Last night I returned from my short study tour to Western Denmark, and it was AWESOME. I ate a TON of food and enjoyed myself quite thoroughly. There’s lots to tell, so if you’re planning to read this whole post, you’d better snuggle in and grab a snack because this is gonna be a long one. For that reason I will also divide it conveniently into three parts to give you some safe stopping places.
Thursday morning I awoke bright and early, determined not to forget any important items or to be left behind by the bus. I double-checked my bag approximately five bajillion times (I counted) and added a couple last minute items before it was finally time to go. I had an awkwardly large duffle bag with my little DIS backpack since my only other options were two backpacks or a rolling suitcase (not a good choice on cobblestones). I squeezed my way out the door and successfully onto the bus at 7:36 am. On the train, I sat a few seats down from Colin, a boy in my class who lives in the folkehojskole (another DIS living option) in Hillerød. I slept a little bit but I woke up earlier than usual because I was determined not to miss my stop, even though at this point we were scheduled to be about 30 min. early for the tour bus. As we approached Nørreport station I noticed Colin was still fast asleep. At first I assumed that he would wake up when the conductor announced our stop, but we arrived and he showed no signs of stirring. The trains do not stay long at one station, and if you miss the two minute window, you are stuck on the train until the next stop. So I knew I had to try to wake Colin, so he wouldn’t miss the bus. First I tried calling his name, but I didn’t want to shout and be rude to the Danish passengers. He didn’t budge. So I grabbed my huge bag and went over to him and shook his shoulder, which finally woke him up. It wasn’t easy though, so I think if I hadn’t woken him up he might’ve slept for another hour on the train. Time was running out to get off the train, and the door nearest Colin had a no exit sign, so I had to turn around and go through the bike compartment. As I reached the doors they were already closing, so I think I barely made it out on time. I started walking towards the stairs out of the platform and I saw Colin standing at the no exit doors trying to open them. Of course, they didn’t open. I’ll never forget the look on his face as the train started pulling away. Luckily we were still super early so he was able to get off at the next stop and catch a train back, and he even still arrived early for the bus.
As we climbed on the bus we FINALLY got our schedule for the trip. Before we’d only been given a vague idea of the itinerary, to the point where it was a bit absurd. My host family had asked me where we were going, and I could only give them a guess answer. Our schedule booklets had a full itinerary, maps for our “time on own,” pictures of everyone on the trip, and a few sudoku puzzles in the back. The bus was a double decker, and apparently brand new (the bus driver had only gotten it 14 days before the trip). We were only supposed to sit on the top level, since the bottom mostly had a table and the bathroom. Ansley, Allie, Jenna, and I sat together towards the middle of the bus and settled in for our 3 hour drive to the island of Funen (home of Hans Christian Andersen), where we would have our first academic visit. Our tour leaders Julie and Tilde (our teacher Gitte couldn’t make it) were super nice, and they gave us fruit and candies on the way. When it was determined that everyone was hungry, we also got to stop at a gas station to buy snacks. Everyone was super excited at first because we were curious what a Danish gas station would be like, but then the excitement died a bit when we just stopped at a Shell. It was still nicer than U.S. gas stations, though, and they sold hot dogs and pastries in addition to the usual array of candy, chips, and soda. I didn’t want to spend too much money, so I just chose a candy bar that looked tasty. It was called a Yankie, and it was actually perfect–caramel with chocolate/malt nougat, kind of like a Milky Way, only way better.
Our first academic visit was with Kaare Christensen, a professor at the University of Southern Denmark. You may have heard of him from his recent appearance on 60 Minutes. He wrote a brief article about possible reasons for Denmark’s consistent #1 spot in the happiest countries ratings. His conclusion was basically that Danes have low expectations so they are not surprised when things go badly, and they are pleased when life turns out better than they expected. The article and the interview are pretty tongue-in-cheek and I recommend checking them out. He also talked to us about his research on aging, which was very interesting. He discussed a few studies about the relationship between health and happiness, including one about perceived age, where health and life satisfaction were compared with how old the participants looked rather than how old they actually were. It gave us a lot to think about, and it was a nice way to begin the trip.
