When I arrived in the airport, we checked in and stepped through customs. I was attacked (not literally, but when you’re as tired as I was, that’s what it seemed like) by hugs and kisses and Danish flags waving all over the place, and I left with my host parents and Ida. They were pointing things out on the way home, but I didn’t really take any of it in.
However, the traveling was fun... Erin Hearty and I got lost in the Frankfurt airport in Germany, and once we found out where we were supposed to be, the airline (which is under a different name in Germany than it was in Florida!) didn't have our tickets because of a mistake somewhere along the line (they could have sworn that we were supposed to fly the day before), so they had to call Connecticut, check my other tickets, call Florida... and it was settled. Erin had been stressing out, but I was too tired to care, and we had five hours before the flight for everyone to get settled. However, two kids couldn't get on that flight, so I'm not sure what they did. I was so tired that while we were waiting for the plane, I got the giggles, and because everyone else was so tired, they got them also. Then, on the plane, Erin said: Lord, you look like you're about to DIE with the bags under your eyes! So I put my head down on the tray, and I fell right asleep, for the hour that we were flying. Why couldn't I have done that on the transatlantic flight? The nice man I met on my flight from Miami to Chicago (he was in the air force) warned me about that. He told me to try to stay awake until I hit the ocean, and try to sleep during it because that would help eliminate jetlag. It was good advice, but my mind and my body wanted two different things. He and I also talked about the Keys, and it turns out that he's a scuba dive instructor, so he said that he'd certify me when I got back. How awesome is that?! We exchanged business cards, and he emailed me, so it might actually happen.
So, on my second day, my second host sister got home from a trip to Hungary. After dinner, she and I were talking, and she was like:
"I love your accent, it's so cute!"
So I was like: "I have an accent?!"
She was like: "Yeah, it sounds... like proper English... it's not a very heavy accent, but it's there and it's very American... I like it."
And then I said "Well Ida Marie said I have an accent when I speak Danish..."
And then Ida said: "WELL it's not quite Danish. I know what you're saying, though."
And I was dumbfounded, because here I was, thinking I didn't even have an accent at all!
I think I beat jetlag! I was exhausted when I came in, I went about 40 hours without sleep or something like that, and then slept for 16 hours... That let me go to sleep at 10pm on my second night, and wake up at 8:30 the next morning... That's pretty normal, I believe.
Now on a side note, in America, I don't like the milk. It's thick, and I feel like I'm drinking a milkshake but not as good, and so I usually give it a skip. Here, though, it's super-high quality, and it's only .5% milk fat. It's called minimælk! I thought that was cute.
Ida Marie and I went to København on my third day, and it was absolutely beautiful. B-E-A-utiful! So I have tons of pictures (of course) for you all who are also watching my Facebook add DeviantART!
I decided that I was going to make dinner for my family in the first week... An “American” dish, as far as I can tell, since Florida doesn't really have one besides Key Lime Pie (and there are no key limes here, so what's the sense in attempting that?!) So I decided on Chicken and Dumplings as a main dish, with tomato and mozzarella salad, along with pasta in a garlic cream sauce AND FINALLY, red velvet cupcakes. That's pretty American, right?
On my fourth day in Denmark, Henrik (my youth exchange councilor) came and got me. He's very talkative and personable, so it was fun! We went around (by car this time) three towns or so, and he showed me where my school was. HOLY CRAP! It's only 6k, which isn't bad, but sweet Jesus, the hills! I swear there's a mountain between me and my education right now. xD We also got me registered as a citizen (my ticket number was 007!) and signed me up at the bank. Apparently, Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian are all super similar, so if I become fluent in Danish, I'll be able to fully communicate with the Swedes and Norwegians, so really I'll be quadrilingual... Cool, huh? The only downside was, we turned what could have been a half an hour into almost three, so I was SUPER tired when we got back.
When I FINALLY got back, I started preparing my American dinner for my family. They LURVEEEED it! I made red velvet cupcakes (minus the red, food coloring is unhealthy here) and we had them after dinner with tea. That tea was SO GOOD! My oldest host sister works in a tea shop in København, so she brings home all these lovely flavors!
During tea, we were watching the weather channel, and they were talking, and Ida said something in Danish, but I understood it... I was like “Oh my gosh! DID YOU JUST SAY THAT YOU'RE CROSSING YOUR FINGERS FOR THE WEATHER AT THE PARTY?” And she had. So on Day 4, I understood my first full sentence (not directed at me), which is really, really exciting because I hadn't learned all of those words yet (although some of them are similar).
Later that week, I was reading the paper in the morning (or trying to read it... the headlines at least) and I understood some of them! The prince is having twins (his wife is), someone trashing the BP oil spill, lots of sales on stuff (yay!) Tiger Woods not doing well in golf, Wycleff Jean as a candidate to be the president of Haiti, political parties cleaning up the ghettos... I didn't get many of them, but I'm getting there x)
We helped set up a huge tent for my host mom's birthday party. It included rods, tarps, wood floors, tables, chairs, glasses, silverware, candles... it was super fancy. After a while of lifting, my shoulder started hurting, so I stopped to give myself a break, but I'm happy I could help.
That night, I went for dinner with my second host family, because one of my sisters there is going to be an exchange student to Canada, and they wanted me to meet her before she left. It was really good, and I met the boy who will be my cousin... he is SO ADORABLE! After dinner, I was sitting in the basement with Sabina (the one who's staying) and Sophia (the one who's going to Canada.) I was trying to explain something, and I said "I don't know" a few times. I tired explaining it another way, and then said "Yeah, I don't know" again, but I jumped a little when Sabina screamed "OMG THAT WAS PERFECT DANISH!!!!!" I was like "what? o.o" She was like, you just said 'I don't know' in Danish! I was like "Nuh-uh! I said it in English!" But Sophia was like "nope, it was Danish all right." So, apparently this means a few things: I'm picking it up, and my brain is already getting confused between the two languages. The weird thing is, I hadn't learned how to say that yet. I guess by asking my host family to speak Danish around me (unless they're talking directly to me and I'm not getting it) is paying off!
