By Diane Schrom
There are a few important things one should know before adventuring into the once Viking-inhabited country of Denmark. Despite the deceiving exchange rate, a box of cereal costs $6 and a cup of coffee $4 (at some point you just have to accept it). Train rides, although filled to the rafters at times, will most likely be spent in silence. You’ll see men and women clad in business attire whizzing by you in the busy streets of Copenhagen on their way to work, and it is guaranteed that you’ll be struck dumb by the amazingly beautiful, snowy, Narnia-like landscape after the first snowfall of the season.
As you can see, Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital and largest city, elicits intrigue, wonder and perhaps a little skepticism. Electrifying buildings and magnificent architecture fill this city’s center and line its numerous canals. From Christianshavn (with its quaint old houses and eccentric locals), to Nørrebro (a colorful and vibrant ethnic neighborhood with copious restaurants and silly stores), back to the city center with its plentiful gardens and regal history, Copenhagen, like many European cities, has winding streets that take you back in time. Consequently, on any day of the week, morning or night, chic and fashionable locals can be seen bustling through these very same streets. It’s largely true what people say about the Danish people—they’re quiet, reserved, tall, blond, and yes, even their children are well behaved—but once you’ve made it past the formal introductions, you quickly realize that Danes are not only amiable but also excited and willing to get to know you.
For the four months I spent abroad, I had the pleasure of living in a Danish Højskole (literally translated, “folk high school”). The program I was studying through constantly emphasized the Højskole to be an experience only known to those who have visited to live in Denmark. To put it simply, it’s a school that students, both Danes and international students alike, can attend for a year or semester, to enhance and cultivate their minds without the pressures of papers, tests or formal grades. Intrigued by the concept, and determined to meet locals, I committed to making an hour-long commute into the city each day, and thus found myself in the company of sixty-some Danes, 15 Americans and a gorgeous castle a short walk down the street. This unique housing opportunity allowed me to truly entrench myself in the Danish culture. We shared meals together, had occasional movie nights and themed parties (slightly reminiscent of the University), and became close friends.
In addition to this amazing housing opportunity, I was able to study biotechnology and drug development in a completely new and exciting country, a chance most biochemistry majors can only dream of. My Complexity of Cancer class was taught by two oncologists at the local teaching hospital, I had the opportunity to dissect a harbor seal (a species endemic to Danish waters) as part of the lab for my Marine Mammals class, and my Danish class included an assignment that came with prime seating at an FC København soccer match.
It was a whirlwind of a semester, and I still find myself recovering from the shock that is ended so quickly. From the moment I stepped foot on the plane, I knew that a part of my heart would always be left behind in Copenhagen. From the smørrebrød open-faced sandwiches, to the warm atmosphere of hygge that seemed to be infused in every coffee shop and living room, to copious warm hugs received when we finally had to bid the Danes goodbye, the pictures of my times in Denmark may fade, but the memories created, the laughs shared and life-altering experiences will live on forever.