Farvel København

This is going to be my last post from Copenhagen. Even as I write it, I can’t believe it! 6 months has gone by too quickly, although I’m extremely excited to see my family and friends. I have had so many amazing experiences here in Copenhagen, in addition to my wondrous travels throughout Europe. I have so much to be grateful for, and so many people to thank for making my time here so special. I am conflicted about what to write about in this final post, because this city and the people here have had such a profound impact on me. First, I want to thank the University of Copenhagen for allowing me to enroll directly as a student and immerse myself in Danish academia. I learned a great deal from my classes, my professors, and my peers, and feel that I have grown immensely as a student after being in such an open and relaxed school environment. I know that the insights I have gained from my time at KU will be valuable for me finishing my Bachelor’s as well as pursuing my Master’s. Moreover, I was able to meet countless other international students as well as Danish students, learning about their home universities and their unique perspectives on the topics we were discussing in my political science courses.

I would also like to thank the lovely people at Chora Connection. The opportunity to intern there was so gratifying, and I have never been part of such an inspiring group of people. Everyone at Chora has found their way to a career in sustainability through a dynamic path, and the welcoming atmosphere they have created in their offices is unlike anything I have ever experienced. I hope that one day I can foster such a feeling a community in my workplace, and I can’t thank them enough for their decision to take a chance on me and welcome me into the Chora family. I look forward to seeing all of the great work that Chora Connection will do in the future, and hope that I can translate such passion for sustainable change to my career in the U.S.

Thank you to the groups I have volunteered with this semester – Oxfam IBIS, DanMUN, and Distortion Neighbors team. Working with Oxfam IBIS has been an eye-opening experience to see how volunteer groups operate in a country that’s as liberal as Denmark, such as the demonstration at the Climate March. DanMUN provided me a new understanding on the utility of Model UN, contrasting greatly from how Model UN is perceived in the U.S. Learning about their conference logistics and ambitions also showed me how to scale the activities that I’ve completed for Model UN in the past. Lastly, volunteering with Distortion on the Neighbors team was an interesting experience for many reasons. Distortion itself was unlike anything I could have ever imagined, and is probably worthy of it’s own separate post. Most importantly, though, meeting other Danish and international volunteers then exploring the different neighborhoods and talking about the impact of Distortion was quite rewarding. I saw more of the city than I would have otherwise and met the people that make Copenhagen what it is. I am so happy that I chose to get involved with volunteering through multiple avenues, and feel that my time abroad has been dramatically improved by these experiences.

I would also like to thank the city itself. Your streets have come to mean so much to me, and your commitment to beauty and nature is one of a kind. How many days I spent in awe of the beauty of the lakes,  biking along tree lined streets or sitting in one of the countless parts. I regret that I was not able to explore every single corner, because I know that Copenhagen has so much to offer and even in 6 months I couldn’t cover it all. The city has a pulse to it, one that you can feel reverberating through all of the people that walk its streets. People from around the world are drawn to visit because of the spirit, the mentality, the appeal of “living like a Dane.” It’s certainly an unparalleled attitude, and I feel that I now understand what it means to adapt the Danish lifestyle. Now I have the challenge of mediating this Danish lifestyle with my real life in the U.S.

Writing this calls attention to the feeling that I’m unable to shake – that this is not my real life. This semester has felt surreal, like I’m on a holiday vacation from myself. That’s not to say that this semester has not been without its struggles – many a time I have felt lonely, homesick, wishing I could change my situation. However, my feelings towards this experience are overwhelmingly positive. I have learned a great deal about myself and what I value – how I want to spend my time, who I want to be around, what it is that gets me up in the morning. I have both challenged myself and allowed myself to simply just be. I know that I will never forget the amazing memories I have from my time in Copenhagen, and I can’t wait to see how my life will pick up when I get back to the U.S. Until next time – farvel, København!

Norway !

