An afternoon with my visiting host family

An afternoon with my visiting host family

An afternoon of perfection, I’d say … the cool air sways the boat gently in the Roskilde harbour. The three of us — me, Kirsten and Jens — sit peacefully together. We drink instant coffee out of red, white and yellow mugs. I’m not usually a coffee drinker, definitely not a black coffee drinker, but I make an exception for Jens and Kirsten. The sun heats up my jacket. It is the warmest day I’ve had all semester — the sign of spring reminds me that my time in Denmark is almost reaching an end — and I’ve spent it in the most wonderful way.

Kirsten and Jens are my “visiting host family.” At the beginning of the semester, I opted into the DIS Visiting Host program which paired me with a family to help me discover Copenhagen during my few months here. Because I live in an LLC, I don’t get the same cultural immersion that those living with host families gain. But the visiting host program is a good middle ground. I was paired with a different family at the beginning of the semester. Honestly, it wasn’t the best fit and I requested a switch. DIS then paired me with Kirsten and Jens and wow, I had no idea I’d get so lucky with these two. 

Kirsten and Jens have been involved in the DIS hosting program for 20 years. They rotate between housing students, visiting students and travelling the world (seriously, these two have travelled everywhere). They live with their sleepy, lazy black and white cat in Roskilde, the viking town with breathtaking views just a 20 minute train ride from Copenhagen. Yesterday, I spent my second afternoon with the couple and I can say that they are the kindest, gentlest people I have met. 

They picked me up from the train station and the three of us went to explore the mountains of Denmark … I say mountains lightly, as I’d explain these mountains as more of grass-covered plateaus. They were beautiful all the same. We stumbled over golf-ball sized rocks looking for flat stones to skip in the fjord. I’m convinced Jens was a pro-rock skipper back in the day. He could throw stones the size of a shot put into the water and they’d dance along the surface as easily as the pebbles I’d throw … correction, my pebbles would drop in the water with an audible “thunk” the way his stones should have. Then we watched the swans and climbed the “mountain.” 

Fun fact: A few years ago, swans would only collect in bodies of water 2 at a time. But now, you can easily see a dozen swans in a lake or fjord. Swans are also the national bird of Denmark and the inspiration for The Ugly Duckling story by Hans Christian Andersen. They really are ugly little furballs when they’re young.

After our fjord adventure, we sat on their boat in the harbour. The boat was white and wooded, cozy in both its open deck and covered library/bar and one of the “most unique boats in Denmark” according to Jens. The two of them often enjoy the sunshine atop this boat, drinking their coffee after work or enjoying breakfast out on the water. The three of us ate chocolate and drank coffee and chatted about Danish holidays. They even made sure to post the Danish flag off the edge of the boat. 

Then, we went back to their house — a Danish style home with wooden floors, large windows, knitted blankets, a colorful, blooming garden and a sun room — for dinner. I worked on what seemed to me a never-ending puzzle while they prepared our meal. Then we ate a homey pork tenderloin meal and apple cakes for dessert. They were like fluffy pancake balls — like the baked pancakes my mom always made on special occasions — and, despite being called apple cakes (Aebleskiver), they didn’t have any apples in them. We coated them in powdered sugar and raspberry jam and ate them like New Orleans Beignets.  

After we ate, we chatted until the sun went down (which, in Denmark is pretty late in the spring). I couldn’t help but feeling overjoyed with the sense of family and the feeling of home that I felt visiting Kirsten and Jens.

 

My Travel Week to London in photos

My Travel Week to London in photos

This past week, my core course “Strategic Communications” went to London, England … the land of “God Save the Queen,” “cheerio,” Mary Poppins, tea and HARRY POTTER. We did all the touristy London things and became true Brits for the week. 

Day 1: Arrival in London !   

