Ana, Outbound to Denmark

Almost 5 months since I've been in this amazing country and It already feels like a year's gone by. Thinking back to my first week is like thinking back to a whole other period in my life, and it wasn't even half a year ago.

Here, the Danes start Christmas insanely early. I had already started seeing decorations being put up at the end of October. Christmas season really is the most 'hyggelig' and time of the year. And in Denmark, they take it really seriously. Almost the whole house is covered in Christmas decorations, like 'nisse' (elves), reindeer, stockings, mistletoe, tiny snowmen, and more. Not even the bathrooms are off limits.

A tradition they have here is that on the first day of December we start counting down the days to Christmas using a 'julekalender' (Christmas calendar). Everyday you open a new tab and find a piece of chocolate. It sounds amazing but I'm also pretty sure I've gained at least 10 pounds just this month.

The traditional Christmas food also hasn't helped as it basically consists of meat and three different types of potatoes. We have flæskesteg, which is roast pork with crispy skin, roasted duck, boiled potatoes with brown sauce, caramelized potatoes, potato chips, and red cabbage. For dessert we have ris à l’amande, a rice pudding with nuts, covered with cherry sauce. One single peeled almond is placed inside and the person who finds it in their dish gets a present. You can also have æbleskiver which translates to apple slices but really are just small pancakes in the shape of a sphere. You eat it with powdered sugar and jam.

Another tradition here is that on Christmas (here we celebrate it on the night of the 24th), the whole family makes a circle around the tree and dances and sings. This year my family got kind of carried away and started a conga line throughout the whole house. After dinner, singing, and dancing, we sit around the table and play a game called pakkeleg. For this game every guest has to bring a small gift around 40-100 kroner ($7-$16). The gifts are all placed in the middle of the table and one person starts by rolling a dice. The rules differ from every family but usually if you roll a six, you take a gift. The dice is passed around the table with each person rolling once until all the gifts are taken. Then it gets really crazy. From that point one, a timer is set for an unknown amount of time, but usually 6-10 minutes, and everytime someone rolls a six, they're allowed to steal a gift from someone else. Once the timer goes off, you stop playing. Sometimes people can end up with no gifts, or even all of the gifts.

Christmas time here is really cozy and happy, but there's also some problems that come during this time of the year. For example, darkness. The sun starts rising at 8am and setting at 3pm. That only gives us a couple hours of sunlight and it definitely takes a while to get used to. Sometimes I get sick of the dark and start wishing I was in Florida where there's sun everyday, all of the time. But I know for sure that I wouldn't want my exchange to end right now, it's just a bit difficult dealing with the darkness. What really helps is spending time with your host family and friends, and going out instead of staying in watching Netflix. Also, with the holiday season, the homesickness really sets in. Seeing pictures of my family and friends together was really really hard. But I know that in a couple of months I'll be home again and seeing pictures of my Danish friends and Denmark. I'll be really nostalgic and sad, so it's better to just enjoy the time while I'm here.

So far, I've been learning more Danish and I'm starting to understand a lot more of what people say. It's still quite hard to get all the words in a sentence but when people speak to me slowly I pretty much get the gist of it. it's so satisfying being able to listen in on conversations instead of just sitting there and not being able to contribute. Studying the language really really pays off.

Even though I'm almost 6 months in, I still can't wait to see what I'll experience during 2018 and the second half of my exchange. Being here has been amazing so far and I'm so glad I chose to leave home and travel to a country I knew almost nothing about. I'm in love with Denmark and so happy to be here.

Click HERE to read more about Ana and all her blogs