Lisa in Denmark

Lisa is a junior majoring in markets and culture in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, with a minor in education in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development. During spring 2014, she is studying at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad with SMU-in-Copenhagen. The following posts are excerpts from Lisa’s blog at

Long Study Tour to Istanbul

This past week I went on my long study tour with my core course to Istanbul, Turkey! In class we have been discussing the various ethnic, religious, and political groups in Turkey and we got to see these groups firsthand during our trip. As a class we were divided between the following groups to study: Political Islam, Secularism & Kemalism, Non-Muslim Minorities, The Kurdish Question, and The Muslim Alevi. Our final assignment will be writing a new constitution for Turkey that our assigned group would enjoy. My group is the Non-Muslim Minorities, aka the Armenians, Greeks, and Jews.

I was very excited to go to Istanbul. Istanbul is very populated and is a predominantly Muslim country. Istanbul is also where Asia and Europe meet. I have a good friend from SMU that is from Istanbul, and I had heard many wonderful things about the city from him. Right when I walked off the plane (to take a bus to the baggage area), the sun shined in my eyes. It made me smile. My first impressions of Istanbul were great. The people seemed nice, and the area was beautiful. Also, because local elections were a week away, there were many political flags hanging around Istanbul.

At this time I would like to note that all of the photos in this post were taken by my amazing photographer classmate, Uzma, unless otherwise noted.


The first thing we did was take a boat tour of the Bosphorus, the strait that separates Europe and Asia.


Later on that night we saw a belly dancing performance. All of the dancers were very talented! I had never seen a male belly dancer before, but he was amazing. I imagine it is even more difficult for males to belly dance than females since they have smaller hips. My favorite performer was the solo female belly dancer. Her first performance was amazing and I didn’t think her second performance could top it, but it did! Her second performance was in the dark and she wore a glow-in-the-dark outfit. Very creative! All of the outfits in each of the performances were very beautiful.

The next day we went to the Spice Market. Lots of Turkish delights, teas and spices were sold there. I found the vendors to be very charming while trying to sell you their merchandise. Many used pick up lines such as:

“You dropped something… my heart”
“It’s free… if you’re from heaven”

Then there were the non-pick up lines, but still blatant and funny:
“Come spend your money!”


The next day we toured the Hippodrome, the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, and the Topkapi Palace.



There were many academic visits throughout the week although I am only highlighting a few.

On Monday we visited the Soroptimists, an international organization that works to improve the lives of women. The word Soroptimist means “Best for Women” in Latin. They were so nice and cooked us lunch. I had my favorite meal here: homemade Turkish pasta! It was so delicious, I want more already!


We also saw the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, where the head of the entire Orthodox Church resides. The picture below is of the golden wall inside the Patriarchate.


In the evening we met with some students from Bilgi University. They had also been divided into groups so we were able to discuss with them more about the group we were focusing on. Afterward we had a nice dinner with them. It was nice to meet Turkish people our own age and bond with them. They were a bit shy (mostly because of their English), but very friendly!

Photo courtesy of my classmate, Robin.


Many groups had meetings on Tuesday, but my Non-Muslim Minority group had most of the day off. We decided to go to the Grand Bazaar. I thought I would like the Grand Bazaar more than I did, but it turned out to be very expensive. Of course, you are supposed to bargain, but once you did you were left with maybe a fair price, but definitely not a bargain. Perhaps I am just not good at haggling. I did get a nice pair of earrings, though.


The next morning my Non-Muslim Minority group went to the Hrant Dink Foundation. The Hrant Dink Foundation is based on an Armenian man named Hrant Dink’s principles of dialogue, empathy, and peace. Hrant Dink tried to improve the relations between Armenians and Turks, but was prosecuted for criticizing “Turkishness”. He was assassinated by a 17-year-old Turkish nationalist. The Hrant Dink Foundation works toward equal opportunity, recognition of cultural differences, cultural relations, and more.


Later in the day our whole group met with the Turkish Youth Union. This group disliked the American mindset (they called it imperialism) yet they seemed to want separation of church and state and equality for all, just like the way America was founded … not to mention they showed a video of a model of President Barack Obama being beaten on the ground in a mob. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but that is just disrespectful and violent.

For dinner, our whole group enjoyed a meal on the rooftop of a nice restaurant that later turned into a club. Our professor is so good at social engineering. He purposely had us eat there so we would dance together instead of going off on our own in groups. It was so fun to dine and dance with everyone!

Other than the planned events, I liked walking around Istaglal (the walking street), trying new foods like the chestnuts being sold on the street, drinking the amazing fresh juices, $2.50 shawarma! (It is around $7.50 for shawarma in Denmark) and Taksim square:


Turkey was an amazing experience. I am so lucky.

