I’m not always the best at sorting through my emotions, so I’ve put off this post for as long as possible. The last few weeks of my OE in Denmark were bittersweet to say the least. It’s a classic contradiction- torn between your newly acquired love affair with this place and a yearning for home.
There is a feeling of happiness that you get to relieve the intense homesickness you’ve been experiencing but there is also a deep dullness that starts to form in your heart as time ticks by a little faster with each passing day. The classmates who you’ve come to love start breaking down at farewell gatherings; now every moment I would have taken for granted over the last few months becomes significant as I slowly start to realize that we can never get back these moments again.
I left Denmark for a week to go travelling before I actually headed home, and this feeling hit once again when I got on the bus that would take me away from the city that had in many ways become my home. Some of my friends came to say goodbye, and they waited at the bus stop till I was on my way. I waved through the tinted glass knowing they couldn’t see me, and they waved from outside not knowing whether I could see them. I teared up and it was one of the very few times that I did. I couldn’t escape any longer from the inevitable goodbyes, because it was happening right then and I had to face it.
I always joked about coming back ‘super cultured’ from my OE, but the truth is I do feel different. Maybe it’s not in the same ways I joked about, but in the ways I view myself and friendships, and the world around me. I was overwhelmingly happy to finally get back home that I felt like I immediately reverted back to my old self in some inexplicable way. But the truth is I am not that girl anymore, but I am. I feel different and I can barely understand it from inside the bus, so how can I help anyone else understand it looking through tinted glass.
White and purple heralds of spring
Canals and kanelsnegles
Cobblestone paths and old buildings
Sunny fields and windmills
Nights of dancing and days in sun
New faces, new memories
Wish I could say I’ll remember forever
But truth is I don’t know
All I know in this moment
I wish memory will not betray me
I’ll dream of sunny fields and windmills
Till one day we meet again.
I like Aarhus so far; it is wonderful when it snows, the old buildings are beautiful and here to stay without the looming possibility of earthquakes and aftershocks. But one thing that is not so great is the rain. With rain comes unhinged winds and chills that seep through your clothes, but the worst part is that it masks the sun. I thought I was getting used to not seeing so much sun, or maybe I was accidentally getting my dose of Vitamin D elsewhere. Whatever the reason, I was starting to think that the human relationship to sun I was used to might be exaggerated, but then the most beautiful thing happened a couple of days ago. The rain stopped, and the sun came out to say hi in all its glory and I jumped with joy in my head.
So long story short, my friend and I decided to make the most out of this unusual winter weather and went to the deer park in Marselisborg-Moesgaard forest. It took us well over an hour to get there, even with the help of several local runners (my hands were starting to freeze even with insulated mittens on but these people are made out of something stronger I swear) as neither of us have any sense of direction. We finally found the park and I sighed in relief…it was worth it.
It is an enclosed area, but the different deer species walk around freely, giving us a chance to get close to them. Tip if you plan on going to a deer park/petting park or zoo or any kind: BRING FOOD FOR THE ANIMALS. They are not interested in flirting with you unless you have something to offer, something like carrots perhaps.
There are many picnic benches scattered throughout the park, and I made a mental and verbal note to come back here many times. I’m curious and excited to see how the park looks in spring, and perhaps even on my birthday so that I can celebrate with two of the most wonderful things in this world: open nature and food.
On one hand there is all the smoking, drinking and consumption of pork that makes me genuinely concerned. On the other hand, there is all the running around in spandex in weather that is made for hot chocolate and movies while swaddled in blankets. It boggles my easily- boggleable (shhh) mind.
All the stories you have heard are (probably) true. A friend told me recently they saw an elderly, seemingly disoriented woman drinking a beer on the bus the other day and I was not surprised. The university bar at DMJX is called Friday bar and I think that is a common thing for universities across Denmark. They open on Fridays, and the drinking starts in the afternoon and lasts well into the night. Weirdly enough, despite this heavy drinking culture I have not encountered any annoying drunk behaviour (you know the kind of stuff I’m talking about…) outside of bars- I wish this was the case in New Zealand but, alas, I guess we can’t have everything. You can’t smoke inside public places, but many of the buildings contain multiple small, open courtyards (kinda like an atrium if you will) and it is very common to see people going to these areas or even outside in between classes and during breaks to get in some smoko time. I actually have no idea if some of these are designated smoking rooms or free for all as I tend to stay away from them- growing up with a pretty aggressive anti- smoking media culture can leave you with a deep sense of discomfort towards second- hand smoke.
Despite all this, every day that I’m outside in all my glorious layers and winter accessories I pass by those I call ‘unnaturals’. There are always a few of these fit specimens running on the foot path at all hours, in their thin, tight, layers making me reconsider the extent of human potential. Then I console myself by thinking about their Viking blood, go home and eat till I can’t anymore, then eat some more. I’ve been told by Danes that the obesity levels here are increasing but even with that, I’ve seen very few that could be categorised under problematically obese. So I sit here and wonder and wonder while eating Mister Choc (it’s German chocolate and it tastes like heaven), how do I categorize Danes? Ridiculously fit and made for the cold, or crazy unhealthy? I’ve come to the conclusion, that I can’t solve this mystery so if you’ve managed to read this far I’m so sorry that was kind of useless. But now you know what I’m thinking.
When you haven’t travelled by yourself before, the idea of going on an OE can be daunting. I know because I’ve been going through it for the past few months. I got a partial scholarship to study abroad for a semester in Denmark (!!) this year, but the overwhelming happiness in being accepted lasted a few weeks before it was gradually overshadowed by fear and apprehension at this seemingly impossible task ahead of me. Denmark was one of the very few countries I was willing to travel to because of my extremely picky nature, but even the thought of going to this beautiful, relatively peaceful and exciting new country wasn’t enough to shake out the ‘what ifs’ running through my head. If you are finding yourself in a similar situation and freaking the f*** out, read on…it may be helpful but I won’t promise anything.
- You aren’t the only one. It is always tempting to think that you are special in the way you feel and react to these kind of situations, but it can also be alienating. I eventually started talking to others who were faced with the same exciting albeit terrifying experience ahead of them and guess what? It helps! No one can understand how you feel in these situations quite like those who are in the exact same position, so engage with others and start getting excited!
- Don’t always trust the internet. I googled how to fit in with Danes (in hindsight, that was obviously a mistake) and it took me to pages talking about the Viking descendants that are blonde, lithe and unnaturally tall. That is obviously not what a 5’2 midget Indian Kiwi wants to hear. Stereotypes often have some kernel of truth in them (sometimes) and may of the native Danes are taller than the average New Zealander or Indian, but the city I live in is teeming with all kinds of people from different cultures and background which is a dream for a student about to study under the ‘inclusive journalism initiative’. The internet also led me astray in predicting the weather, it is very, very cold here but definitely not as cold as many make it out to be. Anyway, point is- internet is a useful tool and you would be a fool not to use it, but take everything that isn’t from authorised sites with a grain of salt.
3. Stop worrying. This is DEFINITELY easier said than done, but I only survived the past few weeks prior to arriving in Denmark by simply refusing to pay attention to the incessant ‘what if’ voice in my head. Think of it as a white noise machine, do what you gotta do and stop thinking about things you don’t need to. Don’t build up unrealistic expectations in your head, but get excited because it will be an unforgettable experience and one that you will hopefully love.