An adventure at open mic night

An adventure at open mic night

“Hey everyone,” two females, Tama and Nuka, introduce themselves for their audience: the folks at Cafe Hygge. “Tonight for you all, we are first going to play a rock n’ roll song.”

It’s open mic night at Cafe Hygge, a place that claims to be the “coziest cafe in Copenhagen.” The Norrebro shop holds the sour scent of body odor — the repercussion for housing an event of this caliber — but somehow the sweet aroma of coffee beans. Warmth emanates from the crowded bodies sardined in the tiny room but also from the candles, the comfort and the ease of “hygge”. Or perhaps the heat is turned up too high, I think taking off my jacket. With the warm amber ambiance, it feels as if a filter of gold is placed over the scene. Coffee cups and beer bottles are scattered on the wooden tables. A woman with dark curly hair and a Spanish accent holds her empty cup mindlessly between her hands, not realizing that it’s been empty for a long while. She’s been sitting on that antique chair for some time now, listening to the music as if no time has passed at all. She leans to her friend and whispers. The two chuckle comfortably and turn their attention back to the women on stage.

Tama and Nuka stand on the small coffee shop stage under a golden chandelier with a borrowed guitar and a bundle of nerves. Nuka is tall and lean with a fierce expression and heavy black eyeliner, a leather jacket and dark hair whisked over to one side. Tama has a similar vibe, so similar in fact that the two twenty-year-olds could pass as sisters rather than friends. They met at High Voltage only a few months ago. High Voltage is an edgy rock ‘n roll bar where Tama and Nuka both work and, on occasion, perform. But tonight is their debut as a singing duo and Tama’s first vocal performance ever. Cafe Hygge is cozy but I wonder, as Tama timidly tucks an emerald green hair behind her pierced ear, does the atmosphere calm the pre-performance jitters? Does an open mic night in a hygge cafe lessen the risk?

When I spoke with Tama afterward, she described these moments on stage at Cafe Hygge as a “nerve-wracking experience.” She stood on the stage holding her guitar and curling her toes within her boots — a skill her music teacher once taught her as a way to combat performance anxiety. “In the moment of the performance, it was just a good thing I wasn’t wearing flip flops,” Tama joked to me.

During the open mic night, I sit in the back of the room and watch the two performers, sipping my chai and listening easily. At the time, I am unable to tell that Tama is curling her toes, oblivious to the way she shakes and sweats and grips the microphone like it is her lifeline. I only know these things because she later admits them to me, revealing her insecurities with a bashful grin and mug full of coffee.

I think back to my own performances and my time singing on stage in high school and college. I wouldn’t curl my toes but my hands would sweat and my mind would race. In a way, a performance is one of the greatest risks you can take. I know the feeling well … you breathe easy and assure yourself that all of your hard work will pay off. But suddenly, you’re unsure. Your breath quickens and your head becomes clouded. “What if I …?” you think, and your mind roams to the worst possible scenarios: falling off the stage, forgetting the lyrics, getting the hiccups right as you begin to sing. And then, you’re there in front of the audience with a million eyes staring back at you and you decide to take that risk. You’re at the top of the highest hill of a rollercoaster, looking over the edge and as the car lurches forward, you begin to sing.

Nuka, too, feels the pressure of performing. The moment she opens her mouth to sing, she begins to sweat. In the past, Nuka has performed for countless audiences, full of people. She steps on every stage and visualizes herself as a rockstar. She thinks of her future performing for audiences all over the world, first in London where she plans to move one day and then, who knows? But this performance, singing a rock song at open mic night, she finds the small space of Cafe Hygge intimidating. “With an audience here, everyone is so close,” she tells me. “There are so many people to project to, to give yourself to.”

There is a rumble of voices in the cafe and a constant humming and buzzing throughout Nuka and Tama’s first song. Chatter around me ebbs and flows as the audience continues their conversations without respect to the performance. Nuka could barely hear herself. Her voice trembles and wavers, rising above the notes when it should fall below. “Something had to be wrong with the mics,” she told me. “I could only hear the people and the guitar and the muffled sounds of my own voice.” She didn’t realize how loud Cafe Hygge would be compared to the real stages of her past performances.

