Sunday, August 2, 2015

Jeg kigger tilbage...

Hej igen! Hello again!

First of all, I am so sorry that I stopped writing without warning halfway through my exchange year. It wasn't really intentional, I just ended up being so busy, and I somewhat subconsciously decided that I'd rather enjoy my exchange than spend time writing blog posts. (A blog post takes longer than you might think.) I apologize; I know that I had said I would continue writing throughout the year. In hindsight, it's impossible to truly put an exchange year down in words, even though I tried my hardest for the first half of the year.  I've been thinking about writing an update for a while, so I'll do my best to fill you in now.

The second half of my year was absolutely incredible. I had more amazing experiences than I would've thought possible. I made new friends, experienced more traditions, and travelled to new parts of Denmark. I'm especially proud of the fact that I perfected my Danish, and am now as comfortable using Danish as I am English (though I'm a tad rusty at the moment). I enjoyed living life as a Dane (with added exchange student privileges) as I watched the grey winter transition into a pleasant green spring. The time seemed to go by so quickly! My last month or so of exchange, especially, was a whirlwind of people and places that has just become a euphoric blur in my mind. The Danish summer, as usual, was beautiful, and I spent my days relaxing in great company and trying my best to forget the fact that I would soon be going home. That is, if I could even call it "home" anymore.

I couldn't really comprehend how returning to the U.S. could be called returning home - especially not after I had acquired what I considered to be a home over in Denmark. Though my time in Denmark had definitely flown by, it had also felt, in a way, like an entire lifetime. After leaving my Danish life, things could never be the same again. I would never again live in the same house with the same family, go to school with the same people, and have the luxury of calling up my friends and meeting them an hour later in the center of beautiful Copenhagen. Even if I do someday return to live in Denmark, it is impossible to regain my simple exchange life. Over the course of this simple life, I gained some of my most treasured memories, but these memories now have an untouchable quality. I don't know how exactly to explain it, but that's the best I can do. I think they're untouchable because I can never hope to even come close to recreating them. After building a life in Denmark, I was forced to leave it forever to return to one that could never match the excitement or the stimulation of an exchange life. Coming back to the U.S. was without doubt the hardest thing I've ever done. The AFS camp immediately prior to returning was a solid three days of bittersweetness, during which all of us exchange students were probably feeling extremely bipolar. I believe that I got two hours of sleep over a three-day period, which only amplified the disorder in my mind. Everyone's emotions were haywire, flicking back and forth between the intense happiness we all felt at being surrounded by our closest friends and the gut-wrenching sadness we felt at the thought that we might never see those friends ever again. That might sound dramatic, but it's 100% true. My best friends are now spread across 4 continents, and there is no reunion in sight at the moment. Facebook, Skype, and Whatsapp certainly make things easier, but time differences and the extremely busy lives that all exchange students seem to inherently lead tend to hinder communication.

Anyways, many tear-filled goodbyes, a significant-feeling transitory plane ride, and a lost wallet (and visa) later, I stepped foot once again on American ground. The weekend I returned to the U.S., coincidentally enough, was 4th of July weekend. If that wasn't a bombardment on my senses I don't know what is. I had gotten quite accustomed to the understatedness of Denmark, so returning directly to the patriotism on steroids was a bit of a shock. I spent a couple weeks getting used to the small differences in day-to-day life: for instance, in America, we have larger cars, opposite sink controls, annoying public bathrooms, lower door handles, different light switches and plugs, less independence, louder people, and brighter clothing. There are also larger differences, of course, but those are a few of the things that initially irritated me. Everything seemed to serve only as a reminder that I wasn't in Denmark. Being back felt like I was being thrown right back down the rabbit hole, but not in a good way, this time. At least when I left for Denmark I had felt prepared for what it would throw at me; I was looking forward to leaving behind the familiar. When I arrived back to the U.S., all I wanted to do was curl up on the floor and try to find a way to teleport back to my beloved exchange life.