On Sunday, my Strategic Communications class hopped on a plane and flew to London, England. We checked into our hotel (one with a bed so nice I wanted to take it home with me) and then set out on our first cultural activity: a Notting Hill Walking tour. If you haven’t seen the Julia Roberts/Hugh Grant romantic comedy, Notting Hill is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in London. It is famous for more than just Hugh Grant’s bookshop. Notting Hill is home to the vibrant Portobello Market and many extravagant celebrity houses. Next, we had Fish and Chips! I can confidently say that fish and chips qualify as one of my favorite foods in the entire world (and London makes them best!). We ate at a cozy pub called The Chipping Forecast.
Pictured:The most deliciously greasy fish and chips in the world … thank you Chipping Forecast A rainy depiction of the “Most Instagrammable street in London” in Notting Hill
My friend Rachel and I are ready for our voice workshop at Pineapple Studios

Day 2

My Strategic Communications class went to a workshop at Pineapple Studios where we learned the value of voice in communication. A Professional Actor from the London West End theatres (School of Rock to be exact) guided us through breathing, body language and vocal exercises to improve our public speaking skills.  Then, we did the London Eye (as featured in our class selfie).  Fun fact: Coca Cola now sponsors the London Eye. So we learned about branding with a great view. We had the rest of the day to ourselves to explore the city of London. I saw Buckingham Palace, walked the Thames River, discovered the beautiful St. John’s Garden and shopped in Covent Garden. At night, I saw another fantastic view at the rooftop Sky Garden. If you’re in London, I would definitely recommend the Sky Garden (it’s free!). Just make sure to get there early. 

Day 3

We had an early start to day three with a walking Tour of East London. Our tour guide, a local artist and probably the coolest woman I will ever meet, guided us through the graffiti of the area. We even got to see a Banksy art work! Banksy is an anonymous street artist who specializes in satirical and political commentary.
Then, we met with the Corporate Communication team at QBE, a London-based insurance company. We learned about the marketing and communication career paths of four of their employees. Afterwards, my friend Kristen and I went to the Borough Market for gelato and even found the original Globe Theatre! If you travel to London, go a few streets past the “Globe Theatre” re-creation (A.K.A tourist trap) that sits on the river. There you will find the original theatre which burned to the ground in 1613 (3 years before Shakespeare’s death). Below you’ll find a picture of me standing in front of the original freaking out because I LOVE SHAKESPEARE #englishmajor #theatrekid For dinner, we reunited with our class for a hearty pasta dish at Jamie’s Italian Piccadilly. Then DIS treated our class to West End’s The Lion King. The show was stunning! We couldn’t stop singing the songs all the way back to our hotel.  

Day 4

On Wednesday, we visited Bath (home of Jane Austen) and Stonehenge. At Bath, we explored The Roman Baths and got reprimanded by the site staff for playing music in the sanctuary (Hillary Duff’s “Come Clean”). At Stonehenge, we battled the rain and wind to see the ancient sites.

Day 5

We began our day with an academic visit to the Museum of Brands. Here, we each made customer profiles and collaged them with Danish magazines. Then, we got to tour the evolution of brands in the exhibition. Later in the day, we went to The Guardian to speak with members of the newspaper’s communication team. Then, we had a classic British meal at The Admiralty: Shepherd’s Pie. I surprisingly liked it, although if I described it (meat stew within a pie crust with very little vegetables) I don’t think it would sound terribly appetizing.

Day 6: Last Day in London!!

The final day of our class study tour was probably my favorite. We visited the Churchill War Rooms and learned about the communication tactics of one of history’s most effective communicators. Then, we went to our final event: High Tea. Now, if you don’t know what High Tea is (I didn’t), let me just paint a picture. Our class walks up four flights of stairs and enters this gold-trimmed event space. There are tables full of tiffany blue dishes and tea cups, lace napkins and trays of multi-colored tea cakes. As a staff member hangs up our jackets a pianist plays Mozart’s Voi Che Sapete. We sit down for an afternoon of bottomless tea and cakes and scones and finger sandwiches. I’ve never felt classier in my life (until I stuffed my remaining scones in my friend’s purse for later …).  As someone who is absolutely obsessed with tea, I wanted to order everything on the menu. I ended up drinking two pots of tea during our time: The Wedding Tea (the tea Will and Kate drank the morning of their wedding) and Mint Green tea. High Tea was the perfect way to end an incredible week in London. 
Core Course Week: my trip to Western Denmark in photos

Core Course Week: my trip to Western Denmark in photos

This past week, my core course “Strategic Communications” hopped on a bus and drove cross country to Aarhus and Odense, two cities in Western Denmark. We explored museums, bonded over our crazy brewery experience, ate a TON of delicious food and struggled our way through an escape room. Oh, AND we learned all about communication methods. 

