First, a little poem dedicated to Copenhagen
You're cold, you're reserved and rather shy, yet there are 7 things I like about you,
Oh you… Copenhagen
Your bikes, your bustle, your hyggelit cafes built to nestle
You're calm, you're humble, and sarcastic like no other
I never thought I’d like 7 things about you,
But oh no, here I am 3 months in and wishing there were 3 more (but no more than that ; )
1. Biking everywhere!
Before coming to Copenhagen, I knew this place was big on biking. What I didn’t expect was how extensively people biked here. On some roads, bike lanes are bigger than car lanes or at least the same size. At first glance, it felt like literally everyone bikes here. An eight-year-old to eighty-year-old, sunshine or rain, Danes have their bikes out. Even parents ride bikes with their toddlers hanging out in the front. I was told by a local that bikes in Copenhagen outnumber the people living here by two times.
Not going to lie, I was quite nervous about riding my bike here in Copenhagen, although I love biking at Oberlin. For some reason, the idea of riding beside big trucks and cars along with aggressively good bikers freaked me out. It was only after my first month here that I mustered the courage to rent an affordable bike from Swapfiets (which is pretty big here). I felt more confident upon seeing well-regulated traffic rules for bikers on the street. I took a basic bike riding lesson to get familiar with all the biking rules and hand signals. My first biking experiences were kind of nerve-wracking, given that my bike was a tad bit big for me, and I’d almost always lose my balance and fall down (oopsiee!). Slowly with time and perseverance, I started feeling more confident but was always on the lookout for cars bumping into me. It was only when a local assured me that a driver behind the wheel would lose their license if they hit a biker! So car drivers are rather cautious and usually stay far away from bikes.
Biking to places is obviously fun and always puts me in a good mood. It must be the experience of fresh air, the occasional sunshine, and all the endorphins that put most other Copenhageners and me in a good mood. I would say that going super sweaty and winded to places is almost worth it when I get to be outdoors and get a workout in all at the same time!
Biking at night is also the safest mode of transportation where you can avoid all the super drunk people on the road. Biking at night is also very peaceful, and when I catch the beautiful moon over the lakes, my night is made :).
2. Winter dipping
Since coming to Copenhagen, I have been a part of a very warm community called Rort. This is a place where I go for movement, meditation, friendly conversation, and warm hugs. I go to a staircase training class here at 7 am, after which we as a group go to the canal and do a winter dip and grab coffee afterward. It is a beautiful experience to see the water flowing in the canal, the colors of the sky changing, and a slow pickup in traffic around us as the city wakes up. This is also an intense cardio and mobility workout, and I can’t help but feel alive as my heart thumps in my chest and I fight to catch my breath taking it all in. Even though I hate my alarm ringing at 6 am, the experience is so worth it and a great way to get the morning started.
With their Viking roots, Danes seem to love winter bathing followed by a sauna. They also go in nips and butts naked!! Undoubtedly, this was a culture shock at first. The cold and the nudity were both so new to me. At first, I just sat on the sidelines, taking it all in. The second week, I literally just dipped my toes into the cold water. The third time was the charm for me; after my sweaty workout, I jumped into the canal with everyone else. I stayed in for 6 minutes to everyone’s awe. I was so proud of myself and felt super grateful for all the lovely humans who cheered for me and took me in a supportive hug after my first dip. From then on, there was no looking back. I have really taken to winter dipping and do it whenever I get a chance! It is also a liberating feeling to fully embrace my body in all its uniqueness and feel respectfully comfortable around other bodies. Winter dipping makes me numb and yet feel so alive all at the same time!!
Volunteering at Studenterhuset, a student-led cafe for students by students, reminded me of the Oberlin Co-ops. I signed up to volunteer behind the bar, where I make and serve hot beverages during my daytime shifts and alcoholic beverages during my night shifts. This has been a great opportunity to meet Danes (our supervisors and customers) and other international students.
I have learned to make some yummy lattes and mochas, although my latte art still sucks (boo!). I have made some cool friends during these shifts and learned more about customer service in Denmark. I also get some of my language practice during my work shifts, leaving everyone laughing with tears. Overall, it’s been a great experience building community and feeling more grounded in a place while also meeting some amazing people.
Hygge (pronounced ‘hue-guh’) means a sense of coziness and warmth. Denmark is big on ‘hygge’ which seems pivotal especially during the cold winter months when it feels like it's midnight at 4 pm!! (No joking.) I first noticed it in the cozy little cafes decorated with fluffy couches and offering warm blankets. Even the bathrooms in cafes are hyggelit, they all have such a personality! Moreover, hygge is also experienced during family gatherings where they express their hospitality to guests and make them feel at home. ‘Hyggelit’ is also my favourite Danish word so far!
Copenhagen is so safe that it was almost hard for me to believe. I still remember the initial days I would still have my guard up high and only travel at night with friends. Besides the city center and a few clubs at night filled with very drunk party-goers, Copenhagen feels very safe to me. Safety is often underrated but can be one of the most liberating feelings which enables me to explore and fully live in my element. However, it was super important to know which streets and spots to avoid as a person of color because the nightlife is where most of the unpleasant experiences occur. I’m glad I asked my community advisors for tips regarding that.
Besides that, I see little kids on the metro by themselves. What shocked me the most was seeing mothers leave their infants in strollers all by themselves outside cafes and shops. This also gave me an insight into Danish trust levels fostered through the welfare system. Children being stolen apparently isn’t a thing in Denmark, so it’s completely normal to leave babies and dogs outside grocery stores and cafes. This also goes to show the safety levels in Denmark.
6. Studying in the middle of a city
Going from studying in the middle of nowhere (which I love too!) to studying in the middle of the city was a transition that was not the easiest. DIS is at the heart of the city center, surrounded by cute little cafes, restaurants, clothing stores, and whatnot. This is the complete opposite of studying in Oberlin, which is nestled in the small town of Oberlin, Ohio.
During the initial weeks, I would always be tempted to stop by the numerous bubble tea shops and check out the cute second-hand apparel stores, which were literally on my way to class. It was hard to discipline myself and save my wallet. The streets around my class are usually bustling with people, and it's always fun people-watching from the little coffee shops instead of doing my homework. Overall, I think it is both a blessing and a curse to study amidst a pool of convenience and consumerism, but it’s a good taste of what my life would be like if I went to a bigger school in the city. I still choose small-town Oberlin, hands down.
7. Classes and teaching style
I learned about Grundtvig’s teaching philosophy in my Danish language and culture class. According to this teaching philosophy, teachers and students are equals, and students have an equal say in their learning. It goes against the grain of rote learning, fosters learning for the sake of learning, and removes the pressure from grades. Most of my classes here are very discussion-heavy and focus deeply on critical thinking. Teachers encourage questions and don’t mind steering away from the syllabus to spark productive discussions.
Even in my Danish language and learning class, where learning a new language is quite a humbling experience, my teacher picks on us but never makes us feel pressured to answer questions or discourages us when we mispronounce words in Danish. Even in my other classes, teachers are quite informal, go by their first names, and are open to giving us recommendations in Copenhagen.
Thank you for taking an interest in my life here in Copenhagen :D
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January 25, 2023