Kyungsun in Scotland: The Happiest Country In the World

April 23, 2015
The iconic picture of Denmark: Nyhaven

The iconic picture of Denmark: Nyhaven

When I arrived in Copenhagen, I was more excited to see my friend Amaury than the fact that I was in one of the happiest countries in the world. I was just happy to be in the presence of a familiar friend. As expected, it didn’t take long before we skipped the small talk and dived into a discussion about how our study abroad experience has transformed us. It was a warm relief knowing that he had been sharing similar struggles of changing friendships and becoming more independent like me.

The next day, we spent the entire day exploring the city. The best part about having a friend show you around is that you get your own personal tour guide. It was astonishing just how much Amaury knew about Denmark. He knew everything from the current politics to the historical significance of the main buildings. Two places in particular held the most meaning for me. As expected, my pictures don’t capture the full energy of the moment, but I hope I can still convey the spirit as well of the beauty of the city.

Christiana

The first thing I noticed was the sign. Welcome to Christiana! Once we went under the arch, Amaury told me to turn around as if I was exiting. You are now entering the EU. Huh?

The second sign said that I wasn’t allowed to take pictures.

The third sign said that I was supposed to have fun.

A taste of Christiana (we were only allowed to take pictures before entering)

A taste of Christiana (we were only allowed to take pictures before entering)

Walking into Christiana was like stepping outside of Denmark. When I first walked around the streets of the Copenhagen, I saw the traditional colorful buildings, comparatively clean streets, beautiful people, and places to shop everywhere. But Christiana is the part of the city that is still not developed and not developed by choice.

I asked Amaury where he had brought me to and he said that Christiana was a community that represented freedom of expression. Indeed, I saw graffiti and color everywhere. Any white space was anyone’s canvas. You can build your own house in Christiana. But no one owns anything. Rather, everything is owned by the community. You are only allowed to live in Christiana if you are accepted by all 850 members in the community. It is also a town that claims that it’s separate from Denmark (hence the EU sign), but not recognized by any formal body.

After moving past the initial front, I was overcome with a tangible sense of peace that filled the area. But when I looked at the various colors and shapes of the houses, I also felt an uneasy feel of chaos. Nothing conformed to the thing next to it. Yet Amaury told me that there is a deep woven bond of community in Christiana that allowed everyone to enjoy a harmonious life. I suddenly found myself questioning the value of standardizing everything from our houses to our education – do we do it for the ease or for the control?

Did I also mention that weed is everywhere? On what is known as Pusher Street, stalls are lined with people selling, smoking, or buying weed (hence, no pictures). The police know this. The government knows this. And the teens at the local high school across the street certainly know this. Yet it’s an accepted part of Danish society. Occasionally there are police raids (which is why you’re also not allowed to run in Christiana). However, my expert tour guide told me that overall, the Danes want to maintain the essence of Christiana for what it is because it represents a part of Denmark’s history.

I left dizzy with questions and confusion. It made me question a lot about the ways in which we as communities and societies achieve things like safety, individual expression, and justice.

Amalienborg

Denmark continued to surprise me. Thursday was Queen Margrethe’s 75th Birthday. All I knew was to be at Amalienborg Palace, where the Queen lived, by twelve o’clock. Amaury was unfortunately in class. The morning was pretty calm as I was exploring Rosenborg Palace. Then I saw the band and guards lining up and when I turned the corner, people were everywhere. Little did I know this is where the party started.

It was actually a relief knowing that the guards were kicking off the celebrations with loud fanfare and a parade through the streets. This meant all I had to do was follow them to the other palace rather than stand out as a lost tourist. My favorite part about the parade is that anyone could simply be a part of it. The police encouraged everyone to make way for the guards and band, but a swarm of people trailed alongside or behind the line.

 

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On my way to Amalienborg Palace, I was handed a flag and again, turned a corner and saw everyone waiting to enter. But for some reason we weren’t being let in and the police kept pointing people to the left. I didn’t understand what anyone was saying but I decided to trust my instinct and follow the crowd.

It was a good move because I found the actual entrance! What I loved about the moment even before the celebration started is how energized everyone was to see the Queen. Amaury had told me the day before that the people loved the Queen. When I also asked what the Queen did outside her political duties, I was surprised that Amaury’s host family knew the answer. She apparently makes costumes for plays and paints.

 

 

Close up with Queen Margrethe!

Close up with Queen Margrethe!

Front row view to see her pass by!

Front row view to see her pass by!

parade

It was an interesting atmosphere to be in – I felt like the Queen was approachable. Even the Palace didn’t have any gates or barriers. You could just walk right up to the front door and knock on it if you wanted. I was told that it’s because the Danish Royalty embody the strange balance of humility and pride that make up the Danish lifestyle.

Amalienborg Palace

Amalienborg Palace

These two places are sadly only two snapshots out of the near 700 pictures of what I experienced. Copenhagen is a city like Edinburgh in that it has a great mix of nature, history, and modernity. Unfortunately, Copenhagen is also much bigger than Edinburgh. I didn’t get to explore the city fully, but I know I have to come back. As you can tell, Denmark was a place that really made me think about how the country has become such a loved, happy, accepting, humble, yet prideful country and much more.

I think this is the value of traveling. It makes you realize that other people do it differently. They provide welfare differently. They view wealth differently. They deal with social justice differently. And most of all, it makes me appreciate the various ways we all strive for the same thing.

Rosenborg Palace and King's Gardens

Rosenborg Palace and King’s Gardens


Diana in Copenhagen: Final Reflection

January 5, 2015

As I sit and write this from my bed in Massachusetts I can’t wrap my head around the fact that I’m home. After one hundred and twenty eight days, thirteen cities, ten countries, four classes, and countless memories, my time abroad came to a close and I could not be more grateful for the experience.

As I look back on the semester I decided to revisit some of the questions I asked myself before embarking on the adventure. I was unsure about living in a single room for the first time in college, but doing so certainly had its perks. I liked having my own kitchen and not having to work around someone else’s schedule, but I’m not as concerned as I was about having to go back to having a roommate in the future. As much as I liked living alone, having a roommate can be a lot of fun and it’s nice having someone to hang around with all the time.

