19.09 // A month in Denmark

A month has passed since I stepped foot in the Copenhagen airport and began a journey to study abroad in a country and culture I didn’t know very well. Days slowly become blurred together as everything settles into routines—commutes to class and back, classes, packed smørrebrød lunches, dinner with my host family, help with cleaning and cooking, and studies. Classes have become easier to follow, my hesitation to participate in lecture questions and group discussions has been fading, and I’ll be taking my first exam this Thursday.

At times, events break my routines. Core Course Week pulled me out of the house in the wee hours of the morning last Monday, and while I barely knew anyone in my Psychopharmacology class, we explored Århus and Odense together and returned from the short few days closer and sleepier than ever. After lectures in the Copenhagen portion of the week on Thursday and Friday, a few of us went to lunch together at Sandwich Pigen and gelato in Torvehallerne.

And no, the remaining days weren’t all the same. One evening, my younger host brother William drew personalized placemats for each of us for dinner. Another day, my host mom Veena and I went boot and candy grocery shopping after I thoroughly soaked my walking shoes a few times in the past weeks’ rainfall. One Saturday evening, I challenged myself to prepare my family traditional recipe of pork dumplings for my host family, a meal that typically takes my family of four a half day to prepare together (It was a success!). And the next day, my host family and I braved imminent thunderstorms and enjoyed a refreshing lakeside walk, cake, and coffee with my host father’s parents.

Days may have blurred, but a few recurrent observations and struggles arise.

rain. The light drizzle on my face on the way to class, the soft roar of thunderstorms rippling across the city, the soft pitter patter on the roof above my room as I fall asleep, the umbrella-evading streams that soak my socks and shoes, or the calm hush on my umbrella as I hold a warm cup of boba tea… It rained. Following an amazingly warm and sunny Sunday two weeks ago, grey storm clouds started rolling in and haven’t stopped. Despite my Californian love of rainy weather and the calm peace of staying indoors with warm tea and blankets while watching a storm pass, I was met with struggles I hadn’t considered.

Growing up in Northern California, we’d get the occasional rainstorms, the ones that ripple across the bay and leave the streets flooded from poor drainage infrastructure. They’re expected, maybe a few every few months or so, and otherwise, it’d be sunny skies or overcast foggy days. Going to school in Southern California wasn’t that different, and rainstorms left my college campus flooded, and I’d have to jump over streams a meter wide to get to class and back. Umbrellas usually sufficed, or perhaps a light waterproofed windbreaker, and if I got drenched, I could head back to my dorm to change and do it all over again.

Coming to Denmark, the weather at first wasn’t as terrible as I expected it to be. It was still warm (bit cooler than California), and though there were the few unexpected rainclouds drifting across the city, it was comfortable. But for the last two weeks, the rain came. Sometimes a soft, quiet drizzle where a rain jacket would be plenty, but other times a straight chilly downpour with winds would evade my rain jacket and umbrella and leave my legs and feet drenched. Not that that hasn’t happened to me when in California, but when traveling on Core Course Week or away going to class, I couldn’t just go back to a dorm and dry off. Hence, the boot shopping.. and the umbrella and scarf that’s always in my backpack.

Danes do use waterproof (or at least water resistant) shoes and boots sometimes, though raincoats and umbrellas are usually used first. And when biking, they brave the rain. I’ve seen many bikers with raincoats and ponchos, and some even bike one-handed to hold a large umbrella.

It feels like California winter weather now. But it’ll only get colder from here on out…. and this Californian is hoping she won’t freeze too often.

meeting locals. Going abroad, I hoped to meet locals as part of learning about Denmark, its culture, and its people. As introverted and quiet as I am though, I often feel too nervous and shy to reach out and talk to them on my own…

But in the past month, I’ve met many locals already, with my host family or with my class on field studies. I joined my host family to several birthday celebrations and dinner gatherings, and my Danish Language and Culture class went to Gammel Hellerup Gymnasium. Everyone I met was friendly and especially curious about why I chose to study in Denmark of all places. My most meaningful encounter with locals so far was at the gymnasium. My classmates and I got to learn about the daily lives of Danish students firsthand, and while we had loads of questions for them, they were very curious about our American university lives as well. Perhaps the most surprising was the maturity and independence of the Danish students that we met. Though only 17 or 18, they seemed like they were the same age as us.

Meeting all these Danish people also led me to notice more of the differences and similarities in their culture and mine.

One, celebrating birthdays, something that’s pretty similar to what I’ve experienced back at home. Typically children had two birthday celebrations, one with family and another with classmates and friends. In the last two weeks, I joined my host family in celebrating my younger host brother William’s birthday. First, a weekend afternoon birthday celebration with relatives and close family friends, similar to the one I went to the first full day after I arrived in Denmark. The day of his birthday, a Wednesday, his parents sang his choice of a birthday song with Danish flags to wake him up and prepared his favorite breakfast, and that evening, I joined them for dinner at his choice of restaurant, a running sushi place. The following weekend, he had a joined birthday celebration for him and a couple other classmates at a bowling alley and arcade with school friends.

As for those beyond secondary school and university years, there’s a wide variety of ways to celebrate birthdays, and I went with Veena to her friend’s birthday celebration, a lovely evening with dinner, drinks, and lively conversations. Most guests only knew the host, Tina, and so we all introduced ourselves to each other. I was worried I would feel awkward there, but I didn’t feel that way at all, especially since everyone was so warm and welcoming. Yes, I did tag along Veena’s side for a lot of the evening, but I also had the opportunity to talk to the others on my own. And no, Mom, I didn’t try any alcohol. Tried my first virgin mojito though, and it was really good.

But then, observing those around me on my daily commutes to class and comparing that to those at these birthday events, I’ve noticed just how quiet Danes are in public. The train squealing and rumbling on its tracks is the loudest noise on the S trains most of the time, and clicking tones of the pedestrian sign is oddly noticeable on city streets. Touristy areas are typically louder, but in general, it’s quiet.

But when at home and at dinner gatherings like Tina’s, Danes are warm, cheerful, and open to conversation. Chatter and laughter rose above the tinkering of cutlery and glasses in Tina’s home, and the atmosphere was even more lively with music from the house’s bluetooth sound system.

Another thing I’ve noticed a lot of— the Danish flag. It doesn’t just fly above major city buildings and historic locations. There are a bunch everywhere, in buildings, on walls, in homes… And they’re used with every holiday and celebration, whether historic holidays, birthdays, or even Christmas. They’re the garnish on birthday cakes, the garlands on home and store walls… I already have some to bring home.

Core Course Week and all its events/stories will be in a separate post later in the week. It’ll also include my thoughts on the active and immersive studies I get here, in lecture, field studies, and study tours. As for now, I have exams to prepare for. Vi ses.

current count: cups of boba: 6 // cups of tea: 45 //  rain vs Katherine’s shoes: 0:4 whoops

☁️ now playing: Yanghwa Bridge // Zion. T


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