With the antique chairs scattered around the room, the eclectic decor and the framed photos hanging from the walls, the interior of Cafe Hygge feels more like your grandmother’s living room than a coffee shop. It doesn’t feel like a performance space, that’s for sure. I remember performing on the “real stages” of my high school and college — the ones Nuka prefers. When I was in theatre, I’d step from behind the curtain into the spotlight and my stomach would somersault. These lights would ease my nerves; their harsh glare would blind me from the harsh gazes of my audience. I’d wonder what people were thinking of me, how people were judging my performance or how people were criticizing my voice. And my voice would squeak and crack on occasion. Once, I sang the wrong lyrics and then repeated them again and again. Once, I forgot my lines and ran off the stage. Once, I was so sick my voice couldn’t hit the notes I was trying to sing. But with the bright stage lights, I couldn’t see my critics. I could pretend I was performing for myself and myself alone. I could blind myself to my own mistakes and the witnesses to them. However, in Cafe Hygge, the lights are soft and hazy. The Danish low-lit atmosphere, flickering candles and hazy steam rising from the half-drunk coffee cups make certain that every set of eyes, fully on Nuka and Tama, are one hundred percent visible to them. Sitting in the back of the coffee shop, I can even make eye contact with the two women as they perform. Their critics are in full view.

“They’ve got the look, but not the talent,” my friend taps my shoulder and says. I set my teacup down and shudder at the comment. The judgment. During my time performing, one of my greatest fears was comments such as this. But the Cafe Hygge listeners didn’t seem to mind how the females’ voices faltered, how their words fell on the off-beat, how their fingers slipped while strumming the guitar. Their music — flaws and all — added to the ambiance of the place.

A twenty-something nods his head and taps his foot along to the beat. I recognize him from his own performance. He had stood on the same stage under the golden chandelier with his man bun and easy confidence. His voice had been deep and crackly, a notable complement to the candles glowing on every table. His talent was equal to the easy-listening Indie boys I often hear on the radio. When the girls’ first song is complete and they softly smile, the man-bunned vocalist claps his hands together in support.

Nuka and Tama’s second song is a folk song. It’s the type of song that lulls you into a slumber. A couple cozies up on a couch under a wool blanket; the folk song plays as the background noise to their intimate conversation. “This song is a kind of a dream,” Tama told me. “It is this dreamy world you’re entering into when you hear it.” The couple on the couch gazes up above them and I wonder if they’re staring at the red and white Danish flags draped from the ceiling tiles or if they’re pretending to look beyond the ceiling up to the stars. Maybe this is a romantic night out for them, coming here to cuddle and listen to the singers perform.

Nuka doesn’t even notice the couple or anyone else in Cafe Hygge during the folk song, a song that means the world to her. “I was too busy looking down at the lyrics so I wasn’t looking at any of the people,” Nuka admitted later. She had sung this song a dozen times and it fits comfortably into the notches of her voice. “I remember when I was younger, I wasn’t that good at English,” she recalled. “But, I’d look at these lyrics and think, ‘okay, I can understand what this is about.’” At this moment, Nuka doesn’t feel the nerves. She imagines she is sitting high up in a tree, glow from the summer sun rather than the heat of her anxiety or warmth of the stuffy, cramped coffee shop. She stares intensely down at the lyrics typed on the sheet in front of her, the same lyrics she has tattooed on her left calf: “How strange it is to be anything at all.”

Cafe Hygge is a place where your soul can breathe, where hours pass but you happen both to feel in the moment and forget that time exists. Anyone can play their music here — a curly-haired Spaniard, a stargazing couple, a first-time singing duo — and the audience will always applaud in support. Performers from all over the world had stood on that stage under the golden chandelier that night: an elderly Dane sang a song about revolting Scandinavian food, an Argentinian man came halfway around the world to tour his music, a teenage girl with a half-shaved head and a powerful set of lungs sang a Ukrainian song and two women with black and emerald green hair who just wanted to sing beyond their nerves.

