Sustainable Dinners, Bucket Lists, Bon Iver, Prisons, and Elections

The two weeks between my travel breaks was again, crazy. Midterm after paper after assignment stacked up as my program tried to make up for our multiple breaks. One assignment in particular was rather fun however! We got to cook a sustainable dinner for my sustainable development class. The goal was to prepare and cook a meal for four people while reducing your carbon footprint as much as possible. We made pasta with eggplants and tomatoes, baked curry fries, spinach salad with blue cheese, walnuts, and honey mustard, and roasted plums with yogurt for dessert! It was quite the delicious feast and was an important lesson in eating “intentionally”, especially now that I’m cooking for myself!

Good for the environment and tastes good too!

That weekend, my friend Kathryn came over to visit my apartment and we had an ironic Twilight marathon since I had never seen the movies before. She spent the night and the next day we spent trying to visit spots on our bucket lists of things to do before we leave Copenhagen (though she has a bit more time since she’ll be here next semester too!) We originally wanted to see Rosenborg Castle but by the time we woke up and had a long breakfast, the castle would be closed by the time we got there. We attempted to visit the Carlsberg Brewery but we got lost on the bus. We ended up right near the park where The Little Mermaid statue was located, which I had seen before but Kathryn still hadn’t had a chance to go to so we took a walk through the park and took some pictures. We were originally going to try and take public transportation back but walking around, we realized just how small Copenhagen really is and that we could easily navigate our way back. It brought back lots of nostalgia as we past the sites we had to find during our scavenger hunt during orientation and how far everything seemed. We decided to drop by a famous ice cream/waffle shop on Nyhavn, the harbor street filled with colorful buildings found on postcards. We both got Belgian waffles with ice cream and chocolate which according to Kathryn, were even better than the ones in Belgium. We wandered the pedestrian cobblestone streets of Stroget before deciding to climb the Round Tower, an ancient observatory with a great view of the city. Afterwards, I planned to visit Kathryn’s kollegium (the Danish equivalent of a dorm) but after we grabbed pizza near her train station, my train ticket was about to expire since I no longer have an all zone pass since I moved so I had to head back home.

Kathryn and I on the top of the Round Tower

The next day, after using the morning to catch up on work, I took the train to meet up with friends to go see one of my favorite bands ever: Bon Iver! We grabbed dinner at a falafel restaurant nearby before heading inside. When I arrived at the door, they checked our bags and told me I had to check my camera in because it was a “professional camera” because the lens sticks out, despite not being a SLR camera. I was so upset that I nearly wanted to cry since I wanted to be able to take pictures from this once-in-a-lifetime event but to no avail. It was somewhat of an eye-opening experience because it brought me back to a conversation we had in my 360 last semester: do you do things for the experience or for the story? Would my experience being any less real or meaningful if I wasn’t able to take pictures? I’ve actually felt this often throughout my time abroad; the pressure to document certain aspects of my experiences to keep up appearances in a way through postcards and photos, to prove to others I am having a true study abroad experience and that I’m having a good time. I hope reading this blog deconstructs some of the “sunshine and rainbows” perspective that my pictures tend to depict, as I believe there isn’t much meaning behind traveling without critically thinking about the place and people you encounter as well as seeing monuments. Anyways, back from that tangent, the concert was AMAZING! Definitely one of the best nights of my semester. There was a great opening band called The Staves, which was all-women band that was reminiscent of Joni Mitchell and Dar Williams. When Justin Vernon, the lead singer of Bon Iver, came on I could hardly contain my excitement. The stage was decorated with candles (very Danish and “hyggeligt”) that would flicker along with the songs and there was fabric hanging from the stage that would have images projected onto it throughout the songs making for a stunning atmosphere. He was incredible live as well. Singing along to his song “Skinny Love” with 10,000 other people in the audience with the lights glimmering and the sweet melodies sweeping the room; it made me feel more than myself, as if everyone in that room were a singular entity united by the beauty of this song. Here’s a video from the show that someone took!

