Rachel SMU-in-Copenhagen

Rachel is junior majoring in biology and chemistry and minoring in mathematics and religious studies. She’s also a President’s Scholar, and she’s spending the Fall 2007 semester with SMU-in-Copenhagen.

Bonjour, Hei, Hello, Chio

It’s been quite a past few weeks of travel and vacay. In the past 3 weeks, travels have led me to Finland, Italy, France, England and … of course … Denmark. The trip was full of so much history and learning – I really loved it. But I’m also glad to be back to a hostel-free life and no longer being a nomad J

Hiking for algae in Finland
First came Finland. Our weeklong class trip here was great – we went and collected macroalgae the first day on this island off the coast, and the weather was PERFECT! I was literally wearing 5 layers of shirts/sweathsirts/waterproof jackets and 4 layers of tights/sweatpants/waterproof pants etc. Not to mention loads of socks and my waterproof gloves and hat! It was kind of funny! But it was worth it because I was climbing all these cliffy rocks to get to the algae and got swept into the ocean twice, but made it back.

It was kind of like being on a big outdoor adventure hiking trip … but at the ocean. I loved it! But we had to write a 13-page scientific paper about this macroalgae analysis (not very fun). We then went to Helsinki (the capital of Finland) and saw a hockey game, went to some art museums, shopping, and hit up some dance clubs. It was a great week with all of our friends in our marine bio classes. Fortunately for us, we had great weather the whole week, but usually it’s extremely cold here (random fact: Finland has the highest suicide rate in the world). So we lucked out weather-wise.

Bargaining in Rome
The day after getting back, Laura and I headed off to Rome to meet up with Leigh and Patrick. Rome was great – I had been there when I was little – but this time I feel like I got a lot more out of it and had more of an appreciation for it all. St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Necropolis (the underground burial site where St. Peter is thought to be buried) were some personal favorites.

I also discovered my insane bargaining skills on the streets – it was awesome! These people would peg us as Americans and try to sell us stuff for 30 Euros, and after some wining and dining I’d get ’em down to 8. It was so much fun – I decided it should be an Olympic sport.

And of course we couldn’t go without having some of that world famous gelato. It was really world famous. And, of course, pizza margarita.

The view from the Eiffel Tower
Next was Paris. This city was beautiful! Ironically, the people here are extremely RUDE! Almost everybody was really moody, not friendly, etc. They would shove you around in the train station and roll their eyes all the time – I couldn’t believe some of it! But the Eiffel Tower, of course, was GREAT! It was one of my favorite things in Europe. We went to the very top and got a great view of the whole city. It was so cold and windy up there, though, because it was so high up, but definitely worth it! I couldn’t believe that the tower was originally going to be torn down. Apparently it was built for an international convention and they were going to tear it down afterward, but decided to keep it around as a landmark. (Good thing, right?)

We also went to Notre Dame, which had amazing architecture, and some art museums, and the Louvre. The Louvre has the most art and history in it than anything I’ve ever seen. This museum is intense – you could spend a week here and not get bored. I couldn’t wrap my mind around some of it though. Some sculptures were deemed masterpieces, and others were more mediocre, but they would look like the same thing to me … or very similar at least. The definition of art is really in the eye of the beholder, if you ask me. The Mona Lisa was this tiny little painting, while others were much more impressive to me (I think it’s the story behind the work and the age and the history behind it that affect its status as “great art” – explaining why the Mona Lisa is “kind of a big deal”).

Who loves London?
We saved the best for last. London was my favorite. Laura and I were here for 3 days and stayed with Patrick’s family in Paddington (like Paddington Bear J ). First, this was the most hospitable family I’ve ever met. I cannot tell you all how nice it was to be living with a family again. It made me miss my fam a lot! But back to London – it is the best place EVER!!! – outside of Texas of course 😉

There are palaces and beautiful parks everywhere. And the people are so friendly and generally nice. Not to mention it was nice to hear English spoken for the first time in so long. We had afternoon tea, coffee, saw loads of castles and palaces (Buckingham, Kensington – where Princess Diana lived, the Tower of London, etc), Big Ben, London Bridge, Shakespeare theaters, Westminster Abbey (my favorite place in London – this place was packed with history- there are so many famous people buried here. Basically any famous British person is recognized here – including kings, queens, poets, authors, scientists).

And (drum roll) … I SAW WICKED!! Wicked the musical was being performed live in London, which is supposedly the best place in the world to see musicals, so I went! It was so good I got goose bumps whenever the main character would sing – and I’ve been listening to the soundtrack ever since. But London is by far the most expensive place I’ve ever been. The pound and dollar are not getting along very well. Things here cost at least twice as much as they would in America. Living in a very small apartment costs over 1 million dollars. Crazy, right?

Overall, I was amazed at how much history is steeped in religion, and how ornately things were done back in the day. There were enormous shrines built to heroes, and monuments from regimes or dynasties built all over the place – whereas today there seems to be less of that. It also seems that, historically, there was less attention to the lower and middle class than today in Europe (where there’s a lot of socialism today). Also, Europe has amazing public transportation – that’s all I used this last month and it was great.

