I’ve now been here over a week, and it’s crazy how quickly I’ve settled into a routine. It’s made Copenhagen feel far more like home than it ever would, and I still have four months left to call Holmbladsgade home! I’m currently sitting in the Studenterhuset, a student-run coffee shop near the DIS buildings and the Round Tower (which I’m going into later today with my roommate Rachel!). After getting a croissant and hot chocolate and sitting down to do some reading, I realized that my life has literally become an aesthetically pleasing Instagram. I’m okay with it.
In the time between now and my next class, I thought I would share a few reflections I’ve made from the last…however many days I’ve now been in Denmark.
Chase the rich points | For the first day of my Danish class, our homework included reading a lecture on culture by Michael Agar, a professor at the University of Maryland. It discusses the intersection between language and culture and how the two intersect. Agar defines “rich points” as differences between an outsider’s native culture and another group. They’re “departures from an outsider’s expectations.” These rich points are what make traveling difficult and often confusing—but they’re also what make traveling so richly rewarding, exciting, and fulfilling. What does Agar suggest we do with these rich points, when we encounter them? Chase them. Chase the rich points. It is in this chase that a new culture is found. It is in this chase that your understanding of what your culture is and what it means to you is turned upside down and shaken around. It is in this chase that you understand what it means to be a member of a new culture. It is in this chase that you begin to understand yourself in relation to this new culture.
The first few days here have been allllll about chasing these rich points. A few nights ago, we asked our SRA, Peter, what he saw as stereotypes for American students. After thinking for a while, he responded that as a whole, we’re really loud (I kind of already knew that one) and that when talking in a group, we don’t wait for each person to talk—we just talk over each other. He also said that he can always immediately tell an American student walking around because we all carry our water bottles in our backpacks. Apparently the Danes are just a very dehydrated people, because they don’t do this.
We also discussed a common “rich point” in my Danish class yesterday. In the US, “How are you?” is considered a standard greeting. The answer is almost always “Good, how are you?” It’s just an instinctual reaction; the question isn’t posed as a question but rather as a continuation of a greeting. I ask the Target cashiers how they are. I ask people I’ve never met before how their day is going. It’s just part of a standard greeting that seems to have been drilled into me since I was young. In Denmark, the question of “how are you?” is reserved for people you know and care about. It’s a question that warrants an actual response. When Danes ask their friends, “how are you?” it’s not as a continuation of a greeting—it’s a genuine inquiry as to how their friends are doing or feeling at that time. It’s a question that deserves so much more than the one word response that I so often give.
Wild | In my political framing class (Words that Work) class, our homework for the first day of class was to think of a word that matters to us—and then explain to the class why, of all the words in the world, that was the word we chose. My classmates showed remarkable variety in the words they chose, and each word they chose was a word I easily could have chosen myself. When it came to be my turn, I explained my choice: wild. If we’re being honest, I came up with the word because I wanted something that related to Minnesota (since it’s such a large part of my identity) and while thinking, I saw the Minnesota Wild team sticker I have on my laptop. So yeah, that was part of it. I really love hockey. But I realized it was more than that too—”wild” is a word that encapsulates my love for adventure and travel as well as my longing for the place I grew up. So much of who I am and the way I react with and respond to the world I tie to my summers spent at my cabin, running from the lake to the woods to the meadow and back again. The wild spaces I called my own and inhabited growing up instilled me with a sense of faith, a belief in family, and an appreciation for the natural world. The word “wild” brought that together and demonstrated to my class and to my professors how I show up in the world. “Wild” is my identity. What’s yours?
Zones | By “zones,” I don’t mean the metro and bus zones in Copenhagen, although those have presented their fair share of challenges and learning opportunities as well. At a recent Outdoor LLC event with our coordinator, Atanasio (THE single most joyful person I have ever met), he had us create three concentric circles with string on the ground. The inner circle, he described, represented the comfort zone. The things we do within that zone are comfortable and easy. The next circle is the zone of learning. Much of living in Copenhagen thus far has been living in the learning zone. These are the things that challenge us to see the world from a different perspective and to react in a new way to an old problem. The outer zone is the zone of frustration. It’s not a zone I want to be in, but I find myself there often. The goal, Atanasio reminded us, is not necessarily to always be in your comfort zone. How boring would life be if we only lived doing the things we knew we could do? The goal is to move tasks that might often find you in the zone of frustration into the learning zone. Figuring out how to do that is half the battle. But the goal is also to sometimes move things from your comfort zone back into your learning zone. It’s no secret I love routines; I crave the stability they bring and the calm I feel when I have them firmly in place. My morning and afternoon commute here has quickly become a routine to me. Something that started in the zone of frustration quickly moved into the zone of learning (and sometimes back again, like how my friend and I have taken the bus to class twice and gotten off at two different stops) and even now into the zone of comfort. Moving my commute back into the zone of learning might mean taking a different bus or metro. It might mean getting off at a different stop. It might mean biking…maybe.