The first Saturday I spent in Denmark was the day of my host mom's birthday party. It was so weird to realize that what Ida said was true: "You should tell them that you're the exchange student... they think you're Danish." I was mostly keeping quiet at this point, because everyone was saying hello to everyone else (When someone new walked in, they went around the room and shook hands and said hi to every single person there! It took quite a while, but apparently my Danish introduction isn't too shabby!) During this cocktail hour type thing, I had my first legal taste of elderflower. It was very sweet, and it reminded me of honeysuckle. When they first gave it to me, they said “it’s like lemonade!” so I was very surprised to realize that it was nothing like lemonade at all, but it was so good! I was also able to hold my first conversation in Danish! It was with Ida, and it was only things we had already practiced, but I got all of my replies correct! Hurrah! After eating, we had coffee (this would be around 11PM) and then as a surprise... Square dancing! Oh my gosh, it was cheesy, but at the same time, it was SO awesome. Mads Emil (my younger host brother) was my dancing partner, and it was really fun once we all got into it.
The next day, I went into København again to meet up with the other exchange students who live in the København area in this cute little cafe... it's just off of one of the main streets past a tower. Everyone was so nice, but the Brazilians were especially friendly. I got another wish bracelet! My first one came from Gabriel, who was an exchange student in my district in South Florida last year. We went through the rules and had our first Danish Danish (which the Danes don’t eat much of here, surprisingly.)
After, we came home for dinner, and then Ida, Anne, Mads, Christian, their cousin, Ida's friend, and I went to see Inception (It just came out here!). OMG IT WAS EXPENSIVE, but I could see why. Each seat was a red recliner (a big one, at that) and there were thick curtains that pulled back when the movie started, and I think if the screen was pulled up, it could be an actual theater! (A black box one, at least.) At any rate, I understood more of it the second time, now that I had an idea of what was going on. Yay! I still can't get over the whole assigned seat in movie theaters thing. Ha, it was a good day.
The next few days went by rather quickly—looking back now it feels like I’ve been here for a lifetime, but also only for a few days… A month can’t be right! I’ve seen so much, met so many people, and I have even achieved a decent level of understanding within conversations in my family. I can’t compare my life here to my life back home, because they’re so similar but so different at the same time.
I took another trip into Copenhagen for Tivoli’s (their central theme park) birthday concert, which was a collection of American songs performed by popular singers, and we went on a boat tour of the harbor. I love it in my city, everything is alive, but still so much more easy-going than in the States. The tour was in English, Spanish, and Danish, so I understood some of it all! It was cool being able to tell my host family that I understood some of it, even when it wasn’t being explained in English.
I haven’t been homesick at all, for some reason the exchange has happened naturally for me, as if I were meant to be here. I have adjusted well to being part of my family, and I already know that I don’t want to leave them. On my second day of Danish school, I got home in the BEST mood. I went to talk to Ida, but she was on the phone, so I figured “hey, I’ll just check my e-mail until she’s done, then I can tell her how awesome my new class is!” Unfortunately, my happy cloud was popped when I received an email from my dad. He woke up with severe pain and drove himself to the emergency room, and my grandma went into Hospice. It was unexpected (on my dad’s part) and I wasn’t prepared for it, so I went to Ida about to cry. She hung up the phone, asked me what was wrong, and gave me a hug. I recovered quickly; I think it was just the shock of it. I knew my grandmother didn’t have much time left, so that wasn’t a surprise, just that it was so soon into my exchange! Ida and I talked about it some, and we were laughing within five minutes. I honestly couldn’t ask for a better family. After a while, I became so busy with the routine of school and my social life that I had forgotten about my American troubles, and took a trip to Jylland.
From the 22nd to the 29th of August, I attended my Rotary IntroCamp. It was a surprise kept from me until the day before I left; I wasn’t supposed to go because I was supposed to have been on teambuilding with my class… but things turned out in my favor, and I ended up in the Danish system only a few days in! I was really, really happy about that switch. I know that everyone thought it would be in my best interest to attend the international school, but I enjoy the challenge of being surrounded by Danish all the time. In the IB program, I was in American style classes, which were being taught in English… If I wanted to be in America, I would have stayed! I talked to the vice principal, and she told me to come back in the next break. Less than 20 minutes later, she had switched me from 2u (IB) to 2B. I now have a class of my own, and two girls assigned to show me around whenever!
At the introcamp, I got to surprise Erin… She thought I wasn’t coming. We were really happy to see each other, and made other friends quickly. After a bit of exploring in our free time, we happened upon a room with couches and chairs and candles, so it became Narnia. It was nice, having an escape that no one knew about, because the other popular rooms were occupied by Spanish and Portuguese… I wish I could have joined in, but the other students weren’t interested in speaking English, or even slowing the Spanish down so I could understand. Narnia began to grow, and soon it encompassed a small group of Americans and Canadians. We became close-knit quickly, developed a nickname system, and even had a password! (It wasn’t enforced, it was just fun to have.) As the group moved through the week together, we ate meals together like a family, confided in each other, and teased each other too. We went shopping together in Aarhus, and walked around the ARoS museum. I really liked that museum, it displays some VERY basic cultural differences between America and Denmark. I was surprised to find out that their exhibits contained sexual themes, pictures, subliminal messaging, nude statues, and other things that would have been extremely controversial, but they were being expressed and explained here with great popularity. I found one exhibit particularly interesting: Julie Nord's Xenoglossy.
What was funny, though, was as the week went on, I began to miss my host family. I missed everyone eating together and laughing together, and I even missed riding my bike 12k a day over the massive hills they have here. (Just don’t tell them that! It’s my secret.) ;) Unfortunately, someone came to the camp sick, so by the third day, at least 75% of the kids had a cold, which is a lot for six teachers to handle. I didn’t get sick until the last full day there, where we had our diskotek! It was so much fun, even though I had a fever. When I got tired, and started feeling pretty bad, my friend Chris sat me down, and kept bringing me water, playfully threatening me with cake if I didn’t drink it… That’s what I mean by the Narnians being family. We take care of each other, even if it means missing out on some of the fun. I would have to say the absolute BEST part of the camp besides meeting people, though, was the “surprise entertainment.” There was a night where they taught us how to Stomp (like the movies and street performances) in the gym while a secret surprise was being assembled in the lecture hall, and when we were sent in there…. Striving Vines, a local (but popular) band was giving us a private concert! It was SO AMAZING, and only the Rotary kids from Denmark were allowed in. They played ballads, their top chart singles, and even an unreleased song when we begged for more. I ended up buying one of the ten CDs they had, and taking pictures with them all, so I’m set for a while. While I was talking to the bass guitarist, I asked if they would be playing in the Copenhagen area, and they will be! It won’t b free, of course, but I WILL find a way to go.
