Monday, 24 January 2011

This one time, in Denmark...


Blockbusters smell the same all over the world. True story.


I have Rotary meetings at 5pm on Wednesdays, and when I take the bus I can either get there with 5 minutes to spare, or with 25. Back in the summer the busses were really reliable, but lately with all of the snow and such, sometimes they run a little bit late, so last Wednesday I took the early bus, and of course it came early, so I got to the station almost half an hour early. The hotel is a three minute walk from the station, but I didn’t want to be the first one to show up, so instead I walked around the main street for a bit. It was pretty cold, so I went into the first store that caught my eye, which just so happened to be Blockbuster. And as soon as I walked in, it was like I was right back in Canada. The movie selection was very small, and the movie backs were all in Danish, but overall it was almost exactly the same.

Right now I’m at my family’s summerhouse in a small town about an hour from Taastrup. There isn’t internet, so this won’t be posted until Sunday, but right now it’s Saturday and I’m sitting on the couch in the living room, a fire roaring in the fire place, and candles as our main light source. It’s just my host mom, Carina and me here, which is really nice and quiet. And with no internet, it’s a really good chance to just relax.


After 24 hours though, relaxation is turning into restlessness, so I thought it would be a good chance to sit down and write another blog post. One of my new years resolutions was to update this thing more often, so hopefully I can to stick to this.


This blog is going to focus on the small quirks that make Denmark unique from Canada. Things that at first were strange, but now make up the small parts of daily life here.


Breakfast food. Eggs? Bacon? Hash browns? Try chocolate, bread, cheese and meat. When I first got here Danish breakfast just didn’t do it for me. The first morning at intro camp when we walked into the dining hall, I was all geared up for the breakfast regulars, and was really disappointed when I saw the buffet. The idea of having bread and salami for breakfast wasn’t super appealing. And the over load of chocolate was a little bit overwhelming. (Even for me!)

But now I don’t even flinch as I grab two rolls, one with butter and salami or ham or something, and the other with nutella or pålægschokolade.(Shown in the picture on the left.) In fact, it’s something I look forward to now. I love Danish brunches.

On weekday mornings they have the regular cereal and whatever, but when it comes to family brunch, they focus on the lunch side, rather than the breakfast side, like we do in Canada. I think it’ll be fun when I get home to have a big danish style brunch and see what people think about it.


Stop lights, stop signs, crossing the street etc. I was with some of my classmates once in Copenhagen, and it was around midnight and the roads were dead. As in, there wasn’t a single car in a ten kilometer radius. The ‘don’t walk’ sign was flashing, but I still stepped into the road. And oh my goodness all hell broke loose. “Andrea! Stop! You’re going to get hit! You’re going to die!” Did I mention there were NO CARS anywhere? Back in Canada my friends and I went off campus every day for lunch, and we always took the ‘walk’ and ‘don’t walk’ signs as more of suggestions. As in, it’s telling us not to walk, and there is a bus approaching, but let’s still cross the street at a snails pace. But cars in Canada stop for you. Cars in Europe do not. Even if it looks like they’re about to stop, they don’t. Sometimes when I’m bored I’ll play the ‘can I get across the street before the car gets to me’ game. It’s a risky little game, but it gives me a nice rush.

And on the topic of the ‘walk’ and ‘don’t walk’ signals, in Canada, as soon as the light turns red, the ‘walk’ signs comes on, even if no one pressed the button. (You know the button you press a million

times because it only makes sense that the more times you press it the faster it will turn?) Well, in Denmark, the ‘walk’ sign won’t come on unless someone specifically pressed the button. Once, when I first got here, I was riding my bike into town, and it had been raining and the area surrounding the button was flooded, so I didn’t bother to press it. And the traffic light turned red, but the ‘walk’ sign never came on. And I couldn’t figure out why. I think I sat there for a good ten minutes, confused, before I just crossed the street and hoped I wouldn’t get hit. And then stop signs. They don’t have thered stop signs here. They have little arrows on the street that tell the cars to stop. And it still confuses me. The big red STOP signs are so obvious, but these little arrows on

the street are so easy to miss. And also, cars here don’t stop until the last possible second. So I’ll be on my bike just riding along, and I’ll be sure that I have the right of way, but that car is cutting it awfully close, and then I get all nervous and at the last second we both stop and I end up looking stupid. And my bike is from the dinosaur age, so when I stop it makes a horrible squeaking noise and all but falls apart, so people stare, which makes the situation even worse. But I mean, you don’t wear helmets here, so getting hit by a car is not something that I’d like to try.