What a wild wild week it was in Norway! This blog post is more of a PSA that if you have ever considered taking a trip to explore the beautiful country of the North – DO IT. My trip to Norway was a once in a lifetime experience, and I don’t think there’s any way to do the trip “wrong” when it comes to planning or execution. Some of the things that I thought would negatively impact our trip ended up being the best parts – flying in and out of Oslo meant a much longer drive to get out to the Western coast to see the fjords, but allowed us to drive on winding scenic roads, snaking through forests, mountain tunnels, around rivers and lakes and picturesque villages. Moreover, going at the end of May meant that some of the bigger hiking trails weren’t open yet (such as Trolltunga), but also gave us the opportunity to hike in both snow and summer conditions all in the span of a few days. Preparation was key for the trip, and DNT was definitely a wonderful resource (even beyond their amazing cabin system that provided us shelter for the week). However, the mental prep couldn’t even prepare me for the natural beauty we encountered. Take a gander….

 

Some of the things that I don’t want to forget and feel that others will appreciate:

  • Hiking in the snow and mist to Langavatn cabin, leaving our car on an abandoned stretch of road that was blocked by piles of snow, carefully trying to keep our distance from the iced-over lake we couldn’t see but KNEW we were hiking beside (thank you, map!)
  • Meal times getting later and later each day, having rice and beans, pasta with tomato sauce, pesto pasta, different rice with different beans, tomato soup, peanut butter and jelly, nutella, and tons of biscuits
  • Trudging through the “rough scree” to get to Bakken Farm only to see that the 7-person cabin was being occupied by a 21 person group who weren’t even planning to hike
  • Driving from Oslo to Oyuvsbu on the first day and seeing all of the amazing natural beauty the country had to offer
  • The hardest hike I have ever done (and will probably ever do) from Bakken Farm to Preikestolen – 13 hours total, 12 km, countless variations in elevation (starting at 120m ending at around 800m though), and the feeling of taking a break after finally being done
  • The ferry ride from Lysebotn to Songesand, seeing all the isolated homes along the fjord, reminded me of the boat cruise around Lake Tahoe but far more lonely
  • Discovering the Flugeleiken cabin after mistakingly hiking for an hour but realizing we had a working stove and real beds to sleep on
  • Being in the Oslo Airport surrounded by people after not showering for 6 hours and wondering if other people could smell you (and were grossed out)
  • All of the BEAUTIFUL THINGS that Norway showed me!

Anyways, I could write a whole lot more about the wonderful experiences of the week but Norway TIRED ME OUT. I haven’t had a good nights sleep in over a week, because I was always stress dreaming about the trip before leaving! Now that I am safely back in Copenhagen and have tons to do, I need to get back on track with my sleep schedule, meaning keep this blog post short so I can cook dinner and do laundry (fun!). Here are some more breathtaking shots of the country:

Victory in France

Emmanuel Macron’s win was met with a huge sigh of relief throughout Europe and the world last night. Macron’s victory over right-wing Marine Le Pen represents a symbol of hope for citizens everywhere, that society can stand above hateful rhetoric to choose a suitable official.

Following the election of President Donald Trump, fear of the rise of populist parties has been a common topic. Specifically in Europe, where anti-immigrant sentiments are coupled with suggestions of the breakdown of the European Union, this fear has been particularly strong. After the Dutch election earlier this year, where a right-wing populist party was also defeated, all eyes were on France.

The election of Macron signifies that we should trust our systems of government. Although many claim that American democracy is being threatened, at the end of the day, it has functioned just as it’s intended to. Giving a voice to the people, and responding to what the people want. What’s necessary for moving forward is showing people that what they want is not discriminatory policies and offensive representatives, but a leader and government who can unite a country.

This semester I have thought a lot about the rising popularity of the right-wing, the return to nationalism and the social divisions that are plaguing societies around the world. My time in Denmark has shown me that even a society that is so seemingly perfect is vulnerable to ethnic divides, and that the U.S. does represent one of the best examples of cultural exchange within one country. I know that my national bias is coming through when I praise the U.S. so highly, and I won’t deny that I’m partial to the American approach to life. Watching the movie Pearl Harbor last night had me so emotional, I even surprised myself with my patriotism.

