Both Tuesday (March 3) and Friday (March 6), three friends and I climbed at Beta Boulders, a rock climbing gym in Copenhagen. While the rest of my group had all already climbed before, I was happy to start on the beginner wall on the beginner level (green). It took a little time getting adjusted to the elevation, as we were not top-roping (the cool term meaning we were not safely attached to a rope-I had to ask them to clarify the definition). However, after repeated attempts and developing some hand blisters, I slowly began to feel more comfortable. We had arrived at 3:30pm, and more and more people would trickle in, as the work day was coming to an end. We gradually progressed to harder climbs (like higher green and light blue stations), and they were fun even if we could not follow all the way through with them (which was most of them). It was also fun to watch the much more talented, experienced climbers who would propel themselves off the footholds onto gravity-defying armholds. If one of them missed the armhold, they would gracefully fall to the soft-cushioned floor and within seconds be up and ready to climb again. They would also give advice to their climbing buddies discussing the best way to tackle a certain route up the wall. After these past two sessions, my friends and I have realized that climbing is both a truly mental and physical activity. We’re looking forward to coming back in the coming weeks and hopefully making it to levels above green/blue. We might even try other climbing walls in Copenhagen (it seems like there are quite a few places in the city). I recommend trying activities abroad that you would not necessarily try in your hometown. Once I return to Colby, I hope to get more involved on the climbing wall (where they use top-rope!).
Today, I biked to the local recreational center in Vaerlose, Denmark. With a slight drizzle, I set out on the journey that lasted only ten minutes each way, but it was nice to be a part of a system that is so engrained in Danish culture: biking. Where there is an outdoor staircase, there too is a ledge for walking up and down with a bike. Where there is a sidewalk, there is also a lane for biking. Where there is a pedestrian walk light, there too is a light for bikes to come and go. Where there is a parking lot, there are also individual slots to lock one’s bike. Additionally, there is an unspoken rule that pedestrians will stand entirely to the right to ensure that bicyclists have the necessary space to continue on with their journey. Initially concerned that I would not know the rules of the road when it comes to biking in Denmark, the trip became gradually less nerve-wracking, and I could enjoy the fun and scenic sport. My host parents have been teaching me the various hand signals, and I’ve learned to be more cautious as both a pedestrian and bicyclist. I really admire how Denmark has transitioned its transportation system to accommodate and promote this sustainable mode of transportation. Additionally, almost every street has a bike store ready to repair or replace bike parts. I think I’ve seen almost every type of bicycle imaginable here like ones for parents that have a big basket in front to hold their children’s backpacks, ones that have entire coverings to protect the bicyclist from the rain, and ones that have substantial wheels (that seem extremely difficult to propel forward). Hopefully, other countries like the United States will begin to promote this sustainable industry (that also seriously cuts down on traffic and rush hour). This past Wednesday, I even saw a bicyclist holding a dog’s leash with the dog running alongside him. Especially as most Danish people who have dogs walk their dogs for at least two hours a day, biking seems like an effective way to potentially reduce this time and ensure that the animal has proper exercise and outdoor play.
At 7:45am this past Monday (February 3), our Modern European History class met in front of the bus that would take us to Sønderborg Castle, the Frøslev Internment Camp and Flensburg, Germany on Tuesday, and the Bildungsstätte Knivsberg Kulturhistorisches Zentrum on Wednesday. Over the course of the trip, we learned much about the Schleswig-Holstein Wars of 1848 and 1864. Denmark suffered a crippling defeat against the Germans in the 1864 war losing a third of its land and 2/5 of its population. The WWII Frøslev Internment Camp was our second stop and had an intriguing story. Built in 1944 and imprisoning several thousand Danes by the Gestapo, this camp had bearable living conditions, and the prisoners were treated more humanely than the concentration camps. 1,600 of the Frøslev prisoners, however, would subsequently be sent to German concentration camps.
