Looking back at my semester in Denmark, I thought the best way to reflect on the semester would be to create a list of the biggest differences between Denmark and the U.S./Maine. The semester was full of both amazing and surprising experiences I hope to convey that here!
- Trust in children. In Denmark, there is a much higher level of trust in young children compared to the US (in my experience). There is an overall attitude of “if they hurt themselves then they’ll learn from that”, leading to very dangerous, from an American perspective, playgrounds with tall structures and in-ground trampolines. I would also frequently see young children riding public transportation alone or biking home from school alone, something that I probably wasn’t allowed to do until middle school.
- A green city. The obvious difference between Copenhagen and the U.S. is the number of people who bike instead of driving. Many people who live in Copenhagen don’t own a car and most only have one car max for the whole family. The roads are very bike-friendly, with separate lanes and stoplights for the bikes. The city makes it easy for bikers to make the commute to work by prioritizing green lights for them as opposed to the cars. About 30-50% of Denmark’s electricity is also supplied by wind turbines and they have a goal to be carbon neutral by 2025.
- A green city? While Denmark is making some major strides environmentally, there is more to be desired in some areas. Water bottle fillers, or at least water fountains, are very normal and common in the U.S., but there are very few in Copenhagen. This leads to buying disposable, plastic water bottles instead, which is not good for the environment. They also don’t have recycling in public places like we typically do in the U.S. and while in some towns they do separate their recycling from their trash, the products that can be recycled are limited and many towns don’t do this. My host family also ate only red meat most of the time which has the biggest impact on the environment.
- Fear of political correctness. In general, Danes tend to say what they think which can come across as insensitive and, at times, racist. Denmark’s neighbor, Sweden, tends to be very politically correct which has led to the Danes fearing becoming like Sweden and not being able to say what they want about immigration and Greenlanders.
- Drinking in high school. The legal drinking age in Denmark is around 16, although stores don’t typically care if people younger than that buy alcohol as long as it’s under a certain percentage. This, again, is a testament to the level of trust the country has in their children, although this is becoming more problematic as time goes on and concerns are being raised on the impact of this on development. High schools will even typically have a bar in them that hosts a party, and supplies alcohol, once a week. This was really surprising to me as this would never happen in the U.S. and I don’t know how the school would get around being held liable if someone was hurt.
Overall, I learned a lot this past semester about Denmark and Danes. I think we all generally see the nordic countries through a rosey lens, socially, politically, and environmentally, and for me, this view was affected. However, I met so many kind and lovely people in Denmark who made my experience wonderful and I would love to return to Denmark again at some point.