America is everywhere

I have struggled with what to write about while in Copenhagen, because I myself dislike reading about people’s abroad experiences. I strongly dislike seeing the photos that people upload of places that millions of other people visit each year, as if that individual is the first person to ever see the colorful buildings of Nyhavn or funky entrance to Christiana. However, I also know that I want some way to document my time here besides just photos, and since I left my travel journal at home (oops) I am going to use this blog as a semi-substitute. I say semi because I hope to write about my experiences here, and the things that I can’t stop thinking about, not just a laundry list of all my adventures.

There are, of course, many striking things about Copenhagen that I had heard about but was still surprised to see firsthand. It is overwhelming to realize that this international city is truly the closes thing to a utopian city that I’ve ever experienced. All of the rumors are true – everyone is friendly, well-dressed, and attractive. Even more, the streets are beautifully clean, there are very few homeless people, and I have not once felt unsafe, even walking in the middle of the night down quiet streets. However, there is something that I can’t stop thinking about that isn’t even really related to these amazing qualities of Copenhagen (because it is truly amazing). Rather, I can’t stop thinking about how much of America there is here.

Every cafe, restaurant, bar, or club I have been to has played American music. Every person I’ve met speaks English in addition to Danish (or whatever other languages they may be fluent in). Every grocery store has American products, every shopping street has American store brands. Everyone here knows about what’s going in America at all times, beyond just talking about Donald Trump. This may not be that surprising to many people, but as an American student abroad you are almost conditioned to be ashamed of your culture, especially going somewhere as chic and visionary as Denmark. You are told that only Americans talk in public (and always too loudly), that Danes are always taller and dressed better than you, that you can realistically never learn their language in the time you’re there but that every Danish person knows yours. I tried to hide my American-ness as much as possible, and dreaded speaking to people because of the dreaded question after they notice my accent – “are you American?”

However, I’ve quickly noticed that this self-induced shame is completely and totally unnecessary. Although pretty much all of the stereotypes are true, and Americans usually are the loudest in the room, WHO CARES? It didn’t take long for me to give up on trying to fit in and “be Danish” because, as I’m sure you could have figured out, I’M NOT DANISH. Despite the dismal state of American politics and social life at the moment, I am still proud to be American. If the rest of the world hates America so much, why is it impossible for me to escape American influence? I admire every aspect of Danish life, from their community ideals to everyday pleasures like bike rides without a helmet. However, this doesn’t change the way I feel about my life in America, and I’m not going to pretend to be embarrassed of where I come from.

America is everywhere, and that is not a bad thing. I could write for days about the impact of colonization and the connection to globalization today, and how staggering it is that America’s influence is so far-reaching and deeply entrenched in foreign cultures, but I’m going to end the post here. I am studying abroad at the University of Copenhagen, an American student just here for the semester. I plan to immerse myself in the culture as much as possible, but I don’t intend to erase my cultural background from living for 20 years in the U.S.

And for your viewing pleasure – here are some nice photos from my Mom spending time with me for the past few days. Future posts will definitely comment on the people I’ve met, the places I’ve been, etc. For now, enjoy the gray days of Copenhagen through my iPhone camera!

 

 

 

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The importance of elementary school

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First day of school in 2nd grade, Westover

