Only Halfway

Only Halfway

My time in Denmark is about halfway over now, and I think it’s a good time to reflect on my experience here. It’s been almost six months since I arrived but it’s felt like so much longer than that to me. I have created a new amazing life here and that’s something no one will ever be able to take away from me.

I definitely think I have changed both mentally and physically. I’ve been gaining a lot more weight than expected but so far that hasn’t stopped me from eating.

In one of my earlier blogs I talked about how my wardrobe has changed to how Danish people dress, which remains to be true even if it means my skinny jeans are a little skinnier because of the few kilos I’ve put on, and frankly I believe I’ll keep dressing this way since it suits me and definitely looks better than what I wore before. Even if that means wearing a leather jacket that I spent way too much money on.

There are things I’ve learned about myself too, such as how difficult it can be for me to start a conversation with someone I don’t know well but when I do, people are delighted to talk to me and end up becoming a new friend.

When it comes to all the friends I ┬áhave who are Danish I have heard the words “I will visit you in America” about a thousand times. I make sure to let people know that I still live more than 800 miles away from Los Angeles but that doesn’t seem to change their minds. I think it would be awesome for them to visit but my city isn’t exactly a tourist destination and doesn’t have the shopping like New York or the beaches of California. I do make sure to know all the same that if they are willing to make the trip then they have a bed/couch/area of the floor to sleep on at my place.

I thought I would be a lot further along in language by now sadly. I have learned a lot and can speak some Danish although I have been pretty lazy when it comes to learning it. It’s both a blessing and a curse that everyone speaks English because the second you say you’re not Danish the they only speak English to you. I’m happy I’ve been able to learn a decent amount of Danish but at the same time I just wish I knew way more than I do. A new language for anyone takes a lot of patience and dedication for someone to learn. Most of the time it takes years for anyone to even get a hang of a new language. I am learning the best way that is possible to learn which is to put yourself in the country that speaks that language so I’m bound to learn more if I choose to.

It blows my mind that I’ve only been here for almost six months because to me it feels like it’s been so much longer. I have so many memories of things I’ve done and so many stories I could tell and I still have the second half of my exchange to look forward to.

The Danish Holidays

The Danish Holidays

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. I haven’t really had the chance to do so because I’ve had a packed schedule. Between school and the holidays it’s been hard to find time. A lot of people have asked about how the holidays are spent here and I am happy to talk about it.

Christmas is known as Jul (pronounced as yule in English) in Denmark and is a very celebrated holiday by most people. Everyone buys advent calendars that have a piece of candy for each day of the month. Also leading up to the holiday people will attend or have julefrokosts, directly translated “Christmas lunches” even though they are actually dinners. You’ll attend maybe one or two a week if you have a lot of friends and they can be held even two months before Christmas. They are all about spending time with friends and family while eating half your body weight in food. It’s like having several Thanksgiving dinners in one month.

I’m not completely sure what days are the holy days for Jul but it’s a couple right before and right after it. It’s celebrated on the night of the 24th rather than the morning of the 25th so for most Americans it’s fairly different. However in the United States I celebrate with my mom’s side of the family on the 24th and then the rest of my family on the 25th so for me it wasn’t too out of the ordinary. For Juleaften (“Christmas evening”) my host family and I all dressed up even though it was just the five of us and ate an enormous amount of food including duck, various types of potatoes, and a lot of other tasty traditional food that I can barely pronounce the name of. After eating we all gathered around the tree that was in the middle of the living room and danced around it and sang Christmas carols. Since I’m not yet a master at Danish I just tried my best to mimic what they were saying. The rest of the night we spent opening gifts from one another and having a good time.

After the craziness of Jul it’s still not completely over. There’s still the amazing night of New Years. Most Danish teens will eat dinner with their families and then continue to some other party with their friends. My host parents took me to a party to have dinner and it was very similar to a Julefrokost. During that time I met a large number of my host parent’s friends and spent the evening answering questions on things such as what it’s like being an exchange student, where I lived in the United States, and my opinion on our new president. I was happy to answer all their questions and meet them.

Afterward I followed my host sister to a small party that she had invited me to. It wasn’t large at all, just a couple of her friends who enjoyed my company. Until midnight we spent our time playing card games and chilling out the way teenagers do. In the United States we don’t celebrate New Years with many fireworks and people were surprised to hear that. When midnight hit we all went outside to look down at the city and watch everyone fire off their fireworks. We were able to see the whole downtown area from where we were and watched as the fireworks lit up the sky in every direction. It was not like the United States where we shoot a few fireworks and are done. They were being fired from everywhere and it went on and on for an hour or two. It was truly a spectacular sight.

The holidays are most definitely far more celebrated here by everyone. I am very happy I was able to take part in all of it. I am hoping to bring one or two of these traditions back to the United States with me as well.