I was concerned about Copenhagen being so expensive, and it really is, but I like to think I handled my budget well. I became pretty obsessed with saving money on day-to-day items so I could instead spend on things like traveling that were more important to me. This meant shopping at the discount grocery store for only the cheapest items, cooking in for nearly every meal, rationing instant coffee, and not buying many souvenirs. I also saved a lot of money on public transportation by having a bike. I’ll be honest, it was hard to part with my bike, Gwen, but I sold her at a good price causing it to only have cost me $32 for the entire four months. I feel like I got much more value out of putting my money towards experiences over material goods, and think that contributed to a much fuller and happier experience.

One last thing I voiced concern for in my first Travelogues post was how my directionally challenged self would manage getting around a city. While I’ve gotten slightly better in this arena, I would be lying if I said I was much more capable now. I decided to purchase a phone plan in Denmark providing lots of data, so I sadly still used Google Maps as a crutch to get around. I didn’t have phone service when traveling though, so I did do better job navigating from memory and by using with good old fashioned maps out of necessity.

Beyond these few concerns, my semester abroad made me exponentially more independent, which is best evidenced by my final trip of the semester. Since I wanted to book my Copenhagen flights round trip, I picked a date to fly home before knowing my finals schedule. As it turned out, I had enough time between my finals and my flight home to take advantage of the ease of European travel one last time. After failing to find someone to travel with me though, I decided to take a chance and book a trip to Spain alone. You might remember I traveled alone in London, but Spain was different, considering this time I had no one to meet up with when there. As the trip neared closer I started to get pangs of regret thinking I should have just pushed my return flight up a few days, but now I am so happy I followed through.

Beautiful benches at Plaza de España in Seville

Beautiful benches at Plaza de España in Seville

A view from the Alhambra in Granada

A view from the Alhambra in Granada

The trip was the perfect culmination of my experience abroad. It forced me out of my comfort zone more than others had because I was completely solo, had few things planned since I lacked time to do so during finals week, and had a language barrier to deal with. While this trip was indeed more challenging than others, being by myself made me deeply appreciate everything I saw and let me reflect on everything I’d done in the four months leading up to it too. I was able to be more observant, think about and process things on my own time, more readily meet other travelers, demonstrate the highest degree of independence, and do everything I could to appreciate a culture different from mine for the last time before coming home. Comparing this trip to my others, especially my solo trip in London, made me realize the true growth I’ve undergone from living abroad. In a post from a few weeks ago I wrote about using my little notebook to not feel uncomfortable when eating alone. I brought the same little notebook to Spain and put it to use again, but for a different reason this time. While having tapas alone one day in Triana, a neighborhood of Seville, I wrote, “This time I’m writing in the notebook while sitting alone not because I feel awkward, but because I don’t want to forget a single thing.” Being alone that day in Seville was probably one of my favorite days abroad, and it made me realize how far I’d come in such a short time.

Diana food
While the trip to Spain was an amazing way to culminate my experience abroad, the entire four-month span I was away had a profound effect on me. There are many reasons why I’m happy to be home, but am forever grateful for the friends, lessons, and memories from my semester in Denmark.

Thank you all for reading. Farvel!

Me, at the Alhambra in Granada

Me, at the Alhambra in Granada


Diana in Copenhagen: Preserving Memories

January 5, 2015

Most of what you’ve heard from me over the past four months has been about how I’ve made memories. I’ve tried to open a virtual door to give you a peek into this once-in-a-lifetime experience I’ve had the joy of living. For this post though—my second to last one—I’m instead going to share with you how I’ve been trying to preserve every memory I’ve made. As I just finished up my exams at Copenhagen Business School I’m tempted to phrase it like this: I’ve put enough time and capital investment into these past four months that I want to make sure not a second or penny is wasted. I want long-term value out of these experiences so there have been multiple ways I’ve tried to keep them.

Blogging
If you are reading this you are clearly aware that I am one of the Foreign Correspondents for UR whose job it is to write about our time abroad. There are many reasons why this position has value: it will help me build a writing portfolio to use when applying to jobs, it’s paid, and it will (hopefully) look good on a resume. The primary reason why I was so eager to apply, however, was because it would force me to reflect and describe what I experience in my time away from Richmond. Many students who go abroad keep blogs for themselves to help them keep track of our hectic lives, and I wanted to do the same but worried that I wouldn’t be as diligent in doing so as I’d like. So many friends told me that your months abroad are the best in your life but that they finish in the blink of an eye. I knew how easy it would be to get caught up in the excitement and fantasy overseas and forget to blog on my own time, and I wasn’t willing to make that sacrifice. I sought this position to gain the added pressure of deadlines and quotas so I could follow though on making the meaningful reflections I knew I’d appreciate later. With this being said, I hope you have appreciated at least something I’ve had to say over the past four months, but also know that I’m writing these posts somewhat selfishly.

Pictures
I have a Facebook account and the sky is blue. Both are probably equally obvious in this day in age, and I’ve used my social media profile to preserve many meaningful memories for myself. Of course, the whole point of social media is to be just that, social, but my albums full of hundreds of pictures are less for giving others a glimpse into my life abroad and more to help me keep track of my countless experiences. I am religious at adding specific locations to where a picture was taken so I can have deeper and more meaningful memories of the amazing places I’ve seen. We found an awesome restaurant in Rome, for example, and I tagged its location as “Roma Sparita,” the name of the quaint restaurant versus just tagging it as “Rome, Italy.” If anyone ever visits Rome I will always remember the name of this little restaurant filled with the best cacio e pepe you’ve ever had and locals who will stare when you walk in because you’re not from Italy. The magic is in the details, and my Facebook account has helped me to remember them.

Another thing I use Facebook for is to remind myself of why I liked things so much. Before I went to Florence I really wasn’t sure why the Statue of David was as famous as it was, to be honest. Upon seeing him in person though, and reading the description of what Michelangelo’s depiction signified for the Florentines, I was amazed. I wanted to remember why I was in such awe and admiration in that one moment, so I captioned the Facebook photo with an excerpt from the description on the plaque beside the statue. I don’t do this for everything, but for certain ones I think it’ll be helpful to know not just where exactly a place was, but also why I thought it was meaningful enough to capture it in a photograph.

