Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Danish Impressions of America

Hello Everyone!

I hope everyone one is well and, for those of you in school (which should be the large majority of you), I hope you are rocking in your classes!

I mentioned in an earlier post that I talked to my host mom's dad and talked to him about his impression of the US and how it didn't jive with what I thought Europeans thought of the US.

First off, I just want to say what I thought Europeans would have thought. I thought Europeans would consider Americans to be ignorant, proud, wasteful as well as hardworking, educated, and independent. I thought that for the most part Europeans would consider us slightly negative, positive or neutral, in other words, somewhere near the middle. This view of mine lacked substantive evidence as I had never been to Europe and all of the Europeans I had talked to had lived in the US for a significant amount of time.

After talking to quite a few Danes I've learned that the impression of the US is generally pretty positive (as I assume most Americans think of Europeans). One thing that is interesting is that many Danes (and prolly Europeans in general) are very interested in Obama and usually like him a lot. Whenever a Danish person starts talking to an American they will almost certainly get around to asking about Obama and what the American thinks of him and the political climate as a whole. I have been asked several times if I am annoyed with Obama for not delivering as much as he promised (i.e. there are still problems that Obama promised to fix). I usually just reply that he came into office with a lot of big problems and it would be unfair to expect him to fix them all. I also try to highlight that there has been a lot of difficulty recently with the legislative branch as the parties have been heavily resisting each other which has contributed to Obama's partial inability to enact legislation to the effect he would have wanted to.

Anyway, talking to my host mom's dad. He has traveled the world quite a bit (in fact he had just returned from a trip in Southeast Asia... I think...). He sails a lot and also just loves to travel. Additionally, I am the fourth student my host family has hosted (I may have mentioned that earlier) and my host mom's dad hosted DIS students back when my host mom was a kid. Therefore, some of his most extensive relationships with Americans are going to be with individuals like me, young, interested in Denmark, open-minded, liberal, polite, etc. His view of Americans is that they are generally nice, talkative, open-minded, and friendly (which I think is pretty congruent with all of the Danes I have talked to). He also said that he thinks that every European is going to think the US could improve this or do this that way but at the end of the day, the large majority of Europeans think very highly of the US and will support the US in its endeavors. One very important reason for this (for him, I have not heard anything similar from any other Dane, I also have not asked) is that he feels like many Europeans are very thankful for the US's support during WWII in defeating the Nazis. He said that Denmark owes its freedom to the US and for that reason Danes will always be thankful towards the US and will support them. He went on to explain that Denmark, while it is a very small country, contributes what it can to the efforts of the United States and often sends troops (or monetary assistance) to support US troops in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

Of course, he was eager to tell me his two major problems with the US. They were The National Debt and the US's impact on the environment. He thinks that the US should either not spend so much money or should tax its citizens more rather than borrow from China. And of course he thinks Americans rely too much on fossil fuels (I agree) being the environmentally minded Dane that he is (Danes are very environmentally friendly).

So that was him, if I remember anything else he said, or I talk to my host family and want to add something to these thoughts I'll put it in a later blog. But yeah, overall positive review from him.

Another thing that I found interesting was that many Europeans think that the US is very dangerous and that there is a lot of crime. This seems to be an impression that a lot of Europeans have (due of course to some degree by the media). I was first asked by a student at DIA if it was dangerous to live in the US and I was surprised and said no and then questioned my host family and adults at my volunteer sites if this was an impression they had. They said that it was. I don't know about other parts of the United States but having grown up in Austin, it has been very safe and talking to friends from Chicago and Seattle, they have also said that it is generally safe as long as you don't do stupid things (e.g count large amounts of cash in plain site, walk around the south side of Chicago at 2 am, etc.). My host dad even said that many Europeans would not want to move to the US today because they would feel like it is not safe. Huh... I didn't know...

I have also made a habit of asking Danes if they have been to America (because I want to know what they think and where they have been), many of them say no but they all very very much want to go. If they are young adults (i.e. on their own) they quickly point out how expensive it is and that they want to visit the East Coast (mostly New York and Miami) or California and if they are younger (like the students at DIA) they always are very interested and almost always immediately say they want to go to New York.

So that's what I have for my impressions of Americans so far, many people think well of the US overall. Again, I will add more thoughts to later posts if more interesting things come up. If anyone has any impressions the would like to add from their travels (Europe or elsewhere), please do so in the comments as I am interested and other people may be. I would also like to know if anyone else had assumptions similar to the ones I had prior to talking to many Europeans..

