Visiting Host Family Days
I got to spend a lot more time with my visiting host family this week. Last Wednesday, after a field study to the Veterinary Institute of Copenhagen University for my Epigenetics and the Environment class, I spent the afternoon with Emma, one of my visiting host sisters. We walked around the center of Copenhagen, saw the Round Tower, and later ate dinner at the house – a wonderful day, even despite all the cold rain.
This last Saturday was my visiting host dad, Morten’s, birthday, and I was invited to tag along for the day as well. We drove out to Roskilde, a city about 30 minutes from Copenhagen that was originally founded in the Viking age. We saw the massive Roskilde Cathedral, which was housing a wedding that day, and walked through the beautiful gloom of an old monastery. We even peeked into the Viking Museum through the gift shop to see the old boat remains that had been found in the area. The coast of Roskilde is densely packed with boats and cottage houses with small gardens, and in the winter you can walk among the boats stored on land to see the hulls from below.
I was really excited and grateful to also join for dinner at Morten’s parents’ house, who cooked what is probably the best food I’ve eaten here, but more importantly welcomed me into their home for a really nice evening, with the tiny Danish flags out and the conversation flying. And it was a great time! I always enjoy our shared meals, and this one was one of my most memorable moments here.
A Busy Week
A semester abroad is still, well, a semester, and this was just one of those weeks where the work lined up. I had my first bout of light-stress, but it would have also all been avoided had I planned better (as usual). For instance, long story short, I got myself into a situation on Friday night where I had 36 hours to confirm two recommendation letters for an internship application that was due the next day. That same night, our toilet clogged and our sink started to growl like the Stranger Things demogorgon, and I was staring down an already-packed weekend schedule with study blocks and blog-writing squeezed in around everything, and it was starting to feel like none of these things would get done. But they did (as usual)!
I spent most of my weekday hours catching up on work. I had two tests this week, in Epigenetics and the Environment and Polar Biology. I also handed in a first draft of a short story for my Creative Writing class – we’re currently working on stories from childhood memories. And otherwise I had my standard readings/viewings/homework. In Environmental Philosophy, we’re reading Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson, and in my Danish class, I’m slowly trying to learn how to say some of the 40-something different vowel sounds in the Danish language. The pronunciation is truly something else.
I got some work done in a nearby cafe that doubled as an antique furniture store, which made for an interesting afternoon. I’ve also realized it’s cheaper and more effective to pick up an entire package of stroopwafels from Netto for 26 DKK and just make tea at home, and I’m looking forward to doing this every single week until I leave.
Concert in Christiania
Some of the first murmurings I’d heard when I got to Copenhagen were that Christiania, the free-wheeling neighborhood just 15 minutes from my kollegium, puts on great concerts for cheap. A friend of mine and I had been wanting to see one and we decided on a Wednesday night show because, out of the concert listings I found posted on the street, this was the one that looked both cool and cheap. So we went out to Loppen, the venue, and saw the feminist punk band Petrol Girls give a smashing show, with the Danish four-piece garage rock group Beach Envy opening.
Before the music began, the venue had hosted screenings of Rohingya Testimony: No Reason To Hide Our Faces on female survivors of violence from the Burmese military and Nu Jin, on women of Kobane who have volunteered in efforts figthing ISIS. Though we’d missed the screenings, their weight reverberated through the music and the show as a whole. Petrol Girls is a four-piece band from the UK led by vocalist Ren Aldridge. She started with a simple question: are you ready to rage for the rights of women? She politely requested that the front spaces of the venue be left for women and gender non-conforming people, in order to give them full access to music that’s written for them. And then the show started, with heavy guitar reverb and this incredible, moving energy. I find punk cathartic, but it’s something else to hear it live. When built on a core of anti-patriarchal feminism and stories of survivorship, particulalry in a genre that tends to be dominated by a cis-male audience, the sound’s power speaks for itself. Unapologetically angry feminism is surprisingly hard to find in its unfiltered form, and I really can’t recommend it enough.
Travel Week 1 has just begun, and I have a few days here before my trip starts. I’m walking around, taking new paths home from the store, and vacuuming, doing all the normal things just a little bit slower now that most of the people I know from DIS have left. This first travel week signals the start of a busy month with many trips for me, and I can’t believe it’s come so quickly. We’re going over some tipping point here, and moving on to a new phase of the abroad timeline.
For the longest time here, even with an established routine, my “Copenhagen semester” felt like a break from my normal life. It’s difficult to mentally integrate these months with the past and future when literally everything is different in the present, down to the outlet plugs. With real time passing by now, and internship applications forcing me to think about the next summer, the fact that this semester constitutes a chunk of my life is sinking in.
I had surprised myself by not feeling homesick for a very long time, likely due to my excitement, but it started to crop up this week in odd places. For instance, I get these 10-second pangs of longing when I open coffee-table books on the “World’s Best Hikes” and flip past images of U.S. mountains from, say, Pennsylvania or Colorado, which makes no sense because I’m not from Pennsylvania or Colorado and I don’t go hiking often. (I think it has more to do with missing a directional authority over the land. I miss knowing where and what “Utah” is despite having never been there. If you said “Holsterbro” to me, I’d have no ideas to connect with the word, and my spatial awareness would start to feel a lot more lonely).
Of course, the things I really do miss are the small rituals, like working at the bubble tea shop of my college town with friends. That’s such a small thing. It’s also a skeptical longing, because I’m enjoying the new rituals here as well, and I know that I can’t be in both places at the same time. I ended up grabbing bubble tea with one of my friends here this Friday afternoon, and it reminded me of the continuation of old habits that transform as you keep living.
As new experiences are added to my daily life here, old experiences also become missing, and this missing of things is just as expansive as the newness of being abroad. It’s not just a void that waits for replacement. Empty spaces can stretch your sense of how much you think you can take, and your capacity for how much you actually do – how decisivie you can be, and how much you can care. You become larger in the process. And both this absence and this newness build forward on what we’ve already completed. This is actually a continuous experience. I find it bonkers, to be honest! But that’s likely just me, thinking too much about things, and being surprised by the usual.