Now I’m back in Denmark for a few days before classes start. It’s a big shock to have so many tests and papers looming on the horizon – I’ve been on a monthlong vacation! So, our teachers are really packing alot into school when we go back. And winter soccer season is starting up again, so that will be fun, but keep me busy along with my five term papers that I need to start!

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Snorkeling in Finland, “ER” in Denmark

I’ve been here for just under two months, and guess what … I leave for a monthlong travel break tomorrow!!!

Here’s what I will be up to for the next month: For class, we are going to Helsinki, Finland, for a week to do marine biology work and cultural stuff, and after that I’ll be in Rome, Paris and London with three of my friends from SMU who are also abroad. It’s going to be awesome!

Seeking algae
In Finland we’re collecting samples of macroalgae, and we go snorkeling to collect it all. It’s snowing over there right now, so this will be interesting! But we’re also going to a hockey game, art museums, the zoo, a Finnish sauna and other stuff there too.

The housing situation is perfectly wonderful. I’m living in a big apartment/dormlike complex. There’s a whole floor of Americans here, so I’m right at home, and I’ve made friends from Uganda, Nigeria and China living here as well. There’s an amazing bakery right outside the front door, so everyday when I’m running a bit late to class, I grab some of those world-famous Danish pastries and head off to the bus. It’s only a 20-minute commute.

Cool things that have happened: I’ve been to the Rosemborg castle, where I saw the crown jewels (which were awesome!). They had gunmen with rifles guarding the entrance. It was such a nice day that I fell asleep outside on the grass in the royal gardens (it was warm that day). It reminded me of being at the falls at SMU.

Politics and religion
I saw some of the peaceful political demonstrations around the streets of Norrebro, where people are mad that the government is reducing tax funding for daycares and local social services (they pay up to 60 percent taxes here for things like this).

I found a Catholic church out here too. And the Mass was exactly the same halfway across the world – it was refreshing to have something be the same. Ironically, practically nobody here goes to church or deems themselves “religious or spiritual,” even though Denmark’s constitution declares it a Christian nation.

Biology lessons
Also, my class and I went on a daylong boat trip to Helsingor, Denmark, and collected fish and “organisms” on the boat – it was actually really fun (not too cold). I’ve had a lot of tea at the local tea shop and met some of the random people who come in and out of there – one of whom is the medical student who is teaching my class at the hospital! Small world.

Speaking of hospitals, I learned how to do my first I.V. yesterday, and actually did one on a person (so cool!!), learned all about treatment of cardiac arrest (V fib/ asystole etc) with CPR, defibrillation, ventilation) I felt like I was on ER or something – SO COOL!

I went to “Culture Night” last night. The government funds this city-wide program at night where every museum or hot spot in the city is open with lots of things going on there (food, information, performers, etc). You pay $15 to get in and can see whatever you want and can ride public transportation for free. Some friends and I went to take different canal boat rides, saw this really weird Arctic museum, saw Parliament (really cool), the Post museum/factory where we got to design our own stamps and they print them off for us, and some random Indian dancers, people making silverware, etc. The whole city was out and about – it was great, and interesting to see how the government puts on big programs like this.

All the same?
Speaking of the government: I’ve decided that the coolest thing about being in Denmark is seeing how different functionally and politically it is from the U.S. In one of my classes yesterday we talked about how Denmark’s welfare state is set up based on homogeneousness of appearance and thought. Our teacher asked us to list the pros and cons of it. I raised my hand and said that a con was (obviously) the prerequisite of “homogeneousness of thought,” and he disagreed with me saying that it was a pro. I couldn’t believe it.

Denmark really is very homogenous – most people look the exact same (medium height to tall, fairly thin, blond hair, blue eyes). It sounds a bit like what Hitler wanted to be his nation of purebred blonde-haired blue-eyed people. I think Denmark’s intrinsic homogeneousness is why it is notorious for problems of integration with foreigners and immigrants. This is a big problem here, especially for Islamic people since the women dress so physically different.

Something I learned from this is that I don’t think the U.S. can ever handle switching over to a socialistic policy, even though it seems to work here. They sacrifice a lot of the things we value (diversity of thought, freedom of choice and heterogeneousness being only a few).

But the equity here is amazing to me. Everybody has the same amount and there is little if any poverty, and the economy is pretty good here and people work max 35-hour workweeks with 8-week mandatory vacation. I’m still thinking really hard about the health-care issue and looking into some potential problems that exist here – but I’ll get back to you on what I think about it.

I’m doing great over here and am so glad I came. Sometimes I can’t believe I’m halfway across the world – I’ll just take a walk around the cafes and shops and be like “wow, I’m completely across the world right now!” God has really blessed me with every aspect of this experience, and sometimes I can’t believe it. Also, I got over a horrible cold/cough and finally got my voice back after a week. It’s slowly getting cold here – but is fall now and I love seeing all the beautiful leaves everywhere! That’s all for now – more to come post-travel break.

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I have come to Copenhagen primarily to experience, through courses offered, the healthcare system, particularly the differences in finance, distribution, and quality of care compared to that found in the United States. I also wanted to get out of my everyday routine and see something new, experience different people, places, and ideas.

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