Blog 1: Hyggeligt Danish Culture

My study abroad experience in Copenhagen, Denmark gave me ample opportunities to soak up some authentic, hyggeligt Danish culture. Within my first week there, I made a point to meet Danes around Copenhagen, who generously showed me the insider sites that tourists might not usually see. I wasn’t a tourist there, after all – I was a student and resident! First, I enjoyed an intriguing twist on traditional Danish smørrebrød – open-faced pieces of rye bread with various spreads and seafood/meats – with my Danish flatmate. Though I’m not too much of an adventurous eater, in general it was pretty enjoyable, if not a little difficult to take in, with all of the completely new textures, tastes, and smells! Later that week, a Dane attending the Copenhagen Business School brought me to the famous Bellevue Strand beach and Jægersborg Deer Park, the former royal hunting grounds, just north of Copenhagen. The beach was lovely, and we dipped our toes in the waters between Denmark and Sweden and strolled through the park for hours. There’s even an incredibly old amusement park in the middle of the park, called Bakken, that just pops up out of nowhere! This was a sweet way to enjoy the end of Denmark’s summer.

A few weeks later, I enjoyed an exciting dinner at Michelin-star restaurant Höst with a new Danish friend, Rasmus (who now happens to be my boyfriend). Everything was ordered for me in Danish, so everything we received, from drinks to meals to dessert, was a complete surprise! The restaurant specializes in modern Nordic cuisine, and all ingredients are locally sourced from Scandinavia. Needless to say, it was an unforgettable meal. Later, he brought me to an old graveyard in the grungy district of Nørrebro, site of H.C. Andersen’s and (more importantly) Niels Bohr’s graves. It was a sunny and comfortable fall day to stroll through the gardens and enjoy a personal history lesson.

Later in the semester, Rasmus took me to the island of Bornholm off the southern coast of Sweden, where his father’s side of the family is from. I enjoyed yet another traditional Danish meal with his grandparents, but this time was particularly special – it was homemade! And even though they knew little English, I was still able to talk to them – but in German! It’s common for many Danes, but especially those living in places like Bornholm that see so many German tourists, to know how to speak German. So there I was, meeting my Danish boyfriend’s family for the first time, scraping by with my basic German skills that I’ve collected over the past year, plus the primitive Danish phrases and manners I had picked up over the past month. Whether I was intelligible or not, we seemed to enjoy each other’s company regardless. The rest of the weekend was spent witnessing Bornholm’s dramatic, foggy seaside cliffs along with Hammershus, a medieval castle with a troubled history between Danish and Swedish rule. We hiked around, chased some sheep, and I even learned to free climb across some cliffs over the sea as I enjoyed one of the many personal history lessons I received while in Denmark.

Blog 2: Learning to Cook (For Real) in Denmark

Though I had lived on my own and shopped and cooked for myself for about a year before moving to Copenhagen for the semester, it was true: I still didn’t really know how to cook. I could definitely prepare pasta with some chopped chicken in frying pan, but that was about the extent to which my cooking skills went. Especially as money was getting particularly tight after already being abroad for nine months without a paying job, it was about time I learned to cook for real, for both my health’s and wallet’s sake. But where to start? 

I started by observing. My Danish flatmate loved to cook, so I would watch her prepare meals in our kitchen. I slowly started realizing that many things that seemed daunting at first, like cutting various types of vegetables and preparing meats that weren’t chicken in a frying pan, weren’t actually all that hard. They just required a bit of attention at first, and definitely the ability to learn from your mistakes, because you will make mistakes. I would also help my boyfriend with preparing dinner at the research lab, because we were both working 24/7 (he’s a neuroscientist as well at Copenhagen University), and were essentially just living at the lab anyway. My cooking repertoire slowly extended to something basic with a certain Danish flair: easy-to-heat soups, rye bread with sausage and brie, lots and lots of salmon, and asparagus. Gee, asparagus is great. Especially when you wrap it in bacon. It may sound silly, but I really never knew fresh vegetables could be so simple and delicious!

The lessons I learned while learning to cook during my semester in Copenhagen slowly began to extend to my everyday life as well, and in a really important way. I recognized that there are a lot of small, seemingly unimportant things I would worry over way too much and just completely avoid because I was too afraid to try and fail. When you keep doing this time after time, you end up spending more energy worrying over it and avoiding it than actually just confronting it and trying it! My experience learning to cook better in Denmark helped me in all aspects of my life to be more fearless and unafraid to embarrass myself – that’s what happens when you’re in a new place and new culture, anyway!