As I was sitting on my plane returning to Copenhagen from Ediburgh, I had the strange feeling that I was returning to my home. Denmark is clearly not my place of birth or permanent place of residence, but it still felt comforting to know my way around the city and fit in with the culture. It is incredible that in the five short weeks I have been in Copenhagen, I have developed this sense of comfort. This revelation made me realize that the only way to learn about a culture is to fully immerse yourself in the city. In order to do this, you must accept their way of life, food and style of living. As I continued to reflect, I began to realize how far I had come since I first stepped off the plane in Copenhagen. I feel this is a huge accomplishment and something I am very proud of.
Part of the process of integrating into Danish life was learning about their views on society. Even though I don’t agree with all aspects of Danish culture, I believe that I have learned some invaluable lessons that I will take with me for the rest of my life. Interestingly enough, most of these lessons are related to my positive psychology class, which analyzes what makes people happy. It focused particularly on Denmark, which consistently holds the title of “the happiest country in the world.” Through my class and observations I have seen two main things that set the Danes apart from Americans in this regard. First, Danes seem to care more about family time. It is rare for a family in Denmark to not eat all of their meals together and appreciate the company of one another. From my own personal experience, my family is lucky to have a few meals together in a week because everyone is busy doing other stuff. Danish people prioritize family first, which is how it truly should be. The family time they spend together makes them appreciate one another more and, subsequently, leads to happier, more content lives.
Second, in Denmark there is a much less competitive feeling about school and work, brought on by their incredibly strong social welfare programs. Students feel little stress because, unlike American students, their college education is completely paid for by the government. This means they do not owe anyone anything for their education or feel the need to make money immediately to compensate for the high cost of attending a college. This same attitude extends beyond school and into the workplace. A typical Danish work week is approximately 36 hours. Because of the social programs, workers feel little to no need to go beyond and make any more money. As a citizen of Denmark, you know that you have free healthcare, free child services and free programs for the elderly. When you remove these stressors, Danes can live healthy, well-balanced lives where relaxation and enjoyment are emphasized.
I am incredibly grateful that I have had the opportunity to study in such a wonderful city and through such a well-put-together program. Over the past five weeks I have also been lucky enough to visit four different cities: Berlin, Prague, Dublin and Edinburgh. The memories I have made, people I have met, and things I have learned will truly inspire me in all of my future endeavors.
Below are just some of my many pictures to the wonderful cities I have visited outside of Copenhagen!