My exchange so far feels more like a dream than reality, where not everything makes sense, but somehow fits together flawlessly anyway. It might seem strange to wear scarves in the summer, or to put ketchup on pasta, but hey, it’s actually not bad at all! I’ve gone shopping few times, and my style has already shifted dramatically. I can share shoes and shirts with both of my current host sisters, and so we’ve been trading a lot, and it’s really nice, because I’m at the point where I’ll come home with something new, and they’ll ask to borrow it the next day. It doesn’t bother me at all, in fact, I’ve always wanted to have sisters to do that with…. So it’s perfect! I have lot more going on in the future, and I plan on keeping it that way because it’s fun, so I’m sure I’ll have lots to tell you in the future.
Rotary, I can NOT thank you enough for giving me this chance. It has already expanded my mind exponentially, and I know that I’ve already created connections that will last me a lifetime.
Nova Jones, your happiest exchange student in Denmark.
So, today, I was in my German class. The teacher refuses to speak in English, and told the girls who were helping me to only speak in German or Danish. This is how it usually goes in that class, and everyone told me how strict she was. However, today, she came up to me after class, and said this: Are you sure you should be in here? You don’t understand a word!
I thought it was funny, but she was being serious, so I didn’t laugh. The other students talked to me about it after break, and said that even that was strange for her, and Julia, a girl from Germany, said “Well what does she expect? You’re taking a high-level class as a beginner in a foreign language. She’s just trying to make it easier on herself, not on you.” They then mentioned something about going to the park after school. I didn’t even know that Birkerød HAD a park! I, of course, said I would love to go. I then found out that not only was it 2B, but that 1B and 3B would also be there, to get to know each other. They wanted to do this because in a few months, we’ll be throwing a party for all three classes.
The park was SO much fun, I went with kids I didn’t know much, but as they drank øl and Bailey’s, they began to talk to me more.
After that, things began to look up more: People in my class were talking to me more, inviting me out, and asking my opinions on things. My German teacher and I had a semi-public confrontation that we had to ‘take outside’ and in the end, she ended up apologizing (which they say she doesn’t do to students, ever!) and offering me free Danish lessons… so we put aside our differences and worked together.
Since then, things have passed SO quickly… I was astonished when I got an email about sending in my quarterly report, and as I sit down to write the rest of this, I realize that I’m not the same person that left Florida sleep deprived on July 31st. I faced my fear and cut off most of my hair (it went past my bellybutton, now it grazes my shoulders), I use public transportation or take my bike regularly, I drink my coffee black, and I eat tomatoes whole as a snack.
Another thing I have noticed changing since I have arrived is my views on acceptable fashion… I used to hang out in jeans and a fitted t-shirt, now I find myself hanging out in long, loose tops and tights. When I look back at pictures from Florida, I find myself thinking: Did we really wear that? Were we having a bad day or something? It’s true what I was told before I got here… While the Danish culture is very laid back, their standard for acceptable is slightly more fashionable than what I was used to. It was funny, because recently, two other exchange students from America came to visit me. They live in Jylland, so both the accent and the fashion is very different. One day, I was showing them around the city, and they were in jeans and a t-shirt to take a day off. A street vendor smiled at me, and asked (in Danish: ‘You have Americans with you?’ It made me laugh, and it still brings a smile to my face now. It takes moments like those to realize that I’ve just matured in yet another way… I can now pass for a Danish teen!
Another cool moment in the past few weeks was when my friend Claire from Alaska was over. We were skyping with one of her Alaskan friends in Sweden, and we were comparing accents. Her friend said she liked mine more because it sounded more Swedish, which got Claire and I into comparing more words… which led into a full argument in Danish. Her friend was like “guys, stop it! I can’t understand when you’re speaking that quickly!” THEN Claire and I realized that we hadn’t been speaking English.
My Rotary club and district here have invited me to a few awesome events: I saw the premier of Mama Mia in Danish with the VIP's, I went to an Apollo concert (they're a great band!), and I'm going to other cool events soon. I also saw Krestian Robertson at his football game. He was an exchange student to Florida last year and we didn't get to meet, so it was really nice to be able to go to his game. He was playing against my 'home' team!
There have been a few moments when I forget that I’m even from America. I feel so comfortable here that at times, I can only be brought back to that mindset by pressing college application deadlines. I haven’t been homesick yet, but I’ve received a few notes with bad news, or a few moments when I think about what I gave up back home… but then I realize that I AM home, and I simply can’t imagine my life without Denmark. Everyone I’ve met here has been so open and amazing. Rotarians who barely know me invite me over for dinner to get to know me better, kids in my class invite me over for a hyggeligt afternoon with coffee and movies. I know I’m changing, and I didn’t expect all of it, but there’s not a single moment I regret.
Some people ask why I bother going to school… we’re learning old Danish which they don’t even get all the time, so they think its completely pointless. However, I think this quote applies to most, if not all, exchange students: "Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school. " - Albert Einstein. I’m not here primarily to learn about the history or text. I’m here to learn about the people. I’m here to interact with, learn about, and BECOME one of them. The fastest way I pick up language, behavior, and other general mannerisms is through attending classes. Everything imaginable can happen in a high school; it is a small microcosm, a perfect example of the diversity among the people who live in this country. What I learn here may not be testable, but that is because it is immeasurable and invaluable. No one who hasn’t done this could acquire it, and similarly, most who haven’t done it won’t understand. But we do. We know what we sacrifice to come to another country, to put ourselves on the line. We know we’ll come back, and things might not be the same. And we also know that we won’t, not even for a second, regret our decisions to do something better for ourselves.
