Friday, May 16, 2014

Life in Denmark Was Good

Goodness, I’m so behind with blogging! Here I am, more than 3 weeks into my time in England and I’ve haven’t shared anything about Denmark! But before I talk about the good life in Denmark, I want to preface things by describing a bit of my emotional state upon arriving in the country. I have posted some of the highlights of the two months I spent in Germany, but what follows is a closer look at my thoughts and struggles during that time. I wrote about this in my third quarterly report I sent to the Watson last month, so I will include a lot of it here. It serves as a good recap of the last few months. 

“I took a different approach this quarter and was not stationed in one city for the whole time. Instead, I had a short term home base in three different cities, in two different countries. As a result, the past three months were very different from the six months that came before. My experiences, emotions, thoughts, project work, and living situations the last three months in Germany and Denmark were vastly different when compared with my time in Jordan or Japan. 

I started this quarter in the quaint city of Nuremberg, Germany and my time here was marked by one word—unsettled. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly relished the luxuries of being in a Western European country after my adventure in the Middle East: good indoor heating and plumbing, convenient public transportation, and no stares from loitering men. Likewise, it was rather refreshing to be in a small, sleepy, Bavarian city after the utter chaos of Amman and the crowdedness of Tokyo. Despite these positives (and many others) I was often consumed with anxiety about the coming months. I wasn’t sleeping well and my brain was all over the place. Half of me was present in Nuremberg, while the other half was planning for a visit from my family, scheduling my stay in Hamburg, Germany, and assessing the feasibility and timing of my stay in Denmark. I quickly realized the nice thing about staying in one place for a longer period, there’s far more time to focus on the task at hand. In Jordan and Japan my brain was not pulled in so many different directions and I missed that during the month in Nuremberg. 

However, having too much to think about isn’t necessarily a foreign feeling. Four years at Harvey Mudd taught me a lot about handling anxiety and constant busyness. Of course, there’s one big difference between the brain pull of school and that of the Watson. At school, my schedule was mostly prescribed for me. I was told when to go to class, turn in homework, or attend meetings. The “have to” mindset has no part in the Watson Fellowship. Nothing is dictated for me. And while this complete freedom is one of my favorite aspects of the fellowship, during this month in Nuremberg I felt the exhaustion of having to constantly create my own structure, routine, and priorities. During this month, it was quite taxing to think about how to fill my days. All of these feelings—unsettledness, anxiety, exhaustionleft me significantly unmotivated. 

But with a lot of prayer and a “just push through” attitude I made it through being unmotivated and made some fantastic project connections! After three months of “Arab time” where scheduling is flexible, most things start late, and communication is hit or miss, I so appreciated the quick email responses from people in Germany and their willingness to meet with me. It was really a good place to go for such a short time because everyone was so efficient at getting back to me and scheduling appointments! 

Some of my struggles that first month in Germany may have been due to missing my family as well. After seven months away, I needed to see some familiar faces! So, my family’s visit was a refreshing interruption to my solo travels. Their visit was just the beginning of a complete whirlwind of a month though! After sending them off, I headed to Hamburg in the northern part of Germany. I was short three travel buddies, but I gained a suitcase (winter clothes take up far more room than clothes for summer in Japan) and a fresh perspective on the convenience of traveling alone. 

After just two and a half weeks in Hamburg, I uprooted myself once again and moved to Copenhagen, Denmark. I handled this transition far better than the move from Amman to Nuremberg, only slight anxiety and much more excitement. However, I didn’t get much chance to adjust before I headed to Norway for a three day conference organized by the Norwegian Down Syndrome association. I had a total blast meeting different families, listening to interesting lectures, sharing my experience as a sibling to new parents, and learning about the situation for people with Down Syndrome in Norway. I even learned some sweet new dance moves from the kids at the Disco night. It was a fantastically stimulating three days and I can’t think of a better way I could have spent my time on World Down Syndrome Day.

The Norway trip concluded my whirlwind month. I came back to Copenhagen for the final month of this quarter. A month marked by complete joy and contentment. I finally felt like I was able to take a breath, rest, and reassess my priorities.”

German was amazing, but it took its toll on both my mental and physical energy. I was able to rest, recuperate, and process everything in Copenhagen. Here’s some of the things that generally contributed to my contentedness:

I had a fantastic living situation. I didn’t know this before coming to Copenhagen, but there are not many vacancies in the city. Just as I was beginning to think I would have to spend five weeks in a hostel, I got a response back on an ad I had posted a couple weeks before. Anne and her daughter, Eva, had a spare room they were renting out. It was perfect and absolutely an answer to prayer. Anne and Eva treated me like part of the family, but gave me space and independence as well. I felt completely at home, the room was luxury, and the location was a place I thought I would only dream of living. 

Speaking of location, the sea was only about one mile from the apartment. One mile through a beautiful wooded park and past an old castle before opening up onto the coast. It's been years since I ran seriously in high school, but in Denamrk I started running again. I had to take advantage of the perfect location and was even further motivated by the healthy and fit Danish people around me. After the extreme heat in Japan, the cultural stigma of running outside in Jordan, and the cold winter in Germany, it was time to get out and run. And I loved it!

Finally, let’s talk about “hygge.” This is a Danish word that doesn’t translate well into English, but it is a hugely important part of Danish culture.  After talking with numerous people about what hygge means to them, the best way I can describe it is “cozy quality time.” Getting together with friends and family, sharing a meal, engaging in conversation or watching a movie, that’s hygge. Intentional quality time with the people you’re close to, in a cozy atmosphere, that’s hygge. And I think it’s fantastic! Without knowing we were channeling our Danish roots, my family (particularly my Mom) is quite good at cozy quality time, it’s something I grew up appreciating. For example, I remember so fondly the “picnic” dinners we had when I was kid. A simple meal spread out on a blanket in the living room as we watched Little House on the Prairie or You’ve Got Mail. Learning about and experiencing hygge in Denmark made me feel so at home and relaxed. It was lovely. 

Part of the reason I didn’t blog so much during my stay in Denmark was because it felt like my time, time I just wanted to relish for myself. But now, after the fact, I appreciate the opportunity to relive it as I share it here. Life in Denmark was good. :)

Eva (left) and Anne (right). My Danish family! 

Love them so much!

Eating traditional Danish ice cream in Helsingør. Two scoops of ice cream 
topped with whip cream, jam, and a flødeboller 
or chocolate covered marshmallow. YUM!

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