On Thursday morning, our class watched a 2016 film titled “Germans and Jews.” Set around a dinner table in contemporary times, Germans and Jewish people conversed over their identities. It was shocking to hear the generational shift. Many of the Germans revealed that their parents had not told them of the horrific atrocities committed against Jewish peoples during the Holocaust. Many would later learn of this brutality in a U.S. miniseries called “Holocaust” which was shown all over Germany. Throughout the 1960s and the 1970s, there was a significant effort in Germany in highlighting the atrocities committed and making sure survivors were able to tell their stories. In the afternoon, we went to the Danish Museum of Art, which houses a substantial and diverse collection of artistic works. Our museum guide highlighted the growing nationalism of Denmark throughout the 20thcentury. The next day, our class was driven to the Graenseforening or Border Society, which was established in 1920 to support the Danish minority in the border region of Germany. Roughly 80% of the Danish population in Germany speak German with their families, and there is much educational outreach for this population. That afternoon, we visited the Danish Jewish Museum. This museum is fascinating, especially with its exhibition of the Danish Resistance Movement that saved 97% of the Danish Jewish population. Occupied by Nazi rule until 1943, many Danish Jewish people escaped to Sweden, a neutral country during the War, by boat and with the help of the Resistance.
On Saturday, my host family took me to Kronborg Castle (where Hamlet is based) in Helsingor. After walking through and around the majestic castle along the sea, we decided to take the 15 minute ferry ride over to Helsingborg, Sweden. Much of the streets had beautiful cobblestones, and it was crazy that we could cross international waters in less than half-an-hour. It truly was an incredible week full of history and art, and I look forward to starting up my other classes tomorrow.
I have come fast to realize that although the Danish Krone looks like and works in the same denominations as Monopoly money, my bank account has rather unkindly informed me that the Krone is most certainly not Monopoly money.
My experience with the Danish currency begin a day before I boarded my flight for Europe. I picked it up at the local bank and remarked to my friends that it looks like play money. The first thing that set me off, but is rather common in the rest of the world, is that the Krone’s color scheme seems to be set by a middle school art teacher: each bill seeming to be a primary or common color. The second thing that did me in was that the Krone works in denominations of tens not ones like the US dollar. This means that the latte you buy at Starbucks in the States, that would cost $5, would comparatively cost 50 Krona to a Dane in Denmark.
This is all fine and well, but as an American Student studing in Denmark this has made life a bit difficult. That hypothetical Danish latte that costs 50 Krona doesn’t not cost $5 to us. The exchange rate between the US dollar and Danish Krone is 6.7 Krone to every Dollar, so to the American on the streets of Copenhagen, before making every purchase they must first divide by 7 (Yes 7. Find me someone willing to divide by 6.7 on the regular. I’ve always chalked that .3 unaccounted as statistical error. Side note: shout out to my stats prof for getting me to actually learn Stats). So after remembering your division tables from seventh grade math you should have come to realize that the, already expensive, $5 latte in the states, comparatively costs $7.50 in Denmark.
To come back to my original point: The Krone looks like Monopoly money, works in the same denominations as it, but is most certainly not Monopoly money. If it was Monopoly money I would not have to stop to think about if I need something before a purchase, but also take a non insignificant amount of time to see I can afford it. However, to prove my point about the how the two can easily be confused: only two of these photos are Krona the other one is danish Monopoly money I throw on the table of my apartment.
For the past two semesters at Colby I have taken the two classes all Econ majors dread: Micro and Macro Economic Theory. Although they were probably two of my favorite classes to date they were two of the hardest, most incredibly mentally taxing classes I think I will ever encounter. Often in both classes I would find myself asking a common question among any student body: how the hell will any of this apply in real life? But for real, those classes were theory. Theory is time and time again found to not apply to real life scenarios. For example: before the detonation of the first atomic bomb, it was theorized that the splitting of an atom would release do much energy that the hydrogen in the atmosphere would catch fire… Look around you. Do you see a fiery hellscape? I thought not. See, theories can be blatantly false when attempted out in the wild.
Now, for the first time ever I have seen an economic theory play out in real life! This event occurred a few days ago when I crossed the body of water between Copenhagen, Denmark and Malmo, Sweden with a friend of mine in order to buy jeans. I never really thought twice about why in the world I was traveling so far to buy something so trivial, but I probably was convinced by my friend and that at the time I had less pairs of pants than I have fingers on a hand.