We next headed off to Odense, the 3rd largest city in Denmark, also located on Funen. Since we were running a bit late we only had about half an hour to grab our own lunch (we chose shawarma–cheap and delicious). We all met up at the Brandts Klædefabrik art museum, where we got all-exhibit passes and got to roam around on our own. It was just a tourist visit for our class, though we saw other DIS groups there who had an academic visit there. The Communications and Mass Media group even got to produce their own newscast in what I guess was the “media” exhibit of the museum. The first exhibit we saw was a photography show by Jacob Holdt. I did not read all of the placards, nor did we have a tour guide, but from what I gathered he was a Danish photographer who had gone to the U.S. in the sixties to take photographs of poor people. It was a pretty intense exhibit because it basically paired photos of African Americans with those of white supremacists, including members of the KKK. There were couples, families, and individuals in all kinds of situations, but most of the subjects of the photos fell into one of those two categories. Some of the captions said things like “____, a mass murderer, shows his daughter ____ how to use a gun.” (The names weren’t blanked out I just don’t remember them.) The KKK photos were especially hard for me personally. There were photos of people dressed in KKK uniforms just eating a family dinner. It kind of emphasized how all these people are just everyday people, and in many other ways they seem just the same. I’m glad we went to see it, but those photos just took me unawares. Luckily the rest of the exhibits were not nearly as emotionally charged, and so after that room it was much more relaxing. My second favorite (after the photography) was a dark room filled with fake lit-up flowers in swirly patterns around the room. The flowers made a crackling sound that almost sounded like crickets if you didn’t listen too hard, and the whole room was very peaceful. In the rest of the museum there were some other photography exhibits, the media room which had its own printing press in addition to the news studio, and some fun cloth sculptures (pictures forthcoming).
After the museum we had another two and a half hours on the bus before arriving at our hotel in Århus, the 2nd largest Danish city. On the way Julie and Tilde showed us a Danish film, Italian for Beginners, but I think most people slept instead of watching. We also got to sign up for our hostel rooms, so Allie, Ansley, Jenna, and I got a room together. Our hostel was in the middle of the woods, but it was pretty cute. We got a few minutes to settle into our room and set up our beds (we had to bring our own sheets) before heading out for dinner again. Our room was actually really nice, with two bunk beds, a little chair and table, a tv, and our own bathroom with a shower and everything. I think a lot of us were picturing a huge room with several bunk beds and a communal bathroom, so we were pretty excited to have such nice accommodations. For dinner, we all piled back on the bus again to drive into town. We ate at a super nice restaurant (which was extra special because restaurants are so expensive in Denmark). We were served a DELICIOUS salmon with creamed spinach and lemon wedges. It was super yummy, even though we didn’t get dessert.
We had to find our own way back to the hostel after dinner, so the four of us decided to go exploring around Århus a bit. We went the opposite direction from the rest of our class, found a quiet little pub where we had some drinks and chatted for a while. There were some Danes sitting at the table next to us, and after a bit they introduced themselves. Apparently they had been wondering if we were from Spain, which was quite the compliment since we were all very much American. It was a really fun evening, but we were tired from traveling all day so we left earlyish to determine how to get home. We first made a valiant effort to determine how to use the bus, but it was difficult to figure out in a strange city, and eventually we just decided to go with the cab that was sitting conveniently nearby. It ended up being pretty cheap since we weren’t too far from our hostel and we split the fare between the four of us. When we got back to our room, we figured out the tv (surprisingly tricky) and found a funny french movie to watch for a bit before we all dropped off to sleep one by one.
Friday morning we had breakfast at the hostel, which was basically a typical Danish breakfast buffet. I had several pieces of bread with different combinations of butter, jam, and cheese. The cheese slicer was awesome–there were two blocks of cheese on a round platform with a handle attached to a slicer. When you turned the handle, it sliced the cheese and the whole thing moved down so you could slice a new layer of cheese. Basically the best thing ever, especially because I’m so bad at using Danish home cheese slicers.
Our first academic visit for the day was to KAOSpilots, an alternative entrepreneur school that emphasizes team-based education, real world testing, and process learning. It was a really cool program and it almost made me a little jealous of the students. It’s a three year education, kind of like a “bachelor’s degree” but you don’t get a diploma as such. You have to be 21-35 years old to apply, so that everyone has a certain level of maturity. The application does not require test scores or grades, but rather answers to questions about your personality, interests, and motivations. Instead of having a bland presentation with a powerpoint, we got to engage in a couple of exercises to demonstrate how their education works. First we did a dream journey, where we had to relax and close our eyes and visualize ourselves in the future. It didn’t exactly work for me because I got distracted by an inconsistency in the “story” we were being told, but it was relaxing. My favorite part of the presentation, and perhaps the whole trip, was the next exercise we did. First we had a minute and a half to write down seven things we were passionate about. Then we shared them as a group. We repeated it with things that make us angry and things that we’re good at. The angers were especially good to share because at first we were all stepping over each other shouting them out, but the presenter, Sarah, stopped us and told us to listen to each other. After that only one person spoke at a time, even though there was no raising of hands, and each anger shared was felt by the group. It was a really cool bonding experience. After making our lists, we were told to get into groups of three people with others we don’t know well, and to find themes for each list. This was really interesting because a lot of the things people wrote down were super random, like being good at making pancakes, or hating socks that fall down. But when you sat down with someone’s list and thought about it, it was really possible to come up with meaningful themes that described their list. The final step was to write down our themes in the form of a statement: “My wish is to use my passion for [passion theme] and my talent for [talent theme] to [verb] [anger theme].” The exercise felt not only really cathartic, but also productive because it was about using the themes to combat what makes us angry. Everyone came out of the presentation feeling good and with new energy for the day ahead.