I keep thinking that I will become less busy and have more time to do important things (like writing my journals and getting them in on time!) but that hasn’t happened yet, and it’s not going to happen any time soon! I’m going bowling with Rotex (as well as to another concert!) soon, and I’m going to see if I want to join the school play. I go to the gym, I go out with Rotarians when they offer, I’m going to the biggest party of the year (the coffee ball), I’m going to a few shows with friends, and this is all before I change families at the end of the month! I’m sure I’m leaving things out, but here’s what has happened since I last wrote:
There are Rotex meetings once a month, which I go to. We talk and have cakes (everything is cake here, I’m referring to brownies, pastries, cookies, actual cake) and soda or water while planning events. Thanksgiving is coming up quickly, and we’re arranging performances for the big dinner we’re going to be having. All of the families considering Rotary Youth Exchange are invited to come have dinner with us, see our shows, and talk with us about how it is to be an exchange student in another country. Some kids are nervous, but I couldn’t be any more excited! I want to tell the kids that while it’s not for everyone, if they’re in the door already and asking us because they think they’ll like it, then they should give it a shot! A year may seem like a long time away, but I couldn’t emphasize the dramatic difference in time perspective if I tried… I mean, it feels like I’ve been a Danish citizen for my whole life and that Copenhagen IS my city, and I’m writing this journal to people I met a long time ago in a dream. Then again, whenever I flip open my planner and see the week number slowly crawling up, I’m shocked, because it feels like I couldn’t have been here for more than a month. However, I have been here for more than a month… A few days ago, all of us exchange students passed the quarter milestone. I’ve been in Denmark for three month and seven days, and they’ve all been (for better or for worse) the best days of my life.
Last weekend, for Halloween, most of the exchange students met up in Holbæk. Erin, Esther, and Emily didn’t go… but that allowed me to branch out! I became closer with some of the other exchange students, and especially the ‘oldies’ from Australia and New Zealand. There were a bunch of them that I hadn’t met before, and they’re so awesome that we have plans to visit each other before they leave in January. On the Friday night, we all had dinner together, and then we had a diskotek. It wasn’t that great, so a few of us went out and watched movies on Thomas’s laptop, which was resting on my knees, in a cozy pile so we could all see and keep warm at the same time. The next day, the same group of us went on a walking tour to the town itself, and on the way, we saw this beautiful lake. We went down to it, and took pictures with the windmills and the towers. There was also a dock that we walked out on. However, because we took this detour, we weren’t on the same road that the rest of the students had taken… leading us to an awesome park! There was a sea-saw type thing, only you could spin in circles and bounce up and down. It was so fun! We got back, had a hockey competition, and then the Rotarians joined us for dinner. We had a costume contest, and I dressed up like Secret Agent Jones… I didn’t care if no one else got it, it made me smile, and that’s what mattered. That’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned so far. Here, I don’t need everyone to get me, and I don’t need to change to meet someone else’s beliefs of what I should be. I can be myself, and people can accept it or they can’t. Mostly they do, though, and so I’ve made a lot of new friends! That night, we had another band play for us, and then a REAL diskotek… which didn’t start until almost one in the morning! It was awesome. I’m pretty sure we were dancing until well past three, and by the time we all were heading back to our rooms, we only had a few hours left of possible sleep. Thankfully, our time change happened that night, so we got an extra hour.
At home, I’ve seen advertisements for some equestrian race, but I didn’t pay much attention to it. It’s a huge event, and it looked rather fancy… Well I had slept over Hannah’s house with Erica on Friday night, and when I got back Saturday afternoon, no one was home. We hadn’t gotten much sleep, so I took a nap, and woke up to a new text from my host dad. My Rotary Protection Officer, Peter, (who’s also the photographer) had invited me to go with him to the race. He said it was an old Danish tradition to bring the whole family, but my host dad had tennis, both of my host sisters had work, and my host mom was going to visit her mom in the hospital. So I called Peter, and said I would love to join him. It was really fun! The weather was actually at about two degrees Celsius, which is about 35 in farenheight… So I’m glad I bought a nice warm jacket in Sweden! We walked around this big beautiful park and watched the “fox” hunt (they don’t kill real foxes anymore, they have two horses with foxtails pinned to the rider’s blazer that they chase). At the end, the Royal Family presented awards, so I got to see them all! After, I went home to Peter and his wife, and we had lunch and then coffee.
On other miscellaneous news, I’ve had good success at the gym. I love going, and since it’s right next to my school, Julie (who is quickly becoming my best friend at BG) and I go all the time! At first it was weird for me, everyone in the changing room walking around naked or showering next to each other, or going into the steam room nude, but not only have I accepted it as normal, but I’ve become accustomed to it! After a particularly hard day working out, going into the steam room is nice. And why would you wear anything? It would just get damp from the steam and essence oils they have in the air. It doesn’t make sense, and living here has shown me that.
I also feel the need for [partial] bragging rights…My English has reached the point where I am forgetting and misspelling words… thereby reducing me to Google translate from Danish to English. Crazy, huh?
I also went to a play with my German class- it was in Danish, but it was an adaptation from German, so some of it didn’t make much sense to my class! There was a bunch of screaming, lots of whispering, and tons of talking over each other… so naturally, I didn’t understand much. The weird thing was, when I asked my class mates what was going on, they had no idea either.
A few nights ago, everyone was home, and we all had dinner together. I had eaten a late lunch, so I wasn’t super hungry, but my host mom insisted I had more. So, being a polite exchange student, I did. Unfortunately, she asked me to have seconds on dessert also, and I really couldn’t… so I declined again. She then said something in Danish that I couldn’t believe. I thought I had understood it wrong. It was basically, “Eat now, my pig, for tomorrow you will be slaughtered.” I just sat there staring at her for a minute, jaw dropped, before my host dad stepped in for an explanation—That saying is the Danish version of Carpe Diem. Seize the day. Thinking back, it makes sense, but I hadn’t been expecting it. Thankfully, she just smiled and said “well then, I’ll eat it for you” with a wink. I love my host family so much, part of me wishes that I could stay with them all year. I know that I’m going to get SUCH a different experience with my second family and their relatives in Austria, and even more different with my third family, but I can’t help but feel like I’m going to be leaving a large portion of my new self behind when I pack up my room.
Last night we celebrated Morton’s Evening. It is a Danish tradition where you cook and eat a goose (but they’re very expensive, so we ate duck) while telling the story of Morton himself. He was selected to be the bishop, but he didn’t want the position, so he ran. He looked and looked for a place to hide, and found a field of geese. He hid among them, but they started hissing and squawking, so he was found. Knowing he didn’t have a choice, he accepted the position as a bishop, creating a new holiday and law. On that evening every year, every family in Denmark was to kill and eat a goose. After hearing the story, we ate. It was good, and
to conclude this jumbled section, when I woke up this morning, I stumbled downstairs with my eyes still bleary from sleep, but my host mom said “Nova look! It has frozen outside!” So I looked, and sure enough… the grass was white and sparkly, the leaves were all down and white as well, the outermost portions of the bushes were frozen… it doesn’t count as snow, because it DIDN’T snow, but as a Floridian, I was excited. Until I had to bike to school, and I felt the air turning frosty when I breathed in. So I zipped my jacket up to my chin, and took the train instead. Even with the air freezing in my lungs, I am glad to be here, I’m glad for the change. It’s not hot and muggy even in the winter, I’m experiencing actual seasons for the first time that I can remember… it’s just one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever experienced, and that feeling grows every day.