Any who, we get of the train and the first thing I notice is that Malmo has absolutely nothing in it when it comes to culture. At best there is an aquarium on the edge of two; however I do admit its a really cool aquarium. Whats bringing people to Malmo is the fact that the exchange rate for the Swedish krona was way more favorable than the Danish krona, making any purchase in Malmo thirty percent less expensive. For this reason we see the effects of exchange rates on individual’s consumption habits which I thought was just a theory, an Macro Economic theory!
In this theory rational people will buy foreign goods in order to spend less, compared to if they were to buy the more expensive domestic good. So when I got to Malmo I shouldn’t have been surprised to found the place was pretty much a town sized mall. People are literally traveling 45 minutes by train in order to save money on the purchases of luxury goods. So that day as I rode back in the train with my friend, I was able to look around and see everyone with full shopping bags as if we were on a buying spree bus. I felt complete having seen a theory working in the wild.
I used to see airplanes as these big, special means of transportation. Like cruise ships, or even submarines, neither of which I have ever been in. Airplanes I had, but I didn’t hop on them quite often. Just to visit family on summer and winter vacations for a couple months, only on special occasions.
Five years ago I watched movies like Roman holiday at home, read about Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, studied the Bohr atomic model in my science class or read about Belgium Medieval times in my high school history class. I read what sounded like stories, feeling a part detached, some part away. “Danish physicist Niehls Bohr proposed the Bohr model of the atom…” Loosely, I skimmed these lines, disregarding the relevance of the information regarding origins and context. I would understand the story, the model, the concept, like I could see the island from afar, but there was a body of ocean separating me from full comprehension. My mind would be there, but it had left behind my body and senses, and I could just feel something was missing.
Just like how I saw a glimpse of Sweden from the green mound field spread vast alongside the Louisiana Museum of Art in Denmark. Enough to admire, to appreciate and see, but too far to place myself in that specific place and context.
But in these past four months, I went back in time and filled in these blanks in my understanding. I crossed these bodies of ocean with the airplanes I hopped on seven times and double that each time to return to Copenhagen during my time abroad. I never imagined I would experience a quarter of the things I checked off my bucket list by the age of 20, or to say “I am returning to Copenhagen” after a weekend travel trip. Five years ago, when I was sitting at my desk reading history textbooks or studying European literature, I didn’t think I would be walking the steps that characters had lived their lives on for short episodes in these books and movies. The distance doesn’t seem so far away now, the bodies of ocean doesn’t seem so daunting. Just excitement. Like having lived and experienced dreams comes true. Movies that have become a reality, feeling like I am in a magical kingdom, walking through Disneyland, living my childhood dream, watching my favorite childhood Disney characters come to life. To walk the steps of history. Texts and people become real. All of it, to live, feel, and be alive, and connect with humanity instead of living in the bubble I have allowed to contour my life.
To become a part of a new community with a completely different perspective on life, but share the same comfort of feelings, of being at home with loved ones. Sitting in the warmth and comfort of a big couch in a warm, cozy room up North of Jutland with 20 other members of a Danish family, sharing three big platters of Lasagne while drinking Christmas beer and Coca Cola. Feeling happiness emanating through the room in the chatter that emanates the rooms, the flavor of home-cooked tomato sauce on my tongue. Sitting besides smiling warm bodies, all present and happy to be here. Understanding what hygge means, being able to relate that with the feeling of gathering around the dinner table in front of the TV, sitting on the heated floor with my whole Japanese side of the family for New Years.
I still haven’t processed the lifetime of experiences I have had abroad and memories I made with locals, new friends, new communities, places I visited, and the people I met. It all still feels like a dream, and I am scared to wake up from it. But then I think, do I have to? Does life have to be the way I have come to define it back home? Does the experience of travel I had here have to be limited to these four months?
