Archive for December, 2010

The whole month of December has felt like such a big preparation for Christmas day!  Some Danes also honor, what is called the “Advent” (pronounced El-vent in Danish), where the four Sundays leading up to Christmas there was a small gift to open.  All the streets were decorated with Christmas lights and other festive decorations such as stars or reindeer.  There was just so much of a vibe that Christmas was in the air.

So on Christmas day (celebrated December 24th here), we went to Frederik’s (one of my Danish roommates) house at around 3pm. Usually his family goes to church but there was also a broadcasted church showing that came on around 4pm. So the family sat in the living room and watched the televised church show, while we ate cookies and candies with tea and coffee. Before coming to the Christmas dinner, I even baked Cinnamon Roll cookies for everyone and I think everyone loved them! Well after the church show, we all just socialized and watched a bit of television.

Then EXACTLY at 6pm, dinner was ready and we began to eat. I stressed the 6pm, because apparently at 6pm EVERYONE in Denmark is having Christmas and usually eating the EXACT same thing, EVERY year without many divergences.

Dinner was as follows:
Flæskesteg (Roasted Pork Loin with a crackling top layer)
Andesteg (Roasted Duck, usually cooked with apple and prune stuffing)
Brun Sovs (A traditional dark gravy made from the meat drippings and used to cover the pork, duck, and boiled potatoes)
Boiled White Potatoes
Brunede kartofler – Potatoes cooked in caramelized sugar
Rødkål – Red cabbage that has been pickled, and has a sweet-sour taste

Risalamande med Kirsebærsauce – Rice pudding, served cold, made with rice, whipped cream and almonds and topped with a warm cherry sauce.
There is even a game involved with this dessert. So there were 2 whole almonds in the dessert and the point was to eat as much as possible so that you can get the almond. The person who finds the almond usually gets a small present. It’s a fun way to eat dessert!

After dinner and dessert, we all joined hands and sang around the Christmas tree, for about 15-20minutes! It was really funny because most had actually forgotten some of the words, but it was still a great time.  Then after singing around the Christmas tree, we all sat around in the living room and opened each gift, ONE by ONE.  Because it was 10 of us and a lot of gifts, this took about 2-3 hours!  Now this was definitely different for me. So instead of just rushing to the Christmas tree and ripping all the wrapping paper to shreds to see what you received for Christmas this added a very relaxed and appreciative aspect to Christmas. The whole point of the gift opening part was so that everyone could look at all the gifts that everyone has received and then maybe give an explanation for why they bought the gift. I loved looking at everyone’s faces as they opened the gifts and were usually happy with the gifts.

Now to be a bit reflective, I have to admit I had mixed feelings about the Danish Christmas. At the beginning of December, I felt like it was a bit too much because I thought it was about purchasing multiple, very expensive gifts. But this was really my bias from the commercialism that I am slightly annoyed with surrounding Christmas.  That is not to say it is not sometimes the same feeling here but from what I experienced, Christmas here was just something a bit different. In my family we usually have 1-2 big gifts, but I saw most families here receiving probably 6 gifts minimum per person. But to give this more context and perspective, the focus of the gifts wasn’t so much about the expensiveness.   It wasn’t like everyone went out and spent a fortune on multiple gifts, providing each person with the newest iPhone or iPad. Each gift was something thoughtful, usually necessary, and quite moderate in spending, that was more to send the feeling around of traditional gift sharing and family togetherness. Even more, this was about appreciating the gifts and the process that was put into making this a Christmas family event.

Christmas turned out to be just what I love about it so much: family togetherness, a time for joy/happiness, and best of all, good food!  I received really good gifts and it made me very happy to see the expression of everyone’s faces as they opened the gifts I bought for them.  Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas in Copenhagen.

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So on December 15th, the Copenhagen Youth Ambassadors had our last meeting of the year. I have to say this has been a phenomenal experience.   It’s a combination of everything from the access to some of Denmark’s top companies along with the opportunity to network and just an inside view of what Denmark has to offer to the world. We discussed our roles as Youth Ambassadors and what we are expected to do in the following year. Our main responsibility is to promote Copenhagen/Denmark using our own networks, talents, and experiences. In essence this is a talent development program and we are charged with the task of using our talents to promote Denmark!  I very much look forward to connecting with my undergraduate college, the University of Copenhagen, or whomever to really market Copenhagen as a great place to work, live, and/or study.

