Langelinie and Kastellet
On Sunday I had a spread of free time and an address for ny form, an outdoor gear store where I was hoping to find rubber boots. I needed them for my core course week’s tour of the Wadden Sea and was running out of time. What I expected was a dull errand and a quick return home, but I emerged from the Østerport train station into entirely unseen territory with the exhilarating feeling that I had no idea which direction my house was. After picking up my boots, I asked the cashier what there was to see, and she told me that The Little Mermaid statue was just minutes away. I stepped out the back door to the surprise of a wide harbor and a pink clouds.
My walk along the Langelinie promenade was lined with a polar bear statue, metal busts of old monarchs and cherubs, and an inlet of blue sailboats. Across the harbour was the retired sea fortress Trekroner and the solitary smokestack of CopenHill. After briefly thinking I’d missed The Little Mermaid, I turned to see a crowd of a hundred people standing around the statue. Edvard Eriksen’s iconic figure is beautiful, but the attention it garners seemed a bit disproportionate considering the dozens of other statues lining the walkway. For a walk around Langelinie, I’d recommend spreading your attention across the whole of the area.
From there, unwieldy box in arm, I followed the promise of red tiled roofs to what I later learned was Kastellet (the Citadel of Copenhagen). It’s home to long yellow buildings, Kastelskirken (the Citadel Church), a wooden windmill, and steep grassy banks with gloomy trees reflected in the canal. I committed myself to a long winding walk with a dead end and had to retrace some steps, but it was just as well. As I walked back, three soldiers lowered the Danish flag from the main post and residents clad in black coats started coming out for their dinner parties and twinkling restaurants.
Host Family Dinner
This Tuesday I had my first dinner with my visiting host family! After many emails I finally met Sisse and Morten and their two daughters, Hannah and Emma. We sat and talked over the dinner they made: boller i karry, a common Danish dish of meatballs in a curry sauce over rice. We followed with tea and choices of cake and vanilla ice cream, the latter of which I ate a lot. It was all delicious and shockingly comforting to be back in a home-setting, talking about the daily quirks of Copenhagen commutes, school systems, traditions, and what was similar versus different from the U.S.. (I was very interested to find that their apartment had a near-identical setup to mine in Brooklyn).
We talked over our hot drinks for something like three and a half hours, and it was all great fun. It’s grounding to feel that you have a welcoming home at hand and I’m so looking forward to our future get-togethers.
Field Study: Danish Gymnasium
I went with my Danish Language and Culture class this Wednesday to visit the Københavns åbne Gymnasium (The Copenhagen Open High School). The students gave us tours of the building, showing us the rooftop garden, music rooms, and beehive boxes maintained by the beekeeping club on a nearby rooftop. In many ways it reminded me of American high schools (albeit with much better fashion), for being a teenager is a universal feeling. At the same time, I was struck by the differences academically, such as how the responsibility of education is placed more on students with less helicoptering from teachers, or how they seem to have more day-to-day autonomy.
The biggest difference I found in the Danish system was the lack of a vague and looming need to make yourself competitive in the future. It’s not that it is academically less rigorous – in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s even more difficult. But I felt that Danish students were free from some of the fear of failure that pervades the American high schools. There’s a lot of pressure to assess achievement in America. The Danish seem to know how to live a life for the sake of it. My suspicion (based only on observation) is that the welfare state and the safety net it provides allows young people to really be young while at school. But what do I know! I’ve just seen a glimpse, and surely the experience is different among different demographics, neighborhoods, regions, and schools. And perhaps, too, I am just projecting.
Odds and Ends
There’s been much to get done this week. I’ve handed in assignments and given presentations in my classes. I went to a rehearsal with the Copenhagen Business School International Chorus, and while I’m not yet sure that I’ll commit for the full semester, it’s a great group and is a wonderful way to decompress with other students in the city. I found myself back in Nørrebro on a group assignment and spent the day looking at cafes and Superkilen park as it rained on and off. I booked my two trips for the semester through a terrible battle with my indecision. I’m developing a hot chocolate habit that is a bit unsustainable for both the body and the wallet. Clearly, it’s been busy – telling of a week well-spent.
Three weeks in, you begin to see what you are comfortable assimilating into and what you won’t be relinquishing. Many routines feel second nature now, like remembering bags for the grocery store and leaving empty coffee cups at the table in cafes. At the same time, I still buy Clif bars from Normal in bulk and walk to the train station like it’s a competition. The point is not to leave yourself behind. The carrying of ourselves through new places exposes us to “ourselves” rather jarringly, and I guess for me this includes impatience while commuting. It feels very un-Danish, but I can’t kick it and probably never will; but then again, we’ll see.