Hej/Hello from Copenhagen! It’s been one week since I arrived in Denmark, and I’m adjusting well to my new home 4,000 miles away from the US. The weather has been surprisingly nice for the entire week——about 70°F, sunny, and slightly breezy. (According to the Danes, this has been one of the best summers in years.) The culture shock hasn’t been too bad either; I live right across the street from a huge mall (it screams American), and the Danes are much friendlier than DIS and other blogs make them sound. The food is also great here, but the prices are insanely expensive even without the 25% sales tax.
It would be hard to summarize everything that happened this week, but here is a marathon post that will give you an idea of what it’s like to start a study abroad program:
Day 1: Arrival——This day technically starts last Saturday when I left the USA. After saying goodbye to my parents, I headed into the long line of passengers waiting to clear security. Everything was going fine until I made it through the metal detectors and went to pick up my carry-on bag and laptop. My laptop suddenly vanished from the conveyor belt. Thinking somebody had stolen it, I panicked and went to the TSA person behind the machine. It turns out that a large group in front of me had been flagged by security. Their belongings were taken into a separate screening area, and my laptop was picked up by mistake. Thankfully, I got it back without a problem. Crisis averted, but what a way to start my adventure abroad.
Anyway, the rest of the trip went smoothly. Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) was excellent despite the fact that I had the seat directly in front of the toilet for the eight-hour flight. We even landed ten minutes early in CPH. After picking up my luggage and unexpectedly running into two guys from my high school class who are also in DIS this semester, I was greeted outside customs by DIS staff. They directed everyone to the adjacent Hilton Hotel, where we were divided into our various housing assignments and had time to mingle with fellow DIS students.
Tour buses then took groups of students to their housing assignments. I was almost the last stop, so I got a chance to see some other kollegiums where DIS students will be living this semester. Upon arriving at Signalhuset (pronounced “sin-YAY-hooz-et”…not what I would’ve guessed), two other students and I were greeted by the Social Resident Advisor (SRA), Jonas, pronounced “Yonas.” He’s been working with DIS for several years now and is arguably the best SRA out there. He has plans for Thanksgiving dinner, a trip to Tivoli Gardens, and a few kollegium parties during the semester. Needless to say, SRAs are nothing like RAs back home——no offense, Res Life.
Jonas brought me to my apartment, where I met my roommates Sara, Clara, and Christian. Sara and Clara are friends from Hong Kong studying at the University of Copenhagen for the semester, and Christian is a Danish grad student at Roskilde University. Christian has lived in this apartment for two years and has had a bunch of roommates so far, which is probably why he’s more outgoing than most Danes.
After unpacking and trying to get some rest (impossible because of the endless intermittent beeping from a fire alarm whose battery needed to be replaced), Jonas treated the DIS students from Signalhuset and Robert Jacobsens, a neighboring kollegium nicknamed “Rob Jack,” to pizza for dinner. By then, everyone had arrived (11 from Signalhuset and 16 from Rob Jack), and I got a chance to meet the people who would be living nearest to me for the semester. Around 10:00 PM Sunday, AKA 30 hours without sleep, I crashed so that I would be awake for the Opening Ceremony on Monday morning.
Days 2, 3, and 4: Arrival Workshops——These three days were basically a blur during which everyone received their textbooks and arrival packets, went to housing and student affairs workshops, had program-specific orientations, visited the Immersion Fair (signing up for clubs, sports, etc.), and attended the Opening Ceremony. This ceremony welcomed all 1,165 DIS students to Copenhagen with speeches from one of CPH’s mayors (there are 7 for some reason) and the director of the program, along with some music performed by students from the Royal Danish Academy of Music. The challenge that Anders, the director, presented to us was to seek as many opportunities for immersion as possible. As I’ve written before, that’s my goal for the semester too——good to know we’re on the same page.