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Travel Break One

It’s been a while since I last wrote; this is because we had our first travel break! I went to London, Paris, and Málaga for the first travel break and had an amazing time!


I flew to London with my American host sister and some other friends from DIS. They stayed in a hostel while I stayed with my old roommate (and great friend) from SMU at the London School of Economics. I tried to meet up with my American host sister and friends to tour, but none of us had phones that could work without WiFi. I ended up touring London on my own; it was great to be independent!

Buckingham Palace

An hour before the changing of the guards, but this might have been my favorite part.

I went to Borough Market, got myself some Moroccan food and listened to live music by myself. It was perfect.

The Big Ben

Trafalgar Square

Platform 9 3/4, I love Harry Potter!

The Tower Bridge

Shakespeare Globe Theater


There were many cool things to see in Paris, but I did not find the people to be as nice. Parisians do not like to speak English, they expect you to attempt to speak French. I learned “Hello” and “Do you speak English?” in French, but getting help in English took effort.

Mona Lisa and me!

Venus de Milo

We went to an elegant cafe and had white hot chocolate. It was delicious!

The Eiffel Tower, of course!


I loved being in Spain where things were cheaper than London and Paris. They also had amazing ham, ham cerrano, which I brought back to share with my host family. The people were also nice and it was fun to be immersed in Spanish. I went with some friends to Gibraltar, the tip of Spain, to see the cute monkeys!




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Queens and Castles

Kronborg Slot:


Our host father, Michael, took us on a tour of Kronborg slot, the castle famous for being the setting of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Our host father grew up in Helsingør so he was our professional tour guide, showing us the best routes to explore and giving us additional details about the history of the castle.

We visited the Casemates, where the soldiers were quartered during times of war, and saw the statue of Holger the Dane, one of Denmark’s legendary heroes. Afterwards, we visited the Chapel.



Fredensborg Slot:


About a week ago, my host siblings and I got a private tour of Fredensborg slot, the castle where the Queen lives seven months out of the year. Unfortunately she was not in residence at the time we visited, however, the visit was still extremely special since the castle is usually closed to the public until April. This private tour of Fredensborg slot was possible because our host mother knew the caretaker of the castle. The caretaker was giving a private tour to the President of the Pasadena Rose Parade and his wife, so we were privileged to be able to join in on their tour! Being with the caretaker we got to view some private rooms and hear neat stories:

-Most of the stables and extra rooms in the castle are the home to old furniture. This is furniture that the Queen does not give away because either it is not hers (it is the government’s) or it is an important piece of history.

-Important visitors to Fredensborg slot sign their name on the glass windows using a diamond pen. We saw the signatures of George W. Bush, Laura Bush, and Bill Clinton.

-Anyone can apply to work at the castle as long as they pass the security check. Of course, being a worker at Fredensborg means your phone and mail will be monitored.

-There were plants, trees, fabrics, and more that were hundreds of years old

-Only the Queen has bodyguards, the Prince does not.

-The Prince rearranges stuff when the Queen isn’t around and when the Queen comes home she tells him to put everything back.

-The prince’s hunting friends gave him this unicorn pictured below (The Queen dislikes it):


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One Month!

It’s been a month here in Denmark now and it feels that time has gone by very fast! I have been engaged in all of my classes and I am greatly enjoying studying here. Studying abroad has made me gain a new curiosity for America. Learning about the Danish way of doing things makes me want to revisit and learn more about the American way of doing things. For example, in my core course we have been focusing on immigration policies and perspectives in Denmark. I realize I do not know much about the immigration policies in America even though I’ve been surrounded by many immigrants. I’ve become more interested in American politics and also more of a critical thinker.

I can say that one of my favorite things about Denmark so far is the social trust here. I love that I can feel safe walking home alone at night or that I don’t have to keep my belongings close to me on the public transportation or in public places. The social trust here in Denmark has a lot to do with the nation and welfare state here, which is why immigration has become so controversial. Perhaps it is worth it to pay such high taxes and maintain a homogeneous culture to feel this safe all of the time. Safety gives you a lot of freedom.