As I watched some clips and commentary on Betsy DeVos’ Senate Confirmation Hearing today (which you can learn more about here and here) I thought about her possible changes from two points of view – thinking back on my time as a student in public school, then thinking about my possible (distant) future as a mother. DeVos answered controversial questions about voucher programs, guns in schools, and proficiency vs. growth, defending her vision for education reform in the face of many angry Senators. I grew up in Southwestern Connecticut, Fairfield County,  known for the harsh disparities between towns in a county that’s home to less than 100,000 people. I was born in Stamford, one of the larger cities in the area, then moved to New Canaan, a “bedroom community” that borders Stamford, which is where my parents currently live. Stamford is known as a working city. With a larger population, there is a greater difference in household income from the poorest to wealthiest residents. As a city, Stamford supports a larger network of public schools, with a substantially more diverse student population. I went to Westover, a magnet school, for kindergarten through 2nd grade. I’m the youngest of four, so all of us went to Westover for elementary school, and my oldest sister spent a year at a Stamford middle school – Turn of River. Of course I don’t remember the deliberations or financial motivations for moving to New Canaan, but what my parents have explained to us over time is that the schools in New Canaan are substantially better. In our last year at Stamford my family was told that one of us would not receive the additional academic support we needed because of funding cuts. We also learned that two of us would not be able to join the advanced academic program for gifted students, because funding cuts meant that Westover couldn’t support specialized classrooms. It became clear to my parents that academic growth was going to be difficult for any of us, whether it was because school in Stamford would be too challenging or not challenging enough. Moving to New Canaan is one of the best things my family has ever done, and I have had an amazing childhood and young adult life growing up here. I know that if we had not moved to New Canaan I would not have been able to get involved in the extracurriculars I loved, taken the classes that shaped my academic career, and had the experience of living in a small town with outstanding athletics and school pride. However, I also know that growing up in Stamford, even if I was only there for 8 years, has had a profound effect on my outlook on the world. From a young age my parents encouraged me to be friends with whoever I wanted to be friends with, kids from my classes, my soccer team, that I met on the playground. In Stamford I had birthday parties that included kids of all shapes and sizes, all colors and classes, and I never thought a thing of it. It wasn’t until I got to New Canaan that I realized diversity was something to be aware of. As a traditionally white, Catholic town, diversity in New Canaan is somewhat of a joke. So many of my classes were all white students, and having someone from a non-white background often led to offensive jokes or mentions of racist stereotypes. Spending even just a fraction of my formative years in the (comparatively more) diverse setting of Stamford led me to be comfortable around people of all different backgrounds, and carried over through my time in New Canaan. Much of the discussion in today’s education system is around the concept of “individual choice,” often leading to extensive racial segregation in specific areas. My parents both grew up in Stamford, and they often comment on how they wish they didn’t have to move to New Canaan because of the lack of diversity and culture of wealth that permeates the town. However, no one can deny the importance of being able to let your kids walk to school alone, having a supportive public school system, and the benefits of a smaller, suburban town. I am truly thankful for the opportunities that my parents afforded me by making the move, and continue to value my experiences both in Stamford and New Canaan.

 

If you’re interested in reading more about the difficulties of racial segregation and the value of education in today’s world, check out one of my favorite New York Times Magazine pieces here: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/12/magazine/choosing-a-school-for-my-daughter-in-a-segregated-city.html?em_pos=large&emc=edit_nn_20160616&nl=morning-briefing&nlid=73481174&_r=0

Accepting the future of America

Watching the Golden Globes last night I was, of course, distracted by all of the references to Donald Trump. Several presenters and award recipients commented on the current political climate, their fear for the future of Hollywood and immigrants and the media. Hearing these comments created an internal conflict for me, since on some level I agree with them, but another part of me just kept thinking “can’t we get over it already?” I stayed up all night November 8 well into the morning of the 9th, waiting for the election results. As Trump’s lead continued to grow an impending sense of doom sank into my bones, and I started picturing life in America with Donald Trump as president. I know that my everyday happenings won’t change that much, aside from my insurance coverage and what I’m studying in International Relations and Public Health. However, I pictured the massive changes that are inevitable for millions of other Americans, and I felt both sad and disappointed. The following week was difficult at BU, as many students and professors were visibly shaken by the election result. As my classes began again with the normal curriculum and the news networks found new stories to focus on, I realized that people everywhere had to start doing what’s expected of them – accept the result, and move on. A cornerstone of American democracy is the peaceful transition of power, something that many people feared in anticipation of November 8th. Although many people are unhappy with the idea of President Trump, the fact is that it’s no longer just an idea, it’s reality. My favorite saying related to the idea that we need to just get over it says something like this: “Trump is the pilot of America now. He’s the one flying our plane, and just like our pilot, you want him to be successful. You don’t want to see the pilot fail, because if he does, then we all go down with him.” Even hearing this, I’m reminded of all the reasons I don’t want to support Donald Trump. I’m continually frustrated by his outbursts on social media, his misogynistic, discriminatory comments, his agency appointments, and his statements on foreign policy and healthcare in America. However, I also accept that Trump now holds the highest office in the country. Even if he isn’t the candidate that I wanted to win, he did win. Even if Hollywood’s celebrities are typically “left-leaning” they have to accept that Donald Trump will be our president in a short 11 days. It’s time for people to accept the future of America, including a Trump presidency. This doesn’t mean that people should stop fighting for equality, championing whatever causes they stand behind. However, it does mean that fighting against an individual, one who you should hope is going to rise to the occasion, isn’t helping to move our country forward. The first step in improving the future of America is accepting that it may not be the one you always expected.