Furthermore (if you don't go to Southwestern you can ignore this paragraph), there is a counter culture blog that has sprung up in response to my blog, and I encourage you guys to submit your stories to it (the esteemed Sam Reese is the co-head author with Elmira Mehdizadeh) as I am eager to hear about exciting things happening back home! For example I heard about some poor bloke named Kynan Murtagh who just collapsed today out of exhaustion (most likely behavior that has been seen before and frequently) and then died on the spot, due to illness (presumably some super virus). Luckily the heath services were called and rushed to his aid (they were greatly needed) and everything turned out alright. If anyone wants to offer an alternate version of that story then feel free, but until then, that should be the accepted version. But seriously, I want to hear about y'alls lives so tell Sam/Elms to write more or ask if you can write a column for them.

Well, I have been doing a lot of fun things so I will try and tell you guys about that before next week (I have a paper do... oh yeah and I'm going to Scotland for a week).  So hopefully talk to everyone soon!


P.S. Thanks Erik, it was a pretty good roller coaster.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Hey Everyone!

This weekend I went to Tivoli! For those of you who don't know what that is, it is a very old amusement park in Copenhagen. It is the second oldest amusement park in the world (opened in 1843). It is fairly small due to it being in the center of the city. It features a small assortment of rides, a few nice gardens and fountains, and lot of very expensive restaurants (featuring food from all over the world). It also has some stages on which plays and concerts are preformed. I think concerts are preformed every Friday night so I might try to catch one of those in the future. Also, the park has weird hours through out the year. It is about to close because the summer season is going to be over. It will reopen for 10 days in October for the Halloween season and then will open again in November for the Christmas season. For these other two seasons, the park gets decorated quite a bit and apparently it is definitely worth the visit for the different seasons so I am looking forward to visiting Tivoli again! Also the park costs money to get into and the rides cost even more money (and they cost a lot) so I bought a pass that allows me to get into the park unlimited times and ride the rides for no cost! The pass was not cheap but it will definitely save me money if I'm going to go back at least two more times so it was definitely worth it.

But yeah anyway I went on Saturday night and met up with a friend and a girl I didn't know (she was cool too) and we rode roller coasters for a good 3 hours. I then got a milkshake, which was quite different from the milkshakes I get back in the states. (As many of you know I am a shake/ice cream connoisseur so I have to comment on the quality of the shake) The shake was kind of like icy chocolate milk. It had only high quality ingredients so it tasted pretty alright, but it was not thick at all. Very strange. It was worth a try and I enjoyed it, but I definitely prefer the thick ice cream milkshakes from home (for those of you who know my ice cream habits, can you believe that I have only had ice cream on the 2 occasions in Bornholm?). Anyway! The park was very nice and I can't wait to go back later this year!

Here is a picture of the park during Christmas time (I can't wait):

I also met my host mom's dad this weekend. He was very nice and liked to talk so I'll prolly tell you guys about that in the future because he had some thoughts about the United States that surprised me. I also had my first volunteer experience with DIA last week and Denmark had their elections last week which was kinda cool to see. They had their first female prime minister elected and she is from the red group the Social Democrats (The most influential red party). The other half is the blue. I won't talk about politics too much because it is confusing, but generally the blue group is more traditionally conservative and the main group is called Liberals (yes it's backwards and confusing).

So my life has been filled with lots of work and doing some fun things, I've been kept quite busy. This Wednesday I'm going to be going to the National Museum for a Nordic Mythology trip. So that should be interesting. I also think I'm going to take some time tomorrow afternoon to do a little exploring! There is also a bike race going on all over Copenhagen so I might try to see some of that!

That's all for now! Hope everyone's life is going great!


Monday, September 12, 2011

Bornholm (Short Study Tour)

Hello Everyone!

This weekend I went to Bornholm! Bornholm is an island owned by Denmark to the South of Sweeden and is a very touristy place during the summer (because it is beautiful). The purpose of the trip was to see some positive psychology (my core course) be applied in different settings in an area outside of Copenhagen. All core courses went somewhere outside of Copenhagen to see the application of their core course. So the trips were designed to allow you to see an area outside of Copenhagen, get to know the people in your core class, and experience your core course through academic visits. My group was the only one that went to Bornholm (and was therefore very lucky).


My trip began at 4.30 on Thursday morning. Yes it was insanely early and I was grumpy about it but that is when I had to wake up in order to catch the train to Copenhagen central station by 6.15. Once there I joined up with my class and we took a train to Sweeden and then quickly hopped on a ferry to Bornholm. We got there around 10 and it was raining (of course) and went to a cafe to get some coffee and pastries. Then we went to our first academic visit. The woman we visited was interesting and had us participate in some activities (I can talk more about those specifically if you want but they are mostly just positive psychology and therapy related things). She is a private therapist and works in Rønne.