Day 5: First Day of Classes——This day started out fine until the Metro stopped running just as I needed to get to class. In a panic, I almost took a taxi, but the metro started up just in time for me to make it to class about 5 minutes late. Note: this is still a big deal in Denmark, as Danes are obsessed with punctuality. The professors were lenient on the first day, fortunately. I had my Global Economics class first, followed by Danish and then about an hour break. After lunch (see below), I went to my 2.5-hour ethics class taught at the U. of Copenhagen. The professor, Rene, is a Ph.D. in theology who also studies neuroscience. He is running this course to demonstrate the balance required between biology /neuroscience and philosophy/ethics if one is to understand human nature fully. It’s right up PC’s alley.
Day 6: Second Day of Class——On Friday I only had one class. Jesper Lohmann is my professor in Power of Thought, a philosophy class whose goal is to understand critical thinking and the influence it has had on the West. For example, our first exercise was to define the word “thinking” on a notecard, put it on the board, and group the class’s definitions by similarity. Again, this is textbook Providence material that Civ definitely prepared me for.
Days 7/8: Roaming around CPH——Aside from applying for my residence permit on Sunday at 12:30 PM (DIS makes this process very easy…it only took about 15 minutes today), I had the weekend to explore the city. I took the metro to Christianshavn (“Chri-shuns-hown”) to climb the spiral tower of the Church of Our Saviour. For 30 Kroner, you can climb the tower to get the best view of the city there is.
I also took the time to go to the “free town” of Christiania. This is an independent neighborhood that exists within the city (think Zuccotti Park during the Occupy movement, only more built-up). There is a Green Light District where marijuana is sold openly on the streets, although this is still illegal despite Christiania’s independence. As a precaution, pictures are banned in this district, so all I can say is that Chistiania is a place you have to see to believe.
I continued my wandering with a stop at Nyhavn, the famous canal of CPH, and got some great pictures here too:
After a long day, I met up with some friends for dinner and then went out for the first time since being in Copenhagen. We ended up at a club called Night Fever, a discotech where they only play American 70′s/80′s/90′s music. It was an odd thing to see, but we all had a great time. (The retro light-up floor was definitely a highlight.)
Phew. Congrats if you made it through all of that. I’ll definitely be expanding on some these details in future posts, but I hope that gives a good snapshot of the past week. To conclude, here are a few observations on CPH that I’m sure future study abroad students in particular will find amusing and/or helpful. Thanks for reading!
A few general things I’ve taken away from this first week:
- Danes don’t use dryer sheets. I went to Bilka, the Walmart/Target of Europe, in the mall across the street to buy dryer sheets for my first round of laundry. One of the workers looked at me like I had two heads when I asked him where to find them. I guess those are an American thing.
- European public transportation is unparalleled. The unmanned metro runs like clockwork all day long, the buses are like limos, and the trains with their huge comfy seats glide on the tracks to the point where it’s easy to fall asleep if you’re not careful. (Jonas ended up in Sweden one time because of this.)
- Biking is essential in CPH. I picked up my bike on Monday and really enjoy riding around the city. Hand signals are required, and as a pedestrian, look both ways for cars AND bikes when crossing. Most streets have three levels (sidewalk, bike lane, street), so be careful.
- Professors prefer first names. Ph.D. or not, no one likes being called Doctor or Professor. This is rare in the US, but in Denmark it’s second nature. They’re also really accommodating. Jesper includes a 7-minute smoking break during class for anyone who needs a cigarette or simply a mental break.
- Yogurt comes in milk cartons. Luckily, I knew this before arriving, but it was hard to tell which was which when everything is in Danish.
- Bottled water is more expensive than beer. A 0.5-L bottle of water costs 15-20 DKK ($2.70-$3.60), while a 0.5-L can of Carlsburg, the national beer, usually costs 8 DKK ($1.40). Alcohol in general is sold in any store that sells food. Culture shock at its finest.
- Danes love their monarch. 92% of the country approves of Queen Margrethe II, and the same family has ruled Denmark since the 12th century.