Lunch. My first week in Denmark one of the Rotarians took me out for the day, and for lunch we had typical Danish smørrebrød.

Pronunciation? Stuff your mouth with oatmeal or a potato and that’ll be your best bet at saying it even remotely right. It’s pretty much an open faced sandwich on a very dark rye type bread called rugbrød. Again, at first I was craving good old fashioned sandwiches with two pieces of toast and normal meat and lettuce. But now I’ve grown to really like these very danish lunches. Before I came to Denmark people told me that Danes LOVE liver paste, and I was sure that it had to be gross. But now, “leverpastej and rugbrød” is my favorite lunch. It’s funny how your eating habits can change so drastically so fast!


Bikes. I don’t have too much to say on this topic besides these are a year-round-any-weather-any-temperature mode of transportation. After out first major snowfall when I figured people would put the bike away for the winter and start taking the busses. I was wrong. People ride through snowbanks here. They do not quit! It’s insane! And it’s not like they have hardcore mountain bikes either, they ride these cute little old fashioned one gear bikes. These things would never survive in Calgary with all of the hills. One of these days I will take a picture of the bike parking lot at my school. There are at least 20 times as many bikes as cars.

Moam and Chocolate Milk. Moam is almost like starburst, and it’s the cheapest candy you can get

here, and therefore is my favorite. And chocolate milk. Oh my goodness Denmark has the worlds best chocolate milk. Matilde and Cocio make the best chocolate milk I have ever had. (And on the topic of milk, Denmark has amazing milk! At home I never really liked milk, but here it’s almost sweet, and I really like it. And I think it’s thicker or something, because at home I hated skim or 1% milk because it was too watery, but here I only drink 0,5% or 1%, and anything higher than that is cream.)


TV. TV itself is the same in Denmark, but the big difference is that censoring is foreign concept here. Everything goes. TDC is a phone company here, and here are a couple of examples of their commercials that are played on a regular basis. My first night I was watching TV with my host mom and one of these commercials came on and I was like, this would never happen at home...






So I think that’s all for now. I hope you had fun seeing some of the quirky things that make Denmark so special. There are lots more, and I'll keep a list and do another post like this sometime.


Have a good week!

Monday, 17 January 2011

Halfway!

"Don't tell me the sky's the limit when there are footsteps on the moon." -Paul Brandt


So Friday was kind of a big deal on my calendar. It was my 167th day in Denmark. And from Friday, I had 167 days left. Yes, I am officially half way. I don’t know how you are supposed to feel when you are halfway through the year you’ve been waiting forever for. I spent almost four years thinking about going on exchange, and googling it and imagining myself being that awesome foreign kid. But now that I’m here, actually living it, I have this horrible sinking feeling that time is going too fast, and that really, really scares me.


The night before I left, I started my post with this quote:


“Just remember, the same as a spectacular Vogue magazine, remember that no matter how close you follow the jumps: Continued on page whatever. No matter how careful you are, there's going to be the sense you missed something, the collapsed feeling under your skin that you didn't experience it all. There's that fallen heart feeling that you rushed right through the moments where you should've been paying attention. Well, get used to that feeling. That's how your whole life will feel some day. This is all practice. None of this matters. We're just warming up.”


And it’s so true. Half of my time in Denmark is over, and that’s time that I will never get back. So much has happened in the past five and a half months. When I think of who I was when I stepped off the plane, when I think of my first few days, how in awe of everything I was, I can’t believe how far I’ve come. There are days when I question what I’m doing here, when I sit and think, what have I really accomplished? But then I’ll have a moment where it’s all just...worth it.


My counsellor told me that starting in the New Year I would have to get up and talk a little about my week to everyone, in Danish, and this past Wednesday was the first meeting of the new year. The whole time while we were eating I was so nervous, and I kept thinking like what if I don’t know what to say, or what if I forget a word or something. (Somewhere between my house and the hotel I lost my little piece of paper with what I wanted to say, so I kind of just had to free talk.) So I got up and starting talking, and the words just came. I talked about my trip to see Emma, and New Year’s Eve, and school and language school and it just felt so natural. Of course I’ve spoken Danish before, but never in front of thirty adults. And then after when people came up and told me how good I sounded, it just kind of reminded me why I’m doing this. Getting up and speaking in front of a group in English is a little nerve-wracking, but I feel like if I can do it in Danish, then I will never be nervous about doing it in English again.