Day 1 in Odense  

We departed for Odense early on Monday. Odense (according to a quick Google search) is the third largest city in Denmark and birthplace to fairytale writer, Hans Christian Andersen (click here to see my blog about visiting his gravesite).

First, we went to TV2, Denmark’s largest broadcasting station. It is housed in what used to be a cattle market building. I learned that Denmark doesn’t censor its television the same way we do in the U.S. meaning there is no limit to nudity or profanity. They are also not allowed to target children in their advertisements.  

Then we went to Skovdahl Nordic Studio. This was one of my favorite parts of the week 1) because we got to eat probably the best muffins I’ve had in my life and 2) because it was freakin awesome. It’s a photography/videography studio where they literally build the scene of a photo. The studio – all white walls, floor, ceiling – was the perfect blank slate photography set. One of the photographers gave us the grand tour, showing us the work space: the kitchens for food photography, the “junk rooms” filled with backdrops, gadgets and gizmos and whosits and whatsits, and the computer editing room. Every space could be made into something extraordinary and photoshopped into what we see in advertisements and magazines. The photographer displayed their past advertisements proudly. We all sat in chairs in the all-white room watching the presentation, amused more than anything at the food photography. Then he got to an ad of a family in a living room with wooden floors, a cozy couch and light streaming in through the windows. “This was taken right where you’re sitting,” he told us. We all were shocked – the space was unrecognizable to the photo. 

Later that night, we went to a brewery for dinner and drinks. Midtfyns Bryghus (pronounced Mid-foons Broo-hyoos) is owned by a man named Eddie who, originally from the States, joked about cultural differences and entertained our group the entire night. Eddie is obsessed with toilets from around the world, has his own comedy gig and even created an award-winning wasabi-flavored beer. 

 

Pictured: Eddie showing us around the brewery, Midtfyns Bryghus. 

My friend Kristen enjoying a muffin from Skovdahl Nordic Studio. They even gave us their cookbook!

Day 2 in Aarhus

The day began with a visit to Aqua Globe where we met with the Strategic Communication consultant for a presentation on sustainability in water. Afterward, we departed for Aarhus, home to the coolest library in the entire world: Dokk1. The library is the first of its kind in radically using play and noise and creativity in what is an unusual “library” space. The library isn’t limited to books and old artifacts, rather it is about peopleIt can transform into a performance space, a play room, a movie theater, a place to host politicians or book clubs or a cozy place to read the morning paper. It is as well thought out as Disneyland, every room having a purpose. And the best part? The parking garage which automatically parks your car. A machine lifts your car and puts it on a shelf underground (you’re not in the car anymore, don’t worry); a space that used to hold only 400 cars can hold up to 1000. It saves electricity, is more sustainable and it parks your car for you. I told you this library was cool, right?

Later this day, we went out to a fancy steak dinner with chocolate lava cake for dessert (chocolate, you have my heart) and then to an escape room! Yes, we did an escape room for a school field trip! 

Day 3: Aarhus adventure continues

Before we drove back to our little home in Copenhagen, we had one last trip: the rainbow museum!! Also known as ARoS Museum of Modern Art, the rainbow museum can only be explained in pictures …

A SPOT-on meeting with a group of satirists

A SPOT-on meeting with a group of satirists

Somehow this afternoon, I ended up at a kitchen table in an apartment called “The Zebra” with six satirists. They were all speaking Danish so I could just barely understand what was happening but let me tell you, it was hilarious.