After that we got lunch and then went to the Bornholm Art museum and looked at art! Then we went on a hike (it stopped raining) to the the largest waterfall in Denmark, which was not that impressive but still fun. I was pretty much the only one who had shoes (hiking boots) that were appropriate for the activity. We then went to Gudhjem where we stayed the night in a hostel.


We had dinner at a nearby hotel and then I went with some friends to get ice cream at a local ice cream place and explore the town at night. We were going to have a bonfire on the beach but it was too wet from all the rain that day. Then I returned to the hostel and played catch phrase with some people I didn't know as well. I quickly proved to be a very good catch phrase player. Then I went to my hostel room (that I shared with 4 other boys) and crashed. So yeah, long day.

On Friday (no rain today, all sun), I woke up at 7.45ish and had breakfast with the group at a hotel in town. We packed up at went to Baltic Sea Glass and got to see some really cool pieces of art (I'll hopefully post some pictures once my friends with the cameras upload them). Then we went to one of the Round Churches. There are four Round churches that were all built around the 12th or 13th century. They were for religious purposes but were also fortresses in the case of attack from the Sweeds or pirates.

Then we went to a hospital for our second academic visit at Nisbeth Healthcare. Their program was one that included initiatives to increase health among the employees of the hospital through opportunities to participate in different exercise classes and healthy meals at the hospitals cafeteria. The program was pretty interesting but we were fairly critical of it as it did not have a ton to do with well-being but more with physical health. There were definitely some good things to get out of it but we didn't feel like it was catered enough to a psychological perspective.

Then we ate lunch in the hospital's cafeteria and went to our hostel in Rønne. Rønne is the capital of Bornholm and is still pretty small.The rest of the day we had to ourselves. Also this hostel was randomly pretty nice and had random things like ping-pong tables, a vending machine for alcohol, and a minigolf course. So I played some ping-pong and then walked to the beach with some friends. Then we decided that we wanted ice cream so we walked into town and found some sweets and then just hung out and explored in town until we wanted some dinner. We bought some dinner (all food before this and after this with the exception of Saturday night dinner was provided by DIS which was extremely awesome) and then went back to the hostel. I played cards with friends until we had a bonfire (because we weren't able to have one the night before). So I hung out with everyone around the fire and was entertained by people antics. One of my friends that I made on the trip told scary stories (that were legitimately scary) and was hilarious at all other times. Then I showered (much desired) and then read until my roommates returned from drunken beach adventures and crashed. Yeah, another long day...

On Saturday I woke up at 7.45ish again... tough times. We had breakfast at the hostel and then picked up the woman who was to lead our last academic visit at Hammershus. Hammershus is now ruins of an old Danish castle built in the 13th century. It was very pretty and it was misty and cool outside making the experience pretty awesome overall.


The woman had us do a positive psychology activity which was pretty alright before we left Hammershus. We then went to this pretty nice restaurant that was on a huge hill that looked out towards the ocean (pretty much every town on Bornholm is on the ocean) where we had this raw salmon dish. I observed that in general the Americans at my table were not able to eat a lot of the salmon while the non-Americans were able to eat it easily and enjoyed it (I was able to eat it and thought it was pretty good).

We then went to Svaneke (another small coastal town) and enjoyed more free, local ice cream and we were able to explore a little. We then got back on the bus and went to the ferry. By the way this ferry was very large and pretty nice. On the trip home I just hung out with people and we talked about our hometowns and what we have done in Copenhagen so far. Then we got on the train in Sweeden and I sat with some people I didn't know as well from my class but I talked to them the entire way home and then got back to Copenhagen Central Station. I exchanged phone numbers with a few people and then booked it to the train home. I got home around 22.30 and was extremely exhausted.

That was my trip to Bornholm! Overall, pretty jam packed but I think everyone in my group had a really good time and made new friends.

In other news, school has kept me very busy and I have a lot going on every day but I find time to still do fun things and explore the city.

Also you guys have been asking lots of questions in the comments so I'll respond to them here. 