There’s that age old analogy where the glass can either be half empty or half full. Halfway through my year, I’m not even close to where I thought I would be, and where some of my friends are. I thought I would be so much better at Danish by now. Considering I’ve only been learning it for 5 and a half months, and considering how hard of a language it is to learn, I’m doing okay, but I’m not fluent or anything. Sometimes I’ll be really proud of myself for understanding something, but then I’ll take a second look and wonder how much a regular english speaker would understand just by picking out familiar words. Reading and writing Danish is actually very easy, but speaking it and understanding it is tough, because nothing sounds like you think it would. Take the word fun, sjovt. It is pronounced ‘show.’ You wouldn’t guess that just by looking, would you? Danish is one of the languages where you actually don’t pronounce half of the letters in the word, which can be tricky. But I figure, if I’m at this point after 5 and a half months, hopefully I’ll be close to conversational by the time I go home. So yeah, that’s the language. I’m gonna think of that glass as half full.


School. Danish school has overall not been a fantastic experience. And that is mainly because I am SO bored. All the time. Danish school is not fun. In Canada we have cool projects, and group work, and class discussions, and it’s actually pretty fun. In the Danish Gymnasium, you just sit and take notes while the teachers talk. And you have no relationship with your teachers here. At home my teachers would always talk about their kids, or their lives, or whatever. I felt like I knew my teachers, and here they are just that, teachers. You have no relationship on the personal level like you would in Canada. And I miss how in Canada, school is a big part of your life. There are sports teams and clubs and committees and all sorts of things to be involved in besides just class, and here they don’t have any of that. There are two things though that I like better here though: The canteen food and the school parties. So I guess this glass is sort of half empty, but talking to other exchange students, I think it’s a general consensus that school sucks. And not just in Denmark, but pretty much all around the world.


Friends. At home I had really good friends in school, and also really good friends out of school. Here though, I only have the exchange students. I’ve tried and tried to get close to my classmates, but while I am friendly with them all, I wouldn’t by any means call any of them good friends. As in, while we say good morning to each other, and sometime’s have a short conversation, I don’t think they will miss me once I’m gone. At school I am just an exchange student, not part of the class. I wish I was better at Danish so that I could participate more, but I’m not, and there’s only so much I can do. But I have the other exchange students near me, and I’m really close with them and we go out together and always have a lot of fun. I know that I will be life long friends with some of them, and I know I’m lucky to have them. So I guess that glass isn’t half full or half empty, it’s just...half.


On Friday all my oldies (Aussie’s) went home, and we took them to airport and basically it was probably the most heartbreaking thing ever. Seeing Hannah walk through security, and not knowing when or if I will see her again was so sad, but it was a wake up call that my time is fast ending. When I first got here Hannah was just half way through, and she told us that we better be at the airport to see her off when she left, and I was just like, yeah yeah, that’s ages away. But it wasn’t. While there are some days and weeks that seem to last forever, overall the first half of my exchange has flown by. I have done and seen so many incredible things over the past six months, and I have met so many new people and I have gained an understanding of a new language and culture and while I have had my downs, over all the past half a year has been so amazing. I just want to soak up as much of Denmark as I can, and knowing that the rest of my year is going to go fast is scary, because I want to do everything.


On Saturday night I went out with three friends into Copenhagen, and we had planned just to go to a disco or something, but we couldn’t get into any of our regular places. It was pouring rain and we were soaked to the bone, and debated just calling it a night, but then we stopped and thought about it, and decided that how many chances will be get to wander around Copenhagen all night, and in the rain no less. So we just walked and walked up and down little side streets, finding stores that we wanted to come back to, and ducking into restaurants every once and while to regain feeling in our toes. It was one of those night that was fun because of the people you’re with, and it was definitely one of those nights that made me re fall in love with Denmark. I’m so lucky to be in such an amazing country with such an amazing group of people. I love the other exchange students, and I know once I’m back home I’m going to miss our exchange student nights out like crazy.


(Note how wet my jeans are... it was raining really hard)

(Chelsea, Nova and me)


The Newbies all arrived today, and my news feed on facebook is full of their first day impressions, and it brings me back to my first week. The cool houses, the weird 24 hour clocks, the open fields, the new people, all of that. My life here is so normal now, but I guess that within itself is really cool. I’ve created a life for my self in Denmark. I have family and friends here, I know my way around now like the back of my hand. And while it’s not always easy, Denmark is normal, and I think that’s really cool.