Diana David

Me, with Michelangelo’s David

Journaling
The only time I have kept a journal was when I was really young at a residential summer camp (the same one mentioned in my first post, if I have any loyal followers on this thing). While I never continued the practice, I have looked back on it countless times and been entertained and amused by what eight-year-old Diana had to say about camp dances and making three bull’s-eyes in archery. I love reading about all of my thoughts, fears, excitement, and experiences so many years after the fact. Some parts were a nice reminder of things I did, but others shared stories I had no recollection of. The journal acted like a portal in that sense, taking me through a mind I knew but with memories I’d forgotten. I love revisiting that little window into the past and I knew how much I would appreciate doing the same years from now too.

This, like the others methods I’ve described, I keep for myself. I use my journal so I can be reminded of the ridiculous times I spent gallivanting around Europe or laughing myself to tears with friends in the dorm. I try and write about everything too. One entry spent two whole pages detailing the unbelievably delicious Thanksgiving dinner I had when my parents came to visit and another describes why exactly I was so enthralled by the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche in the Vatican. My blogs help me articulate many feelings and observations I have, but my journal helps me focus more on my day-to-day lifestyle and smaller goings on too.

Galleria delle Carte Geografiche in the Vatican

Galleria delle Carte Geografiche in the Vatican

Since I keep the journal for myself, I also try and be as honest as possible. I mentioned how I use Facebook to remind me of all my memories from abroad, but that’s not the entire truth. Whether it is deliberate or not, our use of social media often tells a distorted story. The pictures I, and most others I would guess, put on social media show us at our best. We take pictures of the Octoberfests, the Amsterdam Music Festivals, and all of the other amazing adventures to help us remember the great times we’ve had. Just because this overall experience has been so amazing doesn’t mean it didn’t have its share of difficulties, though. I was home for less than forty-eight hours between my ten weeks away this summer and eighteen gone this semester, and that wasn’t always easy. Am I taking pictures of myself feeling a little upset in my room and posting them on Facebook to tell a fuller story? Of course not, but I think the tough times are just as valuable to remember as the great ones. I know no one’s going to be reading my journal so I feel comfortable preserving all of my memories in there, good or bad, and think I will appreciate how my time abroad wasn’t always a breeze but that I struggled and grew from parts of it as well.

Diana handwritten book
Keychains

One last way I commemorate my experiences is with keychains. I inherited a big green hiker’s backpack (named Yertle) from my sister that she used abroad, and I stole this idea from her. She added a keychain to the backpack from every city she visited when she travelled, and their accumulation was pretty amazing. My favorite part about studying abroad was traveling the continent, and I loved having the physical proof of that dangle behind me. Yertle got a little louder and a little heavier after every trip, and hearing the clanking of the keychains as I walked toward each next adventure brought a smile to my face. I felt like those pieces of metal weren’t just bought at insanely overpriced souvenir shops, but that they were earned and that each carried its own set of memories along with it. Unfortunately I lost one Amsterdam keychain due to an aggressive baggage-claim process so I took them all off the backpack to avoid further casualties. I also did so though, to find a way to better display them, and my plan is to get a large map and hang all of the keychains from pins in their locations. I realized my love for travel while abroad, so I hope this collection is just the beginning. I want to fill the map, fill the journal, take too many pictures, and keep writing too.

My favorites are the one from Denmark and the one with the Pope giving a thumbs-up

My favorites are the one from Denmark and the one with the Pope giving a thumbs-up

Stay tuned for my final post with more reflections from my time abroad, and happy holidays to everyone!


Diana in Copenhagen: Christmas Spirit

December 2, 2014

Winter in Denmark is upon us. The sun doesn’t rise until eight in the morning and calls it quits early at about four. Temperatures are cold but that’s nothing compared to the wind that will nearly blow you over and make you cry involuntarily. As a Massachusetts native, I am no stranger to these facets of winter, but I have to say they do make days drag on a bit slower.

There’s one thing though, that makes the cold and darkness all worthwhile. Christmastime! The Danes don’t hold back when in comes to Christmas, and they enjoy celebrations early since they (obviously) lack the need to wait until after Thanksgiving to kick off the holiday season.

Christmas markets have popped up all around the city selling an array of goodies like fuzzy hats, honey, and glassware. The markets have a magical aura about them with everyone in the holiday spirit enjoying outings with their friends, families, and loved ones.

A display at one of the Christmas markets

A display at one of the Christmas markets

A personal favorite sold at the markets is a Nordic traditional holiday drink called gløgg. Gløgg is a mulled wine consisting of red wine, sugar, and spices like cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and cloves and it smells like Christmas in a cup. You can buy gløgg, hot chocolate, waffles, warmed nuts, and many other goodies for your stroll—there’s something for everyone.

Another wonderful part of Christmas in Copenhagen is the iconic Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli is the second oldest amusement park in the world and it is truly a magical place. The Gardens close for winter but open twice to celebrate the Halloween and Christmas season respectively. While Tivoli is always characterized by beautiful lights and landscapes, its Christmas displays take things to a whole new level.

The main entrance to Tivoli Garden

The main entrance to Tivoli Garden

Tivoli is a winter wonderland surrounded by lights, fake snow, and rides for people of all ages. You can purchase unlimited rides with your entrance fee, buy individual tickets inside, or not go on any at all. I had already tried all the rides (multiple times each, in fact) earlier this year when the weather was warmer, but even the wind chill couldn’t stop me from getting on the swings on my latest visit. The ride is simple: a bunch of chain-swings that get raised up a tall pole that spins. While it’s not the most exhilarating ride in the park, the swings give a magnificent view of Copenhagen. The ride is most stunning at night when you have the best seat in the house to see the wonderfully illuminated park and city. Perks of the swings: the wind drowns out sound so you can sing whatever song you want up there and no one will know. My go-to has been Aladdin’s “A Whole New World” but “I Believe I Can Fly” and “I’m Like a Bird” are viable alternatives.

Inside Tivoli Gardens

Inside Tivoli Gardens

We were lucky enough to happen upon the light show that night as well, and it was a great way to culminate a wonderful visit to the Gardens. Every night, there is a light show over a pond in the middle of the park and the Christmas show was Nutcracker themed. It’s a Christmas tradition in my family to listen to the Nutcracker soundtrack when we decorate our tree at home so seeing a beautiful light show with spinning holograms and colorful shooting streams of water was an awesome experience that reminded me of my traditions at home.