On a personal level, the opportunities that the Youth Ambassador program has provided, has really made me appreciate living in another country.  I believe that studying abroad is more than just a “taking a vacation”. Sure it’s a great time to explore the world and then brag about all the places that you’ve visited. In a way that was me, 2 years ago. However, now things are changing. I’m back in Copenhagen for the second time, so obviously something is drawing me here.  I think this time I am here for a deeper appreciation of this small country’s lifestyle or culture in general. I am simply fascinated, not in a exoticizing sense, but truly fascinated by the culture here. It’s a combination of everything from the relatively high gender quality in society, being able to bike everywhere, the drive for renewable energy instead of using fossil fuels, a general health consciousness, the welfare state, and the list just goes on. In the Youth Ambassadors program we kept debating how could we really market Denmark and it’s very challenging because Denmark is really a lifestyle. It’s something you have to experience to really appreciate. You can stay at the surface of experiencing Danish culture or really dive in and try to make an effort to understand. One of the things I love to do is having a dialogue with Danes about Denmark, danishness, etc. This has really helped me get a broader and more nuanced perspective about Danish culture. Many times I notice contradictions and sometimes I notice similarities. That isn’t to say that Denmark doesn’t have many flaws. It’s known for its very tight immigration policies, not being open to foreigners, high taxes, and many other things. It’s just really easy to allow first impressions or even just what you’ve heard from other people to shade your view of Denmark, but you can either choose to experience for yourself or just look at this country from a very surface value.

So far, I think my Danish language skills are progressing at a fairly decent rate. Not only do I have to work on pronunciation, I have to really focus on intonation. It’s the intonation and stresses that prove to be the most challenging because we don’t have that as much in English. I also, have to learn to take the Dane’s reactions to me trying to speak Danish with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, it’s a fun challenge and comes with the package of coming to another country. Some things are only as difficult as you allow them to be. Okay I just wanted to write a short reflective piece of what Denmark has come to mean to me as a Fulbright researcher and as one who is trying to integrate himself into Danish culture.

Also, I’m officially on winter break so I’ll try to update my blog more often! 🙂

Lastly, since I’ve updated my blog a lot about the Copenhagen Youth Goodwill Ambassador program, feel free to check out the short video providing a snapshot of the program.

I know this post is a bit late, but I finally have some free time!

On Sunday Nov. 28th, I decided to make my Danish roommates an American Thanksgiving! So I spent all Sunday cooking with the assistance with one of my Danish roommates! I wanted to make it as traditional as possible but with an elegant touch. So in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I brought back an old grade school tradition, where every Thanksgiving my class would make a ”I am Thankful Turkey”, where everyone would cut out a fall colored hand and write something they were thankful for. So my roommates decided to expand the idea to everyone that visited the apartment!  So, everyone had to fill out a Thankful hand and then on Thanksgiving day, we would hang up the ”I am Thankful Turkey”! I think everyone loved the idea and wrote a lot of things they were thankful for.

So for the day that we celebrated Thanksgiving, I even made a menu, just to give everyone an idea of what they were eating. The menu is posted below.

After a fun-filled day cooking with my Danish roommate, dinner was finally ready at around 6:30pm. Everyone dressed up and we had nice jazzy ballroom-esque music playing the whole time. I started off the dinner describing what was in each dish and giving them an idea of what we were about to eat. It was very ”hyggeligt” as the Danes would say. I think everyone liked the food, at least I hope they did! We ended off the night with a nice, feel-good movie, Bedtime Stories!

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Okay so I finally have time to update you all on the Copenhagen Youth Ambassador Program.  I apologize if this is a bit long!  😀

4 November: Branding Workshop
For the branding workshop, the Copenhagen Youth Ambassadors visited Arriva, a major public transport company stationed in several countries throughout Europe. The whole point of this visit was to learn about how to brand Copenhagen. We were given presentations on the key points of Copenhagen and about the company, Arriva.

Arriva is a quite fascinating company with a proud concept of international diversity. Arriva in Denmark has over 42 nationalities represented and 50% of their employees are international.  The job of the Youth Ambassadors was to come up with a cartoon that defines Copenhagen. First, we just brainstormed what we thought about Copenhagen, that could be used to attract tourists. Interestingly enough, we all struggled with this. We all decided that besides green energy, the Little Mermaid, and biking, it’s really difficult to brand Copenhagen. We all thought that Denmark is really a living experience.  When you think of Denmark, it’s hard to really find one thing that defines it as Denmark on a global scale.  So we were divided into 2 groups and each group came up with a cartoon that branded or represented their views about Denmark and the one that received the most votes was presented at the Youth Ambassadors Conference.