Our next stop was group lunch in town at another really nice restaurant. We had pesto pasta with veggies and salad on top. Super delicious, and I cleaned my plate. It was nice to get some more veggies too because Danes are not always big on those. After lunch we got time on our own to explore Århus, so Ansley, Allie, Jenna, and I went to Den Gamle By, or The Old City. One of the other options was the ARoS art museum, which is supposed to be awesome, but we had just gone to an art museum the day before and we wanted to spend some time outside. We took a rather roundabout way getting there, which was okay because it was a gorgeous day. It has three sections–the 1800′s, 1927, and 1974. The 1800′s part is the biggest, as I think they are still building the 1927 and 1974 areas. The whole thing was really adorable, and it was nice to have some time to relax and just walk around. Dessert was on our minds basically the whole trip, so of course we found the bakery to get pastries. I got three vanilla almond cookies for only 10 kr. and they were scrumptious. Though it was only a small part, I really enjoyed the 1970′s part of the “city.” There was a poster museum which had retro Danish posters, some of which were pretty funny. There was also a music store with old tvs and record players, records, and cassette tapes. Once we’d seen everything we had some extra time so we slowly wandered back to KAOSpilot, where we were supposed to be meeting the bus. We stopped at Netto to get some snacks for the bus (I got a giant bag of banana chips) and then sat in a large square near the church and the theater to relax and munch on our food for a while.
There was only a short bus ride to our last academic visit at Camp True North, a summer camp for teens designed to raise their positivity and self-esteem. From the moment we got there it felt like returning to camp. The presenters were just as overly smiley and enthusiastic as you’d expect, and they had us do all the little claps and sayings that they have campers do. At first I was skeptical, but then they had us stand up and go around to ten different people and tell them “You look FANTASTIC today.” It was very silly, but after doing it a few times everyone was laughing and it was actually fun. After an introductory story about the need for positivity, we went to the back of the room to play Gopher. We stood in a circle and each person had a “trap” hand and a “gopher” hand. Traps were laid out flat and gophers were one finger placed in the “trap” next to you. When the “gopher caller” said “gopher,” you had to try to trap a gopher while get your own gopher to escape. I was pretty bad at the game because I just got so surprised every time that I just threw up both my arms, so my gopher escaped but I never caught another gopher. After each round, everybody who was successful did their “gopher dance” which was basically any dance you wanted. It was really silly, and I’m not sure what academic value it had, but it was a lot of fun.
After playing Gopher, we had to do a Maze activity. For this one, we were divided into two teams and each team made a grid on the floor with masking tape. The point was to find your way through the “maze” without getting beeped or buzzed by the Maze Master, who had the key to what spaces were “safe” and not. Every time you stepped on a wrong square, you got “beeped” and had to return to the beginning, and each time you didn’t follow the rules, like going back the way you came, you got “buzzed”, and your team lost a minute on your time. Most importantly, you couldn’t talk at all during the game. Our team worked together really well, and soon we fell into a system for finding our way through the maze. I thought it was really fun, because it felt really collaborative to be working with our class to solve the puzzle. When our team finished by getting everyone through the maze, the other team still hadn’t found their way through it. I’m sure it didn’t help that once we’d finished, our team sat down to watch their team struggle to the end. Their team was not working together nearly as well, and they all looked visibly frustrated. After both teams completed the maze, we got a sort of weird concluding talk about how every day should be a job interview, and the facilitator said she knew what ten people she would hire after that activity.