Now that it’s the holiday season, more is changing than ever. I switched host families on November 27th instead of November 28th. For some reason, this minute infraction on my mental plan list of how the week was going to “go down” threw me off balance entirely. I experienced near to the same anxiety and irritability that I experienced the night before leaving Florida, with the same result… as soon as it was done, I thought I was ridiculous to feel that way, because it was all perfect again. II still had a lingering feeling of being a little on edge, though.
It was about two weeks later, when I went back to my first host family for a holiday dinner, that I figured out what had been bothering me… as soon as I stepped out of the car, I sighed, and with it, I felt like a weight had been taken off of my shoulders. I was surprised to be incredibly relieved to see my house again. Sophus, our dog, ran up and licked me, Mads came out with his arms wide open for a hug, and everyone greeted me just as warmly as if I had been still living there. Warmer, even. I realized that when I came to Denmark, I had nothing that meant anything to me. Clothes, books… everything was replaceable. I had to start entirely new. However, when I switched host families, I subconsciously felt like I was being torn away from everything I had built up again. In a way, I was, but this time, it was different. A life I had built, my new support system, was only a short car (or train, or in the event that it wasn’t all snowy, bike) ride away. As soon as I was in the house again, sharing tea with my brothers and sisters, everything was alright. I wasn’t nervous about assimilating into my new family at all. In fact, I was more confident than ever that I would be successful and happy. If I were able to come to this country with no REAL knowledge of Danish at all, nothing that could have truly prepared me for a new life with new people and new situations, then I could get to know them as well.
I had been right, of course. I have been with this family for a month, and though things are different than they were with my last one, they’re also good. We have tea in the morning with breakfast, which we always eat together. We eat dinner together, and then ALWAYS drink at least one cup of coffee. With this family, dinnertime can last anywhere between 45 minutes or so if we’re alone to three or more hours if we have guests. That’s new for me, but it’s nice. Since I moved, I have been speaking tons more Danish. This family is half Austrian, so if we’re not speaking Danish, I’m hearing German… giving me little room to have it in English like I had gotten used to. At first, it was really hard, because it was SO much more Danish than I was used to… I was getting the language headaches I never had to deal with before. But on the other side, I was also picking it up much more quickly. I had no idea how much I didn’t understand until I moved. Then again, I could just be hitting the curve where it shoots almost straight up, because in the last month, my brain has made a fascinating switch. I don’t think entirely in Danish, but remembering weird words like suspenders takes me ages. It’s embarrassing, actually, because I hardly ever know what things are called in English anymore if I’m put on the spot about it. I speak a weird mix of Danglish, because that’s how I think. Sometimes now, it’s honestly easier just to ask Sabina a question in Danish, because it takes me too long to figure out how I should be saying it in English. One thing she noticed was that I seem to compose a question in my special Danglish, and then ask it in whichever language is more prominent. If I can’t remember a word in English, I’ll ask in in Danish. If I don’t know what it’s called in Danish, I’ll usually ask it in Danish and then ask her what the word is.
We’re quickly becoming really close. It didn’t happen right away, but she and I, I think, will be best friends. Right now we’re in Austria on holiday, and since it’s just the two of us, we’ve spent a lot of time together. We have so many inside jokes, and crazy stories after only a week that I find it impossible to not continue growing as sisters.
My favorite thing about Austria is actually how much my Danish has improved while I’ve been here. It only took one sentence from Sabina to convince me it would be fun. “They understand English and German, not Danish so we can talk about whatever we want and they won’t know!” Needless to say, it worked. We’ve been speaking almost only Danish with each other. I’ve also realized that German is SO close to Danish. Austrian German that is. I can understand a little bit of what’s going on, just from the similarity of the two languages. There was even one point where my host mom gave me the keys, told me to get the stuff from the car, unlock the house, and bring it in. I went to go do it, and Sabina asked if I understood. It was late after a long day, and I was a little annoyed that she thought I wouldn’t understand something so simple, so I said “of course I understood, why wouldn’t I?” but I got quiet quickly and became only amazed at my own mind when she replied “well, because it was in German.” Hearing little bits of it every day for a month, and then being surrounded by it for a few days when my brain is already used to new words helped. I can’t speak it, and I have no claim on understanding it enough to hold even little conversations, but it’s really cool to know how similar they can be. Because of this, I think I’m going to take German and Swedish (the closest Scandinavian language public Florida Universities offer) and continue learning even when I’m home.
Danish Christmas time is absolutely fantastic. I was told over and over again by a wide variety of people, that I would love it. In the middle of the cold winter, when it’s so dark all the time, comes a huge celebration. I didn’t take them seriously, and I figured that it couldn’t be THAT different… but I was wrong. On the 24th, we had a huge dinner with guests over. It lasted two and a half hours or so. After dinner, we all got up to go light the candles on the tree. It’s my first Christmas with snow since I was a child, my first Christmas with a real tree, and definitely my first Christmas with actual candles upon it. We lit them, and proceeded to sing. We sang and danced in circles around the tree in English, German, Danish, and Chinese. Then, after we had sung many songs, we sat down around it. We opened our presents one at a time, and I was so happy! I got almost everything I asked for, plus more. Denmark is quite expensive to begin with, and yet, they still treated me like their own daughter, buying me a very nice bracelet from Pandora with three charms to go with it. The next day, we had another huge meal, with 30 other people or so, the extended family, and I met more of the people I’ve only heard about. I met some of the people I hadn’t even met that had still asked for my wish list and got me something, to make me feel like part of the family. I met the English side as well, and got along with them fantastically. They invited Sabina and I over for a girl’s weekend, and a free haircut because Jade was a hairdresser! That made me SO excited, because haircuts cost more than $100 USD here! The next day, the “second day of Christmas,” December 26th, we flew out to Austria. It felt weird to be getting on a plane again so so soon, but I need to be getting used to it. In the next three months or so, I’ll be coming back to Austria for a ski trip, and I’ll also be going to Ireland for St. Patrick’s day week with my class at school.
