A Cheapskate Abroad

I’m no longer in Denmark, but I’m still doing blog posts of tips and advice for future DIS students and other travelers. Here’s a post I drafted in March, back when ALDI shopping totals were still one of my big weekly stressors:

I keep a “bag of bags” to reuse. I sort my to-read list by which books I have to buy, and which ones I can get free of charge at the library. And I wore the same pair of Converse–which I’d found at a yard sale–throughout all four years of high school, even after the soles started falling out. My family ribs me often for how much I hate spending money, but I’ve embraced the title of cheapskate; I enjoy looking for ways to cut back, or inventively reuse what I have.

Studying out of the United States–especially in Copenhagen, which is notorious for having a high cost of living–has been the greatest challenge to my spendthrift ways. But it hasn’t been impossible. Here are some of the tricks I’ve picked up over the semester, divided by category. And keep in mind that I’m no expert–just a college student, often found making angry squint-faces at receipts, who regularly slips up. (Don’t ask me how many chocolate croissants I ate at Studenterhuset.)

Manage your finances well, and you, too, can feel comfortable when you see this sticker in downtown Copenhagen.

Before You Go

Bring what you can from home in terms of school supplies, and be minimalist. If you don’t need them, don’t worry about buying fancy notebooks with just-right dividers for your five classes. A sheaf of notebook paper in a slim binder will work just fine for handwritten notes, and slides more easily into a suitcase.

Clothes and Laundry

Wait to do laundry until you really need to. One or two shirts does not a full load make.

If you’re comfortable with doing so, and you’re on a short weekend trip or study tour, you can re-wear clean clothes without stains, like jeans. For these trips, pack long undershirt/T-shirt combinations instead of bringing many outfits. Wear both in the day to stay warm, and then wear the T-shirt with a pair of pajama bottoms to sleep.

Instead of paying to dry your clothes, invest in a rack. Or, if you can find clothesline and it’s nice outside, hang them up!

It never got warm enough for me to try this in Denmark, but it worked pretty well in Greece.

Food

I’m not as much of a foodie, so I avoid going out to eat as much as possible–but I know that for many people, this is a large part of the study abroad experience, and the amount I spend on visiting museums is probably what other people do to try dishes they’re interested in. So take stock of your own interest in food, and figure out how to spend from there. My own rule is that I try not to unless I’m in the city for night extra-curriculars or I’m out with friends.

If your friends invite you out for a bite but you don’t feel like spending–or eating–a lot, get an appetizer, side, or kids’ portion.

Jagger, my beloved favorite burger place in Copenhagen.

Don’t get too attached to American brands–avoid chains like Starbucks and McDonalds, and buy store-name-brand items. My favorite vice, potato chips, comes down to 7 kroner for a bag of “Joe’s” vs. 33 kroner for Lays. You might even learn something about everyday Danish life from the alternatives you find.

For cooking at home, look for fresh fruits and vegetables, bread, and pasta. These are less expensive than other items, and you can mix and match them to make a variety of meals.

Even if there’s only a little left, don’t throw things away til they’re finished. Use every scrape of peanut butter in the jar.

Carry a reusable water bottle. They’re better for the environment, you won’t buy bottled water, and you’ll feel less tempted to spend extra on a beverage if you’re out for a quick lunch or snack.

If you’re in a kollegium or around other peoples’ apartments, cook group meals together, or have a potluck where everyone chips in a dish.

Download the app Too Good to Go, which allows you to pick up excess food at a discount from Copenhagen restaurants before it becomes waste. I wasn’t able to download this on my American phone, but if you’re using a Danish one, it should work.

Shopping

Use reusable bags at stores like ALDI where you’ll have to pay for plastic ones. (The Flying Tiger locations in Copenhagen sell cute totes.)

Don’t blow too much money on souvenirs, especially cheap and easy-to-find ones! It’s hard on your wallet, local craftspeople, and your weight at the airport. Don’t buy things that are Dannenbrog-covered knockoffs of items you could find in the States, or ones you won’t use as part of your space regularly, or ones you could see yourself throwing away in six months.

Keep tabs on the local thrifting scene, especially at Studenterhuset, if you need clothes. Look for items on designated days at the DIS Sustainable Boutique–so far I’ve scored a backpack pin and a guide to deciphering hieroglyphs, all for free.

Become a window shopping pro. Enjoy walking through shops on Strøget or the stalls at the Glass Market; take them in without acting on the need to purchase anything. Sometimes, these are just enjoyable places to admire, or to observe cultural differences that pique your interest.

Fresh vegetable stalls

If you need particular school supplies, ask your professors or other locals for tips. Name-brand places will try to upsell you. My Danish professor Nan gave me a tip on where to find flashcards at the shop Papirlageret Nørrevold, and they were half as expensive for a deck of the same size at the bookstore/stationary place up the street.

Getting Around

This one should go without saying in Copenhagen, since it’s so bike- and pedestrian-friendly. Walk and cycle instead of taking taxis (or the subway, if you’re not using a commuter pass)–if you’re physically or otherwise able to, of course. If it’s later at night, exercise your best judgment.

Entertainment

For finding places to hang out and have fun–consider actually reading the DIS emails that will cascade into your inbox, which have information about discounts, cafes, and upcoming holidays. (I even got a student ticket for a concert!) Follow Danish and expat news services, like my favorite Local Denmark.

Check out the Facebook group for Hidden Gems Copenhagen for out-of-the-way sights and student discount restaurants. Many are near the DIS offices on Vestergade Street.

Look for extracurricular and other opportunities through DIS. With Film Club, I get into a movie a month free at venues across Copenhagen; Studenterhuset regularly hosts no-cost events like movie viewings, parties, and weekly swing dancing classes.

My ticket for February’s DIS Film Club pick at Vester Vov Vov cinema.

Plenty of museums have free days (like Tuesdays at the Glyptotek) or offer reduced admission to students (like the Design Museum). Do a little research and see what you can find for the spots on your to-do list.

How You Spend

When you arrive, do not withdraw money near the airport! Rates are highest there, and you’ll get way less kroner.

Force yourself to use paper money. I’ve found that I spend less when I see the bills physically disappearing from my wallet.

Keep track of what you spend every week. It’ll help you figure out what your patterns are and what you can cut out, and acts as a way to remember what you did each week, too. Scrolling through my own list in my phone notes, I can pick out the days I was sick or sad (“Haribo gummies”, “cough drops”), exploring (“extra zone pass”, “bike ticket”), or found a cool hangout (“coffee at American Pie“). This doesn’t have to be serious, either–some of my favorite entries are ” ‘dinner’ ” and “THE HOLY GRAIL” (long story).

A back table–the best writing place–at American Pie

Watch your kroner coins carefully–they’re in higher denominations than American coins, so they’ll add up together faster. If I found two of the larger ones under my bed, I could probably cover my grocery bill for a week!

Miscellaneous

Really reflect on what you’re doing for additional travel, and why. Is it somewhere you’ll only get to go this once? Is there something similar in Copenhagen? Is there anything you’ll be missing in Denmark when you go away? The costs of weekend trips around Europe can add up fast.

Look for places to study or hang out where you won’t feel tempted to purchase things. Libraries like the Black Diamond are always a good bet.

Some rare sunshine near the Black Diamond’s patio on the waterfront.

Be open to swapping things with others–books, clothes, household items. Or pay to cover people you trust with the stipulation that they do the same for you later. You’ll pay for their extra train ticket today; they’ll buy you a drink when you ask at the end of the week.

Consider where you can rough it. Since my umbrella broke during the first week, I’ve thought about buying a new one, but I’ve also gotten good at making do with a hat, hoodie, and big, thick, scarf–which is what a lot of Danes seem to do.

Look for bottle returns–several Danish grocery stores have them–where you can get cash back for turning in cans and glass.

And finally: be generous with yourself. Accept that you will splurge, and that things will happen while you are abroad. Your student ID will slip out somewhere on Vestergade Street, and you’ll need a replacement; you will have an emotional day and crave a candy bar (true stories). Relax–with a little planning, things will work out. You’re building a life here, if only for four short months. Take it all in.

(Header image: the kroner that I didn’t convert to USD in time. Guess we know what my first errand is going to be after Virginia gets out of coronavirus lockdown.)

Flying Back With Fear And Trembling

The places I’d visited. The cross-cultural understanding I’d gained. The new Danish friends I’d hopefully make. These are the answers I gave the very nice representative from DIS back in November after he hit me with this doozy of a final interview question: What do you want to be reflecting on during your plane ride home from studying in Denmark? I mean, really, I’d text my mom jokingly after the video call, they think I’m going to be reflecting? I’m going to be trying to nap with headphones on.

Here’s what I ended up thinking about instead, wide awake and white-knuckling the seat, on a flight back to America two months early: What if I hadn’t gotten this flight? Did I make it out in time? Do I have coronavirus?


The signs were all there that something would happen. Literally. When the virus first reached Denmark, around the end of February, posters flew up across the folkehøjskole about hand washing before meals. Reading the Local Denmark‘s daily coronavirus reports–first a trickling of isolated cases, then 50, then 100–became an uncomfortable part of my morning routine, somewhere between downing a coffee and taking the train and studying at the Copenhagen Main Library.

Then DIS, understandably, canceled the second round of week-long study tours for core courses–including mine–citing concerns about travel in Europe. It was for the best, but my heart still broke–less for me, and more for my classmates in “Myth and Reason”, many of whom hadn’t been to our planned destinations around Greece before. I had been looking forward to walking my friends down the orange-tree-lined streets in the neighborhood where I’d studied in Athens in the fall, and to my favorite gyro shops. I felt for our professor Brian most of all, who’d said our class would be missing its soul without our trip.