“I don’t know why I wanted to come here and play,” Nuka told me. “I was so shy.” Tama laughed in agreement. “We came an hour before to just to process the space,” she said. Before they stepped onstage to sing, before a single person entered Cafe Hygge, before the coffee was drunk and the candles had melted, before the air became stuffy and the voices vibrated the air, the two women sat down on the antique, living room chairs. “Instead of just walking into the room right before a performance, I paused to calm my nerves,” Tama said. The two watched people walk in through the door as it would ding behind them. “It helped,” Tama admitted. “There was one person. There was five. And all of a sudden, the coffee shop was full and I was like, yeah, I’m good. I’m ready to perform.”

The Little Mermaid statue and her way cooler sister

The Little Mermaid statue and her way cooler sister

Beyond the old warehouses of Østerbro, before the sea meets the sky, the water shouts louder than the people. The waves crash into the shoreline, vengeful that the land’s presence interrupts their flow. A golden ship passes, a pop of color against the gray sky. It draws my attention to it as it cuts through the water. I note how the cold dewdrops of the park bench seep through my jeans, how the seagulls fly freely above, how the dogs bark and play as they gallop by, leashless and full of life. The weather is surprisingly pleasant; the air is warm but the wind lightly plays with my hair and whistles in my ears.

A bronze mermaid gazes out from her perch, oblivious to the waves, the wind, the birds, the dogs and the gaggle of tourists, who openly gawk at her from the shore. They lurch toward her with their screens to catch a glimpse, a snapshot, a selfie to be Instagrammed or Snapchatted or Facebooked. Sirens roar, tires screech, horns blare, voices shout, bikes rattle — the inner city overflows into the harbor. The statue is inspired Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid and is the most famous statue in Copenhagen.

 

I desire to get a closer look so I climb down the granite rocks and stand fully to see her. She sits with poor posture, curling her body toward the shore. She’s longing, apparently, for a prince she will never have. Her once completely bronze body has oxidized into a deep mossy green, corroding into multi-colored patches all along her skin. Her mournful gaze is painted with bird droppings. They streak down her cheeks like tears. My first thought? ‘Huh, I thought she’d be bigger.’ It’s not that she is disappointing, but I am just disappointed by her underwhelming size and lack of pizazz.

Later, I stand on blacktop beside a different harbor a few hundred meters away. The wind on this side of the harbor rustles past the warehouses; the February chill bites through my puffer jacket. The lack of people here creates the serenity I longed for observing the Little Mermaid. But here I can see a new mermaid, a cooler more interesting mermaid: the Genetically Modified Little Mermaid.

She perches on her own rock, crouching in a similar posture as her “older sister.” But her figure is disfigured and warped like melted metal. Her neck bends toward her chest, her legs spindle out under her body, her hips crack, her arms knob. Her face is blank and empty, erased and smooth. She’s nothing near beautiful.

A woman with hair as red as Disney’s mermaid tells me the story behind the grotesque figure. This story is even more tragic than that of the crying mermaid. The Genetically Modified Little Mermaid lives in a postmodern world, a world where the factory smoke has so polluted the sky that it becomes toxic. In this place, the people shout louder than the sea and the city overflows with litter and waste. The boats scatter trash in the harbors. The figure reflects this horrid world.

The sculptor, Bjørn Nørgaard, wrote in his artist statement:

“The form of genetic alteration we are confronted with is possibly an existence that will radically change the ways we perceive ourselves as people. The strange rudimentary human figures, that have come into being here, constitute a way of discussing what kind of an entity the human being actually is, what it looks like – and what it will look like in 100 or 200 years.”

The red-haired woman points her finger to the other sculptures in the series. In the stone plaza behind us, the metal statues stand just as warped as the Genetically Modified Mermaid. The woman points out Jesus, who contorts his body. Adam and Eve are unrecognizable. Mary Magdalene twists and turns, her figure more spindles than human. All of them are the products of a postmodern world, the woman says. This is our future if we don’t do anything. She lists statistics, passionately preaching of the somber reality our climate is facing, that we are facing.

“Even the deniers of climate change can all agree they don’t want the Little Mermaid to look like this,” the woman tells me.

I note the lack of people here. No tourists gawking. No pictures snapping. No children playing. Here it is silent. And yet I’m far more impressed with this sculpture and the series of art pieces by Bjørn Nørgaard than I was with the “Top tourist destinations in Copenhagen” Little Mermaid statue. 

