Gevninge, Denmark, was deafeningly silent. Every day I passed by cows and horses, huge farms and windmills. I could actually see the stars and hear the uninterrupted sound of the wind rustling the barren branches of the apple trees. I lived here with my host family for four months. I learned to enjoy the silence and the views out the windows of the buses and trains. I got to become a part of a wonderful Danish family and eat delicious pastries with names I couldn’t pronounce from the bakery on the corner. I visited as many European cities as I could and made a few friends. After four months abroad the plan was to return home. Home to CMC, my dream school, to the CMS Athena softball team, my family.
A few months passed, though, and during my daily 90-minute commutes I started to consider that I was not bound to my carefully constructed plans for college. I had spent two years at CMC feeling okay about my cursory understanding of the political situations here and in the Middle East. I took government classes, read the news, and considered myself more or less informed. When I moved to Denmark, though, I could feel the tension every day, and so many impossible questions demanded constant attention and discussion. After diving into courses about terrorism and counter-terrorism and the existential philosophy of Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, I felt like I was just beginning to understand worldwide conflict through a Danish lens.
I thought it would be so special to spend eight months making this country my home. I wanted to learn more about the thousands of people fleeing to Europe every day and better understand the incredible dilemma that the entire continent faces with the continued security threat and refugee crisis. The very core of Europe’s identity hinges on its open borders and the exchanging of cultures and ideas. But what happens when a country like Denmark, with a social welfare state built to accommodate its homogenous population of five million people, is suddenly responsible for housing countless asylum seekers whose languages, traditions, and values couldn’t be more different? How can the European countries work together to distribute thousands of people who are desperate for a safe place to live and have risked their lives to get here? What happens when families are separated? How many asylum seekers can each country really handle?
This semester, I live in an apartment complex for university students in Copenhagen and share space with mostly Danes. Six months later, I’ve begun to understand and internalize the Danish national identity. I may appear to fit in with my blonde hair, my black clothes, and my bicycle, but I was raised with an enormously different approach to daily life. To simply slow down and work to eliminate unnecessary stress has been one of my greatest challenges.
The social welfare state provides free health care, subsidized childcare, and generous maternity and paternity leave. The country is proud of its gender equality, and university students actually get paid to go to school. Danes pay high taxes but most of them don’t mind. For the most part, they enjoy security, a dependable safety net built out of generations of contribution and faith in the government, and a significantly more even distribution of wealth than we’re used to in the United States. As a result, they seem less stressed. They work fewer hours, value quality time and conversation, and don’t take themselves too seriously.
To benefit from the Danish system one must be a contributor and a supporter of its values. Danes pay to uphold their way of life: liberal, gender equal, trusting, and informal. Varying cultures flow quickly into Denmark, most of which do not align with the Danish way. They also cannot pay taxes, cannot speak the impossible Scandinavian language, but desperately need help.
Denmark will have to find a way to introduce hugely different cultures into its society. Europe will have to decide how to uphold its tradition of interconnectedness and ease of travel while also keeping people safe. How can I remain loyal to my identity but find a way to better myself continuously? The blending of cultures and ideas must happen on a worldwide level and also an individual one. I am understanding how to slow down. I order my coffee to stay instead of to go; I enjoy the company of my friends, and try to learn from my classes as applied to my world, not my grades.
After spending my junior year abroad, I am excited to contribute my new ideas to the CMC community. I am ready to come home and get to know many of you, share myself, share with you my Danish perspectives about the worldwide political environment, and pose some existential questions that keep me up at night after my philosophy classes at the University of Copenhagen. Thank you for understanding my decision to stay away for so long, and thank you for welcoming me back and joining me for a senior year with open mindedness, excitement, growth, and lots of fun. See you soon.