It’s always awkward to recognize people from a photo, especially in a sea of strangers, but I saw Karsten, my host father, with his daughters in a sea of people. They seemed to recognize me and I was pretty sure it was them so I just rolled with it. The handshake-or-hug moment was less awkward than expected; I shook hands with Karsten and excitedly embraced the girls. I was introduced to Julie and Sofie first, both rather tall and thin with blonde hair and blue eyes (in true Scandinavian fashion) and I of course immediately accepted I would get them confused many times in the first few days. Karsten mentioned that Amalie, another one of his daughters, was in the bathroom. When she got back, I confidently stated, “So, you’re Julie?”… when I had met Julie 30 seconds before. Off to a great start. But, Amalie took it well and laughed, as did the rest of the family, and we were off.
The misty rain provided an authentic view as we drove through Copenhagen on the way to the suburb where I would be staying, Værløse. It was getting to be quite dark by this time. In the car, I spoke to the girls about what their school was like—very different than ours. They also told me about things I would encounter in the area like Tivoli, the train system, and lots of Legos. Before long we were outside the city and turning into the drive. I was surprised by the large yard they had and the house itself. It was a very modern structure, and I didn’t even know yet what it held on the inside.
When I first entered, I met Helle, my host mother. The slow-moving awkwardness of figuring out where shoes and coats go was followed by a short tour and being left alone to unpack. I love the home; it is beautiful and minimalistic. I admire Danish design a great deal and hope to learn a lot about it in my time here—hence the “Scandinavian Simplicity” in the title of the blog. Anyway, both Karsten and Helle are engineers, electrical and civil. Karsten used his electrical capabilities to wire all the lights in the house remarkably well so that all outlets and lights are used efficiently. It’s hard to describe but quite amazing. Furniture is neat, practical, and comfortable. Short, rounded sofas in muted colors with wooden legs seem to be common. Chairs come in all interesting shapes and sizes, but I did learn that comfort is key and style follows naturally. My favorites are the lamps. Lighting is very important here to create a “hygge” atmosphere (explaining this requires a separate post to come). Two of my favorite fixtures include the thin, squiggly line that hangs above the kitchen table and a lamp that looks like a white dandelion puff in the corner of the living room. Natural light is also very important, for the few hours it is available, and many buildings have large windows.
I was delighted by the simplicity of my room and thankful that I had packed light. I feel so clean and free and hope I can take this style of living home with me.
Dinner that night may have been one of my favorites ever. Honestly, it’s been 2 days and I’ve forgotten most of what we talked about, but I remember loving the feeling of sitting down and feeling secure. My worries about living with a host family subsided and I knew this was exactly what I wanted out of my study abroad experience. I was already learning so much about the country and traditions and felt settled. I also worried even less about friends, because I got along with the girls well and knew I would be happy spending time with them. We had great conversation and many laughs. Plus, as an added bonus, we happened to be eating my favorite meal of chicken and rice with corn and broccoli. For dessert, we had a traditional Danish apple dish and it was so incredible. Danes grow a lot of their own food in gardens, which is why my family had such a big yard. It is important to them that their children understand where their food comes from. The apples in the dish were from the family garden, mashed to an applesauce-like consistency with a bit of added sugar. You could taste and hear the crunching of sugar granules as we ate. On top of the apples, they sprinkle on a sugar and bread crumb mixture and a dollop of pure, hand-whipped cream. It was so tasty.
I spent the rest of the night watching TV with the girls and struggling to set up my international phone number. Sleep was equally difficult with which to gain success.
The next day we had a nice breakfast. On Sundays, the family eats sugary cereals, which made it a bit easier for me to integrate. They bought a specific box that was more “American,” which I certainly appreciated. Following breakfast, we headed out toward the city so I could learn how to take the train and walk to DIS. We saw a lot of students around with their families, and I even met some girls from my home stay network. The city was beautiful—I was in awe of the buildings with colorful facades, green roofs, and cobblestones. I love seeing fairytale-like structures of brick and wood integrated into the city next to a very modern structure. One of my favorite landmarks was a fountain with three storks perched, about to set off. I’m not sure why I like it so much, perhaps because the birds look so poised and graceful.
In the same plaza as the statue, we visited a department store called Illums Bolighus. Here, I saw some hallmarks of Danish design like Royal Copenhagen china, Louis Poulsen lamps, and traditional wooden toys. There were many interesting sofas and chairs as well. I am so intrigued by Danish design, and I cannot wait to visit the Danish Design Museum! The Danes really care about appearance and quality. I kid you not, I saw a lamp there worth $40,000 USD. I have no words. But, I did browse a few sites when I got home to see how I can make my space a bit more hygge upon return to America in May.
Down the street, we stopped into the Lego store. For those of you who don’t know, Legos came from Denmark and almost every child grows up with the classic toy. This store was serious—massive dragons, life-size Star Wars characters, and even a recreation of Nyhavn, a classic Copenhagen tourist location. It was so fun to walk around and look at all the cool sets.
My host family asked if I would be okay getting cake for lunch. Ugh, what a drag, I guess if we have to. Let me tell you, Danes take their sweets very seriously. We went to a quaint parlor called La Glace that sold all kinds of cakes and desserts and each ordered a slice, plus some hot chocolate. Hello!! I could not have asked for a better introduction to Danish cuisine. It was nice watching people walk by the windows outside and chatting with my family about what to expect in the city. One thing we talked about was handball and the upcoming tournament. Many people are excited because Denmark actually has a shot at winning!
We walked around in the rain a bit more before heading home. The next few days of orientation at DIS were a whirlwind—full disclosure, it’s been a week since so I’ll give a very brief summary. I had a LOT of trouble sleeping the first few days, thanks to jet lag and the Danes’ dedication to coffee and tea. I spent several nights up until 3am and had to wake up very early a couple times. No thank you. I did, however, find some very good friends in my homestay network that I connected with well. I had a lot of fun wandering around the city and absorbing everything new. Time really flew by in those first few days! I will admit, I had quite a rollercoaster of emotions, but that is to come in my next post. For now, I will say so far, so good.