I think what I’m trying to communicate is that things may seem bad right now. In the first 100 days of his presidency, Trump has already rolled back many important program and jeopardized the wellbeing of millions of Americans. Britain is leaving the European Union, threatening one of the foundational institutions to European cooperation and international stability. The refugee crisis continues to worsen, North Korea is becoming increasingly aggressive on the world stage, and the threat of terrorist attacks is still prevalent in many places around the world. I could list all of the ways that our world seems to be falling apart at the seams, how the citizens of today seem to be myopic to how their actions affect the citizens of tomorrow (cough cough, climate change).

However, it’s the little victories that remind us that things can get better. The Dutch and French elections are just small pieces in the puzzle that is European politics and international relations. They serve as an opportunity for the world to remember that things change – governments, communities, individuals – and that these changes can be for the better. It may seem bad right now, but history has shown us that things can be worse. We need to move forward with the knowledge of our past mistakes, looking to a brighter future and reimagining what’s possible.

A note on books

PART 2: A continuation

After returning from abroad, I am still discovering some really amazing books. The best part about reading these books is that although I was recommended these titles, I did not know what they were about. So rather than dive into how each one has had such an amazing impact on me, I will give you my list of recommendations so you can begin reading with an open mind and discover them for yourselves.

  • Small Great Things – Jodi Picoult
  • Super Sad True Love Story – Gary Shteyngart
  • The Road – Cormac McCarthy
  • The City and The City – China Mieville
  • Beartown – Fredrik Backman
  • Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel
  • The Plot Against America – Philip Roth

While abroad I have had the pleasure of reading some amazing books. As I’ve written about before, University of Copenhagen takes a very hands-off approach to learning. You’re assigned your readings, invited to show up for class, and your whole grade is based on a paper that you write for the end of each course. I do all the readings, go to all the classes, have started planning for the papers (due June 12), and still have ample free time.

This is the only semester I’ve ever had where I have time to read for pleasure while also reading for school, and it has been a wonderful experience. I’ve always enjoyed reading, but my time at college has challenged reading as a top priority when I have so many other tasks and assignments that need to get done. Reading books that I enjoy outside of my academic discipline has been rewarding in ways that I didn’t expect. Of course I love throwing myself into reading, getting so engrossed in a story that I forget where I am at the time. However, I have noticed that even just the act of reading has profoundly affected the way I think.

What I mean by this is that my mind has started to narrate my daily life. When I’m going through mundane activities like biking or doing dishes I find myself curating book-like sentences to describe what I’m doing. When I see an interesting person on the street I hear myself describing their details like they’re a character in my story. It’s comical, most of the time, but can also be embarrassing when I narrate something that I wouldn’t want to be included in the book of my life (ie: falling asleep without brushing my teeth).

Nevertheless, I wanted to comment on the power of books. I’d forgotten how impactful books can be, and how they can totally shape a day or the way I think about the world around me. I’m currently flashing back to the excitement I felt when the Scholastic Book Fair used to visit my elementary school – I looooove books! Anyways, here are some of my recommendations/books that I’ve enjoyed while abroad (including Christmas vacation just before getting to Copenhagen, because I read a lot of good books then):

  • Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng
  • Descent – Tim Johnston
  • A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara
  • The New Jim Crow – Michelle Alexander
  • Not That Kind of Girl – Lena Dunham
  • Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls – David Sedaris
  • Between The World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • The Fire This Time – Jesmyn Ward
  • Still Here – Lara Vapnyar
  • The Girls – Emma Cline
  • Before the Fall – Noah Hawley
  • I Am Malala – Malala Yousafzai
  • The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo – Amy Schumer

A new kind of morning sickness

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When I was younger, it took me a very long time to get used to sleepovers. I wanted so badly to be able to spend the night with my friends, but I felt such an intense disappointment every time that I woke up in a room that wasn’t my own that I was averse to sleepovers in general. As I’ve gotten older I have grown far more comfortable with waking up in places beside my bed at home – going to college and spending a semester abroad are two great ways to throw yourself into it.

However, I have never really outgrown that feeling of dread when I first wake up and realize that I’m not in the comfort of my bed at home. Since I’ve been in Copenhagen I have turned my studio apartment into a very pleasant living space, and I’ve had an amazing few months living here. But most mornings I wake up to a wave of sadness weighing heavily on me as I try to shake the lingering feelings of sleep. Homesickness is my personal morning sickness.

