I’m really surprised to realize that I’ve already been in Denmark for a whole month. It’s been feeling a lot like my first month at Vassar did — meeting so many new people at once, needing to learn how to navigate new buildings and spaces from the get-go, and feeling like each day has surely lasted more than twenty-four hours. With all the newness, though, it’s been comforting to be taking classes that are so similar to Vassar classes, in terms of class size, discussion format, and workload.
One of my favorite things about DIS (Danish Institute for Study Abroad) is the way that my academic schedule allots so much time for travel, both in conjunction with my classes and independently. My program includes two week-long study tour trips with my core class throughout the course of the semester, and I will have two spare weeks of unscheduled vacation after that. Last week, I embarked on the first of my two week-long study trips with my core class, Environmental Science of the Arctic. We drove to the island of Møn, in southeast Denmark, to explore Møns Klint and Stevns Klint, two beach-side cliffs that have retained a superbly clear sedimentary record of the past 70 million years of glacial and interglacial history. During the week, we hiked along the cliffs, studied beautiful coral fossils at the Faxe Limestone Quarry, and visited two local geological museums. At Stevns Klint, we were thrilled to be able to see the ~66 million-year-old K-T boundary (Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary), the marker of the mass extinction event that we now associate with the end of most dinosaur life.
In two weeks, my Environmental Science of the Arctic class will take me to western Greenland to take ice core samples and study Arctic glacial history. For a taste of what we will be investigating, check out this clip from the 2012 documentary Chasing Ice — it’s breathtaking and dangerously-captured footage of the recent calving (breaking apart) of Greenland’s Jakobshavn Isbrae Glacier.
In addition to these longer study trips, we also have Wednesdays free every week for day-long field studies. Three weeks ago, I visited Folketing, the Danish Parliament, with my Environmental Policy class; there we met with a few members of Parliament to discuss the chess game that is environmental policy making in the EU. The week before that, we took a frigid and blustery boat ride to Middelgrundens Vindmøllelaug, the 20-turbine offshore wind farm that provides ~4% of Copenhagen’s energy. And this Wednesday, my Renewable Energy Systems class will visit Lynettefællesskabet, the sewage treatment plant that processes my neighborhood’s water. These trips have not only been tremendously informative as we examine the politics of sustainability in Europe, but they have also provided really fun opportunities to explore new corners of the city.
Taking such fascinating classes has made it hard to find a balance between studying and spending time with my truly wonderful host family, though. Adjusting from living in a dorm to living in a home stay has been a trickier transition than I expected (planning around a late, nearly two-hour dinner every night, for example, and not disturbing people if I stay up late to do work), but every moment has been worth it. This weekend, we hosted a big birthday party for both of my host parents–seventeen people crammed into our tiny apartment! I’ve been to a few extended family gatherings now, and each one has been marked with an enormous amount of laughter and ardent conversation, with people listening to each other so intently that they frequently seem to forget to eat and end up having to reheat their food! Each family member has been eager to welcome me, and I continue to be both impressed with everyone’s fluidity with languages here and humbled that almost everyone I meet is excited to speak with me in English even though I cannot speak to them in Danish.
If nothing else, getting to know four people in particular will be my motivation to keep learning Danish: my host parents’ nieces and nephews. Kids begin learning English (and, later, French and/or German) as early as first grade in most cases, but even the oldest of my host cousins has barely begun English in school. So far, the five of us have been able to entertain ourselves for hours by pointing out different objects and naming them in our own language, and teaching each other numbers and letters. Toward the end of dinner this weekend, two of the younger cousins left early to go to bed (dinner lasted late into the night, of course!), and the older two invited me to watch Frozen with them in the living room. We watched the movie in English, but with Danish subtitles, belting out every song in both languages at once, and I nearly melted from the cuteness. There really is nothing like being able to share an experience like that with people you’ve just met, especially when those people happen to be some of the cuddliest and giggliest 6 and 9 year old people that you’ve ever met.
I’m off to do a bit of grocery shopping. Until next time, Vassar! Stay warm in the snow!
Folketing, seat of the Danish parliament