It’s not just the Christmas Markets and Tivoli that make this Copenhagen festive though—the whole city is lined with lights and wreaths. The excitement is infectious, so much so that even Santa needed to pay a visit. Last Sunday, hundreds of people gathered in City Hall Square to celebrate the lighting of the tree. Enthralled faces watched as Santa climbed his way up the ladder and little children hopped frantically up and down believing it would help him light the tree. It really felt like I was part of a great community when everyone started counting down in Danish and the energy was palpable. At “en” or “one,” Santa’s wand sparked, the tree lit up, people cheered, and Christmas carols started playing. It was a beautiful tree and an even more beautiful moment I was lucky to enjoy.

If you’re looking to escape wintertime happiness and festivities, Scrooges of the world, don’t come to Copenhagen.

Happy Holidays everyone!!

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Diana in Copenhagen: Time to be Spontaneous

October 27, 2014

After spending about two and a half months in Copenhagen I have started to get comfortable in my life abroad here…too comfortable. I’ve adopted a normal routine consisting of cooking, grocery shopping, going to class, going out, making it to the gym on occasion, traveling, and watching Netflix. Somewhere along the line I lost the passion to explore my surroundings and seek out all the amazing things I have at my fingertips in Copenhagen. This realization came with an overwhelming sense of guilt and worry that I was taking my short time here for granted.

So I decided to get off my butt and do something.

A friend was feeling a similar way and we made a plan to be spontaneous, that’s not too contradictory is it? We decided to simply get on the metro and ride it until we saw fit. Originally unsure of our final destination, we got off at the Kongens Nytorv stop and started walking.

This dropped us onto the longest pedestrian street in the world, Strøget. The street is packed with shops of all varieties, ranging from the more affordable stores like H&M and Zara to ones like Emperio Armani and Burberry that will make your bank account cry. I ventured into a few stores but even the “cheap” ones were pricier than I would have liked (remember how expensive Copenhagen is), and I wasn’t really in the mood to shop anyway.

This walking tour also took us to something called the “Happy Wall” which is an interactive art piece made of brightly colored wooden boards. Visitors can flip the boards between colored and black sides to create their own vision, whether it be a message, a picture, or a symbol. Many also sign the wall with happy thoughts and well-wishes. It is a really cool piece in the middle of the city and acts as a glowing representation of Copenhagen’s renowned happiness. If you’re not aware, Denmark was voted the happiest country in the world in both 2012 and 2013, and fell to a more-than-respectable third place standing in 2014.

The Happy Wall

The Happy Wall

One nice message I saw.

One nice message I saw.

For lunch we got sandwiches at a small shop that offered a student discount and took them to one of the most beautiful spots in the city. If you have yet to see the picturesque colored houses lining the canals of Nyhaven you have done a shockingly impressive job at avoiding Instagram. It’s practically a requirement for visitors to snap a photo of the vibrant homes along the water, and it’s not difficult to see why. Nyhaven is a stunning place that was bustling on this beautiful Saturday afternoon. We became mere faces in the crowd of both tourists and locals alike out enjoying the scenery on a nice fall day.

Many people were out enjoying food and drinks by the canal.

Many people were out enjoying food and drinks by the canal.

My favorite thing we encountered that day though, was an open-air photography exhibit called Copenhagen Green. Right off Kongens Nytorv Square, there were rows of pictures depicting scenic locations around the city where you can visit for free. There were images of water sports and nature centers as well as gorgeous cemeteries and parks. Not only are the people of Denmark happy, they are very eco-friendly as well. Denmark is one of the “greenest” countries in the world so the fact that their capital city boasts such beautiful sanctuaries was no real surprise.

The best part about this exhibit was that each photograph provided a description of the location. Outlining activities you can do at each place, the photographs made each look enticing enough to visit that day. Of course, our theme of spontaneity continued and we followed one photo’s posted directions to our next stop.

The photograph advertising the Amager Nature Park.

The photograph advertising the Amager Nature Park.

We found our way to Amager Nature Park, the last stop on one of the two metro lines Copenhagen has. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the exhibit’s photo showcasing curious deer-heads, but what we found was beautiful. The park was expansive and made home to many animals. On a backdrop of the silhouetted city, various cows, deer, sheep, and horses meandered around the spacious green and we could walk right up beside them. The juxtaposition of the wildlife with the nearby city was beautiful and I felt lucky that happenstance had brought me there.

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I loved the contrast this green open area had with the city. This is a great example of what Copenhagen can offer being a small and eco-friendly city.

I loved the contrast this green open area had with the city. This is a great example of what Copenhagen can offer being a small and eco-friendly city.

As dusk approached it got a bit too cold to be outside, but we didn’t head back before witnessing a gorgeous sunset over the Nature Park. A flock of birds flying through the sunset made for a cliché day’s end but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the cheesiness. It was a great culmination to a day that successfully revived my curiosity and appreciation for the city I’ve made my temporary home.

A beautiful end to the day.

A beautiful end to the day.


Diana in Copenhagen: Getting Around the City

October 6, 2014

As in any city, there are many ways to get around Copenhagen. It is quite small, 34 square miles and about half the size of Richmond, which makes moving throughout it pretty simple. Unlike Richmond, however, very few people choose cars as their primary mode of transportation. Danes prefer two wheels to four, and bike more than anywhere I’ve ever seen. They also walk a fair amount and take full advantage of their great public transit system. I have found Copenhagen to be quite navigable and thought I would give a breakdown of the different modes of transportation available to residents here.


 

Biking
Denmark is famous for its biking culture. Before I came here, people told me that everyone bikes and they bike everywhere. I took this note in passing and greatly underestimated what they meant by the word everyone. Danish businessmen and businesswomen bike in their suits to and from work. Women bike in heels and stylish dresses. Children bike behind their parents on small plastic tricycles. People even bike to go out at night, which is one thing I actually might advise against. The weather hasn’t gotten too wintery yet, but I’ve been told people won’t even let driving rain and brutal temperatures keep them off the bike paths.

A tiny boy riding a tiny bike outside of my dorm. There's a school or kindergarten right next door so I see lots of children around drop-off and pick-up times. Sorry the picture's a little blurry!

A tiny boy riding a tiny bike outside of my dorm. There’s a school or kindergarten right next door so I see lots of children around drop-off and pick-up times. Sorry the picture’s a little blurry!

 

Hopefully this will give you an idea of what I'm talking about. So. Many. Bikes.