I don’t feel homesick much of the time, nothing more than a typical student abroad. I miss Boston because I miss my friends, I miss the U.S. for the comfort of familiarity, and I miss my family all of the time. But all of these feelings are exceptionally normal when you spend time apart from people and places. I’ve learned to come to terms with these feelings and figured out ways to cope with them. Making an effort to keep in touch with the people that I miss has paid off exponentially, and I am so thankful to have people to miss. But for some reason (I have several theories, such as the time difference) it’s the mornings that are the most difficult for me.

This post is short because there isn’t much to say about it. Missing people is hard. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is that fills me with such a sadness, but I have found recently that this morning sickness is beginning to feel more like nostalgia than dread. With 10 more weeks in Copenhagen I’m going to continue to challenge the affects of homesickness, and remember that each morning turns into a beautiful day.

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Understanding is a luxury

As I’m sure many of you know, a semester abroad is a wonderful opportunity for students to immerse themselves in a new culture. However, for many students it’s become an opportunity to travel each weekend so they can post an Instagram in front of an eye-catching spot – I can pull up at least 10 posts of girls in front of the John Lennon Wall in Prague. I’m not trying to say it’s a bad thing to take pictures in front of the touristy spots. In fact, I’m always pushing back against the idea that when you travel you should avoid the touristy spots and tours. They’re touristy for a reason! These are the things that make whatever destination you’re visiting famous, and it’s worth it to go and see. Rather, what I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is how different cultures interact, and how study abroad seems to be less about cultural exchange than a checklist to be completed by the end of the semester.

I have been thinking a lot about this topic recently, sparked mostly by reading an article about Western backpackers begging for money to fund their travel, even in some of the world’s poorest regions. It’s outrageous even reading that sentence! I read this article and felt a strong sense of embarrassment and shame for the ignorance of Western societies, the audacity of these travels who are so blind to the struggles of others, driven only by their self-absorbed desires to “see the world.”

I also thought about this concept of what it means to really see the world when I was on my spring break last week, when I visited Dubrovnik, Berlin and Amsterdam. I enjoyed all three cities for very different reasons, and maybe I’ll write a post about this amazing week of travel someday soon. But what I couldn’t help but think about the whole time I was on my spring break was just truly how expensive it was to immerse yourself in the culture. Trying local cuisine, shopping where the city-dwellers do, even getting around the city via public transport, it’s all just SO expensive. Even more so, trying to connect with the culture by visiting museums is such a privilege to have. It seems a little ridiculous that you would visit Amsterdam and not visit the Van Gogh museum, but spending 17 euros to walk around the museum and see the paintings you have seen a million replicas of seems ridiculous in other ways.

I am fortunate enough that I don’t have to worry about money significantly affecting my “experience” abroad. Of course I’m aware of how much I’m spending and try to consciously avoid frivolous purchases, but my parents have worked hard and I have saved enough money to be able to indulge in things like art museums and good restaurants and taking the metro. However, I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt when I think about just how many people are excluded from these experiences because of financial concerns. I’m not trying to suggest that cities shouldn’t charge for transportation, or that all museums should be free since I fully understand how cost affects quality, but my frustration with the current situation is strong.

What I want to call attention to is that beyond the fact that travel is a luxury, cultural understanding is a luxury too. Even if you never step foot outside of the place you were born and raised, trying to expose yourself to new cultures can be expensive. It is encouraging to know that many places recognize this deficit and are pushing initiatives to facilitate cultural interaction on a person-to-person level, but this is challenging for many people. I can already hear all of the criticism that this post will elicit, but I haven’t really ever thought about the privilege of exposure. Beyond the baseline costs of travel, there are considerable financial obstacles to gaining a world view, understanding new perspectives, and challenging what’s comfortable in your life. I can’t help but think about the political implications that this lack of understanding can have, specifically when it comes to partisan divides and electing government officials.

 

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MOCO Museum – Amsterdam

Is sustainability a utopian idea?