I feel I’ve become a bit “danishified” since being here. Earlier during the arrival workshop, a previous DIS student had described Danes as being similar to nuts – having a hard outer shell but being soft on the inside. In other words, Danes are more reserved in the beginning, but once you “crack” their shell, they become great friends. Danes may come across as more reserved since they do not like small talk. You do not generally start up a conversation with the person sitting next to you on the train. If you ask a Dane “how are you” they will think you really want to know how they are, unlike in America where you ask this question to fill up the void as you walk past each other without leaving any actual time for a genuine response. I feel that the initial reserve from Danes is part of the reason why a social drinking culture has been established in Denmark. Drinking is essentially social lubricant for Danes. This is different from America, where the drinking culture (at least in college) is more of a binge one – excessive consumption in a short amount of time, aka drinking to get drunk. In Denmark it is acceptable and normal if a person only has one beer.

I realized the Dane in me today when I met two Americans who had only been in Denmark for 24 hours. Upon meeting them, they were immediately warm and open to conversation, asking us questions about our lives. They did not have an initial reserved shell, like the Danes. The thing was, although I did not have the Danish reserved shell, I was not immediately excited and as open to conversation as the new-to-Denmark Americans were (like how I would be back home). I think this difference mostly has to do with the fact that I tend to let the Danish people initiate things (handshake or hug?) since I like to observe as a foreigner and am at times shy to fulfill my own cultural norms if it’s different from what the Danes are used to (it might make some Danes uncomfortable if I hug them without getting past their shell, etc). Either way, I could see how spending more time here might make one conform a bit more socially.

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For the end of core course week, we journeyed to Sweden to see how a country similar to Denmark approaches immigration.

Highlights from Sweden:

-Exploring Malmö



-Visit to Ögardsskolan & Mosque in Malmö. The mosque is also a Muslim school.



-Visit to the Lindingsplan ghetto. Here we learned about one of the integration programs.

-The cutest Bread and Breakfast place with the sweetest staff



-Exploring Gothenburg



-Visit with the Sweden Democrats Political Party. This was one of my favorite visits in Sweden. The Sweden Democrats want to limit immigration to Sweden. Our group did not hold back asking the representatives difficult questions. It was a very interesting session.

-Visit to the Museum of World Culture.

-Watching Yallahrup Færgeby with translations by Professor Jakob. This is quite the provocative animation.

-Bowling at Bruket


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Core Course Week

It is core course week, which means we spend the whole week with our core course in the classroom, on field study tours, and a weekend trip! In my core course, Cultural Diversity and Social Capital, we have been focusing on immigration in Denmark.

Denmark is known for being a homogenous country (ethnically, religiously, culturally, etc.), and for its welfare state where Danes pay high taxes but receive many benefits. In recent years, immigration to Denmark has increased, especially from non-Western countries, where the culture is very different. The question we are exploring is whether immigrants and the cultural diversity that they bring threaten the nation and welfare state of Denmark.

Why might immigrants threaten the nation state of Denmark?

Denmark prides itself in its high levels of social trust – trust among people like yourself, people unlike yourself, institutions, and government. I myself can feel the strong sense of social trust in Denmark when I feel completely comfortable walking home late at night by myself. The homogenous country may be threatened by immigration because high levels of cultural diversity are correlated with lower social trust. The worry is that with more immigrants, especially from non-Western countries where the culture is very different, social trust will decrease.

Furthermore, because of some of the cultural differences (and perhaps cultural disagreements) between Danes and immigrants, the question of integration vs. assimilation of immigrants must also be asked. I’m sure my class will be going further into depth on this later on.

Why might immigrants threaten the welfare state of Denmark?

The welfare system may not be sustainable with all of the new immigrants. Immigrants may become dependent on the welfare system without contributing to it. There is also not much room in Denmark for unskilled labor (if you have uneducated immigrants) since everyone in Denmark gets free education. Hiring immigrants may also cause Danes to lose their own jobs, especially for those that work in the immigration field.

These are just a few points, and of course, there are arguments that immigrants do not threaten either the nation or welfare state of Denmark, but that is for another time.

To help answer this question, we have gone on some field study tours throughout the week:


On Monday, We visited a Muslim private school. The idea of the school was that it was a safe place for Muslim students to go and to learn about their culture while living in a Danish society. Most of the students are from families of immigrants. We got to personally talk with the students and it seemed that most of the students feel Denmark is their home (not their parents’ home country). In a school like that I can’t help but think how isolated the students are from people different from themselves even with all of the integration field trips the teacher was assuring us of. Does a school like this help the assimilation/integration of Muslims into Danish society? Does growing up feeling accepted and building a strong sense of self help you tolerate others more later on? Or should these students be exposed to people unlike themselves even if it risks them feeling unaccepted?


We took a guided walking tour of Nørrebro and Tingbjerg, to look at the ghettos that recently lost their ghetto title, aka ex-ghettos. Besides the close and crowded buildings, a neighborhood must meet two of the following criterion to be given the title of a ghetto in Denmark:

1. Have 270 of 10,000 people with a criminal record living in the area

2. Have 50% or more Non-Western immigrants or descendants of immigrants living in the area (interesting that the origin of the immigrants is specified).