Hopefully this will give you an idea of what I’m talking about. So. Many. Bikes.

On that note, I’ll add that the infrastructure of the city completely allows for this bike-obsession. Bike lanes run parallel to every street and they even have their own separate traffic lights. There are smooth ramps up stairs at metro stations to make it easier for riders to bring their bikes along too. At any metro stop or train station you’ll see upwards of a hundred bikes and the trains themselves have cars where you can actually “park” your bike and find a place to sit. Biking is a good way to save money on a car or public transit, and it is also popularized for being an environmentally friendly way to get around.

A parking station for your bike on the train. There are different cars where bikes are allowed and not.

A parking station for your bike on the train. There are different cars where bikes are allowed and not.

My take: If any of you readers follow me on social media you might already know that I bought a bike upon my arrival to Denmark. I went to a few bike shops and worked my negotiating magic before finding a great deal with a woman through a Buy-Sell-Trade Facebook group. I named my bike Gwen and, I’ll admit, became a little obsessed. I would recommend that anyone staying in Copenhagen for a semester or longer buy a bike. Economic reasons aside, having one has been an amazing experience and has made me feel like I’m really immersing myself in the city’s culture. It’s easy to bike to class, to the gym, and to friends’ places and it gives me a much fuller view of the city than I ever would have from a metro seat. I’ll spare you the cliché of talking about the wind blowing through my hair and how freeing it feels, but take my word for it.

This is my beautiful bike Gwen! (Please withhold judgment of me for naming her.

This is my beautiful bike Gwen! (Please withhold judgment of me for naming her.


Walking
Like I said in the introduction, Copenhagen is small, which means walking is a pretty good option to get around. It takes longer than other alternatives, of course, but if time is a non-issue walking is a great choice. Pedestrians here are different from those in the States though, in that they actually follow the rules. At every crosswalk where you see a little red “do not walk” illuminated man people actually stop—an action I rarely see or practice back home. In my experience, I will cross a street if there are no cars coming and it is safe to do so. In Denmark, however, if you happen upon a crosswalk in the middle of the night on an empty street you will likely find pedestrians waiting their turn to legally cross. Their lawful obedience is due in part to a threat of a 700 kroner ($118.86) fine if they are caught. That being said, I have only seen one police officer roaming the streets in my ten-week stay in Copenhagen so far. This leads me to believe that Danes are generally just a very respectful and rule-abiding people who enjoy a much safer, yet inefficient, way to walk.

My take: I respect their obedience, I really do. I just don’t understand it. Even when I’m in no hurry I find it silly to halt my progress and wait on one side of the street when there isn’t a car in sight. Besides this, walking is quite nice here. The sidewalks are kept very clean, they are well lit, and you don’t have to worry about sharing the space with cyclists because of the expansive network of bike lanes. Like biking, walking also gives you a nice chance to take in the city and explore its personality.


 

Public Transportation
Public transportation in Copenhagen falls into one of three categories: metro, train, or bus. All are really easy to use and the same slip or pass will gain you access to any of the three. They’re all very clean, sleek, and modern too which makes for a pleasant ride. The options for payment differ from systems in the US by operating on somewhat of an honor system. That is, you can get on and off as you please without paying and just hope you won’t encounter a uniformed agent asking for your ticket. Like jaywalking, this system runs on honor and the threat of a fine, this one for a whopping $130. There are other options to buying a ticket each ride though, including getting a monthly pass or purchasing a card called a Rejsekort. Since I bike most places, I chose the latter option which gives me a discounted fare. To use it, I put money on the card and simply tap it against a sensor to check in and out at the different stations. With the Rejsekort, each trip costs about $2.50 where a monthly pass is priced around $55. There are other options available too, and which is best for you depends on how frequently you’ll be riding the lines.

The metro line we use. The "S" marks where trains leave from, my dorm is off Flintholm, Norreport is city center, and Lufthavnen is the airpo

The metro line we use. The “S” marks where trains leave from, my dorm is off Flintholm, Norreport is city center, and Lufthavnen is the airpo

My take: I took the Commuter Rail to school every morning in high school and I have to say, the Danish network of public transit is an upgrade. I’ve also ridden the metro in Boston and New York and the system in Copenhagen is significantly nicer and more pleasant to use. As for the honor code method, I’m indifferent. Once or twice I’ve accidentally ridden a few stops without a ticket and was lucky enough not to get caught. I have friends who do so frequently and have never been stopped. That being said, I’ve been checked for my ticket about five times and an agent recently fined three friends when they risked travelling with expired monthly passes (I feel for you guys). A quick calculation shows that if I rode the metro more than fifty-two times without being caught it would be financially worthwhile in the end. I’m smart enough to recognize though, that those odds are not ever in my favor and I pay for my rides.


 

Cars
There are far fewer cars in Copenhagen than you would expect to find in a city, and that’s because of their unbelievable expense. There is a 180% sales tax on cars. Let that sink in. Furthermore, gas prices are astronomical. If you think prices in the US are bad, I would think again. A gallon of regular gas in Copenhagen will cost you about $8 compared to $3 ones in the States. Considering this, most cars you do see are tiny. There are more hatchbacks than anything else and it makes me think my 2008 Scion xD would fit in great over here. As far as taxis go, they exist but aren’t frequently used. You can imagine how expensive fares would be and they’re relatively unnecessary when the metro runs 24 hours a day.

The cars in Denmark are very small compared to most you see in the United States.

The cars in Denmark are very small compared to most you see in the United States.

My take: I’ve been in a car once since arriving in Denmark and that was when I left Copenhagen to visit a friend in the city of Aarhus. She was borrowing her parents’ car for the week so we made a small trip instead of walking to the bus. Other than that though, I haven’t used a car and also haven’t missed them. Taking a taxi never even crosses my mind considering they are expensive even in the cheapest of cities. I like the lack of dependency on cars though as it provides me with a polar opposite experience than what I’ve had growing up in a suburban area. I’ve always been very reliant on cars for getting around and I’ve enjoyed becoming familiar with other alternatives.


If you ever visit Copenhagen, I have a few tips for you. After you fly,  do not take a taxi from their airport because it will be expensive, I assure you, and the metro conveniently leaves from inside the airport. Metro stops are prevalent also so I would save the money you’d spend on a taxi to buy food or get a nice drink somewhere. I would also suggest renting or borrowing a bike on your trip because it will help you to get around efficiently and give you a taste of the Danish way.