So we came to Wednesday, March 11th: a day of back-to-back field studies. Our morning guest lecturer for “International Advertising”, a man who’d story-boarded and produced several ads for national American television, had plans to travel elsewhere after meeting with us in Copenhagen. “But not anymore, because of all this–” –air hands– “–corona stuff.” Nervous laughter.

My education class met outside the national cathedral, waiting for the bus to pull up for an afternoon site visit. I, along with several others, had brought an onsdagssnegle–a Wednesday cinnamon roll “snail”–from the nearest bakery. “Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if this was was my last Wednesday snail in Copenhagen?” “Haha, don’t talk like that, dude.” An update on my phone from Local Denmark: “Coronavirus cases in Denmark hit 340 after overnight spike.”

A goat outside at the byggelegepladsen. Maybe the real lessons from study abroad were the goats we met along the way.

The ride to our field study–a byggelegepladsen after-school program, featuring yet more goats–was long enough for the prevailing rumor to whip through the whole bus. By the end of the week, or so according to someone’s friend’s professor’s interpretation, DIS was going to come to A Decision.

Stirring soup. No pics of the kids allowed for privacy reasons, so I tried to nail their expressions in emoji form.

A byggelegepladsen is a “construction playground”; like the last park we’d visited on field study, the students there had more room for independent play than many American playgrounds could provide. Stations had been set up for different activities outside and inside–building freestanding forts; adding to a fire pit; painting; taking care of rabbits and goats. While adults supervised at a distance, the kids were in charge of setting their own schedules, and a hands-dirty do-it-yourself ethos was everywhere. Our professor Heidi added that, during a DIS summer session, her classes had built bonfires at the byggelegepladsen and butchered a chicken.

Our fearless professor Heidi (foreground) chops some wood.

After getting trounced a tag game involving plastic machetes by some byggelegepladsen students, several of us kept occupied at the wood-chopping station. Even younger students at the program are trusted to use this area, provided they’ve been taught the rules and use of equipment. It was therapeutic to take turns hacking away at the stubborn logs. At one point, I handed off the ax to another boy in our class, who, like me, swung in vain.

“You’ve gotta put force into it,” I said. “Think of something that makes you really, really angry.”

He started pumping the ax down, up, back down in a flash, yelling loudly enough to turn heads: “I am not getting sent home! I am going to stay here! I am going to stay in Denmark!

From atop the wood pile.

Indoor arts and crafts were more distracting. Over pressing paint-stamps made from carved potatoes, we asked one of the program’s assistants about his future education plans and the students’ favorite TikTok songs. The present still managed to creep in. One Danish boy reported that a friend’s school had closed earlier in the week, after a student tested positive for coronavirus.

At the table, potato pressings in progress.

Whispery bus ride back into the city. Train home to Roskilde. Tense dinner. I spaced out–couldn’t jump into conversations. Couldn’t start my case study for “International Advertising”. Everything seemed to be on the edge, clicking towards an unknown point. What?

Around 9pm, we all found out, through the texts of homestay students with access to live television: the Prime Minister of Denmark was closing all public schools for the next two weeks. Including our folkehøjskole.

The common room erupted. Someone booked a flight without waiting to hear if DIS would close and then made for the airport, suitcase banging on the metal steps. Someone else found a phone speaker and cranked up a track from the Billboard Top 10 until the entire floor reverberated, because he could. Five different phone conversations sparked and ran together. I called a good friend, then called my mom, then lay in my bed on my back while sucking on my last lollipop from Fastelvan and deciding not to look at homework for the rest of the night.

A weepy mosh pit, its participants all holding copies of the national folkehøjskole songbook, clustered around the Orange Room piano. This would be the last time we Americans would see many of our Scandinavian friends. In the morning, they would depart, and dinner that next night would be the last meal ROFH could provide for us. We’d have to use the kitchen ourselves or buy meals in town from then on out.

One last singalong.

Each hour afterwards brought some new panic. DIS texted to expect an update later in the night. Another rumor arose that Denmark had hit a level three warning on the CDC’s travel advisory—the threshold where many colleges (including Dickinson, my own) were calling off their programs. At midnight, DIS emailed out the final verdict. Within the next week, we all had to be home.

I was saddened, but mostly relieved. Things were getting worse; at the end of the day, the number of coronavirus cases in Denmark had mushroomed to over five hundred. I took out my last load of laundry, called my parents one more time, got ready to go to bed—I could get in touch with the airline the next day about rearranging tickets. Except my friends at home kept messaging me:

“Claire r u ok?”

“Claire, are you going to be able to leave the country?”

That’s how I learned that the United States government was placing a month-long ban on travel from Europe, starting in forty-eight hours. In the morning I’d find out that American nationals were supposed to be excluded. But that Wednesday-now-Thursday, I didn’t know that. Nobody did.


Unlike the plane ride interview question, I did have a faint vision of what I wanted to be doing on my last days in Denmark: stopping at my favorite sights, close to friends. Never had I thought they would be like this: my floormates racing into the night, one by one, with packed bags. Waiting as number 1,500 in an airline’s queue before resigning. Grabbing one of the last seats on an Air France flight for Friday morning with a ticket price that made me want to throw up. (DIS generously reimbursed some costs for newly purchased tickets.)

I’d like to say I was able to grab one more Jager burger on Thursday, my last day, or to get a final long glimpse from the top of Christiansborg. There was just no time. I scrambled into the city, where the wind was so intense I almost fell over while cycling, to drop off my bike, textbooks, and the items that wouldn’t fit into my suitcase. The central train station blasted coronavirus warnings on loop. Every plaza seemed deserted. Everything I loved about Copenhagen–every street I’d found charming, all the afternoon pedestrians–had fallen away.

This picture (outside Christiansborg and the War Museum) was taken earlier, but several streets downtown looked like this on that Thursday.

On Friday, I moved out of the bogruppe at dawn, and took a cab, notoriously pricey, only because the once dependable train timetables could no longer be trusted. I was told to expect three hour wait times at Copenhagen Airport. In some miracle, I got through in much less than that.

After a layover in France, I made it to Washington D.C. at 5pm. Just in time. Then came Customs.

Somewhere between France and Canada.

Packed into a line hundreds of people deep for forty-five minutes, there was strangely little acknowledgement of the pandemic we’d all left for. No warnings were given about contact–I put great effort into not touching anyone around me. No one checked my temperature or questioned my health. When I asked my Customs officer if there were any special precautions I needed to take, he seemed nonplussed as I explained I came from Denmark, and told me not to worry–as though I hadn’t spent the last week watching numbers grow higher and higher on the news. By the end of the weekend, the Danish borders would be closed.

I tripped out of the terminal with my bags and suitcase. Just before Dad pulled up to the Arrivals curb, a warm spring breeze fluttered over my shoulders. After two months, I had forgotten what that felt like.

Arrivals at Dulles International, a place I am now too familiar with.

In the last twelve days, the only places I’ve entered have been my bedroom and the house upstairs bathroom, which the rest of my family has temporarily stopped using. I’m riding out a self-quarantine: I eat meals alone and place my laundry by my door in bags. When I left a paper outside for my dad to scan, he lifted it–half-teasingly, half-playing-it-safe–with the edges of his fingers. I haven’t gotten to hug a single person in my family yet.

I can write for certain that for now, I don’t have coronavirus, though Virginia regifted me some spring allergies as a welcome back present. As I’m sure you can imagine, I’ve had a lot of time to decompress–yet surprisingly, I haven’t been hit with an overwhelming feeling of loss about Denmark. The things I won’t be present for, or didn’t make it to, have popped up in my mind: biking around Copenhagen in the spring. The mainland cities. An island perfect for stargazing. But so do the ones I was lucky to do, often just in time: philosophy classes. The Louisiana Museum. That last Wednesday snail.

Graffiti (not by me!!!) in Hamburg, summing it all up.

I guess for now, I can only say what the graffiti (above) does: I was here! And I’m happy I was here. And while I’m no longer in Denmark, I’ll still be here, on this blog–writing about my online classes, which start next week, and posting some tips for future DIS students about money, sightseeing, and managing seasonal blues. It’ll be different from what you were expecting if you keep reading. But I’m going into it with what’s been my mindset for the last three weeks: let’s just see what happens next.

(Header image: glacial lands somewhere over Canada. Title with apologies to Kierkegaard. Part of this post is taken from a shorter op-ed I was asked to write by my college newspaper about this experience.)

Time Marches Forward

Did Daylight Savings happen? I could barely tell. The signifiers of early spring have appeared here regardless–something that’s shocked me after two months of winter deadlock. Bulb-shaped flowers, yellow and purple, pop up around the apartment complex grounds on the way to the train. Light lingers in the sky for just a few minutes after dinner. After spending some time working at the University of Copenhagen after my Kierkegaard class, I left the student lounge to find this:

Sunset at the south campus of Copenhagen University

Here are some other things, ordinary and not, that have happened this past first week-or-so of March:

Folkehøjskole Fastelavn

February ended at ROFH with a costume party for Fastelvan, a national carnival holiday. The festivities culminate with everyone coming together to take a crack at a hanging wooden barrel with bat (like a pinata!).

I had no idea what to dress up as; ROFH students who’d been planning for much longer showed out as Breaking Bad characters, Batman, and a cardboard recreation of the national folkehøjskole songbook. In the thirty minutes before the party, I pulled through, throwing my trusty beanie, a yellow shirt, tape, markers, and a cut-up old copy of a “Myth and Reason” reading together into a barely-convincing flower. (Alternate guesses from ROFH students: “a really cool Pokemon” and “a fire”.)

