Natalia, outbound to Denmark

Life is great right now. Everything is comfortable, but at the same time a little strange and uncomfortable from time to time. Getting to know people here has been so rewarding and meeting other students that go to my school that were exchange students to the states is one of the best things ever.

I don’t think people realize until they go on exchange how much people can bond over food. It’s crazy. And I’m not gonna lie, I do love Danish food (except for rye bread) but I really miss Chick-Fil-A, Chipotle, Five Guys, Cuban food and I could just go on and on. However, this isn’t suppose to be a blog about me missing food. This is about my journey here for the most spectacular year of my life so far.

I had the best Christmas. Here it is celebrated on the 24th instead of the 25th of December and the festivities normally start in the evening. I went to my host aunt’s house in Fredericia in the afternoon and everything was starting to feel so hyggeligt as soon as I got there.

They only use real Christmas trees here so it was so nice to have the smell of pine around the house. Normally back in Florida we would have real Christmas trees too, but what’s different is that Danes don’t decorate the tree until the 23rd. And many don’t use string lights, but candles. I thought it was pretty hazardous, especially since it is also tradition to dance around the tree but they have candle holders to put on the tree that don’t look like too much of a fire hazard.

So now I can talk about the food that I’m going to miss when I go back to the States. We had a traditional Christmas dinner which consisted of white potatoes, caramelized potatoes, cooked purple cabbage, raw purple cabbage salad, roasted duck and brown gravy. Caramelized potatoes are the best thing ever and if you have never tried them before, you are missing out on one of the best culinary creations ever.

So after we played some board games, then we also ate risalamande which is this rice pudding that has chopped almonds in it and you typically put cherry sauce on top of it. There is always one whole almond left in the risalamande and the one who finds it gets a present. I actually found the whole almond not at this Christmas dinner, but when IB department at my school threw an IB Christmas Lunch.

I also had the opportunity to make lots of traditional Christmas treats called “konfekt” which consists of nuts, chocolate and marcipan. I don’t know what it is with Danes and licorice but I feel like they are the same when it comes to marcipan. I think I consumed enough marcipan to last me until next Christmas.

I made konfekt with my current host family (who are so nice and wonderful human beings) and then I also got to make konfekt with my first host family and these paper Christmas stars that are used to decorate the Christmas tree or just used to decorate the house in general.

The holidays are known to be one of the most difficult times for exchange students because they aren’t with their family from their home country. I could understand why people would experience that but for me, it wasn’t that hard. I really loved experiencing a Danish Christmas, even if it is a bit different than how my family back in Florida celebrates it.

One of the hardest decisions I make constantly while I’m here is what I want to eat from the options I have and then the decision if I should have more potatoes or not. But don’t let that one statement fool you. Being an exchange student isn’t easy. I’m just glad that I have fantastic friends and host families to make things even more enjoyable.

I think the best start of my Christmas vacation was when my friends and host family arranged a surprise birthday party for me. Never in my life have I ever had anyone do such a kind thing for me. And I had absolutely no idea that they were up to it. I think I cried for 10 minutes just because I was so in shock and so touched by all of the effort these people that I have only known for less than 5 months at the time did for me. I have gotten so close with people here and have made so many connections it kills me when I think about moving back. I’m excited to see friends again and to go eat at my favorite American restaurants, but I’m not excited about the fact that I’ll be thousands of miles away from so many people that have impacted me in a way words can’t express.

New years was a fun time as well and I had a good time having a nice dinner with my host family, my friend Doris who is a Rotary exchange student from Taiwan, and friends of my host mom. Then I also had a great time at my friend Dasha’s house where we jumped into the New Year. Literally. We jumped off of a couch when the clock struck midnight. I also brought grapes so that I could bring one of my Spanish traditions to Denmark. It was a fun night filled with irreplaceable memories.

Now I’m starting to get the hang of things as well as the bus system, so that’s nice. My Danish is progressing and I’m understanding a lot more now. I’m just really enjoying my time here. The saying “Time flies when you’re having fun” is 100% accurate. I can’t believe it’s already been 5 months since I’ve left the states to move to Denmark. Everything goes by so fast and even now when I’m in the “slower months”, where it’s suppose to be a bit boring, dark, and just moving at a slower rate, I still think things are going by really fast.

Oh and to address my next point. IT IS SO DARK HERE. Practically all the time I feel that it’s dark. Whenever the sun comes out it’s so nice but when I go to school in the morning it’s dark. When I go home from school it’s dark. When it’s not dark, that time period doesn’t last for very long. Coming from the Sunshine State, it definitely took a little getting used to. The winter hasn’t been too harsh and it hasn’t been that cold compared to previous winters in Denmark. However it’s still pretty cold to me since I never experience winters to begin with. Overall I’m happy. I am the happiest I have ever been in a lot of aspects and I think when someone gains this worldly view, everything seems to change.