This breakdown should help you understand how to get around this amazing city, and now you should all visit so you can try them for yourselves!


Diana in Copenhagen: The Difference Between Danish and American Classes

September 25, 2014

While I’ve written a lot about the “abroad” aspect of studying abroad, I would now like to pay some attention to the “study” component. I’ve found that academics in Denmark, more specifically at Copenhagen Business School (CBS), are strikingly different from what I’m familiar with back in the States. CBS has over 20, 000 students attending the university, which is significantly more than the 3,000 undergraduate ones at Richmond.

Despite the large discrepancy in total enrollment, the class sizes are not grossly different from school to school. I’m currently taking three classes, all lectures, and will have a fourth starting halfway through the semester. Just one of these lectures is overwhelmingly large and fits my expectations for a school that’s roughly seven times the size of the one I’m used to. The other two are comparably sized to those I see in the Robins School, though, and professors engage students by asking questions and knowing the names of some class attendees.

This is my biggest class but it should give you an idea of what class sizes are like. I took this right after our teacher called our first break. We usually get 2-3 breaks every class because each lecture is about three hours long!

This is my biggest class but it should give you an idea of what class sizes are like. I took this right after our teacher called our first break. We usually get 2-3 breaks every class because each lecture is about three hours long!

 

All of my teachers teach from a PowerPoint and students take notes on their computers.

All of my teachers teach from a PowerPoint and students take notes on their computers.

The reason why class sizes seem so comparable, however, is because far fewer students actually attend lectures from week to week. Teachers say things like, “Now pull up the Excel spreadsheet to work on problems. If you don’t want to participate you can go take your break now” during class. No attendance is taken. No homework is checked. There are no quizzes, papers, or midterms, and one hundred percent of your final grade is your exam score. There is barely any accountability throughout the semester to keep up with your studies despite the looming thought of that four-hour long written examination at the end of the course. And even that is usually open book!

This system is completely different from ones I’ve experienced in attending small private schools all my life. I have never been granted the anonymity that accompanies large lecture halls with countless unfamiliar faces and I’ve always been expected to do work and participate. Since first grade, my class sizes have been small and I’ve had teachers who saw it as their job (well, because it was) to keep engagement high and ensure students learn the material at every step.

At Richmond, there are some professors who believe that their students are truly adults and therefore expect more independence from them. In my experience, however, this means that those professors don’t walk around and check homework, but instead use checkpoints throughout the course to keep their students accountable. They utilize tools like papers, quizzes, and midterms to ensure that the work is always being completed. The expectation of independence in Denmark is astounding compared to the standard I’ve seen back home.

In the Danish classroom, if a teacher asks a question that results in silence they will not cold call (randomly choosing a student to respond), but rather answer the question themselves. Yet again, this differs from what I’ve come to expect in America. I vividly remember my first class in the Business School, Microeconomics with the late Dr. Dean. I found him to be an amazing professor, one of the best I’ve had, because of his ability to make me want to excel and impress him. Yes, he had daily quizzes on required readings, but the greater incentive to do well for me was grounded in the fact that he called on his students randomly. You had to come prepared if you wanted to convey your intelligence and avoid the social awkwardness of saying something dumb in front of your peers. I also felt satisfied in answering these questions correctly—it felt as though I had been personally challenged and emerged victorious. I have yet to feel this kind of desire to prove myself and excel in Danish classrooms so far.

This is Solbjerg Plads where I have my Competitiveness and Operations Performance class. It also has a cafe that turns into a bar/nightclub on Thursdays (when is 815 going to start doing that?)

This is Solbjerg Plads where I have my Competitiveness and Operations Performance class. It also has a cafe that turns into a bar/nightclub on Thursdays (when is 8:15 at Boatwright going to start doing that?)

That being said, the Danes handle their structure well. To American students and those who have a similar educational system, the Danish structure seems like a free ride. No homework? No quizzes? No problem! I would analogize the feeling to the freedom that results in the infamous freshman fifteen. Danish class is like D-Hall to a naïve eighteen year old. They have finally escaped the paternal eye and wagging finger that used to stop them from eating froyo for dinner every night and now they answer to no one. Obviously this is not without its negative repercussions.
I like to think that I would better fit in this system if it weren’t so disparate from what I’m accustomed to. That is, if I didn’t experience that wave of freedom I just explained. That being said, I’ve identified three alternate incentives to work hard and do best in the Danish educational system.

  1. Group Projects: I have yet been assigned a group project, but they are quite common in the Danish school system. This activity encourages more work because you are faced with a responsibility to others. It is easy enough to forego reading to your own detriment, but most people respond to the social obligation of not bringing the whole team down with you. You work so you don’t let your classmates down, but end up benefiting yourself in the process too.
  2. Professional Connections: Professors at CBS are highly qualified and connected in their respective fields. Many students are focused and driven to excel professionally and recognize the value of building a relationship with the man or woman who stands at the front of the lecture hall. This means many students work hard to participate in class, speak with professors during breaks, and work diligently in the hopes of building a connection that could lead to a job or internship.
  3. Reduce Myopia: This one is simple in theory but challenging in practice. You can be less nearsighted in academics by looking at your circumstance from two different perspectives. The first is recognizing that even though there are fewer checkpoints along the way in Danish classes, the journey still culminates in an exam. To excel, you must constantly remember that end and disperse work over time to avoid a tsunami of cramming in the final weeks. You can extend your sights even further though and consider why you’re even enrolled in college in the first place. For most, the final goal is not simply to get a good grade in a class, although that is often integral to the process. The driving objective of these classes is to learn and to use your acquired knowledge to find success in life personally, financially, professionally, or otherwise. With long-term objectives like these, you won’t even need a teacher singling you out to keep you on track. Granted that is easier said than done.
    This is one academic building on campus called Kilen. I don't have class here but I think it's absolutely beautiful. The campus also has lots of outside areas like this to relax and you see students hanging out in them all the time.

    This is one academic building on campus called Kilen. I don’t have class here but I think it’s absolutely beautiful. The campus also has lots of outside areas like this to relax and you see students hanging out in them all the time.

    This is the inside of Kilen. I've been amazed at the architecture and design in all of the buildings at CBS and this is certainly one of my favorites.

