I had spoken to Povl before via the internet, but this time we did the formal face to face introductions before jumping on the first metro to Holger Danskes Vej where I would be living for the next year. Some small talk later, we arrived at this red brick building wrapped around a communal courtyard, where other apprehensive exchange students nervously asked and offered their names and nationalities. You will find the first week begins to sound like an episode of Blind Date as you meet so many people and inevitably hear Cilla Black repeating: “Contestant number one, what’s your name and where you come from?” This is all part of the rite of passage of an exchange student.
Povl and I located room 102 on the ground floor and entered in eager anticipation. He walked in with me and remarked, “Nice room . . . well bye then!” And that was it - I was on my own in Denmark. I surveyed the room which was what I would describe as typical Scandinavian design: wooden floors, white walls, white sheets, Ikea desk, Ikea chair and - yes, you guessed it - Ikea lamp. I don’t think a room has ever looked so empty. But with no time to feel lonely, I unpacked my belongings and headed out into the courtyard and began my introductions.
You soon realise in such situations that you are not the only one feeling crazy for leaving your very lovely home University for a different country where people are from around the world and speak different languages. Everyone has the same apprehensions and are therefore linked by this joint feeling of being a mile out of one’s comfort zone. These anxieties all disappear with one simple action – all you need to do is say hello. As soon as you have met your first person all the nerves vanish and your exchange really does begin.
My first week was incredibly fun. Looking back on it now, it seemed as if I was meeting people from all corners of the globe almost by the minute, for my days were occupied by the Danish Crash Course Program and my nights were filled with the Social Program organised by the university’s exchange crew, who have looked after me all this year. I quickly found that I had no time to think of anything else but enjoying myself and making new friends. By the time the first lecture came around, I knew so many people in that class it felt as though I was back in Edinburgh seeing old friends after a summer break. Looking back on my exchange as I am now, three-quarters of the way threw, I have absolutely no regrets and nothing but fond memories. I would definitely go as far to say that it is the best decision I have ever made. With your time on exchange so short, you learn to maximise every moment and say yes to everything. It helps you grow and become more confident and I hope there is still much more to come this spring as I embark on my second half!
I will openly admit that I never found a profound culture shock living in Denmark (this was not the same for Russia, but that is another story). However, subtle differences between the Danes and Brits do exist. Tourists may find the locals rude and abrasive at times. For example, if you are walking down a street and get bumped into, the culprit will not apologise; also if you are on a bus or metro and unknown to you, you are blocking someone from the exit, said blocked person will not ask you to move - but stand up close to you in bullish mood and expect your cooperation. This may actually not surprise you if I told you that in Danish there is no word for please - it simply does not exist. However, please don’t be offended by this nature, because all things considered, they don't mean to be rude, it's just part of the culture. Knowing this before travelling helps you realise the delicate differences and therefore you can prepare yourself and understand how the natives behave. The Danes are in fact really friendly and sincere. It is a well known fact that, maybe to begin with, a Dane is slightly closed off, but after a few beers he/she will be your best friend.
'Hygge': Pronounced phonetically ‘hooga’ it simply is the most heart-warming, inclusive and friendly word that ever existed. In any other language it is impossible to translate and there exists no synonym known to man that can act as a capable substitute. Hygge is both an atmosphere and a state of mind. To create a hyggelig ambience one must have to hand some, or all, of the following: candles, food, comfortable surroundings and close friends. Well at least to the best of my understanding. The art of Hygge lies in creating an experience which is homely, care-free, and above all, lovely. It will not surprise you to learn that Denmark is cold in the winter. Therefore what could be more pleasant than warming one's cockles around the fireplace with one's closest chums? It is also the most perfect adjective to describe the Danish people; affable, accommodating and acquiescent.
'Gymnasium': is not a Gym. A 25 year old, postgraduate exchange student from America, who shall remain nameless, was looking to join the gym. So, as most fitness fanatics do at the beginning of a semester, he headed to what he thought was the closest gym to gather information as to the likely price and equipment and all other gym-like requirements. Upon entering this modern Danish design building he became slightly bewildered at being unable to locate the main reception. So he searched the corridors for signs of life, until being asked to leave the premises by a less than pleased member of staff. He became increasingly bemused by this turn of events as he tried to explain without any luck that he was just there to pick up information on how to sign up. It was only after he had left the vicinity and returned home that someone enlightened him to the fact that a gymnasium in Denmark is a school!
Find out more about Copenhagen from our Mole (Martin...) with brilliant insider's tips.