After we each got a turn at the barrel, which rained down sour lollipops, I bested the competition at Twister! Then I got whooped in a follow-up round and woke up the next morning with cramps in muscles that I didn’t even know existed…but that’s irrelevant.

Midterms, Coronavirus, and Other Looming Things

Downtown in Copenhagen, deadlines are nigh. DIS is different from my classes at home in that group projects are more prevalent than essays and tests, which fits with the importance of teamwork in Danish education. In “International Advertising“, we wrote creative briefs in groups for popular Danish companies, swapped them, and are now designing advertising campaigns based on our newly-received brief. After learning about the Finnish and Danish teacher education programs in “Learning in Scandinavian Classrooms”, we’ve been tasked with designing the perfect training curriculum.

The number one way to derail any of those project meetups? Coronavirus, appearing in dark humor–“I mean, now that we have the cards for free healthcare, would it really be so bad to get sick here?”–and nervous phone stat-checking–“Wait, it’s twenty cases in Denmark today?!” Things have intensified since last week; all independent travel to Italy is now off-limits for DIS students, and Denmark has shut down events with over 1,000 people. A football game that DIS had offered up free tickets for disappeared from the schedule, forcing me to spend yesterday afternoon confronting some more personal deadlines. (Internship applications and taxes. Fun!)

And, of course, there’s the ever-hanging threat that at any second, an email will shoot through cyberspace from our home institutions, calling us back to the United States. But this is uncertain, dependent in my case as a Dickinson student on a host of CDC advisories and State Department warnings. I guess I’ll just worry about my Danish midterm tomorrow for now.

Field Study: A Walk in Nørrebro

With so much to panic about, it was good to get some fresh air–and where better to do that than Nørrebro? This colorful Copenhagen neighborhood had been on my bucket list for some time. For my Wednesday field study, my Danish class met on-site to learn about its diverse residents and history.

Our tour guide, a friend of our professor Nan’s, took us around Assistens Cemetery, a sprawling green space with the graves of some of Denmark’s best-known luminaries (including Hans Christian Andersen and Kierkegaard!). Instead of focusing solely on the famous, he told us about the mix of characters that have lived in the Nørrebro area over the years: manual laborers, American jazz artists, community organizers, to name a few.

Around us, Assistens was being used like a park in the most literal sense of its Danish name, kirkegård–a church yard. (And, yes, that does mean the often gloomy philosopher Søren I’m reading shares his last name with a term for cemetery.) Mothers pushed strollers past our group, and we had to part frequently for cyclists. It’s different from the American suburban kid lore I grew up with, where any car ride past a graveyard mandated that you hold your breath or risk losing your soul.

Now that it’s a few degrees warmer outside, I want to continue wandering through Nørrebro–preferably on bike–since there were so many spots on our tour that I’d never heard about. Like the tiled soccer ground/meeting space, Blågårds Plads (center image)–it’s part of the Black Square area, possibly named for the former site of a foundry. The sculptures at its perimeter, all bent over at similar angles, were created by artist Kai Nielsen to represent the neighborhood’s residents at work on their trades. Also on the square’s edge: Sorte Firkant, a bar, cafe, and community space where we rested our feet and drank from foamy hot chocolate cups.

Two Mazes

The first maze: on Friday, my friend Renée introduced me to Paludan Bog & Café, the oldest joint bookstore/cafe in Copenhagen. It’s right across the street from the University of Copenhagen’s city offices, so it gets a lot of the student crowd, though there’s a good mix of all kinds of visitors. While Renée and I ate warm cookies, the vacant seats at our long table filled first with moms and their babies, then some Greek women who were very excited to overhear us talking about the ancient sites we’d covered in “Myth and Reason“.

Being huge bookworms, we had to step down to the basement, where used and collectible books are sold. We were impressed to find a multilingual trove covering everything from the classics (Homer in Danish!) to linguistics to crime novels. On the wall were inscrutable mixed-media sculptures (see left image) with baby doll parts, old handguns, and records. We were surprised at how deep down the collection went; it was much farther than the parameters of the cafe would seem to allow.

Saturday brought one of the most unsettling museum experiences–in a meaningful arty sense–that I’ve had in a while at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. To get there, I had to buy my first “extension ticket” for Danish rail. DIS covers my commute route into the city, but I need to pay extra to ride through the transportation zones outside of that. I went a half hour up the coast from Copenhagen, and could smell the brine and sea breeze when I stepped out in the town of Humlebæk–a scent close to my ocean-loving heart.

The museum grounds are home to an outdoor sculpture garden, which is so easy to get lost doing figure-eights in. I typically don’t think that there are “right” and “wrong” ways to go through art museums, but whatever I did on Saturday wouldn’t be recognized as “correct”.

Marble-esque sculptures of the planets in our solar system

One outdoor installation is a set of now-rusted steps, only a few inches wide in diameter, that you have to balance on ever-so-carefully to get down the slope behind the yard. At the bottom is the shoreline, and I spent good time sitting on rocky outcroppings, running my hand through the water. In my excitement to see the sound, I accidentally left through the one exit off the museum grounds, and had to reason how to hike back up the hill–the first of many times I’d lose track of a set path.

Shore of Humlebæk, with Sweden on the horizon

Besides the physical disorientation, there were the exhibitions themselves–like the dazzling reflections of the art in Hot Pink Turquoise. I was disappointed that I didn’t get to go inside artist Ann Veronica Janssens’s Red, Blue, and Yellow, an immersive cube of fog and light. The line went up and around the installation, and it had to close an hour before the museum did.

I also couldn’t find my place in the exhibition Bronze, with its endless slabs of grey sculpture. Every time I thought I’d seen them all, I’d descend a staircase and turn a corner, only to find yet another dimly lit, dead quiet room with similar pieces. This second maze was inarticulately eerie.

Sculptures by Per Kirkeby

For me, the most powerful exhibit–which I have no pictures of because I was so fully absorbed in it–was Lauren Greenfield’s Generation Wealth. It’s a photography collection of decades of the artist’s work, investigating the often shocking ways people modify their homes, bodies, and clothing in pursuit of financial status and beauty. Some of the images jolted my brain for a while after I’d taken the train back from the Louisiana.

An example of the Louisiana’s twisted architecture at the entrance to “Generation Wealth”

It was freeing when I set off out of the maze and went back down the streets of Humlebæk, which seems to get a lot of traffic from the museum; the train stop even has “Louisiana” printed on all its signs. Everything seemed sharper and more real in the evening, outside of white rooms and hairpin-turn walls.

So was the beginning of this month–started with candy; closed with affecting art and a train ride into a dark wood; coursed with historical perspective. I’d say it was worth coming back from break for…except, of course, for midterms.

(Header image: passing the changing of the Danish royal guard, which has almost made me late to class twice now, at the Kultorvet fountain. Only in Copenhagen…)

Adventures Close to Home

It was a hazy week–one with a lot of long naps and long walks and microwaved popcorn (which is dirt cheap at ALDI, and I just discovered where to pop it in the folkehøjskole common building). Most notably, and maybe frighteningly to some of my peers: I didn’t travel anywhere outside of Denmark.

Yesterday capped off the first of DIS’s two “travel weeks”, which are set aside for long study tour field trips for core courses. If you’re not traveling, you have a week off to either independently travel or–to steal from the DIS website–“enjoy down time in Copenhagen”. Since I’m not due for a study tour til March and deliberately made no travel plans, I went with door number three.

I felt out of place when people rolled suitcases into class, or traded names in rapid-fire small talk: Paris! Rome! London! I also kept thinking of a quote I’d read for class from source of angst/new friend? Søren Kierkegaard, whose writing has this uncanny ability to apply exactly to whatever I’m thinking about:

“This rotation…is based on an illusion. One is tired of living in the country, one moves to the city; one is tired of one’s native land, one travels abroad; one is europamude [tired of Europe], one goes to America, and so on…”

–Kierkegaard, writing as the character “A”, in Either/Or

Before the real philosophy students come for me, yes, there’s more going on in this passage than that–for one, it’s attributed as part of a bundle of letters that Kierkegaard, writing as another character, found in an old desk. (I know–I get lost regularly in this text.) And I don’t want to look down on anyone for traveling on breaks–they’re breaks! Go forth and wander! Cry at a building you’ve waited your entire life to see! Get a sunburn!

But while I’m in Denmark this semester, it’s my goal to avoid the pressure of jumping in a “rotation” between countries on the weekends, and to be really here–to get a sense of place (not to rip from a popular DIS course) in Copenhagen and Roskilde. I want to learn from the rest of the country, too; there’s so many more train-side views and old turrets on the way to mainland cities like Aarhus. Not to mention the ongoing list of beaches, biking trails, and wildlife preserves I’m hoping to check out when the weather gets nicer this spring.

On the plaza outside Christiansborg in the evening

Even just staying here last week with no classes, I started noticing things, sensing rhythms–a micro-hailstorm on the train commute into the city; a rainbow on the one home. I could be hallucinating, but by last Friday, the sky was light at dinner time, and the air was March-fresh instead of bracing.


To kick off the break, I went to a three-in-one concert Friday night as part of Copenhagen’s JOURNEY music festival. With a student discount, I got to sample folk (Dirt Bike), electronic (Vegyn), and indie ((Sandy) Alex G) artists. Of the three acts, (Sandy) Alex G, representing my college home state of Pennsylvania, was the only one I’d heard before, and was without a doubt my favorite of the night. I loved that I could feel his songs in the echoes through the floor and the drum reverberations in a way that I couldn’t in my bedroom, headphones on.