I have gotten over that initial feeling of despondency, but it took me quite a while. One thing that helped was my new school; I now attend a boarding school with a significant international population, so I am still surrounded by international-minded people. I don't think I could have gone back to a normal high school after Denmark. I also am in the International Baccalaureate program, which is an academic program somewhat similar to AP. The IB often pushes me to use international perspectives in my schoolwork, which is refreshing and helps me utilize what I have learned throughout my exchange. I'm now going into my senior year of high school and looking ahead to my future. After learning Danish, I realized how much I would love to learn more languages. This summer, I attended a Middlebury-Monterey Language Academy in Vermont (another incredible experience), where I learned to speak German. I'm also working on perfecting my Spanish. I've been learning more about other cultures and pursuing all the international opportunities I get. When looking at colleges, I'm always keeping my exchange - as well as the possibility of future exchanges - in the back of my mind. I still don't know exactly what I want to do with my life, but I know that I want to continue using international perspectives and languages. I also have an inescapable urge to travel, which I'm planning on taking advantage of as soon as I possibly can. In that way, exchange has certainly impacted my future.

I chose to post this today because it's been exactly 2 years since I left on my adventure and stepped off the plane in Denmark. That statement makes me feel more melancholic than you could know, but at the same time so indescribably happy. It's incredible how much I still miss Denmark, even though I've been home for over a year. I think about my dear little land every single day, and I'm always dreaming of the day that I'll return. In that way, I'm sad that I'm here in the U.S. and not leaving for Denmark again, boarding the exact flight that I did two years ago. The sweetness of 'bittersweet' comes in when I think about how much I truly got out of my experience. And not just my actual experiences in Denmark, but also my Danish friends, the Danish language and spark to pursue other languages, the independence, the community of exchange students I'll always be a part of, and the new perspectives that I've gained from my experience. The fact that I miss Denmark so much says something about how much I enjoyed my time there. I am so glad that I was able to take the risk of giving up everything I knew for an entire year in order to gain such a great thing that made the goodbye so difficult. I love the Winnie the Pooh quote which describes the situation so perfectly: "How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard."

So with that look back, there's my post! Probably my last one, though who knows - maybe I'll write a post in another two years saying where I am and what I'm doing! Or maybe I'll turn this blog into the blog of a brand new exchange experience. We'll see where life takes me. I hope you enjoyed reading, and I hope that, despite my inconsistency, some people have enjoyed reading my blog over the course of my experience. I'd be so happy to learn that I inspired some future exchange students. So I'll close this post by encouraging exchange for anyone young enough to be have the opportunity, and encouraging travel and new ways of thinking in anyone too old for that. The value of travel and exchange absolutely cannot be overstated.

Tusind tak og et stort kram,

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

December - En danske jul, min fødselsdag, og nytår!

Hi again,

Here’s a post dedicated to one of my favorite months – December!
I’ve been excited for a Danish Christmastime since I arrived, and it didn’t disappoint. Danish Christmas was definitely a different and exciting experience for me. Christmas decorations here, which as I said started appearing in November, are amazing. There were three or four giant trees around the town that I believe are still up. The town walking street was completely decorated with lights, garlands, and trees. It really looked beautiful. Some of the houses had American style lights and yard decorations. There were even trees scattered around the school. These decorations were gradually built up until Christmas finally came.

Sometime towards the beginning of December I went with my host family and my exchange student friend to Tivoli. Tivoli is absolutely beautiful at Christmastime, with lights everywhere. We saw a play called the Crazy Christmas Cabaret. It is put on every year in Denmark by some British comedians and actors. It was the funniest show I have ever seen, and if you ever get the chance to see it, do! Here's Tivoli!

Before school got out for the holiday, we had a fun final day. We just saw some entertainment from one of the classes and had a julecafe. Cafes at school are parties that are more low-key than the big parties. They mostly consist of people just sitting and drinking beer and having a good time. (The drinking culture is completely different here, and as I've said, I plan to make a post on it sometime in the future.)

Something that I absolutely loved having throughout December was the julekalender. Every year, there is a new series for December. Every day up to the 24th, there is a new episode about half an hour long. I watched two julekalenders with my family, one new one this year (Tvillingerne og Julemanden) and one from a few years ago (Pagten). I personally liked this year's better, and it was easier to understand. They were a nice way to end the day. Here’s a short video from an episode of this year’s julekalender. Can you understand anything?

