This week contained some important immersion experiences for me, and I thought I’d give a quick summary. Click here for all the pictures.
On Tuesday, I went on my first DIS Ambassadors trip to Ishøj (EES-hoy) Gymnasium (high school) just south of Copenhagen. Ishøj is a technical school, which in Denmark means that it prepares students for the “HTX” exit exam for university studies in science, engineering, and math. Nine DIS ambassadors met with students from four English classes who had been recently studying American history and culture. We broke into small groups and discussed a particular aspect of American culture; my group had “consumerism.” We had a great conversation about the difference between Danish and American views on consumerism and how one defines success. For example, the American Dream for a good life is commonly rooted in consumerism, while Danes across the board——even these teenagers——see a successful and happy life as one without many luxuries. It was also interesting to hear young Danes’ perspectives on not only consumerism, but also politics, religion, education, and pop culture. Ishøj is an ethnically diverse school, so there were a lot of immigrant students (mainly from the Middle East) who had a lot to contribute to the conversation too. As a PC Admission Ambassador, this was right up my alley.
The second part of the session was a conversation about the students’ most recent English assignment: an essay on the culture of binge drinking in Denmark and the USA. According to the teacher, she wanted the students to write on a topic she knew would interest them; given the drinking culture in Denmark, the unusual assignment was well received. We didn’t have much time for this part, but it was fascinating to see the casual perceptions students have about alcohol. The drinking age is 16 for buying beer and 18 for buying hard alcohol, so students begin drinking socially around the age of 15 without any fuss from parents. There is also beer sold in the school cafeteria. Moreover, ALL gymnasiums and universities have something called “Friday Bar,” where a different academic department holds an open bar for students 16+ each Friday——with teachers participating and socializing, naturally. Talk about culture shock…McPhail’s has nothing on Denmark.
After this groundbreaking discussion (for me, at least), some students gave us a tour of the school. At 2,000 students, the building is huge and, in true Danish fashion, has a ton of comfy lounges, quiet study rooms, and foosball/ping-pong tables scattered around the building for students to use on their free time…not your average American high school. The thing that struck me was how excited the students were to show us around and to use their English in the process. Although I didn’t understand them at the time, our DIS advisor, Christina, later told us on the train ride home that the small group of tour guides kept describing us as “vores amerikanske venner” (pronounced the way it’s spelled) to all their classmates in the hallway. The phrase means “our American friends”; in Christina’s words, “You made them feel important.” It was a successful diplomatic visit to say the least.
That evening, my Danish Language and Culture class had an evening field study in Copenhagen’s famous theme park Tivoli, which was Walt Disney’s inspiration for Disneyland. Tivoli is currently open for the Christmas season, and I’ve never seen a place more decorated for Christmas in my life. As the Nordic countries are the source of many modern Christmas decorations/images, Tivoli knows how to go all-out for Christmas. My teacher, Suzanne, had her two classes meet up at Grøften, a restaurant inside the park, for a very Danish experience. We had the opportunity to try æbleskiver (AY-bluh-skee-wer) and gløgg (gluhk); æbliskiver are basically pancakes cooked as a ball and served with powdered sugar and jam for dipping, while gløgg is a hot mulled red wine complete with raisins and nuts. My classmates and I decided to call the drink “concentrated hygge” because it basically smells and tastes like a hyggeligt/cozy Christmas.
After the treats, we participated in another Christmas tradition by attending Tivoli’s annual Crazy Christmas Cabaret. Basically, a British theater company puts on an original cabaret/musical in English each year to satirize everything about Denmark. The title this year is Smartacus, which has Ancient Rome as its theme. It was hilarious and vulgar in the most British way possible, and no one is safe from the jokes. This show attacked everyone from Viking wannabes to the Queen herself, and several people were yanked out of the audience to participate in some of the scenes. Apparently, the show sells out each year and is a popular thing to do among Danes of all ages, especially high school kids. When it was over, the cast got a round of applause in an unusual way: in Denmark (and most of Europe), people applaud in unison at the end of a concert or show. At first, I thought they were clapping to the rhythm of the music, but the fast-paced beat of the audience’s clapping kept going during the curtain call…more culture shock.
On Saturday, my visiting family took me to the town of Helsingør one hour north of Copenhagen to see the castle called Kronborg. This place is the supposed setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and is called “Elsinore” in the play. Kronborg is one of those places I had read about in dozens of DIS blogs and heard about from DIS alumni before coming to Copenhagen, so it was full-circle to see it in person at last. The drive up reminded me a lot of New England with all the seaside cottages and big mansions along the way, all of which had picturesque views of the sea (and Sweden just across the water).
After our tour of the castle, Sanne and Flemming took me to visit Sanne’s niece for lunch in her apartment. It was my first time having a traditional Danish smørrebrød (SMUHR-brohd) lunch from scratch; I’ve had these delicious open-face sandwiches pre-made in the past, but this was the first time I could construct my own. There was everything from fried fish filet to frikadeller (meatballs) on the table, and the family coached me on the proper combinations of toppings for each new slice of rugbrød (rye bread). A surprisingly good and extremely Danish topping that I dared to try was leverpostej (LAY-ver-po-stye), or pork liver pâté. Served warm and topped with bacon and sautéed mushrooms, you wouldn’t know it’s liver. Some Danes prefer it cold and straight off the block, but I’ll stick with sandwiches for now.
We had some homemade cookies for dessert and then made one more stop at the newly opened Maritime Museum just next to Kronborg. With a long tradition of sailing that dates back to the Vikings, the Danes are very proud of their role as a shipping hub of the world. The museum had a ton of interactive exhibits that taught me a lot about the scope of Denmark’s maritime culture. After a long day, we drove back to Copenhagen just in time for dinner together.
A very Happy Thanksgiving to all my (dozen or so) readers out there. It will be strange not celebrating a traditional Thanksgiving, the most American of holidays, for the first time in my life, but DIS has some events planned to make us feel at home. That just means Christmas will be even better this year. Keep an eye out for a future post on Christmas in Denmark. Vi ses!