I know I’m supposed to be studying in Copenhagen, and writing about Denmark, and being in Denmark, but as I’ve realized this past week, a significant portion of my semester abroad is going to take place outside of Copenhagen, and even outside of Denmark. The way my program works is that every third week is a travel week of some kind, and every core course (mine is biomedicine) goes on a long study tour somewhere during one of the first two travel weeks. My program went this past week, so I’ve just returned to Denmark from a week in Edinburgh, Scotland.
It occurred to me when we were leaving last Sunday that this was the first time I’d been out of Denmark since arriving in August. (And it was the first time I’d been back to Scotland since I was there in summer 2010.) The inter-Europe travel process is an interesting one. For one, at the Copenhagen Airport, much of the airline check-in process is more or less automated and is done by each individual passenger at a touchscreen kiosk (including bag check). The security lines are far more laid back and efficient than those in America – and you don’t even have to take off your shoes! The only real additional screening measure is for those flying out of the Schengen area; they have to have their passports checked before proceeding to their gates.
Denmark is a Schengen country, so when I originally came here after a brief layover in Iceland, I had no passport control or customs forms. Now that I’m back, to go to almost every other country in Europe, it’s basically like I’m taking a domestic flight in the US (though with much cheaper airfare). The UK, however, while a member of the European Union, is not a Schengen country. So when we arrived in Edinburgh, we had to fill out a form and then have our passports stamped before we could leave the airport. Accordingly, we each got another stamp when we returned to Copenhagen.
To see how much living in Denmark has changed how I think about things, all I really needed to do was leave and spend some time in a country where English is the official language. I’ve gotten used to saying “tak” when completing a transaction, but in Scotland I had to remind myself to say “thank you” instead. Having all the signs in English made it easier to navigate and generally function. And while this isn’t language-related, the British pound is much closer in value to a US dollar than a Danish krone is, so price conversions were much more straightforward.
Temporarily leaving the homogeneity of Denmark also reminded me of the cultural difference that I have begun to wholly take for granted. The Danes are often quiet, reserved. They are very particular about how they dress. There are no open container laws in Denmark, but I only saw one person carrying a can of beer around in Scotland. And the low-income Danes can regularly be seen searching the streets for empty cans and bottles to recycle for money, which makes beggars on the streets just sitting and asking for change a very uncommon sight. There are quite a few of them in Edinburgh, though.
Beautiful landmarks and buildings aside, Edinburgh was in some ways kind of comforting. I love Denmark, but perhaps the similarities between Brits and Americans made it easier to feel like I could blend into the crowds in Scotland without really trying. And the way our tour was set up, being a tourist there was sort of effortless in a way that living Denmark isn’t always. I’m glad to be home – for right now, Denmark definitely is home – but it was nice to get out for a bit and remember that there’s more to the world. I’m hoping I’ll feel that way about Vassar, too, when I finally return – that it’s good to be back, but it’s good to know there’s something else beyond the bubble.