Copenhagen Through my Dad’s Eyes

The real reason I wanted to stay in town this break–besides my goal to stay present–stepped off a flight early Saturday morning. My dad came to visit for the first half of the break, marking his first trip beyond North America, and I was so excited to see him and play tour guide. Dad’s first Copenhagen impressions? The raised cycling lanes (he bikes as well), wide use of English, and the honor system that train swipe-ins run on (which he thought Americans would completely take advantage of).

Taking Dad around the city made me realize how much of Copenhagen I forget I know, even after living here for two months. When I have to hit Google Maps to find an obscure side-street shop–or on the days where I only have time to go from the train to class and back–I feel like I haven’t seen enough. But tracing a route from up by Kongens Nytorv, where I had my “scavenger hunt” for Danish class, to Nyhavn, to the Little Mermaid…I saw all the pieces fall together. By Sunday night, Dad had crushed his daily step count record.

The Designmuseum Hall of Chairs, revisited

My dad has an eye for craft in everything, and that made walking around Copenhagen with him so much more meaningful, especially at places I’d visited before. He’d get up close to a chair or a cabinet in the Designmuseum and marvel at the shaping of the wood, at how long it had been preserved. On the pathway outside the Round Tower, he pointed out strips of metal that had been inlaid between the bricks, asking if I knew what they were. (I still have no idea. Guess that’s something I have to find out next week.) Everywhere we went, he’d catch something I might’ve missed–the tusk-like shape of the stock exchange spire; the layout of a train station; the notes of flavor in smørrebrød sandwiches.

…and, of course, with Dad’s interest in building things, we had to go to the huge city LEGO store at some point.

We visited favorite student hangouts, from The Living Room (the cafe with the dim lower space where I unwind and do homework) to Jagger (a new favorite Danish chain–sorry, Max Burger–with a killer pulled-pork burger). Then on Monday, we ventured out to try the new-to-me, including Den Blå Planet, an aquarium one metro stop away from the airport. Highlights: a wraparound tank creating the illusion that you’re swimming under hammerhead sharks and rays, and a sauna-esque rain forest room with a full tank of piranhas.

Trying to settle on where to go after the aquarium, we learned that nearly every sight to see in Copenhagen is closed on Monday–to the same extent that things are on Sundays in some parts of the United States. The challenge to locate something that was either open, or didn’t shut down at 4pm, led us to the Museum of Copenhagen, a place I’d starred on my map but didn’t know much about. What a great surprise find: inside is a story of the city unfolding across three floors, starting in ancient times and moving to royalty before the present. The treat is the uppermost floor, featuring a massive model of the city where you can pick out each individual landmark and train station.

The full model of Copenhagen at the city museum

Rockin’ In Roskilde

We set aside Tuesday to tour my Danish hometown, starting but twenty feet away from my dorm at the RAGNAROCK museum of pop, rock, and youth culture. We almost didn’t make it out at all because of the massive wall of headphones, each one playing songs from a different era of Danish music: jazz in the 20s, Beatles-inspired groups in the 60s, electronic in the 90s. I wish the full collection was available as a playlist!

RAGNAROCK is uniquely interactive–there’s a station to mix your own stage lighting, and one where you can follow along to videos of rave dances or the Twist. That last one produced some blackmail-worthy video of me that I’m sure will be brought out at our next extended family reunion. A game is set up in booths around the exhibits where you can create your own rock band; by scanning your pass from room to room, you check in on their rise and fall. Unfortunately, Dad’s band Love Brigade was plagued by scandal before they could hit the mainstream.

In a blow to our America-centrism, the entire second floor was devoted to an exhibit for a Danish 70s band called Gasolin that neither I nor Dad (with his prolific rock knowledge) had ever heard of. The walls were filled with accolades: the defining band of their generation! More popular than ABBA! It just goes to show that there’s an entire world of music beyond what we both grew up with. Turns out that Gasolin rock pretty hard, too–look out for them on our summer family beach playlist.

Wall of music videos
Art by David Byrne (of Talking Heads)

We ate lunch on the pedestrian walk in downtown Roskilde, near the historic buildings and church, then made our way downhill to the Viking Ship Museum. The scale of the salvaged boats alone was worth the price of admission; it was even more impressive to learn about how they were assembled from thousands of wooden pieces discovered in local Roskilde Fjord. (Fjord-in-name-only, I should write. Since the afternoon I biked there, I’ve learned it’s a totally different body of water. …?)

The museum, as it stands now, is in danger. The area’s been flooded before, explaining the wooden supports up against the windows, and the waters nearby are expected to rise again. One display outlined the risks of staying in Roskilde and the need to find another permanent home for the ships. It’s pretty ironic, Dad pointed out, that these ships were built for the water, and preserved under the water, and now it could be the water that ruins them. He started into an Alanis Morissette parody: “It’s like raaaa-aaaain! On a Viking ship!…

The folkehøjskole welcomes mealtime guests, so Dad and I ate one more time together–tomato soup with warm bread and fried potato skins, a good winter dinner. We got to take part in a ROFH tradition: guests get introduced by their invitees in front of the full dining hall, who all greet them with a “Hej!”

Dad flew out Wednesday morning, texting me proudly that he’d ordered his breakfast in Danglish. I rarely get homesick while traveling, but having him here for just a few days reminded me how much I’ll miss my family until May. I’m thankful Dad picked here as his first real across-the-Atlantic trip, and that the surprise gusts and Monday shutdowns didn’t scare him too much.

The National Art Gallery

I had places I wanted to explore for the rest of the week, but my time fizzled away at home between summer internship applications and readings that needed a second look. I’m more than OK with that. It was nice to take time to wake up at 11am or read a book I’d been eyeing from cover to cover; perhaps these are things I would have done regardless, since Roskilde got hit with a nasty multi-day drizzle.

I did get in one more day trip, though, to the Statens Museum for Kunst, Denmark’s national art gallery. I picked up the best punch-card deal, too: the Parkmuseerne pass, which gives entry to 6 different museums for 50% off their usual combined price. One down, five to go–good thing I have two more months left here.

One of the very first spaces inside is a long hallway with plaster casts of ancient Greek statues, combined with a contemporary artist’s light installation. This made for some fun photos:

Blinded by the light

All the art discussions in my Myth & Reason class may be slowly breaking down my brain. There were several rooms I entered and instantly thought, This doesn’t work as art anymore. But one space, dedicated to Danish art about the human body, really moved me. The room starts in the late 19th century, when optimism was trending for artists; there’s many paintings celebrating the potential and proportions of the human form. As the walls shift into the early 20th, at the cusp of disease outbreaks and World War I, the figures look increasingly disheveled and somber.

A hall of bodies, featuring “Christ in the Realm of the Dead” by Joakim Skovgaard

In all honesty, the mood of those early-20th-century paintings matches my own as I finish this post up. I’m a little anxious, and like the subjects of several of those pieces, it’s about sickness. Travel week ended with the first cases of the coronavirus diagnosed in Denmark, while my friends were pulled out from their abroad programs in Italy. I’m lucky, too, that this is the worst I’ve had to worry about, considering the life-or-death stakes in several other countries.

A discordant way to finish, but an important reminder. It was refreshing to have a full week off, along with a visit from family, in my home here, but I shouldn’t take a full break from being aware of what’s going on around the world. I guess I’ll be going into this next week one day at a time, finding comfort in the limitless interesting things right in Denmark.

(Header image: a stone labyrinth outside the Viking Ship Museum, overlooking the Roskilde “Fjord”. Post title borrowed from The Raincoats.)

Art Moves in Germany (Core Course Week, Part 2)

(Part 1 here)

Thursday, February 6th

I forget my toothbrush, somehow. And my hairbrush. I won’t figure this out and be able to fix it until later tonight, rifling through my backpack on the fifth floor of a hostel in Hamburg, Germany.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. My core course’s study tour begins after I slip off the darkened grounds of the folkehøjskole at 5:45am, “Misirlou” pumping through my headphones to keep me awake. Our class takes the tour bus down a road with creeping mist and yellowed grass; then a nausea-filled ferry ride over the German border; then the bus again. Then we’re in Lübeck, a picturesque town surrounded by waterfront blocks and old steeples. It could be part of Copenhagen, only the signs are populated by umlauts instead of the slashed-through “ø”.

The cafe my lunch group goes to won’t take any non-German credit cards, so I jog a block over to get euros from a bank. As the bills slide out of the machine, I’m surprised at how much I’ve missed their colors and close-to-USD denominations from last semester. The holes in the center of Danish kroner coins are definitely cooler, though.

Lübeck waterfront

Brian split our tour into two parts – an “Apollonian” one for harmonious activities, like the fine arts, and a “Dionysian” one centered in the energy of the crowd, culminating in a Hamburg football game. Starting from Apollo’s side, we’re here in Lübeck to take in Marienkirche–St. Mary’s Church–and see if it still “works” as an art piece in speaking to us today.

We gather around a gated-off area inside, where a bell rests, shattered, in an indentation in the brick floor. Both bells fell from their places in the church’s two spires during an air raid in World War II, which also caused a historic medieval tapestry to catch fire.

One of the broken bells of St. Mary’s. (Photo credit: Paul)

The most quiet class seminar we’ve ever had happens here, done in whispers outside the gate–on why the bell was preserved like this, what kind of losses it might symbolize. Erik comments that the bell shows that for just one night in 1942, it might have seemed to the people of Lübeck, even in this place of faith, that a God wasn’t there.