My last stop, Prague, Czech Republic. Walking along the Vlatva river, I get a feeling like I am walking along the Seine river in Paris. The sky is dimly lit daytime, it is only one hour past noon but the streaks of faded orange and pink gradate through the clouds making it look like the sun has already started to set, and will continue to slowly set until midnight. I guess it makes sense. We all share the same body of water and sky. The difference is the civilization built around it. In Prague I saw the Vysehrad fort behind me and Charles Bridge ahead, the Prague castle standing tall on a high hill above the West side. In Paris, from where I stood on Vlatva, if it were the Seine river I would see the Notre Dame castle behind me and the Eiffel tower up ahead. Accordion music playing along the streets that lots of locals and tourists sat along the edge of to enjoy cheese and drink wine and watch the sunset. The same sun that was setting across the Vlatva river.
Thomas Ubbesen was right. Walking is the best way to travel. Sara Troense also helped me to find stories wherever I am. Like Thoreau had said, you don’t need to walk far beyond you house to find life, a great travel story. All you need to do is love, see, feel. To be alive and present in the moment. Travel writing taught me to find the best of every moment, life in every experience and place I visit as sensations with the different environments and situations we are placed in are what we can all resonate with as people.
Through travel, I built my own bridges across oceans. I stamped places of travel in my mental passport. In full use of all my senses, I extracted everything I could at that time from each place I visited, the smell, the faces, the connections it made me identify, the feelings it made me discern. I still can’t come to define the exact sensation or summarize the thoughts and flashbacks that morphed inside my head as a result of all my travels. If someone asked me what I got out of my time abroad traveling to different countries, living in a new country, there is no one thing I can pinpoint. But what I can say for now is that my travels will continue, to get close to an answer of my take on this question. And I will continue to write about it, and hopefully somewhere along the way, I will find the words to articulate this beauty of life that I have come to discover though traveling and travel writing.
I have been in Copenhagen for just under a month, and while it is remarkably different from Bologna, Italy, where I spent my last semester doing the Brown in Bologna program, it is just as charming! As a city, it has all of the familiar european charm but, as Denmark’s biggest city, it feels more like a bustling, industrial hub – also familiar to me, as I am a native New Yorker.
One of the first things I did upon arrival was to rent a bike – Copenhagen is a city very much made for bikes. A huge percentage of the population – no matter age or socioeconomic status, travel daily by bike. It is not uncommon to see anyone from toddlers on the back of bikes, elementary students riding to school, work professionals, and even senior citizens in the bike lanes.
I live in Nørrebro, a relatively “diverse” hipster part of Copenhagen. I live in a rented apartment with a young Danish girl, Frederikke, who works at a nearby architecture firm. Copenhagen has a huge muslim immigrant population, many of whom live in Nørrebro, but other than this, I have not found Copenhagen to be an immensely diverse city. Copenhagen is also a very expensive city for the dollar – the exchange rate is 6.87 Danish Kroners (DKK) to 1 USD. A cappuccino can be up to 45 Kroners ($6.50!) and even things like grocery and clothes shopping… a salmon filet was around $30!
The weather has been a bit of an adjustment – while this past January was nothing if compared to a Colby Jan Plan, the sun sets around 4:30 here, and so the days here have been mostly dark and rainy.
My “core” course is Architecture Foundations, while my electives are 20th and 21st century Danish Architecture, Adaptive Reuse, and Danish Language and Culture. I am very much enjoying my core course – so far we have been working on designing and build a model of a 6×6 meter museum exhibitory space – which has been very fun as a former Art History major. Through all of the courses, I have also been on many field studies to churches, architecture firms, libraries, and museums. Last week, we took a 3 day study tour to two cities in Western Denmark: Aarhus (its second biggest city,) and Ribe (its oldest city.)
I am slowly but steadily picking up a few key phrases in Danish – not enough to make conversation yet, but I am hopeful.
