For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Kelley Jiang and I will be starting off my third year fall semester studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark at Copenhagen Business School (CBS) on the Student Exchange Program.
My highly anticipated European experience began before stepping foot on European soil. As soon as I boarded the Norwegian airplane, I immediately felt like a foreigner. I was no longer in a cramped and uncomfortable Delta or United Airlines plane, but flying in a seat that I could actually fall (almost) comfortably asleep in and with a ceiling that was so high I could not reach it with my arm fully extended.
My biggest fear upon landing in Copenhagen was that all the signs would be in Danish and I would have no idea where to go. Although I have traveled to Europe before, it was one of those trips you sign up with 70 of your closest friends (and chaperones) through an international touring company, in my case we booked through EF Tours. Anyways, as my “Buddy” assigned to me from CBS picked me up and took me to my housing accommodation via the Metro my first thoughts can be summarized in 3 words: Pretty, quiet, and bikes. The Scandinavian people are breathtakingly gorgeous—but they all look very similar—, the city was very quiet/quaint for a city, and there are so many bikes that the city has a separate raised lane and traffic lights to direct bike traffic. There is even “bike rush hour”.
In just my first days exploring some of Copenhagen I have learned a lot. First and most importantly, everyone bikes. Although everyone here might be able to speak English well, everything is written in Danish. After successfully ordering my first meal here I thought, “This isn’t so hard! Everyone speaks English. No problem”. But going to the grocery store is a different story. I should have known things would be different when my roommate accidently bought yogurt instead of milk on the first day because it came in a carton identical to what milk comes in. Although I didn’t mix up any foods on my first trip, I didn’t realize after checking out with several items that in most stores you have to pay for a grocery bag. After my items were scanned I stood at the end of the cashier table for a good minute while looking for the grocery bags and then finally realized that people had brought bags with them to put their items in. Just when I thought I had got away with no one trying to speak Danish to me or noticing that I was a complete foreigner, I not only drew attention to myself by having to get back in line to purchase the grocery bag but I also had to speak up in English to ask the cashier about the bags. Instant perspiration inducing moment. My next few trips to the grocery store were definitely still very rocky. The trips take me triple the time it would normally take in America because I have to carefully decipher what the item is by its context clues (there are no English translations on the food labels). And even after I am confident I have chosen what I wanted, I will open a fruit smoothie juice to find the oddest tasting fruit flavor ever or pop a piece of chocolate in my mouth and find out that I had bought chocolate covered licorice (EW).
The biggest immediate struggle so far is definitely finding foods that I like and that are affordable. After several trips to the grocery store and I have learned that it’s worth swallowing your pride and asking someone for help if you need finding something or translating a label. Also, you must learn to accept the fact that there will be many things you purchase in the beginning that you absolutely hate and mistakingly bought thinking it was something else. You will lose some money to buying then immediately tossing grocery items, but it will happen to every exchange student. Other than that the people, I have noticed, are also different but not in a way that would make it hard for someone visiting to fit in. People are nice and don’t treat you like a tourist when they find out you can’t speak Danish. The weather, despite many warnings, has been gorgeous every day so far. The city center is breathtaking and definitely worth many visits.
Some other observations after 2 and a half weeks are:
Official procedures: One of the first things you have to do as an exchange student is register for your CPR number. This stands for “Det Centrale Personregister” in Danish and is the American equivalent to a social security number and how you receive all the free services provided by the socialistic Danish government like free healthcare. If I were in America I could easily look up a straightforward set up directions with details on how to do this. But in Denmark everything and everyone is extremely vague. One person will tell you one thing and another person will tell you another. The website that has the instructions is in Danish and there is not much help provided, so you will have to be ready to attack it trial and error style.
Fashion: Black, black, and more black. Scandinavians are minimalistic—wearing mostly neutrals. Instead of wearing stylish shoes to match a great outfit they seem to wear sneakers with everything, even when getting dressed up. Also, leather is definitely in.
Buildings: Reflects the fashion here, minimalistic as well.
First Impressions: The stereotype is that Scandinavians are known to be cold and without feelings. But the reason why Scandinavians might come off this way at first is because most of them are brutally honest and therefore do not do fake interest in someone like some Americans are known to do when they are actually disinterested in meeting someone. Although they might not make the first move to begin a conversation, once you break the silence (and my own fears of judgement) and begin talking to a Scandinavian they are actually quite friendly. Don’t be afraid to start up conversations with locals! Especially in Denmark where almost everyone can speak English.
America: A place where everything is super-sized. My perspective of America while living in Copenhagen has been realigned. Everything here is smaller. The buildings, the roads, the cars, meal portions, grocery stores, etc. At first I thought that everything in Copenhagen is just smaller, but now I am beginning to feel like everything in America is enlarged.
Well, that’s it for now. I hope you got a little taste of Copenhagen!
About the Author: Kelley Jiang, Junior, Marketing, Student Exchange Program- Denmark