During my time interning at Chora Connection, I have thought a lot about sustainability as a concept and what it’s practical application looks like in today’s world. Denmark is leading the global quest for achieving a “sustainable future,” with environmentally friendly laws and policies spanning the country. Copenhagen is widely regarded as one of the most sustainable cities in the world, with noticeable lifestyle changes such as the popularity of bike riding in the face of rising carbon emissions. However, the founder of Chora Connection who I report to, Karen, was recently sharing her ideas on sustainability that sparked an interesting idea for me.

Karen is pursuing her PhD in sustainability, but her research actually focuses on the idea that true sustainability is unattainable. Shocking, that an individual who leads an organization dedicated to promoting sustainable behavior in one of the most sustainable cities in one of the most sustainable countries, is claiming that sustainability is not a viable possibility. What Karen discussed, actually, was the idea that societies have a certain threshold that sustainability is not possible within.

This threshold can be understood within the framework that sustainability is applicable to several aspects of society. In development literature sustainability is commonly viewed in three contexts: social, economic, and environmental. A society may be able to achieve social and economic sustainability, economic and environmental, or social and environmental, but not all three. To have all three of these dimensions seen as sustainable would be passing society’s threshold.

Although I don’t know all of the relevant research regarding this topic, and certainly don’t have as strong of an understanding as Karen does, I had to write about this idea because of how controversial it is. Sustainability has become a buzzword for political groups and organizations everywhere, something that sounds good in annual reports and makes it seem like society has a grasp on progressive futures. However, it’s essential to step back and actually consider what a sustainable future would look like.

How can sustainability interact with culture? How can we prioritize which aspects of sustainable living are most desirable for a country’s citizens? Who decides what’s better, social, economic or environmental stability? Should we continue to use the word sustainable as the goal for our future, or adapt new language that reflects our realistic capabilities? There are many questions to be asked, and although there’s no certain way of finding any answers, it’s important to explore different options for the international community moving forward.

 

More Life

Haha, I’m using the Drake album title as the name of my blog post! But seriously, it was the first thing that came to mind when I thought about a concise way to explain the time that has passed since my last blog post. I haven’t written in a very long time, because I’ve been trying to do more – more life! I have been getting more involved here in Copenhagen, volunteering with Oxfam IBIS as well as DanMUN. I am also taking on more substantive work at my internship, and making a conscious effort to stay on top of my readings. I have yet to actually dive into working on my paper for my Ethnic Conflict class that recently ended, but sooner or later I’ll be doing that as well. I’ve been trying to keep up with my personal journal, but it’s very difficult to journal AND write blog posts. You start to feel very self-centered.

It’s almost April, which is quite crazy to believe. I have conflicted feelings about my comfort here. Sometimes I feel as if I’ve lived in Copenhagen for years, biking the same streets and seeing the same faces. However, another part of me knows that there’s so much left for me to discover. In Copenhagen, in Denmark, in Europe overall. I have taken several trips since my last entry, but I am still quite weary when it comes to weekend travel. Although I had such glorious plans for jet-setting during my time abroad, I find myself reluctant to leave Copenhagen each time I head for the airport. I always look forward to my trips (such as visiting Normandy this weekend with my Dad), but I really do love being in Copenhagen.

Last weekend I visited London, which is probably my favorite city behind New York, tied with Copenhagen right now for the #2 spot. I studied abroad there for part of last summer, interning and completing courses. I was so happy to be back in a city that makes my heart swell in such a unique way. I realized upon my visit that I love London because it really feels like the center of it all. Something is always happening, people are always on the move, and no day is ever the same. I felt so comfortable to be back walking the streets, even when I had no idea where I really was. However, after returning to Copenhagen I realized how happy I am that I chose to study at Kobenhavn Universitet as opposed to completing the BU-London program. London is far more expensive than Copenhagen, especially transport and groceries. I truly value the freedom of being able to safely navigate the city by bike. Moreover, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to meet international students and students from other American schools. Choosing to do direct exchange is something I have no regrets about, even if it is bolstered by the fact that I have far less work than most BU programs.