St. Mary’s sanctuary

I walk the full church hall, feeling some of my worries from Wednesday return as I try to get it. I see all the cues–the high ceilings, the suspended wooden cross, the glass–and appreciate how beautifully they’re arranged. But Brian has spoken about how for those living during the church’s construction in the Middle Ages, St. Mary’s would’ve been the center of their lives–literally, with everything else in town pointing towards it–and a reflection of the divine itself. I’ve been taught that these things represent something sacred, and why, yet this church will probably never hold the same significance for me which it did for that community. Maybe that’s a deeper layer of loss.

Another bus ride finds us by the afternoon in the neighborhood of St. Pauli, Hamburg, where smokestacks rise up in the distance and every lamppost is covered over in a thousand raucous stickers. DIS covers our trip to Marblau, a Mediterranean fusion restaurant, for dinner; Rebecca, Tess, Maya and I talk over the meal about ABBA and terrible young adult dystopia books we once loved.

Marblau’s fig and pancetta pizza

Keeping the Apollonian mood going, we end the day with baroque music at the city concert hall. I’m nodding along with the first half of the show, but all the pieces seem to run together after intermission (albeit melodiously). Clearly, this is something else which should be working for me today but isn’t; half our class looks rapturous in the row behind me when it’s time for applause. My music taste really must be rotting my brain.

…then again, there’s an involved exploration on the walk to the city bus of whether we could’ve had an equal artistic experience by singing through the “Mamma Mia!” musical. In “Myth and Reason”, everything’s fair game!

Friday, February 7th

Breakfast is served at a pizza place next to the hostel, but contains no pizza; then we’re up and off on the train. The railway map looks like thirty colored earphones tangled in a pile, and somehow makes the Danish zone system seem simple.

Hauptbahnhof, the central train station in Hamburg, shot from the escalator.

Brian situates us on the first floor of the art museum, the Hamburg Kunsthall–hey, kunst, a Danish-German crossover word! We’re at the center of an art history ring that starts somewhere in saintly iconography and makes a lazy arc on over to the 1950s, and have gathered around this piece, “Der Mann im Stock” (“the man on the floor”), by Ernst Barlach. It reminds some of us of piety; others, struggle; others, old age. Brian thinks it works, and Heidegger thought a lot of Barlach’s pieces did, too.

“Der Mann im Stock”

Like at St. Mary’s, we’re free from guided tours or museum headphones, and have some time to engage with the art in our own ways. (We’ll write reflections about pieces that we were drawn to, like at the Glyptotek, when we return.) Renee and I get lost on a walkway between the contemporary exhibits in the basement and an entirely separate building, barely making it out in time for lunch. Maya and Erik tell us afterwards that, apparently, all the good Impressionist stuff was on the other side. “There were paintings that you see in art textbooks!” Erik will say at dinner, whipping out his phone to show examples.

The afternoon is set aside for an “art walk” around Hamburg, featuring the pieces mentioned in our class readings and discussions. As we progress, I realize that it’s also a chronological walk through history. First comes the tall, monumental pillar engraved with a mother and child, commemorating the “40,000 sons” of the city who died in World War I.

The Hamburg waterfront

In a nearby park, we contrast two pieces from the following war. On the left, a commemorative stone associated with the Nazis features figures that seem to have marched out of a propaganda poster (as Gus points out), with a text glorifying self-sacrifice in battle. Further down is an art piece made in response, portraying the victims of World War II bombings; the people are disfigured and dying, but seem more human. It’s a dialogue that forces you to walk the full length of the path.

Then, a stop at the home playing field for St. Pauli’s football club, a team known for their distinctive pirate logo and open-minded fans. (Brian kindly surprises us with matching skull-and-crossbones fan pins!) Nearby looms a former bunker from the second world war, currently a dance club, soon to be a hotel.

Throughout the route, Brian points out gold solpersteine, or “stumbling stones“, positioned carefully between the ordinary sidewalk tiles. Each brick memorializes a resident of Hamburg who was persecuted or killed under the Nazi government; they’re often placed near each person’s home. It’s sobering, yet with a bittersweet undercurrent of (for lack of a better word) hope. Someone points out that, while these individuals were dehumanized during their life, we can remember their loss today by their full name and address. For the rest of our time outside, our eyes are peeled to the ground, seeking out names.

Our final dinner is at the restaurant Nil. “Wow, mange tak–” –thanks very much– “–DIS,” Rebecca laughs, when we learn of its Michelin-starred status. Nora, a member of DIS’s administrative staff who’s on tour with us, jokes “I’m not even sure if I know how to eat this?!” as she scrolls through the menu on her phone.

We figure it out–plus, on our side, Gus, Travis, Chase and I make the happy discovery that unlimited bread is included on the tab. Mid-meal, Loren kicks off a conversation about whether people always picture deities in their own human image, which I guess was the sort of thing that was bound to happen when you shoved everyone in our philosophy class at the same tables.

Appetizer: salmon with pesto and lentils

A few groups go out into the city to dance to techno music; I’d love to join them, but the sniffle I’ve been nursing since the beginning of the week has morphed into a full-on state of Being Sick. There’s one Greek myth where a group of sisters, the daughters of the king Minyas, refuse to join Dionysus for his festivities because they’re weaving. In retaliation, he infests their looms with ivy and makes them turn on their children. I wonder what, hypothetically, Dionysus’s stance on forty-eight-hour colds would be.

Saturday, February 8th

At least two other people fall to sicknesses worse than mine during the weekend. We’re all offering up pain medicine and cough drops, making pharmacy runs, helping each other with luggage. Who knew that, during a weekend in Germany, stomach pains and sore throats and general sleep deprivation would be the some of the things we’d bond over most?

Everyone makes it back on the bus, though, as we go to our last artwork–St. Nikolai Church, the tallest building in the world when it was reconstructed in 1874.

Tower of St. Nikolai

The tower is stunning–you really have no choice but to crane your head up. And I suppose it’s so stunning that it erases any memory of the historical context or information from class I walked onto this site with. Wow, I think, if this is the steeple, the sanctuary must be just as well-built.

There is no full sanctuary.

Over the unfailing sounds of the church bells–which cut Brian off twice during our class conversation–we learn that most of St. Nikolai collapsed during Operation Gomorrah, the Allied bombing campaign on Hamburg during World War II. Today, the site is preserved as it was, to paraphrase one plaque, as an “argument against war”.

In both the observation tower and a museum in the church basement, displays explain not only the tragedy of the bombing for the church, but the actions within Nazi Germany which escalated the war to that point. Can I think of an American museum display I’ve seen that recorded history with that kind of nuance? I come up short.

Bells of St. Nikolai

Outside St. Nikolai and the bells, the surrounding area’s been rebuilt and modernized since the destruction, and it’s quiet on the street, save for rushing cars. On the grounds, I have no choice but to enter the world the church preserves of a tragedy in 1943. And I begin to grasp at a stronger idea of how to tell when something “works”.

After this last visit seems like a strange time to get Dionysian; I still feel like I’m in the world of St. Nikolai when I step on the bus. The walk to the football game, which takes us through a forest, is a good transition. “This is much more exciting,” someone points out, than being dropped in a stadium parking lot.

I’m not sure if the members of “Myth and Reason” fully become one with the crowd–more than once we have to consult with Brian to tell the Hamburg club apart from their rivals, who also have a blue logo. Everyone’s on their feet, though, for the two goals that Hamburg scores to win the day, when a collective roar floats up over the field. I bob my head along to the intensely choreographed chants of the home team’s fan section, who have special permission to cart in massive drums. On the way out of the park, some overenthusiastic German fans photobomb our group picture.

Now bus, ferry, bus back home to Denmark, the rides passing in a blur of sleep. In a tunnel on the way to Copenhagen, the lights streak a champagne-color, and the silhouette figures of everyone at the front of the vehicle glow. On the train to Roskilde, it’s just me and Loren again, ending core course week the way we started it–talking still. About travel and our long-distance commute. About whether, in a place like Hamburg, you ever can–or should–separate the present from the historical past.

Somewhere in my notes I have a comment scribbled from class, some qualifier for art. If you couldn’t have a realization about living or a shift in perspective without having seen a particular piece, it must be truly great. I can’t speak too soon, but I think this specific study tour opened up things for our class that wouldn’t have happened without it. Mange tak, DIS. For real.

Header image: “The Wanderer” (Apollonian) stands in front of the sticker wall at the FC St. Pauli store (Dionysian).

Art Is Dead? (Core Course Week Etc., Part 1)

Tuesday, 1/29

There are certain phrases that sound perfectly normal after a few weeks in another country. Only when you remove yourself from the moment can you realize how lucky you are–how ridiculous it is–to be able to say them.

Like when I was abroad last semester, knee-deep in Attic Greek homework, and leaving the apartment: “I’m going to go sit on the Acropolis for a while and clear my head.” Or the way we give each other directions to places in Copenhagen: “It’s by the castle. No, not that castle, another one.”

Or more recently: Tuesday, when everyone from DIS is out on our folkehøjskole floor common room, and Loren leans over and says, “Hey, Claire, are you ready for Germany?”

“What?”

“You know, the study tour?”

“Yeah, I know–that’s next week?”

“Yeah!”

Yeah. You know. Just heading on over the border into Lübeck and Hamburg for three days. For a field trip. Normal stuff.

“…of course!”

Saturday, 2/1

I barely catch the last train that can arrive at Copenhagen Central Station by 8:30am–the time of my visa appointment in the city. The DIS Roskilde folkehøjskole group takes up half the top floor of the bus shuttling us over to the government building. Inside, we wait on line to scan our fingerprints and get our passports reviewed; outside, it’s grim, and it rained at some unidentifiable point. My phone’s camera still finds rainbows everywhere.

