Whitney in Denmark

Whitney is a junior from Albuquerque, New Mexico, who is an international studies and premed major. At SMU, she serves as a resident assistant and is involved with Campus Ministries. She is studying abroad this fall with SMU-in-Copenhagen.

5 new stamps in my passport

Between switching time zones three separate times, sleeping on airport floors and combating temperature swings of about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, I am happy to say that I am safely home in Denmark.

I just returned from a three-week travel break from school. For the first and last week I participated in school trips, and the middle week, I traveled with some friends I have made since arriving in Denmark.

First, France
The first week, my travels took me by ferry, bus and plane through Germany and into France. It took us almost 18 hours to get there, but once we arrived it was totally worth it. We spent a solid day touring the battlefields of Verdun, visiting an old World War I fort, a war museum and the citadel.

That evening, we traveled on to Reims, site of the coronations of French kings all the way from the first Frankish kings. We also got to visit the champagne caves of Tattinger. It was absolutely amazing to see millions of bottles aging in caves that are actually underneath an old monastery!

That afternoon, I got my first glimpse of Paris. It was absolutely incredible. Never mind that our bus almost got stuck going up an extremely narrow Parisian street and blocked about twenty cars behind us – we made it! That night we decided to visit the Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees, and the Arc de Triomphe. Haussman, the man who redesigned Paris for Louis XIV, was an absolutely incredible city planner. Paris is one of the most gorgeous cities I have ever seen.

W-DSC01166-sm.jpg At the top of the Eiffel tower, I even saw a couple getting engaged, right there in front of my eyes! I guess the talk of Paris being the most romantic city in the world is true after all.

The next day, we got a guided tour of Paris by the best guide ever. He was a Swedish expatriate living in France, and he knew absolutely everything there was to know.

w-DSC01318-sm.jpgThat afternoon, we went to the Louvre, where I realized that I am much more of an architecture person than an art one. I kept catching myself taking pictures out the windows or of the architecture instead of the incredible art.

Anyway, after much walking around and tired feet, a friend and I decided to have some dinner in a French cafe. We ended up meeting a couple from Highland Park (for you non-SMU folks, that is the neighborhood immediately surrounding my school at home). It was really strange, but I picked up on their Texas accents right away. It was my own little slice of home right there in Paris!

That evening, our group saw Edward Scissorhands the ballet, which blew me away. The next day, we saw basically every famous impressionist painting in the world at the Musee d’Orsay and I fell in love with Degas. He paints ballet dancers, and I could have spent days looking at his paintings. So gorgeous. Time was running out for our tour, however, and we had a great wrap-up lunch and all went our separate ways.

W_3771-sm.jpgThe next day, a friend and I indulged ourselves in some American culture and visited Disneyland Paris. It was shockingly similar to Disneyland in the United States, which was all at once comforting and a little weird. We had a great day getting to act like kids though, and actually met a lot of Danish families on vacation.

On to London
The next day, we flew into London where I spent the majority of my time with some British relatives, and my two friends stayed in a hostel in the city. The next day was Sunday, and I had the opportunity to go to church with my cousin. She attends the Church of England, and it was quite the experience. It was a great time, though, and I got to meet several of her friends.

W-DSC01490-sm.jpg That afternoon, her husband, John took me on a crash tour of London, and gave me a Londoner’s orientation to the Tube (the underground, metro, or whatever you will call it). It was surprisingly straightforward, and it was almost unreal not having to learn to recognize yet another language to get around! It was quite the luxury.

W-DSCN2796-sm.jpgThe weather was very typically British, rainy and cold, but I still got to see the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum, Buckingham Palace and Green Park.

Also, a friend that I met in Paris invited me to go with him to a play in the West End for free! It was awesome and had John Hannah from Sliding Doors. Needless to say, I was dumbfounded.

Next up: Ireland
The next day, after having a proper English breakfast courtesy of my relatives, I met back up with my friends and we flew off to Dublin. My friend booked our hostel in the Temple Bar area, which was an amazing choice and location. There are an infinite number of clubs and bars to visit in the area, as well as anything else you could want to see.

The next day, my friend and I split up – she went on a bus tour, and I saw some museums. The weather was REALLY terrible that day … At one point, I swear the wind was blowing so hard that it was coming at me horizontally.