Skinny Love–Bon Iver

That Tuesday, my Psychology of Criminal Behavior class had a film screening of a Danish prison film called “R.” It told the story of a new inmate in a closed Danish prison and his unlikely friendship with another inmate from a radically different racial background. Afterwards, we got to meet the screenwriter of the film, who based much of what happened in the film on his own experiences in prison, as well as one of the main actors. It was fascinating to hear their perspectives on the Danish prison system and to hear their experiences as one had been in jail and the other hadn’t but many of his friends growing up had. Something the man who had been to jail before said particularly spoke to me: “[In reference to learning to adapt to life in prison] It’s as if a rug has been taken out beneath your feet. You’re forced to re-define yourself and have to start from scratch.” It resonated a lot with me as I feel like it sums up studying abroad for me, despite to two very different things.

That night, was the election and I was absolutely terrified. I had to wake up early by 4:30AM the next day to catch a bus for my field study at 6:45AM in the city so I couldn’t stay up late watching the polls. Before I went to sleep, I was constantly refreshing the results page to see which states had turned which color. Obviously the last elections have always meant a lot to me; I had a Gore poster and later a Kerry poster hanging on my window until the light completely faded the front and there was such a powerful movement behind Obama in 2008 but this was the first time I had felt so emotionally invested in election, since I’m much older now and really understand the power of the consequences of electing politicians. It was weird being abroad for my first election where I could actually vote. While I sent in my absentee ballot in, I was powerless to help in most ways unlike my friends at Bryn Mawr who had been canvassing and phone-banking for months. It made me proud to see so many of friends so passionate about the issues that impact all of us and helping others complete their civic duties of voting. All I could do was send out reminders to vote and re-post things related to social justice on my social media outlets while I anxiously awaited the results. The past nights before the election, I could hardly sleep since all I could do was think of everyone back home, much like I did when Hurricane Sandy hit and all I could do was send messages of love to friends at Bryn Mawr. After refreshing all of my social media constantly, my Facebook newsfeed lit up with statuses about Obama’s re-election and the most wonderful feeling of relief washed over me. I was also incredibly excited to see that record numbers of women, LGBT members, and people of color were elected to Congress. It gives me hope for the future and is a clear example to me that suppressed minorities can no longer be ignored.

After finding out the elections results at 5 in the morning, I had to run to catch my bus into Copenhagen where I met the rest of my Psychology of Criminal Behavior class to catch another bus for our field study to an open prison. The Nordic countries are unique in that they have open prisons, where prisoners are given much more independence and freedom than in a traditional institution. A great article on open prisons from TIME magazine can be found here: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1986002,00.html For example, we were given a tour of the facilities and the inmates had access to sharp knives since they cook meals for themselves. Their rooms looked no different than ones found in dorm rooms; it really didn’t feel like being in a prison except for the fence all around (which is to keep others out rather than the inmates in.) They can even leave for work/school if they are in the final portion of their sentence (which is a maximum of 16 years, no matter what your crime is.) It’s all along the lines of the Danish mentality of trust. Danes trust each other to adhere to the system so it works. It was amazing to see how when the prisoners are treated like human beings, they will reciprocate that same amount of respect. I didn’t feel unsafe at any point during my visit, despite sitting a few feet away from murderers. I love that the Danish system is more focused on rehabilitation rather than vengeance like the U.S system. The Danish government realizes that it is a far greater cost to society to continue housing prisoners so they emphasize re-socializing inmates back into society so they may continue to contribute to their communities. There is still a lot more that can be done and there are many issues but overall, I believe their system is much more effective since it reduces the amount of people returning to jail and helps keep crime rates among the lowest of any country. Apparently in the past, students have gotten to visit closed prisons which I feel like would be a really interesting contrast to see, as I have heard they are much more intense than the open prison we saw. There is a restorative justice class focused on environmental architecture next semester in the tri-co but it conflicts with one of the classes I’m taking but I would love to hear from students who are taking it next semester to hear their perspectives!

Next blog post: updates from my final travel break to Paris and Rome!

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