Everything I know I learned in Kindergarten…and Denmark
Not to be read for spelling and grammar…but to be read as my mind has thought…a stream of refelctions
Some people come to study abroad to become a new person-they want to “find their selves”. They think it will be a life changing experience. Many have the goal of coming home again with a foreign romance or someone who changes their life. Some come for a change of atmosphere after they realize they are growing bored of their home university. Some come to learn something they could have never been exposed to back home in the United States, whether it be in the cultural or academic sense.
Note here that there is always a key word I am using when I describe the different aspirations and interpretations of a study abroad program: CHANGE. What I realized when my study abroad time came to an end was paradoxical. I changed not in the sense that my viewpoints, attitudes, and beliefs have adjusted, I have changed in the sense that I have not changed…and know it. When I reflected upon my time here, and accounted all of my experiences, whether through travel, school, or personal encounters, I realized that I always act consistent, and not just consistent in the way I have acted in the last three years of my life, or eight years ago when I became a teenager, but from the beginning of my memory…kindergarten.
I have a lot to attribute my personality to, because I don’t just believe you are who you are when you are born. I do believe that it is shaped during your integration with family and society. Luckily for me, my parents have raised me in a life that has always seen stability, yet like most humans, I have also been exposed to negative externalities. Pollution, crime, spoiled people, naïve people, war, people who make you think…”oh my gosh…is this person real, because they act like that stereotypical brat you see on TV but think the producers are making act in the extreme.” No these people really do exist, horrible break-ups are real, vulnerability, and depression are all real feelings. However, what else you see in TV and movies and books is also real…like the beauty and history of the world. The beauty of societies and the tribal uniqueness is also real, and should definitely be experienced first hand. Though I have only had the opportunity to travel through Europe, and not the wonders of Egypt, the Middle East, or Asia, I have nonetheless been more in tune with the world just being in a foreign land that is geographically closer to others. I feel the influence of Russian society, how communism ruined people lives, and how China is the biggest force affected the earth (yet many Americans remain unaware). I have learned that people in China are not poor, but do live in small places, and people in Russia still do not think Stalin was a bad person. Most importantly, I have personally witnessed the greatest artwork by the greatest artists. It was all I expected and more.
Now I will once again have to prepare for culture shock, except this time in the reverse. Yes, it is true… your home nation will also shock you and for the first few weeks I will look at others and think how much they have changed. I think that I will be disappointed when I have to stop and fill up my gas tank. I think I will be frustrated to pull out my ID, and even more baffled when cops approach me as I carelessly walk the streets with an open beer bottle. I will be overwhelmed by the choices in the store, and piping mad when parkers compete for the closest spot…then get out and walk just fine. I will laugh when I respond with “nej tak” to unwelcomed comments…and then continue to be surprised when everyone around stops and stares with confusion. “It means no thank-you in Danish,” I will respond. And then everyone will continue on…unable to relate to the overuse of that phrase I implemented throughout my four months…well, me and every student here. It was our favorite phrase, partially because it was one of the few we could say.
However, pulling up through drive-thrus, ordering pizza to my door, and not having to check the night bus schedule every time I leave my room will be nice to return to. However, I realize these things are unfortunately just conveniences that I grew up around, and thus in some sort of way rely on, though completely unnecessary. The Danes, despite the five hours of sunlight, rain, and trains that like to shut down if a leave blows onto the track, continue to be the happiest people. They love their country of five million because perhaps it is more like a close-knit tribe. It is a land inspired by fairy tales and hygge. They love candles, they love talking, and they love what has been given to them. Because of this immense love…though you cannot see it on their faces…I too have come to love Denmark and it will always be in my heart. I found enchantment in the cold, the buildings, the shops, the canals, and the babies in snowsuits. Denmark is like a mermaid...mysterious and alluring. Once you encounter one up close, it will pull into depths unknown by strangers, but a fantastic home to all that inhibit it. Denmark, like the mermaid, sings a song that can never be replicated and intrigues the human. It must be studied…and when it is, it is more beautiful on the inside then what a wonderer can see from the outside.
Once, Copenhagen was just a pamphlet to me. It was a city that offered business courses that would transfer for credit. It was a program that didn’t require a foreign language (thank god because lord knows I still can not pronounce the name Copenhagen correctly in Danish), and a program located in a city I could have never located on the map. However, it turned into my home. First it was my very expensive vacation, and then my annoyance, and then my sublease, and then my home. Many are not strong enough to leave their home, their friends, their life…but as Mark Twain once said, and as it was repeated at the DIS closing ceremony, “20 years from now I will be more disappointed by the things I didn’t do than the things I did do.” We all should free the rope that chains us to normalcy, and make a new normalcy and see if we are who we are in our first home as we are in our new home. I am. This leads me back to my first statement. Everything I know I learned in kindergarten. For example, I love people and being around them and I am not shy. I can strike up a conversation with anyone and make it last an entire train ride home, even if I barely know them. I like boys, but I am always on a higher level than them. More mature, more independent, more giving. And speaking of giving, I love to share. It is not something I feel obliged to do, but something I want to do to make myself happier. I like to share the dinners I cook, the chocolate I buy, and I often try to push these things upon others if at first they deny. I like to be creative and I really miss baking. I try really hard in school. Though I thought I didn’t try as hard out here, and was often disappointed by the marks I received, my hard work was apparently recognized by my Danish professors, when during today’s closing ceremony, my named was announced as a nomination for the student that showed the highest Academic Excellence. However, I must admit that though I feel I would have enjoyed that award in the past, this semester was some of my worst work. On the other hand, my last statement may very well ideally capture another consistent part of my personality- I am my biggest competition.
I could write for pages and pages about everything I saw and learned, but then this reflection would turn into a novel. In ending, I would like to re-iterate a Russian philosopher’s wisdom when he said, “you cannot stare at the stairs, you must climb the stairs.” I have climbed many stairs in my life and reached new levels that I believe have made me a stronger person, but the stairs I just climbed, and indeed I did, were longer than any in the past. They weren’t harder, and I didn’t sweat as much, but they raised me to another level. They were hidden, I searched for them, and I voluntarily climbed them. I am not regretful; in fact I am thank-you for the fact that I made the effort on my own will. (With of course my parent’s unconditional help). I am on a level that many of my peers will never be on. I am not better than them; I have read a novel they have not, and of course I can explain what the book was about, the characters, the highlights, and the ending, but until they read it, they will never actually know the effect all the pages have in their entirety.
For now I say farewell to Denmark. Good bye to the mermaid, the fairytales, Tivoli, the trains, the 7-elevens, the narrow streets, the medieval architecture, the water, the ice cream, and most importantly the hygge. To me now, Denmark is a country that the Beatles sang when they wrote, “There are places I remember, all my life…”