I also know that because it’s around Christmas time, and this usually happens around now, I shouldn’t be surprised or attribute it to the sudden spike in my conversational skills with Sabina, but the other night, I had a dream in Danish. I was back with some of my friends from Coral Springs, messing around, nothing serious. The funny part is, my Austrian grandpa was there too. I didn’t even notice it was weird until he began speaking. In German. Which is also when I realized that all of my friends were somehow fluent in Danish. Coincidentally, that was when I also realized that I myself had been speaking Danish the whole time. It was a weird realization, and I woke up a little disoriented, and I went back to sleep, but once I woke up for good, I couldn’t stop talking about it. It was such a simple dream, but it meant so much. It meant that finally, after five months of living in Denmark, I saw Danish as attainable. I’ve heard many students go to Denmark and come back not entirely fluent, with a few scary stories of kids who don’t speak a word. I know those are rare, but it still comforted me to know that I know more Danish than I thought I did, at least subconsciously. Now I know that I can do it. I know for sure, without a doubt in my mind, that I will be able to speak Danish fluently before I go home. After all, I can hold up most conversations as it is. There are still plenty of words I don’t know, but I’ve found it’s easier to remember them when you can make comparisons in the two languages rather than one. For instance, Sabina and I were in the car talking, and a word I didn’t know threw me off. Vane. It means habit, and I made a little connection in my brain like I did when I was taking AP Psychology to remember: Being vain is a bad habit. It sounds silly, and doesn’t really make sound as good in English (the thought was in Danish aside from the word vain), but it helps.
One thing I am worried about as far as language goes, is how I’m supposed to talk to Erin Harty when I’m back. Our accents are now so entirely different (in Danish) that I can’t even understand her! I was a little distressed about this, but I talked to a lot of people here… a lot of Danes from the Copenhagen area can’t even understand the Jutland accents. There are a lot of dialects, and the further you get away from a large city, the more “country” it becomes. That makes sense, and we make fun of them a little, but they do the same back to us. They say our accent is like little Sweden, and it’s funny enough, but still frustrating that I can be watching a Danish television show out of Copenhagen, and understand the host entirely, but not get what’s going on because I don’t understand the guest from Sønderborg (or wherever). I’m not TOO worried, though… I can understand the people I usually have around me, and the rest will come with time.
I’ve tried a lot of new things. The newest thing, something I NEVER would have seen myself trying in a million years, was pig head. A whole pig head, fat and bones sticking out, eyes covered up by the ears… It was interesting. Honestly a once in a lifetime experience… that is, I’m not guaranteeing I’ll eat it again. However, that being said, it wasn’t actually so bad. I told myself that I won’t restrict myself this year. I won’t go back to being a vegetarian, I’ll try everything I’m offered at least twice, and I’ll take full advantage of the time I have here while I’m actually here. It’s running out too quickly, and I don’t like the prospect of coming home at all. I’ll be coming home to a world where they don’t understand drinking REAL, strong coffee (not the American pre blended stuff I drank) after dinner or before bed, they won’t understand why I don’t like eating sandwiches with one piece of bread instead of two, they won’t understand my consuming love for Danish people, fashion and the language itself. It’ll be okay, and nice to see everyone again, but I want America to be my vacation. I want to know I’ll be able to come back. I’ve invested too much here already, after only half of my stay, to let it go.
Because of the friendships and connections I’ve stumbled upon, some by chance and some by a little more, I have received sincere invitations around the world. I’ve been invited to Brazil by the exchange students in Denmark, we figured it was the place with the most people initially… and therefore, the most houses available. I’ve also been invited to Singapore. Being with this family now has opened an incredible amount of doors. I now have contacts in Austria, and my host mom’s brother, who lives here most of the time, is dating a beautiful, sweet Chinese woman from Taiwan. He also works in Singapore, and he brought one of his employees on the trip. Her name is Camilla, she’s 23, and Sabina and I get along with her very well. She told us that if we ever wanted to visit, just let her know and she could help arrange a place to stay. After all, she said, we were family.
That’s one of the most amazing things, I think. The people you meet, the areas of the world you suddenly find unlocked to you. An open invitation, yours whenever you’re able to take it.
On Tuesday (the 11th of January) my host parents went out of town. They went to Germany and left my host sister and I home. I made dinner every night, and we had delicious American food and some Mexican food, and it was awesome. We watched a movie, and created a workout plan, and we're sticking to it. On Friday, we went down to the basement-- where the home gym is-- put in a movie, and hopped on the elliptical machine (me) and the stationary bicycle (Sabina). We did half an hour of that, and then did some pilates/core. We did the same thing on the following Saturday and Sunday. We worked it out so that Tuesday is our rest day, and it's important to know that ahead of time. On Friday night, I also made chocolate lava cakes. We couldn't even finish ours because it was so rich, and we ended up eating green salad out of the container, and carrots, and bell peppers... which is when she suggested that we have a green vegetable/fruit day! We did that. On Saturday, we only ate fruits and veggies and nuts, no bread or meat or sugars or anything like that. It was really nice, and I didn't feel as hungry as I usually would have, and it stopped us from snacking more, and just a bunch of good stuff. My host parents didn't understand, and we had a salad for dinner and my host mom made a pasta salad with chicken and bacon and she didn't understand why that wasn't counted as a fruit or a vegetable and she thought it was stupid and crazy and openly expressed it... but it was only a day and we had made an agreement (very serious things in Denmark, when you shake on it… they’re unbreakable deals) were full and it was fine.
The next Friday, my friend Hannah went home to Australia, so I went to see her at the airport. She gave us out some Australian stuff, and I told myself I wouldn't cry, and she hugged us and kisses us on the cheek, and I felt a little tug, and she went to the security check, turned around, half-smiled, waved, and she was crying a little... and I just started crying. It brought a lot to my mind. My oldie was leaving, back to Australia, making me an oldie for the students coming this month. It meant half of my exchange was over. It meant I was going to be back here soon, saying goodbye to my friends, going back to everything.... very bitter sweet even now, and I know it'll only get harder to want to go back. I would like to stay here, but I know it's not possible.
