The time between my trip to The Netherlands and London/Dublin was quite eventful! The Sunday I got back, my friend skyped me into Plenary, a time when a third of the entire campus gathers together to vote on resolutions to make change on campus. This year’s resolutions ranged from posting policy to dorm funds for parties to support from the community for Perry House, the affinity group house on campus that was recently closed down because it was falling apart. Although I could not vote on resolutions (some of the other students who are also abroad this semester are hoping to create a resolution in the spring to change this), I was happy to feel part of the Bryn Mawr community even from over 3000 miles away. I can’t wait to be at Plenary for real next semester!
The weeks between my travel breaks were pretty significant since I moved out! This was for several reasons:
1) The commute: while the train ride was beautiful into the city with the views of forests and the sea, with the bus ride, train ride, and walking figured in, my commute was about 1.5 hours each way. It was nice in that I was able to get homework during this time but it made going back into the city in the evenings nearly impossible unless I wanted to add in another three hour round trip commute. This upset me because I was spending hardly anytime in Copenhagen since I had so little motivation to deal with the ordeal of getting to the city and back.
2) The timing of food: Dinner is only served at my folk high school at exactly 6PM. You can ask them to save you food but they will only hold it for an hour or two and you must ask them in advance. This meant I had to leave the city by at least 4:30PM to be back in time, meaning I had no time in the city just to explore and I constantly felt rushed. Often I had mandatory events for classes in the city that were later in the evening so I would have to end up buying dinner in the city often which is very, very expensive as the average meal is about 120 kronor (equivalent to about $20 dollars). The folk high school was not required to provide us with lunch but the one fridge available for student use was locked in the mornings so I was forced to keep my food unrefrigerated overnight which resulted in me becoming violently ill on the side of the road one morning.
3) Not having a “Danish” enough experience. I lived in the international folk high school which I was originally very excited about because I would get to meet people from all around the world. This was a trade-off however as only four of the students were Danes so unless I went out of my way to become close with these particular students, I would go days without interacting with any Danes aside from my professors. I felt like I was really missing out on the culture of the country I am spending nearly half a year in. The international aspect was also challenging since while all students were expected to speak English for most of the day, many of the students would use dinner time as a break to talk in their first language with other people from their countries. This has always been a challenging issue for me throughout my travels. On one hand, I completely understand the need to be able to have a space where you can truly express yourself and communicate without having to think about every word (it was always refreshing to chat with native English speakers while in Indonesia) but on the other hand, it’s a completely isolating experience for those who don’t speak the same language. I was unable to participate in many dinner conversations which often forced me to sit with the other Americans which was exactly the opposite of what I wanted to be doing. I didn’t come all this way to study abroad to be spending all my time with American students.
It was a tough decision for me to move and I appreciate how understanding and supportive most of the students at my folk high school were for my decision. It worked out well that my close friend from the folk high school moved out the same weekend so it shows that it wasn’t just me. I miss having delicious food prepared for me, the adorable town of Helsingoer, and the beautiful train ride through forests and by the sea but ultimately, this was a huge growing experience for me. I am normally one to grit my teeth and put up with things that are challenging, largely out of a sense of pride, but I was reaching a point where I needed to take ownership of my own happiness and do what’s best for me rather than forcing myself to put on a smile.
Now I live in apartment south of the airport with a Danish roommate. My commute is still a little far (between half an hour to an hour depending on if the train and the bus times match up.) My roommate is great! We went bowling together and I’ve met several of her friends so far. It was sad that the weekend after I moved in, we left for travel break the next weekend and my free weekends have become fewer and fewer so we haven’t gotten to hang out as much but I’m still very happy here!
During my two travel breaks, I also visited the Copenhagen Zoo for my Biological Conservation and Biodiversity class to research the conservation status of different species and to observe their exhibits. I was super excited (it’s partly why I signed up for the class in the first place) since I volunteered at the Oregon Zoo for three years in high school. The Danish model of trust and design was apparent even in the city’s zoo as many of the exhibits lacked the thick glass found in most American zoos and felt very modern. I think going to the zoo of each city I spend a significant time in can really reflect a lot about the city and is a nice way to compare and contrast the places I have been. Afterwards, I got to explore the Frederiksberg Park right next to the zoo and even saw Frederiksberg Castle!The next week for my field study on Wednesday, my Danish class went to the Danish Resistance Museum. Denmark surrendered almost immediately when the Germans invaded during WWII, since they knew they had no chance of winning since they are such a small country and they didn’t want anyone to die unnecessarily and so that the. We learned about the non-violent ways in which the Danes resisted German occupation and how the Danes managed to save almost all of their Jews by smuggling them into Sweden (often at a high cost.) It was interesting to learn about the role Denmark played in WWII as that’s something we never really study in our history textbooks. We also had an unfortunate situation where our professor tried to pronounce the word “knickers”…which Danes tend to pronounce “K”s as “G”s leading to our class having to give a mini-lesson on English and why racial slurs are so offensive for our professor.
Afterwards, we had warm drinks at a nearby cafe. From there, we had a contemporary dance performance for our Danish class a few hours later, which wasn’t enough time for many of us to go home. We decided to wander the streets and grab dinner together before the show. We found the Marble Church, one of the largest churches in Copenhagen (which I always find a little ironic as the Nordic countries are so secular.) It was beautiful inside and required us to be completely silent which allowed us to truly appreciate the eloquently decorated dome from the inside. We found a decently priced, “hyggeligt” (cozy) restaurant where we all fell in love with our food and had great conversation. Finally we went to go see the contemporary dance piece. I could have sat there and spent the whole time trying to analyze it but I decided to just enjoy the movements and rhythm of the dancers and appreciate it for the sheer art. Dance is a perfect medium for sharing culture with each other without the need for language. Overall it was a wonderful night!
Soon to come, pictures and stories from my travel break to London and Dublin!