Church of Our Saviour: A Tourist Spot Worth Seeing

Church of Our Saviour: A Tourist Spot Worth Seeing

The Church of Our Saviour is one of the top tourist destinations in Copenhagen. The view from the top of the serpentine spire is said by many to be the “Best view in the city” and after my visit, I can confidently agree.

My friends, Kristen and Ann, and I made our visit to the Church yesterday for its Spring opening day (read: it was free admission for the grand opening). We waited in a long line eating our Lagkagehuset pastries until we checked in. Then, we began our 400 step hike to the top of the spire. The slow journey up was a view in itself. The stairs were steep and creaky and the trek seemed to go on forever. Each turn led to another wooden crevice hidden deep within the church. One flight up, we discovered an old organ, metal and rusted but preserved within a casing of glass. The next flight led us to a giant silver bell. I wondered to myself the last time it rang over the town. We climbed up a ladder and followed the people ahead of us. It brought me back to my childhood days playing in the wooden castle playground in my hometown. I felt like I was a little kid crawling through secret passageways and discovering fun, new hideouts. I pushed open a heavy door and light flooded toward me. Stepping into the light, I audibly expressed my surprise. 

The city unfolded before me. The entire city of Copenhagen seemed to have shrunken down and spanned out like a toy town or like the backdrop of a travel commercial. “Go visit Denmark” the banner of words would read in the corner of the television screen. Standing on the outside of spindle tower, the air felt crisp and my ears longed for a hat to protect them from the wind. My calves felt tense from the stairs and my hands felt icy against the yellow-painted railing. But I ignore these complaints. The cold, the tight corners and the winding stairs were part of the adventure. The upward battle became worth it the moment the view came into focus.

I glanced back at my adventure buddies, Kristen and Ann, in excitement. I could tell by their awed expressions that they were just as amazed as I was.

We gripped onto the railing and continued our ascent. The path became narrower and, as the rusted stairs creaked under my feet, I had the crazy thought of, “Hmm.. this has been closed all winter … are we the first group of people to test it out?” But don’t worry, we reached the top without falling off the side of the spire.

After a brief photoshoot (see pictures below), we all stood and took in the beauty of our new home. It was absolutely incredible. The sun glowed over the town, showering it with gold. The city looked how autumn feels with crisp orange and white buildings. I could not have imagined how the moment would get more awe-striking until the clock tower rang in the distance.

The bells are one of the things I love the most about this city. They bring to mind my Grandma Phyllis. This past week would have been my grandmother’s birthday and so I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately. I’ve been thinking about her pastel house, her sneaky smile, the way she always called me “Kailey, Love” and how her entire house chimed every 15 minutes. At the time, I thought it was eery the way that every clock rang at the same moment. Now, I miss those clock bells. One chimed Beatles songs, another the deep hum of a grandfather clock, another a simple bell. In Copenhagen, if you’re lucky, you’ll hear the bell tower chime on the hour, ringing out loud and clear over the town. As I stood at the top of the Church of Our Saviour taking in the travel commercial view, the bell went off and I just kept thinking of my grandma. The moment couldn’t get more perfect.

 

After the bells stopped, it was time to begin our descent. My euphoria from the bells and the view was quickly broken as I pushed through the tide of tourists and trekked down the creaky, oxidized metal stairs. A man who looked remarkably like Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister on HBO’s Game of Thrones) clung to the side of the building near the entrance. He was holding on for dear life and I just keep thinking “Is it him? I know the actor is Danish but this guy looks too afraid to be the Kingslayer.” My friends and I snapped a few more pictures and then we were off.

If you’re coming to Denmark, go to the Church of Our Saviour. I would not recommend climbing 400 steps in any scenario if it wasn’t worth it. I guarantee you’ll be a little out of breath, your calves aching, your patience failing and your mind drifting to all the ways you could accidentally slip and fall off the edge. Maybe you’ll be like Jaime Lannister and scared out of your wits. But the view at the top? Worth every step.