Now, it’s almost the end of February. I got my new camera a few weeks ago, and I haven't had one since October. I had to move on Sunday, and time is just slipping out of my fingers entirely. I have come full circle in writing these reports… At this time last year, I kept SERIOUS tabs on anything Scandinavian related, as well as reading the reports from my friends who were inbounds, and I couldn’t understand for the life of me why it was so hard to sit and write something down to send in on time. When I got here, I wrote long reports frequently (even some just for my family so I wouldn’t flood the rotary website!) and turned them in. As the year progressed, I got less and less motivated to sit down for an hour and write about what’s been going on, and as many times as I was emailed to hurry up from family, it made me slow down even more. I’ve come to the point where I don’t want to write them. Not because I’m ungrateful, or because I don’t want to share my experiences—believe me, I actually can’t stop talking about them. It’s only because every time I submit one of these journals, it means at least a month of my exchange has been moved from the future stack of files to the past. That being said, my reports won’t be shrinking in length any time soon (sorry to those of you who think they’re too long, ha-ha, you all asked for them) but once I get my fingers flowing, I keep thinking of things I feel like I should include. I’ll try to keep it to only a few big topics this time, though. J
In the time that has elapsed since I last wrote, I have been to Austria again. We went for week seven, the “official” winter break for most schools in this area. We stayed in Gosau, a ski area, at a family hotel. They have been staying at this hotel every year during week seven for the past twelve years, when Sabina and Sophia started skiing. A girl they met in baby ski classes, Selina, was there as well. The three of us decided to take snowboarding lessons together. We started out at the same level: we couldn’t even figure out how in the world to unstrap the snowboard from itself. However, I progressed much faster than they did, and the teacher moved me up to the advanced class after two hours. We took the entire mountain, on the first day. It was hard, and I fell, but it was really fun! The next day, the conditions were incredibly icy, so when I fell it hurt a LOT. I ended up with a swollen knee, so I put myself back down to the lower level class to take it easy. At the same time that I did this, the beginner’s teacher moved Sabina up to the advanced class. They asked if it was okay with us, and we had a whole conversation debating the pros and cons ( as well as where we would be eating lunch) of going separately, as well as how we would take the next few days. We ended up coming to an agreement, and I turned to the instructors and asked them if that was okay… in Danish. I didn’t realize why they were just staring at me until Sara said “I don’t speak that language… what were you guys saying?” At that point, my jaw dropped, because it wasn’t a big deal to me. That conversation had been so natural, it amazed me when I realized, of COURSE they couldn’t understand it. It was a great sign for me, though. For the rest of the day, I was proud… I had achieved a complete conversation in Danish without thinking about it at all. It had been natural. SO natural that I hadn’t even realized that we weren’t speaking English. This pride shone through my boarding, because the next day, we had a new instructor. A man, who wanted to challenge us. We were broken up into groups of two, and I ran down with him and another girl who wasn’t good at all. He said I looked bored, so he started teaching me tricks. I learned how to do a manual, I was doing little jumps, I was rubbing my stomach and patting my head while curving down a steep slope (seriously, he told me to do that and then follow in his tracks, it was crazy!) and all sorts of other things. He taught me how to jump to make directional changes, and how to make it look cool. He took me to the steepest slope and started going over the edge on the side and building up enough speed to jump back onto the approved track. It was a little scary and incredibly icy, but I had fun. At the end of the week, we were all covered in so many bruises and sore spots (like my thumb, which has been taped up for the past week) that anyone not on the trip could have assumed we had been hit by a car or something, but the best part, was our smiles. On that Thursday, they opened up the slopes after hours because there was a full moon. Usually they’re only open until 4PM, but they re-opened them at 7, only turning on a few spot lights. Sabina and Selina took out their skis, while our waiter and I grabbed our snowboards. We started doing late-night slope runs, under the moonlight and the stars. It was completely surreal.
I mean, how many people can say that when they were 17 years old, they lived a year of their lives in one country in Europe, went moonlit snowboarding in another country, developed adequacy in a whole nother language while picking up the basics of a third… it’s unbelievable.
All that being said, I am officially comfortable with Danish. I know I probably said this before, but I had to think about it then. Now, I’ll usually just answer a question in whichever language I’m asked in. I’m not fluent, but when I was on my ski trip, I realized that I’m a lot better than I thought I was, and I’m a lot better than I was three months ago when I moved to my second family. The only difference was that this family forced me to speak Danish, they spoke Danish to me unless I was absolutely truly lost. I was sort of forced to make the dive into language that most students in countries where English isn’t so prominent had to make at the very beginning. Now, I’m out of the wading pool. I might as well be in an ocean, because I didn’t speak Danish much with my class before, either. However, one day, the trains weren’t working and so Oliver gave me a ride home, and he told me I should just speak Danish. He said he had heard me on the phone with my host parents, and he knew I was good, so if I spoke it all day instead of half of the day, I would learn much faster. He was right, and I saw that immediately, and I also saw why I hadn’t: I was embarrassed because every time I spoke Danish, someone would comment on my accent. He pointed out that he had an accent when he spoke English as well, it was just part of language. Since then, I just feel closer to my class than before, and more comfortable with myself and Danish… it’s amazing.
I don’t feel as though I’ve changed, but when I revisit my journals, both the online and handwritten one from the beginning of my exchange, I can’t help but see I’ve grown up. I can’t pinpoint exactly what changed me, and rightfully so. It wasn’t any one thing. I think exchange students who choose this for themselves are one breed. We think we’re independent, and we think we’re capable enough to survive on our own. However, we’re also a little bit radical. Instead of just moving out, we risk everything to get everything in return. Once we’re alone, we find out what it really is to be independent. Sometimes we might wish we were back with our friends, or our pets, or our parents, but those of us that make it, those of us that successfully complete this amount of our exchange will come back independent. We will come back entirely capable of what we thought we could do before, and we will be more prepared than almost any other person. Though we’re underage and (usually) have a bit of a money dependency, we come to the country knowing almost nothing. We don’t know the people, in more cases than not we don’t know the language, we don’t know the intricate definition of the culture, and we have nothing with us. That which can be taken in a single bag defines us for the first time in our lives. We take all we have, a few pairs of pants, a few shirts, a pair of shoes, a blazer—and we offer ourselves entirely to any amount of possibility. From there, it’s entirely what we make of it.