Okay so first of all, Christmas is celebrated on the 24th here, or juleaften. Our Christmas Day is the første juledag (first day of Christmas), and not much happens then. But I think that Christmas Eve more than makes up for it.

On the 23rd of December, I went with my family to our brand new summer house. Most Danish families have little summer houses to get away to occasionally, and my family has just bought one. We spent the day with family friends, an old tradition (I think we figured that they’ve spent about twenty-five years together now!). It was a pleasant day, and we came home late and slept deeply (and visions of sugarplums danced in their heads…).

Then came the much-anticipated Christmas Eve! The day started by decorating the tree. A few weeks previous, we had gone and cut down our own tree, but decorating has to wait for Christmas. My favorite part was probably the fact that the tree had real live candles on it. It looked beautiful when it was all lit up at night! Here are a few tree pictures:

In the afternoon we went to church. I am not religious, and I haven’t been to church since I was maybe five years old (I had two weeks of Sunday school I think). But it was interesting to be there. We sang Danish Christmas music and listened to the sermon. It wasn’t a very long mass. Something I loved was the fact that it was in an old church – and when I say old, I mean old. It was first built in 1200 or something like that! Of course it’s received renovations and most likely been rebuilt at one point or another, but it was so cool to just be in a place with that long of a history, even if it was just a standard Danish church. America is so young!

At night the extended family came over for Christmas dinner. I think we had seventeen people total. I had already met most of them, but I did meet a couple new people. We had a veritable feast with food that was just heavenly: goose, red cabbage, duck, potatoes, pork, sauce, and more. And after the meal, we had the traditional risalamande, which is a rice and almond pudding thing with warm cherry sauce. One whole almond is placed into it, and whoever finds the almond gets a present. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the almond.

After dinner came presents. I was surprised to receive four packages from America for Christmas (thanks, everyone!). Every gift I received from Americans was either candy or cold-weather clothes. To a girl from Massachusetts, it’s not even cold here yet! We haven’t even had any snow! From my Danish host family I received a big Hans Christian Anderson storybook in Danish. I have read H. C. Anderson since I was little, and I’m really excited to read all of the stories in their original language.

The tradition that made juleaften complete was dancing around the Christmas tree. Yes, dancing around the tree! This is something that Danes are always shocked to find out we don’t have in the U.S. We sang the usual tree songs and held hands in a circle around the tree. For one of the songs, we ran around the house in a big chain! It was a lot of fun, if a bit strange for me.

But Christmas wasn’t the only big part of December! On the 28th was my sixteenth birthday. My day started off with the wakeup call of the Danish birthday song from my entire family. The Danish birthday song is really long and complicated, so they just sang a couple verses. We had a lovely breakfast, and I received my presents: a silver charm bracelet (like Pandora, but Danish design) and miniature Danish flag. Then I was off. I had an amazing day with the exchange students. We went to Sweden! It’s really amazing how easy it is to get from one country to another here. Sweden is just a half-hour train ride from Copenhagen. (Now I can say I’ve been to four countries outside the U.S.) I had a fantastic day. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. For the night I had two friends sleep over, and we had some delicious cake from my host mom. Overall, an amazing birthday.

We were a very international group! USA, Turkey, Australia, Mexico, Spain, France, and Thailand

An ice sculpture in progress on the street

Sweden has cool train stations

Fast forward a few days to New Year’s Eve! I had an absolutely incredible night. I took the train to Køge, which is about an hour and a half away, and met with some exchange students. We had a calm but wonderful and hyggeligt night. It was just perfect to bring in the New Year with new friends in a new country. At midnight we went out to see the fireworks. It was just great – instead of a town setting off fireworks here, everyone sets off their own! We were surrounded by colors and sound. We even had some of our own. Wherever you looked, you could see fireworks. It seemed almost like people were more united, because they were all celebrating with each other and for each other. The night was, in the words of my friend, positively euphoric. It was unbelievable.