Today it’s warm, 6 degrees. It’s the nicest it’s been in like three months. The snow is mostly melted, and it’s the perfect weather just to enjoy being outside. It’s not going to last long, but I’m going to make the most of it while it’s here, and I guess that’s how I feel about the rest of my exchange as well. I have a lot to look forward to, and I know that the next 5 months will be amazing.


Not too much is really happening now, so I don’t know when I’ll post again, but it should be in the next few weeks.


Love from Denmark,


Andrea

Monday, 3 January 2011

December in Denmark!



Okay, so I thought it was finally time that I sat down and updated this thing. Yet ANOTHER month has come and gone, which is terrifying, seeing as the months come and go at an alarmingly fast rate. This month however has been crazy, and frankly I’m glad that it’s almost over, (just because I need a rest!) even though it means I’m another month closer to having to leave. With the end of another month has also come the end of the year. 2010 has been the longest, and yet fastest year ever. There were days when I first got to Denmark where I didn’t know how I could possibly make it until next summer, so instead I told myself just to focus on making it until Christmas, and then after that it would all be smooth sailing. At the time Christmas was five months, and at the time what seemed like a lifetime, away, but alas, those five months passed, and now here I am. Only nine days away from being half way. Eeek!


Before I talk about the holidays though, I should start at the beginning of the month. Last time I updated I was living with my second family, but sadly I had to leave them early, so on December 4th I moved in with a new family. My second family was really nice, but they had two cats, and I have a bad cat allergy, so it just wasn’t working. They were really fun and I liked them a lot and tried my best to make it work, but breathing is kind of one those things that is necessary, and that just wasn’t happening. So now I am living with a new family, and I can breath again. I have two host siblings, a 15 year old sister and a 11 year old brother. And after four peaceful months of living with just sisters, I forgot what younger brothers can be like... but they are both really nice, and I think it’s going to work out well with them. I still miss my first family like crazy though, and have visited and slept over numerous times since I’ve moved, so hopefully I will keep in good contact with them for a long time. I think I was lucky to just connect so well with them.


Adjusting to a new family is hard, no matter how many times you do it. In my first family, Simone and I were very similar, and had a lot of the same habits and did a lot of the same things, so I found it very easy to fit in right away there. With the other two families, more work on my part had to be done. After 16 and a half years it can be hard to change. In Canada I slept in the basement, which was underground, and my window was this tiny little slit that didn’t really let much light in. And it was cold. So that’s what I like my room to be like now, dark and cold. I never pull my blinds up, my heat is always on low, and every day my hosties come home to find me under the covers asleep, or watching a movie, in the cold and dark. And I’m perfectly content like that, but I think that they don’t like it so much. After spending all day at school with an ‘I’m soo happy’ smile plastered on my face, I want to come home and spend some time in my cave where I can make whatever pouty scowely faces I want. But anyways, this is something that was an issue in my both my second and current family, and my counsellor and I talked about it, and I am working to find the balance of cave time and social activity. Anyways, I don’t know why I wrote that whole novel, but I guess I just want to admit that as much as I like to believe that I am, I know that I’m not perfect. I’m close, but not quite there yet. Exchange students like to believe that they are God's gifts to their host families, but really we know that we are not. We have our flaws too. And it just so happens that sleeping is mine...


But anyways, this family is very nice. Their daughter is an outbound next year, so it’s kind of fun to impart some of my wisdom on her. Even though I’m sure to her it’s just ‘blah blah blah’ because that’s all I heard last year when the inbounds tried to give me advice. And I am incredibly grateful to them for taking me in on no notice. Carina and Sebastian have to share a room so that I can have my own, which is so nice cause I know I would NEVER share my room with Jackson. I’d sooner let him sleep in the dog’s kennel than in my room. But wait, no. That was the old, 2010, Andrea speaking. The new 2011 Andrea is a more kind, giving person, and would gladly let her brother sleep on her floor.


December was also full of christmas lunches, and I swear I’m never going to eat again! Danish people eat SO MUCH during the holidays. I’m sure I gained like twenty pounds. School finished on the 16th, and that night there was a big party at my school. No matter how many school parties I go to, they always shock me with what we are allowed to do. Westmount dances just don’t compare.