At the Royal Danish Library cafe, I struggle to parse this week’s Kierkegaard readings over a croissant. As a break, I go up to the top floor, five stories above, for the “Grand View” of the waterways.

My afternoon’s free, so I cross the waterfront bridge; I want to figure out how to reach the inviting brown-gold spire I see every day over the skyline. (When you’re not navigating by castles in Copenhagen, you’re using spires.)

The building is Vor Frelsers Kirke–the Church of Our Savior–over on Christianshavn. The sanctuary inside turns out to be just as stunning as the tower:

Nearby are canals and vein-like streams, along with a marshy park that grew over a set of fortifications first planned by King Christian IV. I take the escalator down into the subway home, and a musician plucks out an acoustic version of (fittingly) “Love is All Around“.

Sunday, 2/2

Three hours inside the National Museum of Denmark…and I don’t even make it to the Vikings.

I guess I should’ve anticipated feeling overwhelmed–there’s four floors in the museum, spanning thousands of years of Danish and world history. I spend most of the afternoon lost in the “peoples of the world” section, particularly the room that plays both ancient and contemporary music from different cultures. I also pass through the rooms of 18th-century Denmark, learning about divine rule and festivals and persecuted folk beliefs. (There’s an uncanny number of traditions that end in some warning about becoming a single “old hag”.)

Back in Roskilde, our floor celebrates a DIS-double birthday weekend! Malobi and Zach cut the first slices of a tangy lemon cake and open the cards that we all signed on Friday night. Keeping with national birthday tradition, a mini-Dannebrog (Danish flag) is put out on the counter for decoration.

Around midnight, a crowd of enthusiastic Scandinavians and DIS students congregates in ROFH’s Orange Room–named for the fluorescent shade that coats the chairs, ceiling, and wall–to watch the Super Bowl in real time. I last a half-hour before calling it quits, but several Americans make it til three or four in the morning, planning to sleep while in transit for their own DIS trips the next day.

The first quarter begins, to a packed house

Monday, 2/3

Happy Monday! Art is dead.

Or is it? Our goal as a class this strange week–Core Course Week–is to figure it out. For the next three days, all our other classes have been waived for four-hour sessions (with lunch breaks) and a field study in “Myth and Reason”. Then, on Thursday morning, we’ll all leave for our “study tour” to Germany together.

We’ve got quite the match-up to judge, too. In one corner, Hegel argues that we’ve turned to use science and reason as our ways of understanding the world, and art can never hold the kind of power for us that it did for ancient people. In the other, Heidegger pushes back, writing that art can still have something to say about what it means to be human. And then there’s Nietzsche, who makes a guest star appearance in our reading during class to wail that everything sacred is dead (or so he claims).

Brian asks us if we think there’s any art left that has fundamentally shifted our understanding of the world, and hesitant answers crop up: cathedrals, Mad Men, Harry Potter. Maya suggests punk rock, and Brian agrees, saying that those bands are often more interested in the spirit and beliefs they play in than the world’s ideas about quality: “They’re just like, ‘How do you do this?'” Miscellaneous guitar noises ensue. “‘Oh, OK. Cool!'”

Coincidentally, I was listening to this the night before…

The train’s late after class, spoiling my evening plans to track down a helmet before the biking shops close. But I stumble on a huge mall in downtown Roskilde which somehow contains every Danish outlet store I’ve learned to recognize so far:

Not pictured: Netto, 7-Eleven (not technically Danish, but close enough), ALDI, etc.

I buy a whiteboard at Arnold Busck for our floor–the suggestion for a place to doodle and leave messages popped up at our last meeting–and, embarrassed, ask the cashier for “Engelsk?” (English?) when I don’t realize she’s offering me a bag.

The common room is eerily quiet that night when I go to put the board up–no trap music, no laughter. Nearly all the other DIS students have their study tours at the beginning of this week. I stay up too late working on Tuesday’s readings and a blog post; by the time I go to sleep, the first news from the Iowa caucus has started rolling across social media.

Tuesday, 2/4

Our class hasn’t quite killed off art yet, but we spend a lot of time today talking about ghosts–the “spirit” of people; the way places feel haunted when they don’t mean something to us anymore. Brian projects images on the board of some of the creations we’ll be visiting in Germany, and each time, asks the question that will become infamous in our class–“Does it work?” Does it still have something meaningful to say?

Erik, Sarah and I order food at Sandwichpigen, AKA “The Sandwich Girl”–a popular DIS lunch spot because of their student discounts. We check out a basement-level cafe-bookstore that’s caught Erik’s eye, only to discover the literature is entirely French-language. None of us know French, so we scan spines and call out authors we recognize.

Den Franske Bogcafes Efterfølger

During dinner at the folkehøjskole, ROFH student Eskil animatedly tells me about football club rivalries and fan fighting when he finds out our class is going to a game in Hamburg. “Do people in the United States have fights like that about sports?” he wants to know. I admit he might get better answers from another DIS student–like Aiden, who seems to not have missed a single American football game since we’ve arrived. But I know enough to tell him about the frenzy in the streets in Philadelphia after the Eagles won the Super Bowl last year. Eskil assures me our class will probably be fine, and won’t run into any “hooligans”.

I have my longest Danish conversation thus far with the toddler of a visiting teacher, leading with “Hvad hedder du?” (What’s your name?). The rest of the evening is for helping with dishes and doing a last round of laundry before the trip–“practical matters”, as Brian might say.

Wednesday, 2/5

A holiday! The Dannebrog hangs from Christiansborg and (in a tinier form) off of buses alike. Our class meets up at Cafe Katz for coffees and refreshments before our field study; there, Rebecca figures out using her phone that it’s Crown Princess Mary’s birthday. Brian laughs–he’s got dual Danish-American citizenship, but it’s still hard to keep track of all of the royals.

Today we’re visiting the Glyptotek, with a goal of taking pictures of art that we think–you guessed it!–“works”. We have to upload our images and reasoning as a discussion post online before the week ends. Paul and Nicole both bring real cameras, cementing their status as two of our class’s Legit Photographers.

An uncomfortable realization hits me when we’re given free time to roam the halls. I’ve always loved going to museums like the Glyptotek, but usually because of the beauty of the art, or what it tells me about a certain time period, or because I like playing Mythological I-Spy like the classics nerd I am (“Hey, Amazons fighting Greeks on a vase!”). All well and good, but when’s the last time a piece of art really changed my worldview? Is art dead to me?

I like the memento mori message of the piece I end up using my assignment, though I’m still not sure if I feel it, or if it really sinks in.

“Death and the Maiden” by Elna Borch

The afternoon is my last time for a little while to be fully present in the city, and I want to soak it in, get a full sense of the spirit. I start on Strøget, the longest pedestrian street in the world, keeping an eye out for lamppost stickers and churches.

On Skindergade Street, where “Myth and Reason” meets, I browse around in Accord, the used vinyl store (despite not owning a record player). Eskil and I talked on Tuesday night about records in Denmark after I said how surprised I was to find three different shops for them in Copenhagen. He said that the “hipsters” were helping to bring them back, before imploring me to listen to Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd (one of my big rock blind spots) in its entirety. Records, he explained, helped him listen to albums like that as a whole, without feeling tempted to skip tracks. I get a little of my optimism about art back–maybe, if you approach it in certain ways, it’s more likely to “work”.

I end in the University of Copenhagen library, where stained glass circles line the walls and burnt candle stubs mark the tables. (In Denmark, candles are welcomed almost everywhere!)

It’s a night of arrivals and departures in Roskilde. The common room springs back to life as people return from study tours; Zach brings home a spongy cake that tastes like bananas. In my room, I roll up jeans in my backpack, throw in my passport, wonder how our class will get by this weekend without a lick of German language knowledge (that I know of) among us. I sleep less than I should.

(Part 2 later this week…)

(Header image: Loren, in the middle of some crushing revelations about art, strikes a pose in front of the Sphinx sculpture at the Glyptotek.)

Growing Places

August. That’s the instant sensation of entering the glass hothouses at the University of Copenhagen Botanical Garden. The doors swung shut behind me, and I was enveloped in that feeling of steamy sidewalks after the rain, of nights reading on my front porch. It’s 40 kroner ($4-6 USD) for the walk-through; if only it were free, I’d be there on all the days I feel homesick for sunnier weather. (Though, given the six-weeks-with-a-snow-day streak at college last winter, I’m sure I wouldn’t find much escape in Pennsylvania, either.)

Last Sunday, my housing friends Rachel, Sydney, and I met up at Social Foodies–a cafe that also funds aid projects in Denmark and across Africa–and all stole from the bag of flødeboller (Danish chocolate-marshmallow treats) that Rachel had made for a DIS-sponsored cooking class there. We took the subway down to the garden and spent an afternoon basking in the greenhouses, which feature orchids, palms, cacti, and exotic plants. Outside, we passed by the hills and lawns that form the remainder of the green space; I’m sure they’ll make great picnic spots in a few months.

“I bet this is the most elevated surface in Copenhagen…
…hey, you should put that on your blog.” –Rachel

First Field Study

Like greenhouse plants, it seems, we all thrive as students in particular environments. Leading up to my education class’s visit to a K-through-9 school, we broke into groups to talk about the best and worst teachers we’d ever had. Complaints were vented. Memories were shared. We agreed as a class that the great teachers in our lives somehow struck a balance between being supportive and authentic while challenging us.