    This is the inside of Kilen. I’ve been amazed at the architecture and design in all of the buildings at CBS and this is certainly one of my favorites.

The Danish and American higher educational systems have their differences, but each meets the needs of students differently. I have found that I much prefer having methods in place that make me accountable for information before the exam, as they make me work more diligently throughout the semester. With that being said, I can learn and grow in the Danish system and use its approach to improve myself in other ways. It is my hope that I find my own success at this Danish university. I hope to leave Denmark with tools, like self-discipline, that will help me wherever I go.


Diana in Copenhagen: Eating in Denmark

September 18, 2014

Greetings Travelogue-ers! Sorry it’s been so long since my last update. Classes are finally fully underway and it feels like I’m finally starting to get the hang of everything. I’ve also spent a lot of time planning trips around Europe, which has been really exciting (and expensive…) for me so far!

I was thinking of what to write about this time, and settled on the thing that has surprised me most about Copenhagen so far. Coincidentally, the topic is also one of my favorite things on the planet…food.

I have come to learn that Denmark is not a place you should visit for the food. It doesn’t boast world-renowned pasta like the Italy or delicious tapas like Spain. While Denmark is home to Noma, the restaurant frequently voted the best in the world, I have found that the average visitor or resident here is deprived of food that you would describe as traditionally Danish. I am sure this is due in part to how expensive the city is, as only very wealthy families go out to eat and those restaurants might be where most Scandinavian cuisine is hiding. Alas, this has meant that I have been cooking for myself quite frequently and getting takeout sometimes as well.

After already completing two years at Richmond, I have to say I was surprised I yet to feel the quintessential pressure to survive on Easy Mac and Ramen Noodles that so many associate with their college years. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always lived a convenient distance from D-Hall that I’ve always found myself eating fairly diverse and well-balanced meals in my time as a university student. Or maybe it’s because of my fondness for Lou’s salads, it’s hard to say. One thing that is clear though is that that trend has not followed me across the pond to Denmark nor have I had much chance to try much Danish food.

Instead of the streets of Copenhagen being lined with Danish food trucks or eateries serving up traditional dishes, they’re saturated with pizza places. They also have tons of shops selling to-go food like Thai, shawarma (an Armenian equivalent of a gyro), and burgers. I’ve also found myself cooking a lot in my time here, which so far has left little to the imagination. My small kitchenette hasn’t seen much variety thus far as I’ve found myself eating an astounding amount of pasta and grilled cheese. Pizza, pasta, grilled cheese, burgers…

I came to Denmark and am finally eating like a college student.

A photo of my kitchenette and one of my grilled cheese masterpieces

A photo of my kitchenette and one of my grilled cheese masterpieces

This being said, I have tried to actively seek out Danish meals to help broaden my understanding of the culture here. My first experience was when my CBS buddy invited me to his apartment to cook some authentic Danish food. We started out by walking downstairs from his apartment to the grocery store, and I mean “downstairs” very literally. The closest supermarket was just steps from the door of his apartment. That’s another thing about Copenhagen—there are grocery stores everywhere. While each is much smaller than the ones we have in the States, they are much more abundant here in Denmark. I can’t say which I prefer yet to be honest, but it is remarkably convenient to have four stores within seven minutes walking from my dorm.

We picked up some potatoes, flour, beets, and butter at the grocery store and then set on making stegt flæsk med persillesovs, which directly translates as “roast pork with parsley sauce.”

Even though my buddy Kristoffer and his apartment-mates wouldn’t let me help, I sat back and took mental notes on how they were preparing the food should I ever want to be adventurous and give it a go myself. They started by boiling the potatoes, which I am fully confident in my ability to do, and making the parsley sauce (basically a gravy). The sauce itself probably made me gain ten pounds as it was comprised exclusively of some parsley and lots of butter, flour, and milk. Parts of each were added in increments while constantly stirring the mixture at a light boil. The parsley was added at the end, which not only added flavor but also made the sauce speckled green in a pretty way.

The meat out of the oven and ready to be flipped

The meat out of the oven and ready to be flipped

Then came the meat to prepare, and I learned I was foolish to think the gravy was to be the thing to make my pants tighter. The meat was described to me as more thickly cut bacon (imagine my excitement), and they cooked it in the oven on moderate heat and flipped it to brown both sides. They made sure to cook some pieces more thoroughly than others since people have different preferences on how well-done they like the slices. I think I preferred the crispier pieces but I’m not opposed to giving the others a second audition.

We sat down to eat, drowned the meat and potatoes in gravy and served it with a side of beets, a food that I’ve always surprised myself by loving. It was a great meal and I thank those guys not only for welcoming me into their apartment but also for sharing some of their culture with me. Frederik, one of Kristoffer’s apartment-mates, also gave me some insight on my aforementioned observation of the lack of traditional Danish food.

The final product! One of the most traditional Danish dishes called stegt flæsk med persillesovs.

The final product! One of the most traditional Danish dishes called stegt flæsk med persillesovs.

It was clear the meal before us was hearty and, while delicious, full of fat. He explained that dishes like these were what Danes typically ate back when Denmark was an agricultural country and the farmers needed a hefty supply of fuel to work in the fields all day. Since the country has evolved away from this physically strenuous agriculture, the people could no longer consume the same food and lead a healthy lifestyle. I found this description fascinating because of how a simple shift in the occupational norm could affect food, something integral to a nation’s culture, with such magnitude. Hopefully I will be successful in tracking down some more Danish dishes, but until then I might venture to cook some more elaborate things myself.

I make no promises.


Diana in Copenhagen: Beer Culture

September 2, 2014

To many American students studying abroad there is one cultural difference that is most apparent: the drinking age. Acknowledging that this could be an inappropriate topic or one that someone reading a cultural blog has little interest in hearing about, I’ll tread lightly and keep this as post as sociological as possible. We all know the drinking age in the United States is 21 and over, and that that makes us somewhat of a global minority, since most other countries have drinking ages that are 18 or even younger. This has been interesting to observe from my new perspective at a university where the entire student body is of legal drinking age and how that affects the way students view the use of alcohol.