I am also very happy I chose Copenhagen for that reason – I am finally taking the time to relax. During this semester, I have already read SEVERAL books. Yes, I am emphasizing several, because the fact that I have time to read for fun outside of completing readings for class is truly astonishing to me. I forgot how much I enjoy getting deeply invested in a book’s story line, and I have read some pretty good ones so far (Descent, The Goldfinch, Into the Darkest Corners, to name a few).

I hope to soon resume writing some meaningful posts about my observations and new perspectives on issues. For now, I will continue to read my books, listen to my podcasts to stay up to date with American politics, and journal about my experience here.

 

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Intervention vs. just let it happen

One of my courses that I’ve mentioned before is Ethnic Conflict, Peace-building and Democratization. In this course, as it sounds, we talk about different cases of ethnic conflict, as well as many other themes such as power-sharing, federalism, decolonization, and state building. One of the recurring themes is the question of foreign intervention, and when states should get involved in a conflict abroad or when the international community should stay out of it. This question has been one that I’ve thought about quite a bit, especially when learning about the historical frequency of U.S.’ failed intervention efforts abroad.

This post will not be a historical analysis, rather, a very quick emotional look at whether to intervene or not. My time in Denmark has shown me that there are fundamental differences in the way that states perceive their responsibility to encourage democracy. The U.S. is widely criticized for its tendency to involve itself in civil conflicts happening far away, and many of my classmates have made this point. However, this leads me to question why people aren’t more critical of their own states. Sure, the U.S. has tried to institute peace and hasn’t always been successful, but what has Denmark ever done to help people being oppressed or abused by their governments?

Of course, artificially imposing democracy on nascent states can be detrimental. Theories time and time again have shown us this, and that’s not a point I disagree with. Rather, I personally struggle with the claim that we should avoid a “fake peace” and simply let the state sort it out themselves. If we leave this developing state to its own devices, it’s very possible that people will suffer at the hands of their government. New governments often have trouble providing the necessary services to their citizens, and the established states choose to sit idly by because of fear of being criticized by the international community?

As I said, there is a great deal of historical context that determines each and every case of intervention. To fully understand the impacts of intervention would take days, and several very lengthy blog posts. Rather,  I just wanted to provoke the inner conflict that I’ve been having in a more public space.

Danes DGAF

For this post I want to comment on something of a more casual nature, the attitudes of Danish people in everyday life and more specifically in a social sense, framed within the idea of what people are wearing. What I’ve noticed in my first month is that really, truly, no one cares what you wear. Everywhere I’ve been has been casual, and I have never once shown up to class, a meal, cafe, or night activity and wished that I had worn something else.

Everyone here looks stylish, of course, because if you’ve been keeping up with my other posts you’ll remember that it’s pretty commonly known that Danish people are Cool with a capital C. However, dressing stylish-ly does not mean that everyone is sporting heels or their finest furs when they leave the house. Rather, people dress in fashionable ways that are also practical and comfortable.

People don’t really wear sweatpants, and I haven’t witnessed too many examples of true athleisure. However, sneakers are definitely the most common footwear, worn with trousers, dresses and jeans alike. Boots are the second most common, depending on the weather especially.

I’m not writing this post to educate you on Danish style. There are plenty of other blogs dedicate solely to that purpose. Rather, I want to note how the relaxed approach to wardrobe reflects the overall attitudes of Danish society. No one cares about how you dress when you go out because it’s simply not important to them. Sure, people admire nice outfits and I’ve seen a few people receive compliments for their attire. Nonetheless, everyone here has been so normal about what you wear out because your clothes don’t reflect who you are as a person at all.

When it’s cold, you wear a jacket. When it’s raining, you wear rainboots, even if that means showing up to the club with a soaking wet umbrella and galoshes. Everyone bikes or walks to get places, and though it is common to see women biking in skirts and dresses, it’s just as common to see people at the nicest restaurants in plain jeans and sweaters. Scandinavian attitudes towards material items are so dramatically different than the ones I grew up with in suburban America, and the lack of emphasis on what you’re wearing here in Copenhagen has positively affected my experience here in ways that I couldn’t have predicted.