Ruth, my school is not diverse, it is technically all American students or at least students that are all from American universities. However, I made friends with two women on this trip, one from China and one from Japan. They are both very nice and only have gone to the US for college. But yeah, the very large majority of students are American. Also, there are many Muslims immigrating to Denmark. I talk more about it in another post. And there have not been any misunderstandings that I can think of. Only horrendous mispronunciations on my part. It's always embarrassing when a guy at a bakery asks you in Danish want you want and you say brød (word for bread) while making a funny face and weird gurgle noise and the guy is like, oh, you want some bread? and you're like yeah... sigh (was it that bad?).

Kynan, I have not been to Hugo's yet, but I will go some day and try every single one. I did get some Apple Cider though and it was alright because I couldn't taste the alcohol.

Erik, I guess this post will in part answer that question. Additionally, there are a lot of old buildings in Copenhagen. My school is in the historic district of Copenhagen so there are very old buildings (most have been fixed up of course). There are also some old statues and churches that you can go find, I have seen some of them. Often the statues or churches have stories behind them so it can be very interesting to go find and learn about them. As for castles specifically, there are a couple nearby that I want to visit but the only one that I have been to are the ruins at Hammershus. Also, really old ruins (pre-Christian ruins) do not exist so there isn't really anything left from Viking times except for post holes and burial mounds (you may already know a lot about that). I know some about that because they have told us an okay about the history of Copenhagen and because of my Nordic Mythology class.

Sam, I dunno... like 30 maybe? we are still working on the 2nd world. TOUGH STUFF. Also the town has been around for centuries (wikipedia says it was founded in the 13th century). Many of the towns in Denmark have been around for about that long of a time or longer which I'm guessing is characteristic of many different parts of the world. Many of the names of towns can be used to show approximately when they were created in a lot of Scandinavia and many were established in pre-Christian times (shown by their references to Nordic religion). So the town is pretty old in terms of how long it has existed but is otherwise modern. Also I'll see what I can do about buying a digital one here and/or/additionally stealing friends photos from facebook.

Vivek, at least twice. Also, having not really experienced any other mass-transit it is hard to say. But from what I can tell it is very good. Everyone I talk to says that it is really good and it seems very convenient and efficient to me (there is a train every 10 minutes unless it is crazy early in the morning (which only concerns me when I have to wake up at 4.30 for a trip) or after 1.00 on a weeknight, and even in those inconvenient times it usually runs every 20 minutes to where I need to go). A ton of people use it to get to work and to the city, and the trains have recently been outfitted so that you can bring your bike onto the train (which some people do because the Danes have a lot of avid bikers). I have heard that the quality goes down somewhat once the weather gets bad, but I have talked to this girl from Chicago and the way she talks about the trains here, it is like they are better here at their worst then they are at their best in Chicago (hope that made sense). So yeah, from what I can tell, they are very nice.

Alright, talk to you guys later,

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Host Family

Hey everyone!

Because not all of you have heard about my host family I thought I would tell you about them!

They are very nice people and live in Køge which is a very old town (then again most towns around here are very old) to the South of Copenhagen on the coast (feel free to Google maps it). They live about a 10 min walk from the town square and the train station. Køge is about a 45 min train ride to the part of Copenhagen where DIS is (I have to leave at least an hour and 15 min before my class starts to get there on time).

My host family has 4 members, a dad, a mom, a 9 year old boy, and 7 year old girl. The dad is a school teacher and the mom works for some pharmaceutical type thing. They are both very nice and speak English very well (they also provide me with food which is great).

I like to spend time with them when I can. I have dinner with them if I am home in time, I sometimes hang out and talk with them at night if I can (I am always welcome), and I have spent time with them on weekend nights because they have family time then. The boy and I are working very hard to collect all the star coins in the new super mario bros game for the wii (which is extremely difficult, we have a long way to go). The girl likes to play board and card games so sometimes I play cards with her (and board games if I can understand what is going on). Because the kids are so young they don't speak any English  and I have to communicate through their parents. So... I think I spend an okay amount of time with them.

So, that is my host family! I think I got very lucky! So far I already feel like it is a lot different of an experience living with a host family than with other American students. I have already been introduced to many more Danes because of my host family than most of my peers in DIS student housing. Additionally, if I ever want to know something about Danish culture, it is very easy to find an answer and it has therefore been much easier for me to get a sense of how Danes live. Also, because my host family knows the area really well they are able to tell me about cool things near by such as the study spot near the beach, or the bike trail that is close by, or the good (and cheap, which is extremely important, everything is really expensive) cafe nearby, or the cool local bar with 150 beers and medieval atmosphere (because the bar is literally from medieval times). On the flip side, it has made it a lot harder to hang out with DIS students because I am not around them during the evenings that often and I didn't come to DIS with any friends (I have still met a ton of DIS students just through classes of course). Personally, I think I made the right decision in living with a host family but there are definitely positives to living with American students.