Would any educators at our field study mirror our ideal teachers? Early Wednesday morning, I caught a bus, then a train, then the subway with Vicky (another folkehøjskole floormate who’s in my class) to see. Our school was on Amager, a large island directly opposite Copenhagen–also home of the university I head to on Mondays for my Kierkegaard class. Many students at our site rely on public housing or other assistance; nearly all of them live a five-minute walk or bike ride from the building.

The street outside our field study school

I sat in on a 9th-grade social science course with classmates from DIS, and was surprised by how much it reminded me of my mandatory high school personal finance requirement–right down to the ThinkPad laptops and supply-and-demand graphs. But the class ended on an innovative activity that hadn’t been a common practice in my own freshman year. As students clustered up to research different countries’ economies on their laptops, their teacher explained to us that they were working in the “cafe model”: each group would teach another group about their findings, and then the second group would present them. It’s easy to throw out a ten-minute spiel about a topic, blink, and forget it (guilty). It takes real understanding to bring someone else up to the same level of comprehension as you.

After joining up to reflect with other groups in the class, who’d shadowed younger classes, administrators led us on a walking tour of the school. Unlike the windowless, blocked classrooms I’ve often had, this building incorporated lots of glass, wood, and natural light. There were even live birds in an enclosure in the front hallway–we all did a double take after realizing the soft cheeps we heard weren’t coming from a speaker.

Growing plants near the science wing of the school

Observing educational design might’ve been the point of this field study, but I think I learned more about teenagers. Even halfway across the world, they’re still the same, in all their TikTok-quoting, mid-class-stretching, spontaneously laughing glory. What’s remarkable is that, because Danish public schools split cohorts by birth year rather than ability, the kids in that social science class have been in the same courses for nearly ten years. They really know each other as individuals, and I could sense it in the cadence of their conversation, even in Danish. Vicky would point out to me later that by the end of the class, at some point, everyone had raised a hand to speak.

Bondegården

When our field study ended, our professor Heidi offered to take us over to a local playground, Bondegården–with goats. Ninety-nine percent of our class followed her there with no hesitation.

Besides the petting zoo animals–kids can also visit with chickens and pigs–Bondegården is one site of the suttetræ (“pacifier tree”) tradition. When Danish children outgrow their pacifiers, their families tie them to branches, sometimes adding decorations or handwritten notes. Heidi told us that her daughter, after her own visit to another tree, received some gifts from a “pacifier fairy”. (A cousin of the Tooth Fairy, maybe.)

In another area of the playground, by a zipline and a labyrinthine castle playset, we came to towers, several feet high, that children had independently built with wood and nails. (No pictures for privacy reasons–imagine a structure the height of the castle below. Ten-year-old me would’ve had a blast.) I remembered the “adventure playgrounds” I’ve read about in England, where kids are free to play and experiment without helicoptering supervision.

I was struck the whole time, both on this playground and in our field study site, at how much trust surrounded these children. Young kids, unaccompanied by a teacher, were scattered working around the common space when we first went in the school. They looked at our big, loud abroad-student circle with curiosity, and then went back to their assignments, uninterrupted. Later, a physics teacher we ran into had no reservations when explaining why one of his students wasn’t in class the day before a major paper. She’s at home, working, he told us (to paraphrase), because it’s too distracting for her here and she wants to focus.

The greatest example of trust, one I won’t forget soon, came when we turned out of the playground. “Do you see what’s over there?” Heidi asked, pointing a finger over the fence demarcating the gravelly path from what could’ve been a vuggestue (“cradle room”, nursery service). A dozen black strollers were on the lawn, in view of the window–but with no one outside next to them. We offered up the correct answer, shocked, as Heidi grinned: babies, sleeping.

…Meanwhile In Roskilde

Back at home, it was a good week for conversations with ROFH people. Between my first shift on folkehøjskole kitchen duty–chopping rutabagas, potatoes, and carrots–and nightly dinner, I’ve heard about hip-hop’s influence in Denmark (explaining the Run-D.M.C. graffiti I found at our field study site), the annual summer music festival in Roskilde, and Danglish (Danes’ tendency to slip between Danish and English). On Saturday, a handful of us gathered with a visiting teacher for hyggeligt (nice, hygge-filled) rounds of board games, ping-pong, and table football. I’m starting to catch the basic phrases I’ve picked up in Danish language class in conversations–that game night, there were many “unskyld“s (“I’m sorry”s) after an impromptu Expo marker throwing war.

It has now fully sunk in that I have been in Denmark for three weeks. I feel unsure whether I have yet done anything in particular, or just observed a lot. I’m also now realizing how much time my commute from Roskilde can swallow–especially in the last week, when I took a short hiatus from biking (for safety’s sake) and walked the twenty minutes to the train. Plus, I’m not a fan of building an impenetrable first-month friend group, but it has been harder to meet more DIS students when I vanish from Copenhagen at 4pm most days.

Later this week comes my study trip for my core class–a bus trip to Hamburg, Germany (!)–and, though I’m counting down the days, I’m hoping I’ll have enough time to grow to the fullest where I’m living here, too.

A gloomy day at the Roskilde Fjord, where I biked to last weekend

Crash, Chairs, Classes, Cafe

“You made it through the first week! Did you do anything? Did you do anything scandalous? Well…you should!”

–one of my professors

I fell off my bike! Does that count?

This week started off with a bang–literally, alas–when, after a horrible skid into the bike path on the way to catch my train, my nose hit the sidewalk. While I was relieved to find out I didn’t break any bones or need stitches at the hospital in Roskilde, I had to stay home the rest of Monday–missing what was shaping up to be an exciting Hegel-Kierkegaard double-header of discussion between my two philosophy classes. (That’s not sarcasm. I’m a nerd with so many questions to ask.)

After yesterday’s naps and ibuprofen, I’m feeling fine. If anything, I’m grateful this accident showed me yet more examples of the kindness of my neighboring Danes–the man who drove me back to the folkehøjskole and gave me paper towels, the hospital staff who were able to check up on me in English–as well as from DIS housing friends who offered me help. I also now have a cool scar; my reaction to discovering this in my post-crash daze was not disgust, but wow, this is going to look so punk.

(NB: NONE of this reflects biking safety in Denmark–only my own clumsiness. If you’re here or coming here, PLEASE take advantage of the cycling culture!)

Chilling out in my room for the day with the curtains drawn gave me lots of time to draw bad comics.

Even a residual headache can’t dull the memories of last week–that first real week, the safety guardrails of orientation lowered down. I spent last Wednesday as a tourist, wandering in the area around Kastellet–a five-pointed castle fortress–in a rare burst of morning sunlight. I climbed up a hill at one of the points and looked down on St. Alban’s, an Anglican church; I left the other four (and the church itself, which was closed off for Communion) for another day.

Realizing I was by the waterfront, I walked out to the Little Mermaid statue, reasoning that there couldn’t be that many visitors for her on a chilly morning in January. I was very wrong–but angled my camera in such a way that no one could ever tell:

Right up on nearby Bredgade street is Designmuseum Denmark (free admission for students!). I hung around there into the afternoon, pacing through rooms of bicycles, pottery, accessibility devices, furniture, recycled materials imagined into new forms. And chairs–one long exhibit of chairs with flickering automatic lights in front of each model, like the back hallway of a spacecraft. I felt in over my head at some points–the museum’s collection stretches back to crafting from the pre-industrial era–and was happy whenever I ran into typography and image, my favorite touchpoints of design. Post-museum treat: a cinnamon snail (the Wednesday special) at St. Peter’s, the oldest bakery in Copenhagen.

Typically, Wednesday is reserved for DIS’s out-of-the classroom “field studies” for each of my classes; on that day, I lucked out with a free morning. From now on, though, the rest of my schedule is locked in–I bid goodbye to the pop-up sessions and 3pm jetlag naps of orientation. On Mondays, I take the subway to the south campus of the University of Copenhagen for “Kierkegaard’s Authorship”, a class which has already spawned some pretty heady conversations. In the words of our professor Brian*, Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish existential philosopher whose writings we’re studying, is the kind of thinker with ideas you return to “when it’s 2am and dark and you’re in bed staring at your hand. What is this hand? you think. What does it mean to have a hand? Who am I?

Not quite a 2am existential breakdown, but here’s what an evening walk home from the train looks like in Roskilde.

I also have Brian for my core course, “Religious Mythos and Philosophical Logos”–which, as of an executive action on the first day of class, has been shortened to “Mythos and Logos”, or “Myth and Reason”. (Cue a sigh of relief from us all, who kept tripping over the first name during icebreaker games.) We spent week one reading ancient Greek creation myths and excerpts from tales like the Odyssey, trying to piece together what relevance these stories had in the societies of the people who originally told them.

Last Tuesday, I went to the Ny Carlsburg Glyptotek museum’s weekly free day, and pored over their collections of Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities. What new things, I wonder, will I learn about the worldviews of the people who made these pieces by the end of the semester?

*Keeping with a Danish practice of informality, all my teachers here go by their first names.

Spending dusk in the Roman statue hall at the Glyptotek.

Great, sweeping stories–ones that could be the backbone of a nation–also seemed to be the theme of the first week in all my other courses. In “International Advertising”, we watched promotional segments from around the world, talking about which cultural narratives they were made to reflect. My “Learning in Scandinavian Classrooms” professor said you can’t think about what makes a good education without also considering what makes a good citizen. (I want to push back on this a little–could there be education towards an even greater good than a “good citizen”?–but we’ll see where I stand at the end of the semester.) Between my increasingly less mangled attempts at pronouncing the “ø” in my Danish class, we began talking over where the language fits into the country’s national history.