3. Have 40% unemployment rate for residents aged 18-64


One of the ex-ghettos we visited had only been declared an ex-ghetto three days ago. This is because when they renewed their data, they found 263 of 10,000 had a criminal record. Because the number was below 270, the neighborhood no longer met two of the three criterion and lost their title of a ghetto. This sounds like a good thing but a ghetto means benefits such as extra money from the government for special programs to help improve the neighborhood. With only seven people with criminal records that moved out of the neighborhood, the neighborhood is probably not much different.


We visited a Danish high school and got to ask the students questions about trust. Do they trust others? Do they trust people that don’t look like themselves? Why is trust different in Denmark and the U.S.?

With the Danish students that I talked to, I found that they do trust people that are like themselves more. However, they interpreted “people unlike themselves” not as a physical characteristic, but a behavioral characteristic. For example, one of the Danes said if the person was very loud they might be less trusting. It had nothing to do with if they physically looked different from them. The main idea I found was that Danish people base trust off of one’s attitude. We compared trust in the U.S. In the U.S. we base trust off of attitude but also off of socioeconomic status. Since Denmark is a welfare state, big disparities in socioeconomic status are basically nonexistent, therefore it is not an item trust is based off of.

We also got a little off topic and started talking about other American cultural things. Some of the Danes could not fathom why we would pay doctors to treat us. They thought the doctors were just greedy people charging clients outrageous amounts. This can be seen the other way around. We may have reason to trust our doctors more because bad doctors are eliminated through the competitive labor market for doctors. In Denmark it is easy for the doctors to remain complacent (not grow in their craft) since they have more security in their job (it is more difficult to fire someone in Denmark). It was nice to hear some Danish perspectives on American culture.

I have very much enjoyed the week so far! I really like my professor, my classmates, the course content, and the field study tours we have participated in! The rest of the week we will be in Sweden exploring the Swedish immigration perspective, so until next time!

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Student Network Event

This weekend there was a network event where all of the homestays or students living in the folkehøjskole (A unique Danish learning and living school where students do not receive grades but “education for life”) in the northern area of Greater Copenhagen got together. There were icebreakers, bonding, and best of all, delicious homemade food! The event was a potluck lunch so we made many different types of smørrebrod.

We were told there was also going to be a cake contest so my host family and I made a homemade cake, called a summer cake. Everything in the summer cake from the cream to the meringue was homemade! Our hard work payed off and we won the cake contest!

The start of the summer cake.

The start of the summer cake.

The two layers of the summer cake.

The two layers of the summer cake.




The many different types of smørrebrod we made.

The many different types of smørrebrod we made.

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A Walk Through Helsingør

Today Ainsley, my host mother, Mette, and I went on a walk through Helsingør. As we walked, Mette told us about different buildings and sites.


The Little Mermaid is a famous sculpture in Copenhagen of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale and is a symbol of Denmark. In Helsingør, lies The Little Boy, a sculpture very similar to The Little Mermaid, but of a boy with legs. We had fun taking selfies and pictures through the reflective skin of the sculpture.

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Copenhagen Fashion Week

A winter coat designed by a second year student.

A winter coat designed by a second year student.

A vest designed by a first year student.

A vest designed by a first year student.

A winter coat designed by a second year student.

A winter coat designed by a second year student.

One of the free events during Copenhagen Fashion Week: free hairstyling

One of the free events during Copenhagen Fashion Week: free hairstyling










It’s fashion week in Copenhagen! One of the many events put on for fashion week was an open house at the Fashion Design Akademiet. The Fashion Design Akademiet is very close to DIS, so my host sister, Ainsley, and I decided to stop by. The Academy is a two-year program for students pursuing fashion design.

One Dane kindly introduced us to the school and showed us her work (the two winter coats pictured above). It takes a lot of work to turn a fashion design into reality. There are patterns to follow, colors and fabrics to choose, and then the actual sewing itself. The students pay for all of the materials themselves, but then they get to keep what they make! Fashion students must also think about their stance on certain issues, such as what materials to use in their designs. The Dane we met used real rabbit fur in her winter coats. She had decided she would use real fur from animals that would be killed for food anyway.

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View from the Round Tower

tumblr_n02kvbeyXm1toqucmo1_1280 tumblr_n02kvbeyXm1toqucmo3_1280 tumblr_n02kvbeyXm1toqucmo2_1280View from the Round Tower.

The wind carries the snow like sand here.

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