Archive for September, 2010

So I thought I’d take the time to describe my living arrangement and classes.

I live in Nørrebro, which is northwest of the Copenhagen City Center and one of the 10 main districts of Copenhagen. It is known for being very multi-ethnic and I would say that it has the highest concentration of non-ethnic Danes in all of Copenhagen. The largest minority groups are from the middle-East or Arabian background, representing countries such as Iran and Pakistan. Nørrebro has fairly cheap housing with lots of cafes, bars, and shops. I love living in Nørrebro because it’s like getting the best of both worlds by giving me the perfect chance to observe immigrants and Danish interaction. I live with four Danish roommates, which consists of two men and two women. The flat that I live in is very spacious and has a nice view of the park across the street.

A Map of the Major Districts

So far my classes at the University of Copenhagen are going really well. Although, I am on a research grant, I am still required to take a full course load, which is the equivalent of 30ECTS. So far, I am taking:

  1. Health Systems in Nordic Countries: Focuses on policy and comparative analysis of the Nordic Countries.
  2. Medical Anthropology I: Focuses on understanding the social and cultural analyses of health.
  3. Gender, Sexuality and HIV/AIDS in Low Income Countries (mainly Africa): Risk behaviours, prevention, policy and intervention strategies:    I start this class on Wednesday, Sept. 29. It is focused on prevention, policy and interventions strategies in low-incomes countries.

Semesters are divided into Block 1 and Block 2, so Health Systems in Nordic Countries and Medical Anthropology I are just in Block 1 while the Gender, Sexuality and HIV/AIDS class will take place in Block 1 and Block 2.   In Block 2, another course will be added, Medical Anthropology II: Bio-sociality and Biological Citizenship – Anthropology and the “New” Biology.

As far as the University experience, I encountered a problem with understanding how the “system” works in the Public Health Department. In some departments you have to register for exams separately from  registering for the course.  Although this is completely different from my U.S. college experience, I figured it can’t be that difficult to figure out.  However, most of the websites have not been fully translated into English  and I would have liked help with how to register for exams from the administrative level.  It was very confusing and a bit frustrating at times, when you’re told that if you don’t register for exams you won’t get credit, but no one really tells you HOW to register for exams.   Luckily, I found a Danish student to help me out. I think the main problem is that most things are in Danish (a lot of stuff still needs to be translated in English for non-speaking Danish students) at the University, so it evokes this feeling of I have to understand Danish in order to gain access and because I don’t understand Danish my access has been denied. I completely understand why everything is in Danish, because Danish is the native tongue (so I’m not complaining).    I think the Public Health Department is in a transitional stage for welcoming non-Danish speaking students (also, the core courses are not offered in English, just the elective courses are offered for the fall semester, which I was aware of before I came). However, this is just one of the problems and is not deterministic or indicative of my whole experience at the University. Overall, I really like the apartment I am living in and I love my classes. The classes are challenging in their own way and will either help me gain or enhance my skills related to my research project.

The living room area of my apartment.


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As of Friday, I will have been in Denmark for a month. Time is definitely flying by really fast. I think my first month has been all about transitioning or finding my place within Danish society. Studying abroad two years ago gave me a good idea of the matrix of Danish culture. However, that insight has definitely made me set high standards for myself, in my desire to actually exist within Danish society and to not just be knowledgeable of the Danish society. It’s like I have insight on how the Danish society works, but I still feel like I exist outside of Danish culture. So I’m essentially an outsider with insider insight looking in, waiting for my turn to be incorporated into Danish society. It is so ironic that my research project involves identity and this whole month I have introspected on my identity within the framework of Danish culture. What W. E. B. Du Bois describes as a “double consciousness”, I am experiencing a triple consciousness as I seek to incorporate American, Black/African, and Danishness as parts of my identity.

