How the heck do they spend so much time talking?! It’s ridiculous! Parties last from 2 o’clock on a Friday afternoon to 5 a.m. Saturday morning, and they’re talking the whole freakin’ time. Blah blah blah, yak yak yak. And they’re always smiling – you’d think they had a surgical implant that left them with permanent grins. And I have homework to do, blog posts for a scholarship I need to write, a future (really really important) career to plan….RIGHT NOW. They’re too happy…it doesn’t make sense. Something must be wrong underneath it all, right?
Wrong. So very, very wrong.
I’m honestly ashamed that those were some of my thoughts about Danish social life after being thrust into it for a couple of weeks. The complete change in my attitude towards them and towards friendship thankfully has, I hope, left me a better person, and such a complex shift is no easy notion to convey using mere words. I won’t attempt that here. But I think that a start is to give you some candid vignettes of my feelings and thoughts throughout the change. I realize that what I’ve written can seem choppy – but I think it’s the closest I can come to accurately describing the change. Each paragraph represents a fundamentally different mindset I was in towards the Dane’s focus on social interaction; I’ve written a short conclusion to try to give them some context. It’s an unusual format, but I hope something of value comes through…
Nate, come on. This isn’t so bad, I think you need to slow down. Sure partying with your fraternity brothers at Oktoberfest was fun, and you unexpectedly ran into friends from your program in Salzburg and explored with them. And it felt wicked classy to view the innumerable masterpieces in the Vatican with Jeffrey the art history major you met at DIS. But you enjoyed those times because you slowed down. Because you made time to get to know the people you were with. Isn’t this the same? Didn’t you come to Denmark to explore their culture? This is part of it! So let the worries about your work go…it doesn’t matter as much as this.
After the Studytour with My Core-Course to Sweden and Estonia
Wow you’ve missed these guys. Your host mother Dot can be such a control-freak but it just means she cares, and the family interrupts you working for the same reason! You know, I think you made pretty good friends with Ryan, Dan, Rachel, and Saman over this break. Sure, you’re not best friends, but it was fun to hang out with them. And once again, you weren’t worried about working. It’s stupid to say but I really think you’re better at interacting somehow. You’ve always been a bit socially awkward – case in point you used to bounce your leg and fidget when talking with anyone. But you felt so much more relaxed when talking with people during this trip! And more confidant, and even clever? I think you’ve been too focused on what you need to do; you haven’t been appreciating the fun people around you.
3 a.m., A Neighborhood Birthday Party
God, this celebration is still going? It’s so late, and everyone here is WIDE awake. And they’re just talking! Well, I guess the family over there is dancing and Anton is playing a game with his friends…this is really cool. I really want to be interested and interesting enough to be able to hold a conversation for this long! It’s incredible. Ok go talk to that guy, you haven’t met him yet.
Last Day in Copenhagen
Well, this is good I’m hanging out with my friends but I’m worried. They’re so new to me but I feel like I know them better than my friends, even my brothers, back at F&M. I guess I became friends with them back home by doing things together; Ryan and I did the relief trips to the south, Allen and I were roommates, Josh and I explored town. But do I really know them? Do I really know these four degenerates (and of course they’re not actually that bad) sitting around me and talking? Man, I haven’t been a good friend to my buddies back home at all – I’ve always put work first. How am I going to make it up to them in a single semester?
One week since coming home
I can’t believe this. I feel like I just got off the Tower of Terror at Disneyland – my body is back on familiar ground but my mind is still pumping with adrenaline and excitement. How can I possibly understand everything that happened in the last four months? How can anyone else? But being so worried about not being a good friend was stupid – of course I know my buddies! I think you just got tossed too quickly into having to worry almost exclusively about who you were socially. It’s incredible how much the Danes care about friendship – but it’s got to be both a blessing and curse though! For sure, that guy who just got divorced must have hated having to act so happy at the dinner. And it’s such a drain to have to be “on” all the time, to be ready to immediately put aside what you’re doing to laugh or comment. But it’s good too, right? They’re showing they care about each other, and it’s got to be part of their Janteloven precept that no one is better than anyone else. I don’t know, I definitely like just talking more than I used to.
As you can probably tell from the intro, in the first month of my study-abroad program I felt annoyed, frustrated, fed up with and confused by the huge investment of time and emotional energy my host family placed in their social life. Of course I wanted to get to know my host family, but it seemed that I couldn’t escape when I really needed to get work done. But fast-forward another month and I started to realize during my semester excursions abroad that I was missing my host family! Somehow through the thick-headed work-hard play-hard mentality I’d brought from F&M, they’d managed to get something through to me. Maybe it was their “hygge” notion of relaxing together with well-known confidants, maybe it was simply the comfort in trusting each other, but a very essential part of how it felt to be in the homestay with Dot, Jan, and Anton had grabbed hold of me at a fundamental level. Had I been too harsh, too quick to judge the time they spent together? Maybe it was more valuable than I’d thought…
The birthday party and study-tour were turning points for me. I started to really appreciate the art of conversation that my host family practiced whenever possible. And I was learning to really treasure the friends I was slowly getting to know in Copenhagen. I was coming to realize that without them, being in a foreign country would have no meaning. And I began to question myself and my other friendships – was I a good friend? What did that even mean? Another month and now I’m back home in the U.S. If nothing else, Denmark taught me about the importance of building strong friendships – and that you really do have to construct them, shape them with care and time and effort. As I said before, I look back at what I thought at the beginning of the program with guilt and even a bit of disgust, but hopefully it can help someone reading this to avoid my mistakes. To really appreciate whatever culture they’re visiting, open themselves to thinking and acting like the “natives.” And, of course, to talk with them.