Why I’m On Exchange

Why I’m On Exchange

A little over a week ago I moved in with a new host family. In this exchange program we each get to experience life with two to three families over the course of the year. My family is very kind and friendly and I have been able to spend a pretty decent amount of time with them already and have been getting to know them. To start one conversation my host father asked my why I went on exchange. I didn’t have a simple answer at the time so I couldn’t exactly give him one on the spot. He told me to get back to him on that. It’s been a couple days and I finally have my answer.

This exchange program has been part of my life since I was nine and my parents hosted our first exchange student. Today they are on their sixth exchange student through the very same program. I’ve seen the effect exchange makes on peoples’ lives whether or not they are the student. You make lifelong friends- people you can consider your family- and have the opportunity to call a town halfway across the world your second home.

I talk a lot about this, but I have traveled a lot throughout my life. My family has always loved doing so and it has become a large part of my brother’s and my lives. My family has always taught me to value experiences rather than objects.

Another value I have is camaraderie. I believe that the more enemies you have, the less room there is for positivity in your life. You can’t live like that. For someone who values experiences and friendship above everything else, foreign exchange is the best possible opportunity for someone my age.

So yes, I do know why I’m here:

I’m here to learn more about myself and whether I have correct values or if I need to change them. I’m putting my mental and emotional strength to the test to find out whether or not I am prepared to be an independent adult and if not then learn how I can. I’m here to experience something new and learn to live in a different culture that I am unfamiliar with. To make friendships that will last a lifetime. To have memories when I’m old and think to myself that this was one of the best decisions of my life.

Giving Thanks From Halfway Around the Globe

Giving Thanks From Halfway Around the Globe

Today is the American holiday known as Thanksgiving. For those unfamiliar with it, it’s a holiday based on a time when pilgrims in what would become the United States were helped by Native Americans to not starve or freeze to death. These days, it’s a time to reflect on what we’re grateful for and celebrate with family members or friends over a very large dinner at which everyone eats almost their entire body weight in delicious food, but there are still leftovers for the next month.

I’m not actually doing much to celebrate the holiday besides going to more of a Christmas-themed dinner with other non-Danish people. But it’s a very good topic for this week’s blog so I am going to list a fraction of things I’m thankful for.

I’m thankful for my family in the United States who love me unconditionally. They give me the opportunities to do the things I love and help me decide the things that are best for me. They accept me for the person I’m becoming and I love them all very much. It’s a cliche thing but it’s good to say you’re thankful for and that you love your family.

I am thankful for the opportunities I’ve had to travel and my exchange. I have traveled a lot more than many American teenagers, which has given me my experiences and reduced my ignorance. My exchange is something that will be kept in my memories for the rest of my life and is something that has helped me mature, become more independent, and grow into someone I know I want to become. It will show me the path I want to follow until the day I’m gone.

Finally I’m thankful for my passions for music and writing. I am so happy to have a large following on my blog that gladly read it even if I don’t have any sort of schedule of posting. My music is just another one of the many amazing opportunities I’ve gotten over the course of my life and has helped me form my personality and shaped my dreams. Both of these things will stay dear to me for a long time.

This is only a portion of the things I can list, I’m also thankful for all my great friends and people I’ve met both on exchange and back home, all the volunteer work put into making my time in Denmark possible, and many more things that I can’t think off the top of my head. It’s a day that has a lot of meaning to Americans and I believe it’s a great idea to take time to reflect and be thankful no matter your nationality.

Advice to Future Exchange Students

Advice to Future Exchange Students

I’ve been thinking lately about how I could have been more prepared for my exchange. I thought of a few things, and want to share them in hopes that future exchange students will be able to adapt better, learn the language faster, and over all be more comfortable on their exchange. I’ve been here for three months now so I believe it could be useful to others even if they were just going on vacation.

Clothing styles vary by country. In one of my earlier blogs I talked about how my style of dress made me feel completely different. I didn’t have any advance idea of the style here and packed only a minimal amount of clothing. In the United States I would wear whatever shirt had a logo I liked, along with a hoodie, and a beanie depending on the weather. Since I came here my wardrobe has almost completely changed. I walked into school today wearing a plain shirt with no logos or designs, a dark green sweater, a scarf, and a trench coat. The cold climate did play some part in what I was wearing but I would never have left my home in the U.S. wearing something like that. When buying clothing it can get pretty expensive so expect to spend some and shop at the cheapest stores. Thrift shops are a great place to get good clothing for cheap.

Let loose on culture and accept that the ways things are most definitely going to be different. In many countries, a lot of people greet each other with a kiss on the cheek in many countries and are a lot more accepting of hugging everyone they meet. In other countries they only give handshakes until people know each other well. The holidays are also a very big example of difference in culture. Some countries celebrate Christmas, others don’t think much of it, and a lot of countries go crazy when that time of the year comes around. I’ve been taught that nothing is bad about different cultures, they’re just different and that’s that. That lesson has helped me to accept the things I may not like(as if there are any) and cope.