W-DSC04323-sm.jpg The next day, my friend left for Copenhagen to prepare for her next trip, and I took the opportunity to go out to the Irish countryside. It was literally the most gorgeous place I have ever seen in my life. No wonder they filmed movies such as Braveheart, PS, I love you, and Made of Honor there. We hiked to a mountain lake, visited Glendalough, Ireland’s most sacred and important monastery, and took a nature hike through a natural park. It was doubtless one of the best days of my entire trip.

Home – for a day
The next day, I spent about eight hours in the Dublin airport attempting to get home (something about that horizontal rain is hard to fly in, apparently). Once I got home about 11 PM, I had about six hours at my Kollegium before having to be back at the airport again! It was totally worth it, though, to get to sleep in my own bed for a night and take some of my massive loads of souvenirs out of my suitcase!

My fingers are about to fall off from this whirlwind repeat tour of Europe! And you think that you’re tired from reading all of this! Next installment: Italy and Election Day in Denmark!

Hej Hej

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Another installment from Copenhagen

DSC00543-sm.jpgI’m about a month into my experience here in Copenhagen, and I have to admit, the luster hasn’t worn off yet. I love walking around the city and seeing new things (even things that I pass by every day and don’t notice), meeting new people, and absorbing as much of the culture as possible.

Updates since the last blog …
I joined a dinner club on my floor in my Kollegium. This is by far one of the smartest decisions I have ever made. Each night, a different person (there are 12 in the dinner club all together) cooks dinner. The catch is that they can’t spend more than 20 Kroner per person (about 4 dollars) and everyone helps clean up the dishes after the meal. It’s a pretty genius idea, actually, and I have had some of the best food I’ve eaten since being here (all made by my floormates)!

I also went on a short study tour to Jutland (the part of Denmark that is connected to Germany) a couple of weeks ago. It was awesome to get out of the city and see some of the Danish countryside. We visited three cities – Arhus, Aalborg and Skagen.

We visited a Folkehojskole, which is a Danish school for high school graduates in which they don’t get graded and get to study what interests them (music, art, sewing, etc). The one we visited was especially equipped to accommodate disabled students. I hadn’t noticed how unfriendly Copenhagen is to disabled persons until I had it pointed out to me. For example, in Copenhagen, most of the streets and sidewalks are cobblestone, buildings rarely have their entrance at the ground level, and elevators aren’t common, and if they do exist they are way too small to accommodate a wheelchair.

DSC00530-sm.jpgThe next day, we went up to Northern Jutland and went to a massive national park with huge sand dunes. It was so awesome – we could see the ocean on three sides from where we were. After that, we went to the northernmost tip of Denmark where two seas meet. Our trip leaders gave everyone shots of this really horrible liquor called Gammel Dansk. It pretty much tasted like highly concentrated Robitussin. Anyway, we took lots of pictures, got splashed by the water, and rode on a “train” pulled by a John Deere tractor. It felt just like being home in West Texas!

The next day, we went down to Denmark’s second biggest city, Arhus, and visited an incredible art museum. Our day ended with a ferry ride (our bus got to come along too) from Jutland back to the island that Copenhagen is on, Zealand. The trip was incredible – and it was so great to get out of the city for a while!

We have been venturing out in search of new and exciting opportunities lately, and some of these adventures have taken us to Norrebro, a large immigrant neighborhood with a really happening nightlife, the Carlsberg beer brewery (definitely a worthwhile excursion), and our floor’s “tour de chambre,” which is basically a progressive party from room to room.

DSC00616-sm.jpgThe people on my floor get extremely into it, and the other American on my floor and I decided that we would too. We decided to do a “space” theme where we covered my friend’s ENTIRE room with black garbage bags and cut out tinfoil stars to hang on the walls. We also decided to make outfits out of tinfoil. It was hilarious, and totally worth the massive manpower and hours required to do it!

Unfortunately, the people on my floor neglected to tell us that people usually don’t change into their costumes until right before their room was visited, so we came out wearing tinfoil outfits and antennae at the beginning of the party. Everyone liked it though and didn’t tease us too much! The party was a raging success – we even taught the Danes on the floor some American games.

For my field studies with school I have visited the “Bodies” exhibit (sort of like Body Worlds, an exhibition of preserved bodies cut into different layers illustrating various anatomical features) and the Royal Theatre where Hans Christian Andersen made his debut in ballet (who even know he was a ballet dancer?), and we watched a German movie about Turkish immigrants. I find that the field studies are one of the best parts of classes as we get to really apply what we’re learning in the classroom and/or see it illustrated in life.