The Danes love their beer, and I have a few reasons for how I came to this conclusion. I mentioned in an earlier post that I’m attending Copenhagen Business School this semester and they have corporate partners just like any other university. In company with Danske Bank and Deloitte, one of CBS’ seven major partners is none other than the Carlsberg Group, the makers of the most popular beer in Denmark. I’ll get back to them later.

Last week, exchange students were invited to purchase a social program consisting of activities to help us bond and get to know each other. At the meet and mingle night (glorified speed dating) they set up a bar in the classroom building. The social booklet also informed us that we could bring out own beverages to Danish folk dancing night. We had a student organization, the equivalent of Student Activities at Richmond, give a presentation at orientation about the social culture here. As you might have guessed by the progression of this post, the girls’ presentation was oddly centered around where you can drink at CBS, what it means to them culturally, and how at the welcome party we will find their very own university president handing out Carlsberg’s. The welcome party is a whole other story in that they clear out the CBS academic building Solbjerg Plads on Thursdays and transform the place into the largest bar in the city of Copenhagen. Mind you, this is a building many students will return to hours later to partake in their Friday classes.

The largest collection of unopened beer bottles in the world

The largest collection of unopened beer bottles in the world

I worry that by writing this post I will seem like another uncultured 20 year-old American student fixated on alcohol consumption, but I truly have found this topic intriguing. It’s a common thought in the US that our issues surrounding drinking (i.e. binge drinking, drinking and driving) come as a direct result of our higher legal age. We laude places in Europe for being way “classier” in their drinking because to young people, it is simply part of their national culture. Since young people drink with their families and have casual drinks with dinner they become immune to the perils we have in the States. Does this sound familiar? I certainly said it, and it’s true to an extent. While I wouldn’t fantasize it as much as I had from afar, it’s true that alcohol here, namely beer, is extremely engrained in Danish culture.

The aforementioned examples should illustrate how important beer is to Danes, but another place I saw this was on a trip I took to the Carlsberg Factory. We took a guided tour around the factory that was used for Carlsberg production up until 2008 and heard the surprisingly dramatic tale of the Jacobsen family that started the empire. They experienced their share of family issues (I would recommend reading the story if you have time), but the men did remarkably well for themselves and created a site full of beautiful, expensive, artistic, and elaborate buildings that exemplify how they perceived their importance as brewers.

One of the gates within the Carlsberg Factory depicting members of the Jacobsen family

One of the gates within the Carlsberg Factory depicting members of the Jacobsen family

Carlsberg is now the fourth largest brewery in the world, outdone only by Heineken, SABMiller, and Anheuser-Busch. Brewing has recently moved from this location and their plans for what to do with the factory demonstrates how beer is such a cultural staple. They are going to make a Carlsberg city.

This factory was used for brewing Carlsberg beer up until 2008

This factory was used for brewing Carlsberg beer up until 2008

Our tour guide promised that if we were to return to the Carlsberg factory in 16 years we would find it filled with apartments, houses, universities, preschools, grocery stores, and anything else you would imagine being in a small city. This news rendered me speechless, but it shows the cultural influence this corporate behemoth has in Denmark. Time will tell if this endeavor will be successful, but the belief in the cause is enough to show that beer here has an importance that far surpasses that which we have in America. Denmark is literally building a city on the foundation of its favorite starchy drink, and that’s certainly a cultural difference from America in my eyes.


Diana in Copenhagen: My First Week

August 29, 2014

Hello from Copenhagen!

 

After I had less than 48 hours to get ready and pack, I somehow made my way to Logan airport in time for my big European sendoff. I waddled around the airport equipped with a backpack “carry on” that was about the size I am, a tote bag “purse” heavier than most children I’ve seen, and a suitcase that tested the airline luggage worker’s strictness on weight limits. I was ready to begin my journey.

Me at the gate at Logan

Me at the gate at Logan Airport

To be fair, the said journey had a rocky start when I found that I was the lucky one placed at a middle seat with a broken screen on the seven-hour flight to Germany and, of course, the air conditioning on the flight was broken. Alas, things started to look up once a flight attendant restarted my screen and the AC finally started working.

 

The flight from Germany was short though, and before I knew it I was touching down in my new home. The Copenhagen weather welcomed me with rain, which I’ve learned is not surprising. Rare is a day here where there’s not a single shower—something I have yet gotten used to. On a brighter note, I walked into the lobby area of the airport to a smiling Dane waiting there to greet me.

 

This semester I’ll be attending Copenhagen Business School (CBS) and they have a program that matches its exchange students with a Danish student to show us the ropes. I greeted my buddy Kristoffer with a hug and spent the entire metro ride to my dorm asking him all of my questions about Denmark. Topics of conversation ranged from what Danish food is (apparently lots of heavy foods), Danish clothing (all black everything), and Danish people (extremely happy but not often outwardly friendly).

 

Time went quickly and soon we were walking into my dorm Kathrine Kollegiet in a municipality called Frederiksberg. The dorm room is for exchange students only and my hall has students ranging from Connecticut to China, so I’m even expecting dorm living to be a multicultural experience. My single here is huge too! I’ve got a kitchenette, two big windows that open to a playground area, and my own bathroom. The kitchenette with two burners, a small sink, and a microwave is…quaint. It’s served me well to make pasta, grilled cheese, and eggs so far but we’ll see how far I can survive on those meals. I’m hoping to write a food entry later once I get more creative!

My single in Kathrine Kollegiet

My single in Kathrine Kollegiet

The bathroom really surprised me though, because in Denmark they don’t differentiate the shower from the rest of the bathroom. The “shower” is really just a curtained off corner of the room. Just a curtain—yep. Getting used to this has been interesting, but I guess the system has its perks? I never need to worry about tripping on the little lip on the ground when getting in and out of the shower and I can put my foot on the toilet to shave my legs with ease. The whole room gets soaked though; I can only defend the system so much. Outside of this odd cultural design difference, I’ve truly enjoyed playing house so far and I know it will grow my independence tenfold.

The shower area

The shower area

I arrived in Denmark a week earlier than most to take something called a “Danish Crash Course” consisting of classes to help familiarize us with the Danish language. While I’m still quite the novice (this is a nice way of telling you I can say hello, thank you, and goodbye), this course was an easy way to get to know people. Now comes the real orientation week where we have the opportunity to meet even more students and hear about life at CBS. I’ve loved my time in Denmark so far and can’t wait to have more adventures.

 

Thanks for reading!


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