A lot to mull over–but not too much. Last week closed out on Friday with a fun “cultural assignment” scavenger hunt for that last language class. My group researched and walked the Kongens Nytorv (“Kings New Square”) area, taking documentary selfies at important sites (including Nyhavn, the famous canal of the colored houses, at the bottom left). We each got 100 Danish kroner (around $10-12 USD) to use at the “best coffeeshop” we could find in the area. I’m no coffee connoisseur–I actually spent my kroner on hot chocolate–but I’m willing to vouch now for Cafe Ermanno, which kept us dry after the drizzly final leg of our adventure.

In between: I picked up flyers for Studenterhuset (a student union/activities hub for anyone attending college in Copenhagen), an international church, and DIS’s film club at Activities Fair night. Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology re-tellings kept me company on the commute from Roskilde into the city and back. I had an involved dinner conversation with Danish and Norweigan ROFH students about California wildfires and Scandinavian fjords. I was selected to be a DIS student blogger! (Look for my face, sporting an action movie villain gash, on their website very soon.)

And tomorrow morning, it’s Wednesday again, and I do have a field study. I’m waking up at 6:45am to leave Roskilde and observe a Danish public school with my education class! Stay posted, and I’ll let you know if I scare any kids into always biking with a helmet on.

DIS-orientation

“People are going to ask me, ‘So, what did you learn in Denmark?’ ‘Um…that 7-Eleven owns ninety-nine percent of the country!'”

–Housing suitemate

I have been in Denmark for one week exactly, and I have learned the following from observation, DIS workshops, or both: There are more pigs than people in the whole country. Copenhagen is aiming to be carbon neutral by 2025. The capital has burned down and then been rebuilt multiple times. If you pause awkwardly in the middle of a city bike lane, you will be pegged as an American. And–yes–there are somehow even more 7-Elevens here than in my home town.

Before I knew about any of that–when I first stepped out of the airport terminal–the very first thing I noticed was a contrast. Half-asleep, I got the meteorological equivalent of a wake-up shake from the icy air and breeze slapping my face. (The next morning, the wind was so intense that it twisted the metal rods from their places in my dinky travel umbrella.)

Then I stepped into the hotel across the street, where DIS was offering transportation to housing, and was struck by the soft lights hanging from the ceiling–chains of stars and circles and triangles, all connected to each other. While reading “The Little Book of Hygge“, I learned about the importance of lighting and design to Danes. In all the places I’ve been in Denmark since then, I notice sources of illumination: my comforting bedside lamp that changes positions fluidly. Candles in restaurant windows. The electric globes around the altar at the Copenhagen cathedral. Wherever there’s winter cold around me, it’s countered, somewhere, by brightness and warmth.

Vor Frue Kirke / Church of Our Lady, the national cathedral of Denmark, with lights front and center.

Like the dark and light, the ups and downs of my first days play off of each other, too. Jetlag pretzel-twists me into a sleep-deprived, dizzy mess who only eats at odd hours. I woke up on time at the crack of dawn to get to DIS’s “opening ceremony”, and then took a five-hour nap the next day. I successfully rented a bike, and then at first had no idea how to buy the ticket to take it on the train home. I can now navigate my way in Danish through checkout at the ALDI next door, but the first day of my language class made my head spin even more than Ancient Greek does.

I’ve kept calm by taking the time, after information sessions and classes, to see Copenhagen with my own eyes. On Tuesday, I went to Max Burger, a Danish chain, with two of my suitemates, and then biked around the city; on Wednesday, a new friend from my philosophy core course and I explored any castle (including Christiansborg, the header image) or church we ran across with no aim. I’ve also been looking forward to my classes from the minute I picked up a satisfying stack of Kierkegaard books and Greek tragedies and education texts on textbook day. (I’ve sat in “syllabus day” for each one now, and I’ll write about them after learning some more next week.)

Parking my bike outside the Nørreport train station.

Another contrast: the feel of the beginning of my orientation week with DIS against being abroad last semester. Then, two other students and I were whisked away from the Athens airport by a wise-cracking, pop-blasting Greek van driver hired out by the program. He spent most of the ride over the speed limit, giving us tips on where not to go in our new neighborhood to avoid pick-pocketing. Last Saturday, a bus from DIS took me and some others directly to our housing, and the mood was considerably sleepier. And my orientation was so organized over the first three days–I even got a personalized schedule–that classes started by Thursday (with real readings).

I wonder if this reflects the energy in each city somehow: where Athens could feel anarchic–“chaotic in a good way“, someone there told me– the places I’ve been in Copenhagen have a well-ordered coziness about them. I love the minimalism of a church like Vor Frue Kirke, or the way that colorful buildings squat evenly next to each other on the street. So far, the craziest experience I’ve had in the city has been navigating the flow of the cycling lanes–but I’ll take the distinct lines that mark their presence over the situation in my home neighborhood, where, even biking centimeters from the curb, I ride in constant fear of being clipped by an SUV.

(Not to make generalizations about all Denmark, of course. I have yet to visit Freetown Christiania.)

The (free!) view from the top of Christiansborg Palace.

Enough about Copenhagen here. Let me write a little about my other new home–the town of Roskilde, an hour-or-so commute by bike and train from my classes in the city. I’m living in a folkehøjskole (folk high school) with about 15 other DIS students and 100 full-time students from not only Denmark, but Iceland, Norway, and across Scandinavia. The full-time Roskilde Festival Højskole (ROFH) students are studying topics like songwriting, art, politics, and leadership in an atmosphere with no grades or tests–which, as an educational studies major, is the kind of learning I’d love to see more of in the United States!

We’re in class in Copenhagen at the same time the ROFH students are, but we join them for breakfast and dinner, as well as activities like the group sing-along that kicked off our stay. The Roskilde folkehøjskole has a special musical focus because of a yearly festival that takes place in town, and my housing is a thirty-second walk from the delightfully-named RAGNAROCK pop-rock museum (which I intend to visit soon).

Early morning moon over the main hall at Roskilde Festival Højskole.

For the last few nights this week, we did “speed-dating” with the other bogrupper (housing groups) at night, either visiting with a housewarming gift or hosting others in our common space. It was a lot to take in on the days when that last bike ride home from the train station seemed to suck all the energy out of me. But the highlights were worth it: trying Danish snacks like pork rinds and sour licorice; making new friends while playing Kahoot and Werewolf; the Scandinavians in two different bogrupper correctly guessing I’m from Virginia (?!?!).

Midway through a two-hour game of Werewolf–one werewolf caught, three or four more to go.

I swing from positivity to exhaustion; I’m still disconcerted by the constant grey skies, by the number of faces in the full folkehøjskole I have yet to place to names. On Friday, though, I woke up to frail sunbeams–the first time in six days I had seen a sunrise–and I just played a fun round of Pandemic with housing friends (although we failed to save the world from disease). I have to remember that this is just the first week, even though, as the dinner table discussion tonight went, it seems like a first month. Disorientation–and DIS orientation–doesn’t last forever, and there are lights to turn on against the dark.

My very first Roskilde sunrise over the RAGNAROCK museum.

The Last Four

(…as remembered after they happened, because I got too caught up in them to finish this)

I volunteer at the classical studies conference first, in the days after New Year’s. I slip into a hotel conference center, hiding from the frigidity of Washington D.C., to listen to scholars speak on a range of topics that dizzies me: mystic papyri and Latin poetry and digital publishing and Plato (to name a few). I leave somehow even more excited for my philosophy classes at DIS than before.

The hotel (still with Christmas tree!) from 15 floors above.

Then I take the bus home, and remember, fully, that my days here are numbered: four, to be exact.

I spend most of them on mundanities (see doodles above), the thirty small things I have to do to leave the United States that seem grand and looming. I also waste a lot of time, watch a lot of Jeopardy!, flip through the journals I kept in high school and wonder: was I really that stupid? (Yes.)

In between everything, I get a first bite-sized taste of Danish culture by reading The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking. Each section focuses on a dimension of hygge, a hard-to-translate Danish concept of coziness. I’m drawn in by Wiking’s point that the richest hygge experiences often occur against a backdrop of danger–that comfort with others is powerful against the unknown.

Inspired by the author’s stories of feeling this sensation after outdoor adventures, I sift through my own memories for a similar feeling of hygge. The first moment that comes to mind: sitting around the campfire with new friends from my freshman orientation trip, worn out from paddling canoes, stargazing together, unafraid for the moment of the darkness on the island we’ll be sleeping on.

No pictures of my possible hygge (which would probably defeat the idea anyway), but here are our canoes, somewhere on the Susquehanna River.

Somehow it never feels certain that I am about to leave to study in Denmark for five months. Not when my mom loans me her compressing bags to stuff with sweaters and flannels, and I punch them and sit cross-legged on them to flatten them out. Not when my sister shares her last in-person inside jokes with me for a while, or when I take one more drive down central Virginia back roads, the same six Led Zeppelin songs playing on the local classic rock station. Not when my whole family laughs at dinner about internet search results for my upcoming folkehøjskole housing in Roskilde–it’s so new that concept art with unrealistically Photoshopped humans still appears.

Are these my new housing mates?! (source)

It doesn’t happen until after I hug my mom, and my dad and I spend the car ride to the airport talking about websites for learning Danish phrases, and the wary Icelandair rep asks me to extract several denim pieces’ worth of weight from my too-heavy suitcase. When the plane lurches upward and the nausea hits me, so does the realization that I’m leaving, again.

In the moment, I’m not overwhelmed with anxiety or enthusiasm or wistfulness about this fact. I’m just ready to be in Denmark.

(Or anywhere, honestly, that isn’t my seat.)