For those of you who don’t know, “The concept of Du Boisian “double consciousness” has three manifestations. First, the power of white stereotypes on black life and thought (being forced into a context of misrepresentation of one’s own people while also having the knowledge of reflexive truth). Second, the racism that excluded black Americans from the mainstream of society, being American or not American. Finally, and most significantly, the internal conflict between being African and American simultaneously. Double consciousness is an awareness of one’s self as well as an awareness of how others perceive that person. The danger of double consciousness resides in conforming and/or changing one’s identity to that of how others perceive the person. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double_consciousness)”

Another issue that I have faced is explaining the breadth of “U.S. culture”. Many of the Danes that I have spoken with find it rather difficult to fully understand the diversity of “U.S. culture” or just the way that the U.S. constructs its society. Well for starters, culture is not static but fluid.  I have noticed that most of their views about U.S. culture is through television shows or visiting the coastal cities of the states (which the Danes that I have talked to seem to view as the epicenters of “U.S. culture, I.e.-New York or California), all of which seem to predispose them to favorable or negative stereotypes about Americans. In the U.S., we have many different types of American identities, where race and ethnicity play a major role in the division of those identities. However, in Danish society, immigrants born in Denmark are automatically Danish and not Muslim Danish or any other variations of the Danish identity. This functions as a leveling mechanism to “preserve” the Danish identity. Upon applying this insight, I can understand why variations of the American identity such as African American or Chinese American presents conceptual problems for many Danes. However, this all really makes me reflect on who is really being represented in the televisions shows that the Danes are watching and formulating their views about U.S. culture. Of course I can only suspect that it’s most likely a mainstream view of “U.S. culture”.

I can definitely tell that this will be a very enlightening year because as I try to integrate myself into Danish society, I am learning that cultural integration is not a one way process. I realize that just as I am opening myself to Danish culture, I still have something to contribute to Danish culture from African American culture because that is true cultural exchange.

One of my first impressions about Danish society is that they are VERY traditional. I think that one of the best ways to explore the traditional nature of Danish culture is to understand the family dynamics. Luckily, I have four great Danish roommates that make sure I get to explore a relatively wide spectrum of Danish family dynamics.   On September 4th, I had the special opportunity of attending two of my roommate’s grandfather’s birthday party.  The party or more like family gathering took place at the grandparent’s beautiful summer-house with a breathtaking garden. (If you scroll down, you should see plenty of photos of the flowers from the garden.)

Flowers in the Garden

It was a relatively small gathering, consisting of the grandparents, myself, two of my three roommate’s mom, uncle and aunt and some of their cousins. We basically all arrived, exchanged greetings and the birthday party lunch began! The first course was what I would call an appetizer. We had curried deviled eggs with a small side salad, along with white wine, water, and soda. Next, we had the main dish which in Danish is called, hakkekød or “beef” served with roasted carrots, peas, string beans, pomme frites (English equivalent of baked fries), and red and white wine. After the really big lunch we all walked to the park. While we were away at the park it gave the grandparents enough time to bake the dessert! It was a nice and sunny day with beautiful weather. After about maybe 1.5 hours at the park we all walked back and had dessert.

Me and 3 of my Danish roommates at the park.

Downtime before Dessert

Dessert was Danish pastry served with jellied plum and a very delicious squash cake, which had the same texture and taste as carrot cake, in my opinion. By this time I was stuffed! So after dessert, we all went outside to have fun in the garden. It was basically a nice time to sit and relax and mingle with the family. After I thought I couldn’t eat anymore we finished off with a light dinner. Dinner consisted of: Danish dark bread (relatively hard bread with a sour taste) with different types of deli meat (i.e.- ham, roast beef, etc.), beet root and condiments like pickles and Italian salad. It was a nice and light dinner, not that we didn’t need to eat anymore! After that we bade everyone farewell.

Dessert

Light Dinner

The atmosphere of this birthday party was very relaxed and jovial. The whole family was very welcoming to me and there was just so much food! According to my Danish roommates this was a very traditional Danish birthday party, meant to last for most of the day and it’s meant to be a time of family gathering.   I could definitely sense from the grandmother, the saying, “Eat and be Merry” as she kept asking us to eat all the food she had cooked for us.  Although, some of the family didn’t really speak English, I think I managed to find a way to integrate myself into the birthday party. Luckily, I know a couple of Danish phrases, so I tried to speak as much as possible. Making an effort to speak Danish, even though it’s a very difficult language, still makes you feel really accomplished when you nail the pronunciation. Overall, the birthday party lasted for about 7 hours. The extension of the familial warmth and hospitality was easily extended to me. The food was amazing and I had a great and relaxing day, marveling at Danish traditional culture.

The Grandparent's Summer House

The Backyard/Garden of the Summer House