Throughout my first few weeks in Copenhagen, I didn’t spend much time outside the city. I really wanted to get a sense of the city and understand what it was like to live in Copenhagen, rather than just use it as a home base for European travel. However, I have been able to take a few trips now and it has really shown me how much I already think of Copenhagen as home. On a recent trip to Hamburg, Germany, I had to use Euros for the first time instead of the Danish Krone, and it was a shock to my system to be greeted by most cashiers with a “Cash Only” policy at the register. One of the many benefits of living in Denmark is that is it is an almost entirely cashless society. I haven’t even taken a single Krone out of an ATM this entire time, and no one has expected me to pull out cash instead of using my credit card or Apple Pay. In conversation with my Danish professor, I learned that Danes view people that use cash as probably being involved in some shady activity. Only people who don’t want an electronic trail like prostitutes or criminals would actually use cash in the Danish view.
Comparing Denmark to other countries in Europe has been a large focus of my time here. My core class that I am taking while here is focused on the European Union and how it functions (or dysfunctions at times). Recently, I had the new experience of leaving an EU country and entering a freshly Brexit-ed Edinburgh. Just like moving between any countries that do not participate in the free movement capabilities of European Union countries, I had to go through full passport control, compared to going to Hamburg where no one ever even looked at me. Even though it wasn’t really anything special in reality, I thought it was cool because I have been studying the European Union so intensely. Its such a momentous issue that the European Union has to deal with and its also incredibly interesting being in a country like Denmark, who would be interested in a Dexit if things with the UK separation end up going well. Denmark is super proud of everything it has accomplished and that has left many people holding on tightly to their resources and accomplishments and not wanting to give it all away to other countries in the EU. Whereas the people in Germany were clearly very, very pro-EU. Our professor had us ask Germans if they would want a Brexit to happen in Germany, and most people were completely offended and startled that we would even ask them such a question. However, when we performed the same exercise in Copenhagen, most Danes saw positives and negatives to the EU and quite a few seriously contemplated voting to leave the EU. This contrast was quite stark, and interesting considering that Britain is rapidly losing money and international business as a result of their decision to leave the EU. It will certainly be a topic to follow more closely throughout the rest of my time here, particularly during this coming week where my core class goes to Brussels to home of the EU institutions themselves.
A major way that I have been exploring Copenhagen and the surrounding areas is by going to a local rock climbing gym called Blocs and Walls. I have a ~20 minute bike ride to get there from my apartment, and every time I try to take a slightly different route so that I can see more of the city. It has been a great way to adjust to Danish biking culture, especially when I go during rush hour. The gym is located on the island of Amager, which I otherwise would not have really explored. Blocs and Walls is beautiful and houses a plethora of different walls to choose from. Additionally, they have an in-house cafe where I can get coffee before and/or after I climb. The community there is very supportive, as I often receive help on a certain climb that I am working on from Danish strangers who happen to be at the same wall. There is a range of people who go to the gym, such as Danes, tourists, and occasionally other study abroad students. I am hoping to start to take some classes there, such as yoga, so I can meet some Danish climbers on a more personal level.
Having spent roughly a month here already, I have gotten to experience the apartment lifestyle, which is how I am living, and the homestay lifestyle through one of my best friends from the states who is living with a Danish host family in the suburbs of Copenhagen. Her host family’s home is small but quaint, with very uniquely rustic furniture and white walls. The house has large cupboards outside of the kitchen where they keep their silverware, dishes, and cups, which I find fascinating. Additionally, there are a lot of plants and lights inside the home, which I am guessing serve the purpose of lightening up the home during the months of January and February where the days are short and there is lots of rain. In terms of plastic use in the home, this family often puts opened plastic containers inside plastic bags in order to keep their food fresh for longer. Although this tactic may preserve the foods a little longer than they would last without the extra covering, it is an extreme waste of plastic that seems uncharacteristic of the Danes from what I have seen so far. They always bring either a backpack or a cotton bag to the grocery store to carry their groceries home in order to eliminate culminating single-use plastic bags in the house. I have also noticed that the family uses paper towels and they do not have linen hand towels in the kitchen that can be thrown in the wash to reuse. However, the entire family uses reusable water bottles here due to the fact that plastic water bottles in stores are very expensive. The idea of reusable water bottles is highly promoted here through the deterrence of plastic single-use bottles.