So... That is post number 3! I'll write another post pretty soon because I think I am already behind on things I want to tell you guys about. So, talk to you soon!


Friday, September 2, 2011

Volunteering in Denmark

Hey everyone!

I'm going to talk about volunteering in this post as I know volunteering is very important to many of you and you do a lot of it every semester. Additionally, I am in the "Service Learning Seminar" this semester in which you are assigned a volunteer site along with enrollment in a class which brings an academic component to the volunteering you do while in Copenhagen. I also applied for and was accepted into a psychology volunteer program (which is entirely separate from the course and site I mentioned already) in which I was assigned another volunteer site with an organization that has more of a psychology focus in its goal. So between the both of those sites I will be volunteering about 5-6 hours a week. And lastly, I went on a semi walking tour in West Copenhagen for an afternoon (with my Service Learning Seminar course) where I visited multiple organizations that are primarily organized and run by volunteers.

So, my volunteer participation this semester is with 1. DIA (a Muslim school in Copenhagen) and 2. The SKC (which stands for a something (a danish word I do not know) kontact center (they spell contact with a k) and is an organization that helps people with mild mental disabilities). With DIA I will be helping to teach English to Muslim students of different ages. The school is a private school and all schools (I think) are required to teach English early on. Because of this, many schools welcome the help of volunteers to assist in teaching English and to help the students with practicing speaking English. The SKC has a cafe and a counseling center where the users can come and either find someone to talk to, either for company or help, where they can just find some peace and relax, or where they can get a cheap meal in a friendly place. There are several types of these organizations around Copenhagen but the SKC is apparently one of the oldest. Furthermore, the different organizations have different focuses for the users, the SKC's focus is expression through art and has a studio for the users to paint (Other organizations might focus on something like participation in sports for example). They also organize an art fair where the user's art is showcased. And these users are mostly people who have difficulties because of their mental handicaps but they are not serious enough for the individuals to be institutionalized. In other words, they are mostly very friendly, come to the SKC voluntarily, and usually come regularly just for support. So my volunteer work will consist of assisting with normal activities in the center, interacting with the users (the people who come to these places are called users so I don't mean drug users, I just mean they are using the resources that organization provides), assist in the cafe, and to some degree participate in the assistance of these individuals. There is also some supervision that occurs with a psychologist. So all in all, a pretty sweet deal for me, a great opportunity to help people out, and a pretty unique experience to volunteer.

Now, for what I have learned from my course and from my short tour. There are a lot of organizations around Copenhagen that do a variety of things. For example, of the places I visited, one was an organization to give immigrants a place to stay in the city; another was a place where first/second/third generation immigrants are able to go to get help with school or learning Danish (this organization helps both adults and younger students); another was a concert venue that was run entirely by volunteers (except for one guy who was paid); another was a place where single parents were able to buy cheap clothes for children; and the last place was a cafe run by volunteers where everything was very organic, healthy, fair trade, all that good stuff. From what I understand, volunteering has been going on a lot longer in the US than in Denmark and really only in the last 20 years did a lot of these organizations start up (some have been around for much longer). Also a lot more of these types of organizations in the United States have to fund raise which the Danish organizations do not have to do nearly as much because they can get money from the government. And another thing of interest is that there is a big concern right now in Denmark with immigrants. Basically there has not been many immigrants to Denmark like ever, until the past 30 years or so. So now there is a significant amount of non-Danes living in Denmark and some people feel differently about the non-Danish population (I can talk about that more in the future if you guys want). Because of this some groups of immigrants have difficulty integrating into Danish society and getting jobs and things like that and there are some organizations (like the ones I mentioned) targeted at assisting these groups of people.

Okay so I've said a lot (I hope it was all interesting). If you guys want to know more about anything I talked about let me know! I'd be happy to talk about any of the organizations more or my volunteer experiences once they start (they will begin next week), just let me know!

Anyway, have a good weekend, I'll talk to you guys later!


And to Kynan, yes, there are a lot of old churches (all over Europe I think?). My school is actually in the historic part of Copenhagen so there are lots of old buildings and my town is old too. So both of these places have lots of old buildings including churches and whatnot. And it is tough here without a bubble shield. And I don't remember what else you asked so I'll get to it later.

(Erik, here is the origin of the bubble shield:
The bubble shield upgrade shows up around level 10 and is extremely helpful. But if you're really good, then you don't need one.)