Thursday, 7 October 2010

The Truth about Homesickness

If life was easy, where would the adventure be?

This post is going to be a little bit different from my other posts, because it’s not really gonna be about what I’ve done so much as how I feel. Because with the two month mark (which was this past Friday) comes the end of the honeymoon phase. And to be brutally honest, it kind of sucks.

I don’t know how to describe how I’m feeling, so I’m to quote it directly off the Rotary website:

"Stage 1: "The Honeymoon" of Initial Euphoria/Excitement

-Excitement with new sounds, sights, smells

-Superficial involvement in the host culture (like a tourist)

-Intrigue with both similarities and differences between the new culture and your home culture

-Lots of interest in learning, very motivated & cooperative

-You feel like you will be able to handle anything--"I am not going to have any problems adjusting!" . .

Stage 2: "Culture Shock!"- Irritation/Hostility

-The novelty of the new culture has worn off, and you now focus primarily on the differences between the new culture and your home culture

-Small differences feel like major catastrophes!

-You become overly concerned with/stressed out by small personal problems and feel helpless and frustrated (you can’t make sense of the bus schedule, you don't have hot water in the mornings, you cannot access email from your home, the hours of school are weird, etc...)

-Stereotypes and prejudices surface: you feel like the host nationals are cold, unhelpful, snobbish, etc.

-You search out exchange student friends

-You are homesick (culture shock is a form of homesickness)!

-You miss your friends and family in Canada and to make matters worse, you hear that your high school football team is doing fantastic and the weather at home is glorious etc."

I love Denmark so much, but I miss Canada a lot too. It’s little things like the mountains, and the colorful leaves, and the whole October/Thanksgiving/Halloween feel, that I really miss. And of course my family and friends. I know that this is part of the experience, and I know that I’m not alone. And I’m so incredibly lucky to have the most amazing host family ever. I love them so much. And I’ve met my second and third families and they too are so awesome. So that makes it a lot easier.

I love being around other exchange students because we can all totally relate to each other, and it’s so nice to talk to someone who knows exactly how I feel. I’m so lucky because I live really close to another exchange student, Chelsea, and we hang out a lot. A few weeks ago we went into Copenhagen together, and I had so much fun. When I’m with my classmates I always feel so left out cause I have no idea what they’re saying, but with the other exchange students I feel so much more like, at home, if that makes sense.

And this past Saturday I had 8 girls from my district over for a movie night sleepover thing, and it was really fun. Some of the girls I hadn’t really met before, but after like five minutes it’s like I’d known them forever. Simone and Therese were gone for the weekend, so we had all of upstairs to ourselves, and it was so fun. I used to do things like this with my friends at home a lot, so it was nice to do something familiar.

And then there’s is so much harder than I ever thought. I’m still finding it really hard to make friends, and it’s starting to get really discouraging. I’m friendly with the girls in my class, but I’m not particularly close with anyone, and we don’t really hang out outside of class.

My friend sent me a link to a website where an American living in Denmark talks about Danish culture, and one of the paragraphs explain really well what it’s like here.

“Before I came to Denmark, I knew a group of Danes back home. One day I was visiting them, and they mentioned that someone called Henrik was arriving from Denmark. We went to pick him up at the airport. Everyone was speaking Danish to each other, so I wasn’t quite informed about the whole situation, but it took me a few days to figure out that Henrik was not part of the group. He was a complete stranger to everyone, and yet I got the distinct impression that everyone not only knew him, but that he was somehow related to one of the others. He simply integrated with the rest of the Danes, like a drop of water merging into a puddle.

I remember how I envied being able to relate to others so easily, and I imagined what a big, happy family Denmark must be. I was attracted by the idea of egalitarianism and the implications it held for relationships among people in a greater society, how it can facilitate collective expressions of ordinary people’s wishes in a true democracy, how it can allow the individual to grow with others to attain his full potential, without fear and intimidation.

I foresaw endless scenarios of people realizing and expressing the full extents of their imagination. But in Denmark I found a paradoxical place, where such an environment exists, yet its imagination is held in check by an invisible power. The country’s character and essence is determined and defined simultaneously by a collective, consensus-driven will and an extreme individualism. People have a solid and intimate implicit understanding of each other, yet they choose to live in ways that isolate themselves from each other.

If you are not used to it, the aloofness and isolation that springs from this kind of individualism will seem unfortunate, and it will wrack your brain. But if you are going to live in Denmark, it will, for better or for worse, inevitably become part of your reality.”

My class went out for dinner last night, and I feel like that helped to get to know them outside of the classroom. They all seem really nice, and I really want to be good friends with them. Hopefully we can do more out of school outings together, because it’s so much easier to talk and get to know people.

And while I’m talking about school, I have to tell you what happened Tuesday. The government is trying to take away funding from the school, and to show how they don’t agree, a bunch of classes decided to strike, mine included. So pretty much what that means was that we got to school and barricaded our classroom door shut, and we all sat out in the hall blocking the door, and when our teacher came we didn’t let her in, and the girls in my class were saying something to her (I don’t know what) and then she just left. So pretty much we didn’t have class all morning, and we just sat in the hall. And then at 1 the entire school striked, and all of the students went home.

It was really cool because I don’t think something like this would happen in Canada. Striking is for adults, not for kids. But here once you are in Gymnasium you are pretty much an adult, and there for you have the same rights as adults, and can fight for them. It was a really cool thing to experience. I like how here I’m an adult, even though I’m just 16. I think it will be weird going back to Canadian school where you are treated like a kid right up until you graduate.

People sitting in the canteen with signs.

One of the barricaded classroom doors.

So yeah, pretty much that’s all for now. It feels like winter here. It’s cold and rainy and windy and dark. It’s always dark here, but I don’t mind because it’s very hyggelig. (A danish word with no direct translation, but is kind of like cozy.) So I’m gonna make some hot chocolate and go watch a movie.

This Sunday is another Rotex dinner, so I'm really excited for that, and fall break is coming up, and I'm so excited. My host family is taking me to Hans Christian Anderson's birth place, and on the 17th Chelsea and I are making Thanksgiving dinner for my family and my counsellors family, and then I'm going to stay with Emma for a few days!! So I'm really really excited! It should be a fun week, and nice break from school :)

I hope everyone is doing well!

Kærlighed fra Danmark (Love from Denmark)



  1. You get to go to Hans Christian Andersen's birth place... awesome. Have fun on Odense (best Danish city in my opinion). Sounds like you are going to have a great fall break. Enjoy it!

  2. Thanks for being so honest! Sure its nice to hear about the amazing experiences but its good to be prepared for how you might feel too. It makes me ridiculously scared, but grateful. So thank you!
    And I hope you have a great break!

  3. I'm sorry to hear you've started to get homesick and that you have some difficulties with getting friends. Ever tried asking some of the girls in your class if they'd like to hang out after school? If they have time, I doubt they'll say no :)

    And you think it feels like winter NOW? Haha, just wait till January! And it'll get darker! In December it's dark till like 9 am and gets dark again around 4 pm or something. But it's, as you say, actually really hyggeligt :D

  4. Hey Andrea.
    I love this post. I am from Denmark, and im out as an exchange student right now, in america. The things I felt, but couldn't "word", you just did that for me. I love reading your blog, and funny as it is, it actually makes me miss Denmark a lot, reading about what you do there. I totally agree, that you have no idea what you're getting yourself into, before you're there. I have actually followed you since september, and I have/had problems beeing homesick too. I just want you to know, that you're a big inspiration to me, and probably also other exchanges. Keep the head high, and enjoy the year! It is never coming back! lots of thoughts and love from here.