hours later, “we’re in Copenhagen!” 

Caitlyn and I in Frankfurt

The same excitement that carried me through my flights has stuck with me my first week here, mixed with a sense of being overwhelmed. I jumped right into the Copenhagen social scene by attending a hip hop concert with my host family my first night here. I hadn’t even been in Copenhagen for eight hours when I found myself jamming to Aretha Franklin, surrounded by hip-hop-loving Danes.

Despite being out with the whole family the night before, I woke up the next morning around seven. My host dad, Morten, showed me around the kitchen a bit so that I could make myself some breakfast. We then chatted over coffee and family photos for about two hours while the rest of the house woke up. I think this is one of those small life moments that sticks itself in one’s heart and memory— waking up early in Copenhagen, the morning sun reflecting around the clean, white house, a cup of warm coffee in my hands. I’m nervous and uncertain, but eager to learn and connect. Somebody’s kindness, generosity, and amiability makes my first morning in a new place one to set me at ease for the mornings to come.

swimming in the very cold harbor

The only way I can describe how I’m feeling about this transition is “natural.” In the span of less than a week, I’ve moved from nervousness to a sense of peace and belonging. Maybe it’s the rootlessness of my past happy to make an appearance once again, but I feel like I’m right where I’m supposed to be. Of course, I’m learning every day and I get excited about trying new things (today in the grocery store I kept asking my host brothers about the most Danish way of eating a breakfast meal), but this evening my host mom, Veena, said that she feels like I’ve been here much longer than six days. I hope this is because she believes I have come to occupy a place in the household and not because she can’t wait for me to get out of here.

I’ve done a lot of things this week. I moved in, learned to use the public transportation system, went grocery shopping three times, started classes, saw Rosenborg Castle, ate amazing pizza, visited the King’s Garden, learned my first Danish phrases, took pictures of Amalienborg Palace, made new friends, went swimming in the canal, and so much more. It’s all been fun, tiring, refreshing, and, at times, overwhelming. I’m eager for a sense of naturalness to extend into more of the relationships I form, places I get to know, and words and customs I begin to understand, but I’m thankful to be sitting in peace for now, knowing I am where I’m supposed to be, learning what I’m supposed to be learning.

me + drengene

Danish Highlights:

morgenmad – breakfast

frokost – lunch

aftensmad – dinner

spiser – to eat (why are all these words about food?)

Jeg hedder Suzi – My name is Suzi

Jeg kommer fra Costa Rica – I am from Costa Rica (or Lancaster, or St. Davids, or wherever)

the S train – the train I take to commute between home and school

drengene – boys

tak – thanks

Who I am and Why I’m Studying Abroad

Hello and welcome to my Viaje a Copenhague— my trip to Copenhagen! My name is Suzi and I am a senior Templeton Honors student at Eastern University in St. Davids, PA. In just three days, I will arrive in Copenhagen where I will be studying for the next four months.

I’ve been dreaming of this day for a long time now. Even before I had committed to Eastern University in 2016, the Templeton Honors College’s emphasis on study abroad appealed to me. When I looked at some of the different places I could study, the DIS Copenhagen was one of my top picks because of its expansive class options. Even as my interests and fields of study have changed over the past three and a half years, DIS Copenhagen had me covered. DIS Copenhagen has a comprehensive, interactive curriculum that is enabling me to study abroad and finish both of my majors (Sociology & Political Science), as well as my honors classes, on time.

I’ve been preparing for my adventure for quite a while. Now, as I hope I have everything I need and look toward my new adventure, I’m starting to process the excitement that lies ahead. There is so much I’m looking forward to; I’ve never traveled outside of North America and am excited to explore not only Copenhagen but many European cities I’ve always wanted to see. I’m also looking forward to being immersed in Danish culture through my stay with a host family, a Danish Language & Culture class, and meeting local students. I am interested in Denmark on a social, political, and cultural level and will now have the chance to learn from some Danes firsthand. I also cannot wait for what DIS Copenhagen will offer me academically through courses such as Humanitarian Law & Armed Conflict, Gender Perspectives on Human Rights, and Holocaust & Genocide. Those who know me know that I am fascinated by the study of human rights on both a practical and theoretical level. My time at DIS Copenhagen will allow me to dive deeply into subjects I’m interested in.

Of course, with every new adventure comes some worries, especially as someone who does not consider herself very adventurous. I’m apprehensive yet eager to be stretched in this area as I will be constantly surrounded by the unfamiliar. I’ve never been in a country where I don’t speak the language. While I’m fortunate that most Danes speak English and I’ve been diligent in learning some Danish, I imagine it will be overwhelming to not understand what is happening around me. I am also unsure of how I will be thought of and treated as a Hispanic woman in a new place. Further, I’m worried about losing the sense of rootedness that I’ve worked so hard to develop over the past few years. I grew up in a transient environment in which I was used to starting and ending relationships within a year. Since coming to college, I’ve had a stable environment and friends for the first time in a long time. Uprooting my life for a bit and finding a community abroad is frightening, but a step I want to take as I know my life will be changing even more after I graduate in the spring.

I hope to come out the other side of this semester as a more mature, independent, and courageous woman. Through my college experience, I’ve been able to arrive at a place where I’m comfortable with who I am and where I am. I’m ready to face some discomfort and be challenged to change and grow again. I welcome my study abroad experience with open arms and an unsure spirit, but I know at the end of this, I will have so much to thank my host family, professors, and Denmark for. I am ready for this time of uncomfortable growth into someone who is ready to take on even more adventures in the future.

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