Before I left for Denmark, one of the main goals I had for my study-abroad experience was to meet as many Danes as possible. I wanted to experience the Danish culture and get a sense of what real life in the country was all about. When I first arrived, achieving this goal seemed like a bit of a challenge, since I was living with and going to school with Americans. However, in the last month-and-a-half, I have slowly been branching out, trying my hardest to interact with my Danish teachers, RAs, and random people on the street. By far the best experience I’ve had with meeting Danes has been through a program for which I signed up, called “Visiting Family.” The program gives students not living with a host family the opportunity to be matched up with a Danish family to visit and spend as much time with as you would like.
I really feel that I lucked out with my visiting family. They emailed me before I even arrived in Copenhagen, introducing themselves and expressing their excitement to meet me; they even invited me to spend a night at their house during the first weekend that I spent in Denmark. My family consists of the Mom and Dad, named Max and Inge, and their four kids: Anders, Tine, Bente, and Lise. At first we emailed back and forth, but now I am Facebook friends with all of them, and I mostly make plans with the family through Facebook messages.
The first weekend I was in Denmark, I took a train to my family’s house in Roskilde, which is a 30-minute train ride from the center of Copenhagen. Max and Inge met me at the train station, and we walked to their house. The first thing that struck me when we arrived was their beautiful yard. It was small, but filled with countless apple trees, tomato plants, and even a small chicken coop with four chickens in it. Most surprising of all was the fact that they keep bees! They have a small apiary enclosure and out front, they have a sign advertising that they sell honey. When I left the next day, they sent me home with a big jar of their delicious homemade honey.
Everyone in their family takes turns making dinner each night, and the night that I visited, Bente, who is 16, was making lasagna from scratch—including the pasta. I was amazed and excited to watch as she made the dough from eggs and flour and then carefully fed it through a small machine that flattened the dough into thin slices as she cranked the handle. The lasagna turned out to be delicious, and I loved the fact that each member of the family, including the kids, all took turns cooking dinner. It created a more equal environment where everyone was happy to help one another.
The next day we had a traditional Danish breakfast, which included a layout of dried cereal, a type of oatmeal called muesli, yogurt, bread, cheese, and various jams and sandwich meats. Afterwards, we rode bikes over to a forest in Roskilde. Inge and Max had planned for us to go orienteering, which is a popular activity in Denmark. Orienteering is a kind of scavenger hunt in the woods where, equipped with a map and a compass, you must run to find certain checkpoints at which you stamp your map to prove that you have visited each spot. Being in the forest was a nice breath of fresh air compared to Copenhagen where, as in any big city, there is lots of noise, lots of smells, and not so many trees. After biking along the beautiful rolling hills of Roskilde for a few more hours and stopping to pick elderberries, we returned home to have a mid afternoon snack of “pancakes,” which is what Danes call crepes.
Needless to say, this first experience that I had with meeting Danes gave me the encouragement I needed to put myself out there and meet more. While I love my living situation because it allows me to live right in the city with only a small commute to class, I feel that spending time with a real Danish family is a very important cultural experience to have while abroad, and I am so glad that this program gives me the opportunity to do so. Although I don’t live with the family, I still get the chance to practice my Danish, try Danish foods to which I would not otherwise have been exposed, and to find out what it is really like to be a part of a family in foreign country. I wouldn’t trade it for anything!