Well, that was my December! In other news, since the New Year, I’ve spoken only Danish (except for in a couple situations). It’s been great so far, if a bit of a challenge, and I can tell that it’s helping me a lot. My friends and family are all so helpful with it. At this point, I think I understand 75-90% of spoken language, and I can carry out conversations (undoubtedly with many mistakes). But I'm sticking to it! Additionally, there’s a new exchange student in my school! She’s from Australia. She flew in two days ago, so she’s still jetlagged. I don’t think she’s with AFS. I talked to her for a couple minutes, but not much. Some of the bigger gymnasiums in Denmark have ten or more exchange students from all different organizations, but I go to a smaller gymnasium. But now there are three exchange students in my school, which is exciting!

Coming up in the next months: me stressing over my applications for schools for next year (almost done, thank goodness); my halfway point of being here (in a couple weeks); lots of AFS fun, including small trips and a 1 week homestay on the other side of Denmark; undoubtedly very much hygge with friends; maybe a trip with classmates; February vacation, maybe a trip then; and who-knows-what-else. I look forward to it! I'm still having the time of my life, and a New Year's resolution of mine was to make the most of my time here. So let's see where 2014 takes me!

That’s all for now! Hope you enjoyed! Farvel :)


Monday, January 6, 2014

Oktober, November, og juletid - mere skal snart komme!

Hey there!

Wow wow wow I haven't written a post on here in over two months! I've been crazy busy, and I have plenty to write about. I'm going to split this post into two so I can cover it all. This one will be about the end of October and November.

Honestly, I can't remember much of October after I returned from my lovely trip to Finland. During the rest of vacation, I did some things with exchange students, I think. One thing I do remember is the giant storm we had at the end of the month (the first of two this season). There were hurricane-force winds! We lost power for a little while, but nothing else happened. Losing power is always cozy, with candles and family altogether, so no harm done.

November was a very busy month (though certainly not as busy as December!). The major event of the month was that I changed families. This happened for a number of reasons, but I won't go into those. Know that we parted on good terms. In fact, I went to my former host family's house for dinner last night. It was great to see them all again! They are all wonderful people, but living with them just wasn't right for me. AFS was really efficient with moving me quickly. I said I would like to switch families on a Sunday, and I moved the following Wednesday. It was a hectic week of packing up again - which was strange, because I didn't expect to pack until I left at the end of the year. Somehow, I've already collected a ton of new stuff; I don't know how on earth I'm going to get it all home! This move is a great opportunity for me to experience different sides of the same country; my two families are very different, but also both very Danish. In my new family, I have three siblings: brothers ages 12 and 19, and a sister, age 17. I also have a mom and a dad. My new family was originally going to be temporary, but they decided they wanted to keep me, and I agreed. They're a great family. One of my favorite things is that my new house has a piano! My host father also plays. I've been playing every day since I arrived, up to two hours. I've missed the piano!

The Friday after I moved was my school's Galla, which is the big dance of the year, a bit like American prom. Everyone looked amazing, especially the third years (seniors). We danced the lanciers, which is a dance that AFS actually taught us in the beginning of the year. The dance is a ton of fun, but it's absolutely crazy with a packed room full of people, many of whom are drunk, running into each other. (If you didn't know, there is no drinking age here. You can legally buy alcohol at 16, and strong alcohol at 18. It's definitely different - I might dedicate a post to it later in the year. Don't worry, I don't get drunk!) Here is a picture from just before the Galla, and a video of the lanciers from an AFS camp a few years ago. The Galla was a really fun night!

The end of November wasn't the best time; it was Thanksgiving on the 28th. I tried to have a little Thanksgiving with my new family, but it wasn't the same at all. I made my grandmother's Mac n cheese recipe, but the ingredients are different here, and it ended up completely wrong. I found a pretty accurate article on what Thanksgiving's like abroad.
It's really something that can only be experienced in the U.S., I think. It was also weird that the Christmas decorations started going up before Thanksgiving. One thing Thanksgiving is really good for is starting off the holiday season. And one other odd thing is that they have Black Friday sales here too! I guess it's a relatively new thing. Everything in my local mall was 20% off. I think it's ironic that the only time I've ever been shopping on Black Friday, I wasn't even in the U.S.