I don’t even actually remember all of what I did over the break, it all just blurs together. A few times I went out with other exchange students, and I spent the 20th and 21st with my next host family. In that family I will have my host mom, Charlotte, and two little host siblings, Aksel and Marie, who are eleven year old twins. I had such a nice time with them. Monday we went to Tivoli (a really beautiful amusement park in the center of Copenhagen) and then I slept over with them. We had dinner and watched movies and it was super cozy. The oldest daughter, Julie, is on exchange in Australia, but I’ve been skyping with her since April, so it will be very fun to live with her family. Sadly I won’t get to meet her this time around, but I know I’ll be back in the future, and I will meet her at some point. Tuesday morning Aksel and Marie left to Sweden, so it was just Charlotte and I. We went to a cafe for breakfast and we walked around and talked and it was really nice to get to know her. She will be my last family, from March until June, when I go home.



(Me and my future host siblings at Tivoli)


(We walked across the frozen water and found that someone had written Merry Christmas)


On the 23rd we (my host family and me) left to the old city of Rebe, where my host dads family lives, and where we were going to spend Christmas. We went just across the border to Germany on the Friday, where I hit the absolute jackpot. Denmark has a sugar tax, so anything with sugar is really expensive, but in Germany it’s much cheaper, so I pigged right out and bough enough candy to probably last me the year. Just what I need to add to my twenty pounds of holiday fat. Yum.


And then Christmas! Danish Christmas is really something else. They do all of the celebrating on Christmas eve, and it’s really special. We have a huge family dinner, and then we dance around the christmas tree and sing songs and then open presents. The whole time we were dancing I couldn’t stop smiling. It was one of those moments where it’s just like, ‘I’m really in Denmark. Celebrating a Danish Christmas. So cool!”


(My host mom, my host grandma and me)


(Me and my host sister in front of the Christmas tree)


Christmas day was a little less ‘cool’ and lot more ‘something is missing.’ At home in Canada we celebrate on Christmas day, and we have a really nice family day, with presents in the morning, and a really nice Christmas dinner at my Grandma’s with all of the right foods, and it’s really nice. Here, Christmas day was kind of...too normal. Normal routine, normal foods, etc, and I really missed home. That shows how much of a roller coaster this is. Friday I can’t stop smiling and Saturday I have to work to just fake a smile. But once I talked to other exchange students, and realized I wasn’t the only homesick one, I felt a lot better. And then Sunday we came home, and I got to skype home, and my parents opened the gifts I had sent. (How lucky are my parents to have such an awesome child?)


And then Sunday like half an hour after I got home one of the other exchangers invited me out, and then I spent the night with her, and in the morning we made a big American breakfast, and it was great!


And then New Years!! New Years was one of those nights that I wanted to be special. I wanted it to be something that I would really remember, and I wanted to spend it with someone special. So, who better to go celebrate with than my bestie Emma?! Seriously, I love that kid, and I was so excited to get to bring in 2011 with her!


I left Wednesday morning and stayed until Saturday night. I hadn’t seen her in like a month and a half, so it was really fun to be reunited. We did what Emma and Andrea always do...lie in bed and eat. And then for New Year’s eve we first had a really nice dinner, and then watched the Queen make her speech. And then people started coming over and the party really started. Danish New Years in crazy! Everyone was just having fun and it was really cool. And then at midnight the fireworks started, and went on until like 6am, and then went all day Saturday and even some on Sunday.


And then Sunday night I returned home, and today was back to school. I’ve kind of given up hope on ever really liking school here, but what doesn’t kill you just makes you stronger. And school here really makes me appreciate school back home. I miss Westmount a lot, and while I used to be so excited to be leaving it, now I find my self wanting to go back there for grade 12. Good friends like I have there are hard to come by, and I think it would be just stupid to leave them and start over yet again when I have my life built up there. Once a Westmount kid, always a Westmount kid.


But that’s ages away. I still have just under six months here, and I’m going to live it up as best as I can. The Australians are all going home next week, which is weird cause I remember when I just got here and they were halfway, and I know that the second half of my exchange is going to fly, and soon I’ll be in their shoes packing my bags and planning going away parties, and I don’t want to have any regrets. So that’s my new years resolution in 2011, make the best of every situation, take advantage of every opportunity, and when I’m sitting on that plane five and half months from now, I want to be able to feel a sense of accomplishment, and I want to know that I did the best that I could while I was here.


So I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays, and I hope 2011 brings everyone happiness and health.


Kærlighed fra Danmark


PS. Here is a video about my first four months in Denmark! Enjoy!



video