Grundtvig’s Church

Grundtvig’s Church

Ever since I was little, I knew the place “church” well. The word brings me back to Sunday mornings sitting in the 1970’s style beige-colored church of my childhood, the pen doodles on my prayer cards, the moments staring up at the little cross cutouts in the overhead lamps, the game I played with myself counting the ceiling pillars, the vinegar taste of communal wine, the hushed bickering with my sister between songs, the chants, the prayers, the repeated verses, the standing, the sitting, the “Peace be with you”’s and the “Amen”’s. This was church. Church was the sounds of children giggling, chesty coughs, Sunday morning chatter, and the echoes that responded. This was church. Then church was the “youth group”s of Sunday nights, rock bands, sob stories, prayer circles, team games and the saltiest of McDonald’s french fries. Church then became college and choir, it became connection, it became community, it became faith. As I grew up, the place “church” became a sense of self.

The moment I walked up the aisle of Grundtvig’s Church, my contacts blurred as my eyes watered. It was just a church — a large room with rows of empty chairs, chatty elderly people, and the faint smell of dust and old parchment — and yet I felt an overwhelming sense of self upon seeing the room unfold before me. The ceiling seemingly reached on forever as if stretching up to touch the Heavens. The design of the church was so simple that I wondered if the architect had gained its inspiration from the untouched pages of a coloring book.

I chose a seat near the back where those around me wouldn’t be able to see how my lips incorrectly formed the Danish words written in my hymnal. I sat behind a middle-aged man who held his Bible close to his chest. “The space … it speaks to me,” he would tell me later after the service. I’d notice as he’d say this, his eyes would dart to the ceiling reflected in his circle glasses. The space spoke to me too. It gave me a definition to the word, “sublimity,” a word I had heard many times in philosophy classes. Sublimity is the sense of awe one feels upon discerning something so great, it cannot be defined or understood. This space was sublime.

The Pastor stood courtly on a podium elevated above the congregation and preached her sermon. Her voice, lilting and gentle, told the Bible stories I had heard a dozen times. But, as I had no way of understanding the stories told in Danish, I allowed my attention to drift. I resumed my childhood habit of gazing mesmerized by the light fixtures. Their golden glimmer brought warmth to the otherwise cold, airy building. The glittering chandeliers hung between every pillar and as I began counting the pillars, zoning out to the sermon, I thought, “Ah, yes, this is church.”

As the sermon faded to a close, the choir stepped forward and began their song: an Anton Bruckner piece that I surprisingly recognized. The hum of their voices vibrated the air around me, and I closed my eyes to feel the silvery music.

“I come here for the music,” a congregation member later admitted to me. He had been coming to Grundtvig’s Church for 40 years — “not as long as some of the members, but 40 years all the same” — 40 years of listening to the rich, resonant sounds of the choir who, despite being only fifteen in members, resounded through the space like a hundred voices.

The song crescendoed as one by one, congregation members trickled down the aisle. I was the last one to step forward and take the long, awkward walk up the aisle towards the oblong windows where the birds fluttered past, towards the altar with the glowing candles. An old man paused in front of me, standing rigid and upright. He stood close enough that I could smell the sweet aroma of cinnamon wafting from his clothes.

“I was overfilled with tears,” he recalled to me later as we sat eating tea cookies. He was young in spirit yet his age was revealed through the brown spots on his cheeks and forehead and the crinkles beside his eyes. “That was the song they played during my grandson’s baptism. My emotions …” his voice trailed off as his eyes turned glassy. He told me he wanted to call his grandson and tell him about the song.

In the moment, I stepped past the man and his cinnamon scent and knelt down on the soft, leather cushion at the front of the altar. The metal chalice pressed cold in my hands as red wine tumbled into my cup. It left a layer of sugar, tart and plummy, on my tongue.

As we each returned to our seats, a silence full of contemplation swept over the congregation. The silence was intimate, and I began to think about how this church, with its Danish words and traditions, its beautiful architecture and room full of strangers, still felt familiar. It still felt like church. The word “Amen” rang clear through the garbled Danish at the conclusion of the service and I thought, ‘Wow, even the way we close a prayer is the same.” I smiled to myself at the feeling of warmth and the sense of self. “Amen,” I repeated.

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.

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