The julefrokosts, or Christmas lunches, started right at the end of November. They are a Danish tradition that I quite like. You get to celebrate the holidays with everyone, in a calm and cozy way. Most people end up attending numerous Christmas lunches, with friends, family, colleagues, etc. I myself attended four, I think. I had a fantastic one with AFS, along with some with family and friends.

Here are some of my favorite pictures from October/November (all with other exchange students, because taking pictures is just what exchange students do):

In the beginning of December we had out second big storm, Bodil. This one caused more damages, I think. Parts of my town were flooded, and the center of town had no power for about a week. Luckily, my neighborhood wasn't affected. Trees and roof tiles were brought down everywhere. And while I'm from a coastal area with much erosion and so I'm used to crazy things happening with storms (Nor'Easters, anyone?), people here were shocked to see houses falling into the water on the news. Many schools were cancelled (not mine, though). Overall, Bodil was a big, crazy storm, the likes of which have not been seen in Denmark for many years.

Okay, so that was October/November/beginning of December. December was an enormous, very busy month for me, so it will have its own post, hopefully published tomorrow (tonight if I can get it done, but I doubt it as it's already pretty late).

Yep, that's all for now. I'll post soon, promise!

Hej hej,


Friday, October 18, 2013

Efterårsferie - del et

Heej :)

I'm writing this post right now in the Helsinki airport after a week of fun new adventures. (edit: I ended up posting this the morning after I got back from Helsinki, but it was written there) This week is fall break, and even though it's not over yet, it's been great so far! My best friend ever Annabeth (hi Annabeth), who I mentioned last time is an American exchange student in Finland, arrived last Thursday to Denmark. We had four days in Denmark of going to school, sightseeing in Copenhagen, shopping in my town, walking through the woods, and, of course, taking tons of pictures. Then, on Monday, we flew to Helsinki! I've had a couple days here of sightseeing (though there aren't many things to see in Helsinki - not nearly as many as in Copenhagen!) and meeting Annabeth's friends and having an amazing time. Helsinki is a wonderful city!

But now I've said goodbye to Annabeth, and soon I'll fly back to Denmark (my first flight alone!) for even more fun! Later today I think that I'm hanging out with a big group of exchange students in Denmark, which is always a good time. Then tomorrow, I'm taking a day trip, I think to either Sweden or Germany, with my host family! I know that a lot of exchange students are on big trips with their families this week to places like Paris, Prague, Amsterdam, and Sweden, but I'm glad to get a short trip. I love how in Europe it's so easy to travel to other countries! I don't really know if I'm doing anything exciting this weekend; I might just take a couple rest days. We'll find out!

I don't have much else to write about right now, so I'll put in a few pictures! Enjoy :)

Suomenlinna is an old fortress on an island in Helsinki. I really recommend seeing it, it's beautiful!

Hobbit houses!

The interior of a beautiful old cathedral in Helsinki, called the Uspenskin Katedraali. There's Russian writing because the cathedral was built while Finland belonged to Russia.

A different Helsinki church, called Helsingin Tuomiokirkko. This one was built while Finland was Swedish, and so is Swedish in design.

From the top of Vor Frelsers Kirke in Copenhagen

If you're ever a tourist in Copenhagen, prepare to deal with about a million stairs.

Beautiful Nyhavn :)

The changing of the guard at Amalienborg (Copenhagen)

Inside "The Marble Church" of Copenhagen, officially called Frederiks Kirke

Climbing up the Rundetårn, an old observatory in Copenhagen

So, I've been to Tivoli twice before, but it's a totally different world around Halloween time!

The Frederiksborg Slot, in Hillerød, which is fairly near to me

And the pictures go back to Finland... having a super hyggeligt time with Annabeth and my new friend Bori :) We got into a leaf fight

Eating at the most adorable café I've ever seen and enjoying the hygge 

Our wonderful view from the café

The best evening I've had in a long time :)

Okay, so that was more than "a few" pictures. They were also completely out of order, so sorry about that. I hope you guys liked them though! I'll write again soon!