A lot of people left the visit complaining about the maze and the campy feel of the presentation. I personally really enjoyed myself, and it was a little frustrating to have to listen to others complain so much. My main problem with it was the fact that we didn’t get an explanation of the methods of the camp or any academic discussion of the benefits for the kids who attend. I liked the team-bonding-ness of the maze activity though, and the gopher game was fun too. On the bus to our hostel, Julie and Tilde played Little Miss Sunshine for us, which was fun because it was so familiar (and also just an excellent movie). When we arrived it was already dark at the hostel so we all went off to check out our rooms and set up our beds. This time we had rooms of six, so our group of four from the day before was joined by Randy and April. We were in a cabin with two bedrooms, a loft with two more beds, a kitchenette, and a bathroom. It was nice and spacious, and cozy in a different way than the previous hostel. Ansley and I took the loft, which was super adorable, though the ladder up to it was awkward and bringing our stuff up and down was a definite struggle bus. The kitchenette was also super cute, and it was stocked with plates, pots, and even a hot water heater, so we were disappointed that we had no food to make. Instead, dinner consisted of chicken sandwiches and soda at the hostel dining room, which was also pretty tasty, if not as exciting as our other meals. After dinner we hung out in the lounge with some other people for a while. There were two other DIS classes there that night (one Psychology and one European Politics and Society) so a group of people went “out,” but it was such a small town that we didn’t want to participate in a DIS invasion. Jenna I played a game of Go Fish with the other people in the lounge and someone even found a guestbook from the 60′s. It was pretty cool to hear about other people travelling through the same hostel fifty (wow that’s weird to say) years ago, enjoying their own European discoveries. After one round of Go Fish, I was pretty tired, so I headed off to the cabin to join Ansley and Allie who were already there. We had a nice little chat up in the loft before we all went off to sleep.
Saturday morning, I was a little sad that our trip was ending, but also pretty tired and ready to be home. It was weird to be going “home” but not HOME, and it didn’t help that everyone was moving in at Carleton that day. Breakfast at the hostel was perhaps even more yummy than the last one. They not only had all the same bread/jam/cheese, but also chocolate slices to put on your bread with butter. Allie had been telling me about them because her host family has them a lot, so I was quite excited to try. Sure enough, it was just as delicious as it sounds. I also had a bowl of raw oats (what Danes have instead of cereal) with yogurt for good measure. I was absolutely stuffed and could not have eaten another bite, which is saying a lot for me.
That morning our final stop was in Jelling to see the Jelling stones, some runestones carved in the late 900′s (the Viking era) by Harold Bluetooth (namesake of Bluetooth technology) and his father Gorm the Old. We first got a guided “tour” of the museum (there was only about one room) and our guide got pretty into it and acted out some pieces, so it was more entertaining than ancient history usually is for me. We also learned about the horrible things the Vikings did to their slaves, like cutting off the tip of their nose and purposefully infecting the wound with gangrene to mark slaves as different from regular people. Pretty gross and awful. Then we had a few minutes to check out the real Jelling stones outside, and climb one of the “mounds” built to mark/frame the spot. We had to hurry off to lunch because we were already running pretty late, and Julie and Tilde told us we’d only have about half an hour to get our food and eat once we reached the restaurant.
Our final lunch was a traditional danish buffet, with bread, meats, salmon, shrimp, hard-boiled eggs, sausage, cheese, and a few veggies stuck in here and there. I grabbed almost everything even though I’d had a huge breakfast. Something about being on “vacation” during this trip made me feel like I could eat anything and everything. Again I stuffed myself to bursting, but it was delicious and I regretted nothing. Back on the bus for our final 3 hour leg, Julie and Tilde played a Danish movie they’d warned us about the first day. I didn’t watch it because I was too busy doing Sudoku, reading Harry Potter, and sleeping, but I heard that basically everything bad that could happen did happen in that movie. When we were approaching Copenhagen, Julie and Tilde surprised us by bringing out cupcakes they’d gotten for Dylan’s birthday, which had been the day before. It was a nice way to round out the trip while we filled out our study tour evaluations and prepared ourselves for arrival back in Copenhagen.
In the final goodbyes and walking to the train station, vague plans were made for Tivoli, dinners, and fun things ahead. Søren was nice enough to pick me up from the train station because the bus wasn’t coming for another hour. Lots more has happened since I arrived home, but that is a topic for another post. This study tour was more fun than I ever thought it would be, and I learned and experienced more than I expected to. I am now eagerly awaiting our week-long tour to MILAN of all places, which will no doubt be even more exciting and exhausting. The rest of the weekend has been quite excellent, and a post about that is coming soon.
Final note: I was chosen to be a DIS blogger! That means that MY BLOG will be posted on the DIS website with my photo and everything. I submitted my blog on a whim, never expecting to actually make it. Now I will have to step up my writing game, and continue to be diligent about updates. And I’ll actually have readers! (Not that I don’t count you, lovely family of mine and Allie. ) Thursday all the bloggers will meet and get our pictures taken, and get advice about blog stuff. I’m excited!