I’m writing this at the Munich airport during my layover, which seems appropriate for a piece on transitions.
In about eight hours, after five long months abroad, I’ll finally be touching down in Montreal. In some ways I will be returning to a past life- familiar faces, places, a culture I know well. But in another sense, It feels like I’m starting afresh.
For one thing, I won’t be a student for the first time in 20 years! (Feels fantastic by the way.) I also have a clearer sense of my current purpose, which involves embracing all of my interests as they arise and encouraging others to do the same.
With my trip (and the year) coming to an end, I thought it would be a good time to reflect back on my time in Denmark and pull out some things I’ve learned about the value of traveling in general.
Gaining a keener awareness of your own culture
I felt oddly Canadian at times, like when we were studying environmental law and the teacher spoke about the environmental regulations vis-à-vis beavers… Several of the European students had no idea what beavers were (perhaps a translation issue), but when one of the three Canadians in the class piped up with “it’s Canada’s national animal”, I felt oddly proud. It was strange.
There were other, more subtle things too. For instance, it turns out we are polite. We are also fantastically diverse, both culturally and with regard to FOOD (God, I cannot wait to eat some fresh vegetables/fruit!) We also know how to celebrate Halloween properly.
But at the same time, we have some things to work on.
Bringing home the best aspects of a foreign culture
I didn’t love everything about Denmark. They can keep their obsession with rules, their distant attitude towards foreigners, and the harsh wind. However, there are things that I adore about the country. If I could bring a bit of Denmark back to Canada, this is what I’d choose:
Danish culture revolves around this idea of hygge (pronounced kind of like ‘huu-gue’ ). It translates loosely as ‘coziness’ and consists of things like staying in with close friends, eating sausages around a fire, lighting a ton of candles, and being warm, festive and happy. This value may have come about as a reaction to the harsh whether, but either way, I like it.
Thirty percent of Danes bike to work. There are bicycle roads on practically every street and cyclists rarely have to bike in traffic with the cars. You see parents biking their children to school in these little crate things that look like covered wagons and are attached to the front of the bike. It’s adorable. Driving is not encouraged, in fact there’s a hefty monthly tax that must be paid by anyone who drives a car in the city.
My absolute favourite thing about Denmark has got to be the sense of equality and mutual respect that I felt in public spaces. Nobody stares at you or judges you. I noticed no rudeness or misogynistic behaviour directed at women. Everybody was just left alone.
In fact, even waiting for the bus was strange at first. See, back home, the men typically let you on the bus first if you’re female. It’s just common practice. In Denmark, however, this is not the case. It’s first come, first serve. Nobody will move out of the way. They just expect you to be assertive and take care of yourself. I actually really like this quality.
Similarly there is perfect integration when it comes to sexual minorities. I could walk down the street holding hands with a girl and nobody would bat an eye. No stares, no comments, no smiles even. Total non-issue.
Sadly however, the overall sense of acceptance does not extend as readily to racial minorities. I didn’t notice any racial tension myself, but from what I’ve heard, Denmark has some problems… It is a very homogeneous culture too.
The personal value in traveling
Traveling is of course valuable on a personal level too. Being alone in unfamiliar waters is empowering no matter where you go. It provides you with a clearer sense of who you are, where you’re going and what you want.
These are just a few great reasons to travel, but there are countless others. What have you gotten out of your time overseas?