March and the first week of April:
I moved families about a month ago. From then, everything has been a rush. I’ve been to parties, gotten closer with my class, celebrated St Patric’s day in Dublin, learned about the war in Northern Ireland first hand, met a whole new group of exchange students, established another family for myself, and created enough new plans to mke everything I just said sound like a cat nap.
I moved to my third and last family on the 27th of February. On my first day there, they told me I had three hours to unpack and change into something nice. I was a little confused, but they didn’t give me much time to think about it… they told me we were going to see Wicked. Wicked the musical, one of my favorites, in DANISH. We went to the first and only theater in the world approved to alter it at all because of size restrictions, and they got the approval to shift the language as well. It was fabulous. They used flat screen TVs, dressed almost entirely in steampunk fashion (which I absolutely love), and made jokes about the Swedish! Those are our favorite here. ;) After, we went out to dinner at a very nice resturaunt and I met most of the family. It was very cozy and it really made me feel at home, that they would do something so big just to welcome me in. As we were walking from the theater to the hotel where we ate, Sif took my arm on one side as Astrid took my arm on the other, and right from there, we were all as close as real sisters could be. They introduced me to their schedules, and the way they run things. It fits very well with my natural habits, which is perfect. We wach have a night a week where we cook dinner and then make lunch for us girls and set out breakfast for the next day. Sif has Mondays, I have Tuesdays, and Astrid has Wednesdays. My host parents deal out the rest. This means I get to experiment at least one night in the kitchen every week, which I really like. I can just tell them what I need, or if I come up with something else I need and no one’s home, there’s a little jar set in the kitchen with money to buy groceries, so it’s perfect.
For my study tour, we went to Ireland. We went with our English teacher and our History teacher, and since we were going at a historic time (St Patric’d Day week) to an English speaking country, our mandatory curriculum was minimal. We spent most of our mornings going to Museums and exploring Dubin’s wonders. We saw statues, visited historic houses, went out to eat, and of course, experienced the culture in the evenings. After our set plans with the class, we were allowed to do whatever we wanted as long as we were at least three people together at all times. Being a class of about 30, this wasn’t a problem. We went out to eat together, and we went out dancing almost every night. It was tiring, but it was the most fun I’ve had the whole year. I hadn’t been sure if it would be a good trip, because my class is so divided, but somehow, being away together made everyone resolve their differences and get closer than ever. Over the trip, I had multiple people from my class tell me how much they wish I could come back next year, and even a couple planning out how it could be possible… I would have places to stay, government funding for food and transportation (seriously, Denmark is THAT awesome), and a class who really, truly wants me with them for their final year. On Wednesday, we took a bus up to Northern Ireland. We stayed the day in Belfast, getting a taxi tour around between the Catholic and Protestant communities. This was necessary because the war still affects them today. It was incredibly interesting, and powerful to see the Irish people talking about their lives and their family and how they had been personally affected, while filling us in on the history of everything. We went to a little cafe after our tour while we were waiting for a bus, and the man working there asked us how long we were here for. We explained that we had been staying in Dublin, and that we were only in Belfast for the day. He immediately got a little bit defensive, saying blfast was way better, and that the people in Dublin were really sour. We asked him why, and he said that when he goes there, and asks for directions or something, the’ll tell him the wrong thing, because they can hear his accent, and know he’s from Northern Ireland! It’s crazy! Anyway, we got back and the next day was St Patric’s day. We started the morning out with a tour of the Guiness Storehouse, which included a tutorial of how to pour the perfect beer. It was really funny, and my friend Oliver and I went around making little movies the whole time. We learned that Guiness can only be made with ONE recipe and that they don’t change it at all, except for one exception. They have a foreign export specialty which is 7,5% instead of 4,5% and one of them had more bubbles. However, the foreign export isn’t what you would get in Florida, you actually have to go to specialty stores to get it.
After my study tour (and this is a very important announcement!) it was finally warm enough to bike home! YAY! Well, when I got home, there was still snow on the ground, but it was the last week and a half in March and I was tired of not doing anything so I asked for a bike anyway. Sure enough, they had one stashed away tha I could borrow, and by the weekdays, it was in fact warm enough! Now it’s about 12 kilometers from my school to my house, but that’s not so bad. In the mornings, I bike to the train station, take the train from Lyngby to Birkerød, and then bike to school (about 3km total on the bike) and in the afternoons when I have no time constraints, I bike the whole way back. It’s really perfect, because it actually takes about the same amount of time to bike the whole way as it would to walk to the train station, take the train, and walk from the station home. I figure, if it’s not losing me any time, and I get huge gains from it, there’s absolutely no reason why I shouldn't... So I do!
Now I'm hanging out with everyone a lot more. We all know that (not to sound too eerie) the end is near, and of the time I have left on exchange, only about 65% is in fact in Denmark. because of this, I've been receiving more invitations than ever to go out to parties, and out to cafes and to the parks after school, and to go shopping in the city... and I keep learning, time and again, that the Rotary saying is true. Say yes. You might be feeling a little like staying in instead of going out to a party and being late, but unless you have a reason (like being seriously sick) to stay in, you should say yes. You're not going to remember the times you stayed in and went to sleep at 11 PM, you're going to remember the times you went out dancing. You'll remember sitting in a cozy corner of a library with a cup of coffee and a friend instead of going home directly after school. Soon, I'll be going to see Erin Harty in Aalborg, Denmark, where she lives. I was invited up for part of the easter holiday, and after I get back, my host family's taking me to our summer house. It's about an hour away from here and it's actually two houses! One for the parents and one for the kids. Cool, right? From there, I have three weeks until my Eurotour, which lasts for three weeks, and then only three weeks back in Denmark before I come back to Florida. I can't say I'm looking forward to it, at all. I love everyone here. I love my friends and my family, my class in school and my teachers. I love Danish, I love the trains. I know it might sound silly, but I really don't see how my life will be possible without all of it. It won't be the same, I never will be exactly the same. All I can hope is that I never forget everything I've learned and that I'm never forgotten. We're all making plans to see each other again, and though the exchange students here have plans for that as well in Brazil, it's not what I'm referring to. It's not what I want. I want Denmark. I'm not even gone yet, but on the few trips where I've been away, I've received huge relief when landing back in the Copenhagen airport. It's my home, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. The night I had to leave everything behind in Florida was incredibly hard, but I know it will be nothing compared to leaving here. For now, I just have to make the best of my last time and savor every moment.