This semester, I am enrolled in a class called “What’s So Funny?” In it, we discuss satire. As someone who reads The Onion more religiously than the actual news, I looked forward to my satire class the most coming to Denmark. It has not disappointed me in the slightest. Last week, I had my “What’s So Funny?” field study (As I explained in a post about my Travel Writing day in Nørrebro, a field study is a Wednesday field trip somewhere in Copenhagen). This field study happened right in the classroom starting bright and early at 8 a.m. Just the mere fact that I woke up for this class shows how much I like it. On this day, three satirical writers from the Danish magazine, Spot, worked with our class. We split into groups and pitched ideas based on articles we found in the news from earlier that week. Between Trump’s Wall and Denmark winning the national championship for Handball – a sport that only Denmark cares about – we had plenty of material to gain inspiration from. It was fun. It was exciting. It felt like I was part of a real-life pitch meeting. Which brings me back to this afternoon …

I wandered up the twisting, winding stairs until I ended up in front of the Zebra apartment. Feeling awkward but oddly confident, I walked right through the front door. Two men, who introduced themselves as satirists, greeted me and welcomed me to join them at their table. One tossed the other a whiteboard marker, saying in English, “You’re gonna need this,” as two women and an older man pulled up chairs beside me. The group was fast-paced, high energy and ready with their pitches. Oh, and they were all speaking in Danish. The first man I met kindly translated what they were saying but still, the meeting was probably one of the most entertaining things I have experienced. Definitely one of the strangest. Have you ever watched a comedian perform in another language? Have you tried to understand it without subtitles? One moment, two satirists were starting one joke, the others arguing, one correcting the other and then they would all crack up. One of the women laughed maniacally like an evil scientist. The other spoofed ASMR videos with a potato chip bag. The next moment, I’d hear the translation and I’d laugh  one moment too late. I’d sit there, head bobbing back and forth as my eyes followed the person speaking. I felt like I was watching a tennis match except that I didn’t understand any of the rules … so it was like I was watching a tennis match.

Because I wasn’t paying attention to the words, I noticed more. It was fascinating to watch the wheels turn in the comics’ minds, noting the shift in energy as ideas came and went. I’d try to understand the stories through the context: the cartoons scrawled across their notebooks, the facial expressions, the animated movements. I loved the instances when the excitement was so high that the satirists would forget to translate their words into English. They’d furiously scribble on the board, covering every inch. I could understand how quickly they must run through whiteboard markers.

Just sitting in one meeting, I learned about Danish politics and religion, celebrities and gossip. I learned that some jokes don’t translate well to English (but I still laughed anyway) and that satire doesn’t even have to be funny. It can be impolite and vicious, using humor as a weapon to target some hypocrisy in society. It challenges the norm and points out the absurd or ridiculous. It puts people and policies into question and nobody or nothing is immune to the harsh scorn of the cartoonist’s pen. Despite the language barrier I faced, I learned far more than just how satire or pitch meetings work. And, I even participated in generating ideas.

My Arts LLC weekend in photos

My Arts LLC weekend in photos

I live in what is called a Living Learning Community, which is a housing setup centered around the theme of art. Everyone in the group has an appreciation for some type of art form, whether that be dance or design, painting or architecture. This weekend, Sophie, our LLC coordinator planned a weekend of activities. 

First on the itinerary … an art museum!

We started the weekend off at Kunsthal Charlottenborg, the official exhibition gallery of the Royal Danish Academy of Art. My favorite part of the exhibition was how interactive the art was. One piece, which reminded me of my childhood playground, was completely wooden. We could crawl through the sculpture and see it from every angle. 

Pictured: Me and Shelby being artsy at an art museum. The most colorful of colorful art pieces (which naturally caught my attention). Our midday snack, a.k.a. delicious banana bread with dulce de leche topping.

Next, we went to a dance performance called “Forces of the North”

This was by far my favorite part of the evening. I got to sit front row at a breakdancing event at a place called Afuc. The pamphlet described the dance as a “Super human ritual.” You can see in the video below why

Dinner at Dim Sum and Cocktails 

We finished the day with a canal tour of the Copenhagen Lights Festival

The point of the Copenhagen Festival of Lights was to bring light and warmth to these cold, dark days of winter. I loved being able to see it from the water because of how the lights reflected like glitter. One exhibit, which could only be seen from our tour in the canal, was a small box room on the edge of the water with a single red lamp. The tiny red lightbulb made the entire room glow and we could see it perfectly despite being far out on the water. I feel like this piece perfectly encapsulated the point of the festival. 