Currently, I’m preparing for our three-week break in which I plan on visiting France, the UK and Italy. I’m really excited to get to see some more of Europe, but I am almost sad to have to leave Denmark for so long. It is slowly starting to feel like home to me. Just today some Chinese tourists stopped me in the street to ask for directions, and I was able to not only tell them where they were going, but also to use some of my Mandarin Chinese language skills! It was awesome!

Until Next Time,
Hej Hej!

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Getting settled in Copenhagen

I have been in Denmark about a week and a half, and this is literally the first opportunity I have gotten to blog. So many things have happened since I arrived, and I would love to tell about them all. However, I think that in order to pack all of the information in, I would have to write a mini-novel. I’ll just try to sum up the best things.

First, I LOVE Denmark. I have never been happier with a decision in my life. I will be here for the next four months, and I could not be more excited. I am living in Copenhagen, a little ways from the city center on an island directly to the southeast of the island that the majority of Copenhagen is on. It is called Amager (pronounced Ah-Mah), for the curious!

I live in what is called a “Kollegium,” which is basically a dorm with a common kitchen and TV room, but without a really structured “residence life” feel to it. Each floor certainly has its own atmosphere, and I luckily enough ended up on an extremely social floor.

I have had so many awesome experiences so far; it is hard to pick what to write about. The first official day of our orientation, we got to take a bus tour of Copenhagen to see many of the major sites. We saw “The Little Mermaid,” Parliament, the Danish National Library (aka, the Black Diamond), and Tivoli (the amusement park in Copenhagen).

Denmark1a.jpgOverall, I would say that bus is definitely NOT the ideal way to travel around Copenhagen, as the streets are very narrow and not car-friendly. A Dane living in my Kollegium told me the other day that the officials in Copenhagen do their best to make driving as much of a hassle as possible to encourage the use of public transportation, biking and walking. They certainly have succeeded as you can tell from this picture (right).

The next day of orientation, we got to take “Survival Danish” class, which I was skeptical about but turned out to be very useful. On the second day of the course they took us to the supermarket and taught us lots of common food words, which I must say has probably been the most beneficial part of the whole thing.

Denmark2.jpgUnfortunately, they didn’t tell us that we needed to take our own bags to the grocery store since the store doesn’t provide them. This was the result of 5 people at the grocery store with only 4 bags in which to hold things! It was a mess – many of the Danes walking down the street had a good laugh at the crazy Americans!

On Wednesday before classes started, I took some time to explore the city on my own, and returned to the National Library (aka, the Black Diamond). The reaction to this building among Danes that I talk to is somewhat mixed – some think it is a gaudy blemish along the canals, and others see it as a sort of “National Building” that represents the identity of modern Copenhagen. I tend to agree with the second group.

Denmark3a.jpgI hiked up about 50 flights of stairs (OK, maybe 5-6, still a lot) to get to the top to take some pictures. This is my favorite (right). It looks down on the main open atrium of the library and out onto the canal.

This past weekend, a Danish girl in my Kollegium invited me to go to the beach with her. I was a little nervous, as I have gotten quite used to Florida weather and beaches. She arranged for me to borrow someone else’s bike (also a first for me, biking in Copenhagen), and we rode to the beach. It is really not far, probably two miles max.

Apparently, a couple of years ago, Amager decided that they wanted to create an artificial beach. They imported sand, and the Copenhageners flocked to it. We celebrated the end of “summer” (note, the temperature was about 65 degrees), by running through the sand and even getting in the FREEZING water. It was insane, but also fun. That day, we could see the bridge that connects Copenhagen to Malmo, Sweden, as well as some of the Swedish land across the sound.

Denmark4.jpgSchool started in earnest this week, and the highlight so far has been a “field study” that I took today for my Hans Christian Andersen class. We had a scavenger hunt with disposable cameras around the city for places relating to H.C. Andersen. It was great to get to see new things, as well as things that I walk by all the time without noticing, with new perspective.

This square is right by my school building and was actually a part of the hunt. We had to come up with the intro to a fairy tale involving the characters found on the fountain.

Things here are going at a crazy pace, but I hope to be able to blog more regularly (and hopefully they won’t be so long in the future). Until next time, “Hej, Hej!” (pronounced Hi-Hi, aka, goodbye in Danish!)

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