Lastly, learn the language. I came on exchange thinking I would be fine knowing only the most basic phrases. I ended up having no idea what anyone was saying in Danish or only catching bits and pieces of conversation when hearing other people speak. In Denmark I can get away with not knowing the language since everyone speaks also English and that goes for most of Europe. My language skills are taking off, now, but I highly suggest that you learn as much as possible so that you can feel less left out in conversations, and not have to have people constantly translate for you. It’s practically impossible to be completely prepared to speak fluently, if you don’t already, but when speaking to your host families, insist they speak the native language, ask how to say certain phrases and words as much as possible, and avoid speaking your own language.

Hopefully this is all very helpful. I cannot explain how many times all of this has been said to me by past exchange students and Rotarians, but hopefully I can get through to some people so that they won’t make some of the same mistakes I have.

How They See Us

How They See Us

As a person of a different nationality than those who surround me, I often get questioned about what I think about Danish culture, how it differs from my own culture, and a lot of political questions concerning the United States.

Ever since I came to Denmark I have started to realize just how big the United States is. Many ask about the presidential candidates: who I want to win, who has a better chance, and mostly which one is the worse choice. I always answer with something along the lines of “I am glad I cannot vote because I am not very fond of Trump nor Clinton.” People ask about the election on a weekly basis and it comes up every time I meet someone new. I truly cannot wait for this election to be over so that everyone both in the US and in Europe can calm down.

My classmates look to American television shows to get a grasp of my culture. Turns out that South Park, The Simpsons, and Family Guy can be very reliable sources when it comes to American behavior, politics, and events.

Others are less concerned with how the US does things and more concerned about whether or not I am experiencing any culture shock. The culture here is not much different although everything is a lot more laid back and relaxed when it comes to rules as well as being far more liberal on most topics. Students learn a lot about American history and politics in school, mostly to learn difficult words and improve their fluency in English. From what I’ve seen, a majority of what they teach about the United States is accurate so students also get a grasp of how things are, and there isn’t much of a need to ask me.

Here are some of the most common questions or comments I get:

“How many guns do you own?”

“Say something American”

“Are donuts really as good as The Simpsons make them seem?”

“You know your country had a pretty good opportunity with Bernie, now you guys are screwed”

“Oh you’re from Idaho? That kinda sounds like ‘I-the-ho'”

“You’re American right? I think that wall is a fantastic idea”

“Why is your drinking age so high there”

“Is there anything we can learn from the United States?”

There are many different opinions and questions as there are people. They don’t seem to have any intention of being offensive and often people point to the United States as an example of what they would do in certain situations. They are more interested in our election than a lot of Americans I know. My political views have also changed, before I left I was the most conservative person in my household but after three months here I am sort of questioning my beliefs. Much has definitely happened in my time being here and everyone of my friends is so great and I am always happy to answer questions no matter how ridiculous or political they are.

Being an Introvert vs. Being an Extrovert

Being an Introvert vs. Being an Extrovert

There are regular conversations on social media about differences between introverts and extroverts, and I thought it would be interesting to address these differences as they may relate to being a foreign exchange student. When you’re an exchange student you have no choice but to deal with many new people, and social situations that can be more awkward than you ever imagined. Sometimes it’s far easier than it sounds to handle but other times it can be a lot to take in. The fact of whether you are an extrovert or an introvert can very easily play into how you handle these situations. Both have their advantages.

You don’t necessarily have to be completely one or the other, you can be somewhere in between and that’s what I consider myself. I lean more towards being an introvert, however, I am still more social than someone who is completely introverted. It also depends on the situation I am in. If I am surrounded by completely new people it is hard for me to go around and shake hands and it takes time for me to adjust to the environment socially. Once I am done adjusting I am easily able to make new friends and meet new people.

Extroverted people will be a lot more outgoing socially and will always try to keep conversation by telling stories, asking questions, or talking about recent events. Introverts are much quieter however they are fantastic at listening and once you know them well they will become more outgoing towards you. Both have the need to be social but seek it out in different ways and with different numbers of people. Extroverts can easily introduce themselves to new people while introverts wait patiently for people to introduce themselves and say hello. When it comes to being an introvert down time is a lot easier since you’re used to not needing to be around people all the time. Extroverts prefer to be surrounded by people all the time which can make down time difficult when all their friends are occupied.

As an exchange student I can see how people would gladly be more in favor of extroverts going on exchange so that they may be able to make more friends, meet new people, and possibly learn the language faster. As an introvert I can say that if you try hard enough you can do all those things just as well because I have already more friends here than I could have imagined and am starting to grasp the language. The fact of whether or not you’re an introvert does not hold you back from what you should achieve on exchange.