A day in Nørrebro and an enlightening field study

A day in Nørrebro and an enlightening field study

A day of learning … Yesterday, I so desperately wanted to be a local (see my previous post for proof) and yet today, I see the value of being brand new in a place. I still feel a little like a toddler here in Denmark, stomping around without any knowledge of the way of the world. I’m confused and disoriented and stumble a lot (heels are not a good idea on cobblestone, note to self), I take a lot of naps and I whine because I really don’t know how to feed myself. What I’m trying to say with my toddler analogy is that I’m still finding my bearings. 

“New” freaks me out. I’m not like one of those people who can just chill out and go with the flow – no, I like to know what to expect. I like to have a plan and a structure. I’m always anxious before the first day of class, before meeting new friends, before traveling to a new place … so, before this trip abroad, I was terrified. Everything here would be new and unexpected. It would be all the anxious things wrapped up in one. Now that I am here, I’m craving the routine I had at home. The planned moments of my structured schedule seem appealing compared to the chaotic unknown. Here in Denmark, I’m searching for the “regular” or the “familiar” in this world of new. It’s safer.

Today, I went on a field study that changed how I try to tackle the anxiety about new experiences. Field studies are like mini field trips. They happen on Wednesdays where, with one of our classes, us DIS students get to experience Copenhagen and move past what we learn inside the classroom. Today, I went with my travel writing class to Nørrebro, a town in Copenhagen that I had yet to explore. I can say easily that every part of traveling here has flipped my perspective on something. I thought Copenhagen was hip and trendy, with all black clothing and expensive foods, old cobblestone roads and very little nature. But Nørrebro was colorful and alive, the roads were pavement and the prices advertised outside the shops were cheaper than those in city center. The sun was shining over what has felt like a never ending series of cloudy days. My professor, Tommy, and a local travel writer/photographer named Alex Berger led our class on a tour of the neighborhood. They walked us through Assistens Cemetery and showed us the grave of Hans Christian Andersen. Even the cemetery was full of life. It doubles as a park for the locals. Dogs, running off leash, weaved through our group as Tommy and Alex told the stories behind the locations we saw.

Fun fact: visitors throw pens on Hans Christian Andersen’s grave out of respect for the art. 

After our walk, Tommy brought us to one of his favorite places: a dimly lit coffee shop that felt cozy enough to be a family room. I ordered a latte so I am currently writing off of a caffeine high. I ended up sitting at a table with Alex and three other girls, drinking coffee and talking about the struggles of writing, of living abroad and of pushing past the anxiety of the “new.” Alex grew up in Arizona and moved to Denmark for graduate school a few years ago. He fell in love with the area and the Danish way of life and decided to stay even past his graduation. Talking to him gave me yet another new perspective. “Enjoy the magic,” he said, explaining that the glittery feeling of settling into a new, exciting place begins to fade when you actually begin to settle. We get to uproot our lives only a few times, so enjoy it. Enjoy being disoriented and feeling like a toddler (yes, this was his analogy!). Once that magic fades, we are less likely to discover. Once our routines take over, we don’t want exploration or wanderlust to break our daily schedule – our structured, planned, comfortable daily schedule. The place that once felt so alien begins to feel normal and something wonderful is lost. 

The feeling of “new,” while out of your comfort zone, pushes you toward adventures. Getting lost in a place leads you to discover its beauty. Standing in a grocery store with milk in one hand and yogurt in the other, with absolutely no clue which is which, may bring you laughs later or a new favorite food (Skyr anyone?). Yes, it’s scary, uncomfortable, anxiety-provoking and maybe even downright terrifying at times, but these experiences push you outside the familiar, perhaps to take a new perspective on life … and new isn’t always bad.

Denmark Tip #347: Use Google Translator in the grocery stores until you get a handle on the food situation. If you download the app to your phone, you can have an offline Danish-to-English translator with a built-in feature to translate the text in photos. This way, you can avoid taking home a honeydew melon instead of a cantaloupe … I know this from personal experience