If you want to see a write-up about the Youth Ambassadors cartoon in the Danish newspaper (MetroExpress), click here Metro Express Go to pages 22-23!   I’m even featured in this newspaper! 😀

Even more interesting was when the President (I think…) of Arriva put the concept of international diversity into perspective. He mentioned that in light of the Muhammad cartoons and other immigration issues in Denmark, ”race” and ”religion” are NOT a problem at Arriva.  Even with so many international workers, there has been relatively NO bigotry or discriminatory motivated incidences.  He said it is more so the question of can you do your job? This was even evidenced by the fact that Arriva won the 2010 Integration Award!
Question: In terms of immigration and integration issues in Denmark, if you look hard enough for something are you bound to find it?  In other words, in terms of my research here, I constantly ask myself if “race/ethnicity” or “religion” are really problems or do my research goals in mind actually predispose me to a certain view of Danish culture? Anthropological reflexivity at it’s finest.

This whole experience really made me think about what Denmark is experiencing at the moment. With the global recession and all the baggage that comes along with that, Denmark seems to be a bit fearful or uneasy of losing it’s welfare state. The welfare state is something that Denmark has worked so hard to preserve and it is deeply embedded into the Danish identity. What you put into the system is supposed to equal the benefits that you get back. Universal healthcare access, student stipends while attending the university, overall good quality of life, and many other benefits are all apart of the welfare state. Even more embedded into all of this is the preservation of the Danish language, culture and identity. With the impending pressures of globalization many countries, that have been relatively isolated and insular are facing the challenges of having to open themselves up to the outside world but still preserve their country’s cultural ideals and imperatives.   This is definitely evidenced in Denmark, such as the University of Copenhagen’s goals to internationalize itself and more jobs looking for international labor.
Question: How much can Denmark open itself up before it begins to lose the essence of what makes it Denmark?

24 November: Youth Ambassadors Conference
This was designed as a seminar and forum to learn about some of the things we can do as Copenhagen Youth Ambassadors. We had talks about why is Denmark a great place to work, live and/or study. There were also lots of talk about Denmark’s future.

Anders Eldrup, CEO of DONG Energy clearly outlined Denmark’s green energy goals. Currently, Denmark uses 85% fossil fuel energy and 15% wind or green energy, by 2040 Denmark plans to reverse this and make it 85% wind or green energy and 15% fossil fuel energy. Next year, Denmark even plans to introduce electric cars on a much bigger scale. Waldemar Schmidt gave a talk on the business aspect of Denmark but also the global perceptions. I’ve learned that many products have a bigger name than Denmark, itself. Take for example, LEGO which up until 2 years ago, I thought were exclusively made in the states but they’re made in Denmark.  So Denmark, really has to find more creative ways to market itself as a country that is linked to some of it’s biggest products.

We finished off the Youth Ambassadors Conference with 2 panel debates consisting of some of the more experience Copenhagen Youth Ambassadors and other very distinguished people with ties to Denmark.  Some key points from the panel debates were that to be a Youth Ambassador, one has to be aware of the opportunities that Denmark has to offer and how to creatively utilize our outside-in perspective of Denmark.  Overall, Copenhagen Youth Ambassadors are expected to complete 2 projects, yearly, that can benefit Denmark.

29 November: Novo Nordisk Company Visit & Meeting with President & CEO Lars Rebien Sørensen
Okay, so out of all the Copenhagen Youth Ambassador visits, this was definitely my most favorite visit! I have to admit that I usually have a negative perspective of pharmaceuticals, only caring about profit and not enough about the well-being of their fellow patients. However, Novo Nordisk in Denmark seemed to be the ideal work place.

So Novo Nordisk, is also international friendly and prides istself on 70% of its graduates being from countries other than Denmark. We began this visit with an inspirational lecture from President & CEO Lars Rebien Sørensen! He basically put Novo Nordisk within a Danish and global perspective. There is approx. 300 million people living with diabetes, globally. Of that statistic, 50% are diagnosed and 50% of the diagnosed actually have access to quality diabetes care. Novo Nordisk has been a leader in diabetes care since the 1923! The largest part of Novo Nordisk is stationed in North America.

Novo Nordisk seeks to constantly keep quality and price at an affordable level. They also try to make their diabetes products as user-friendly and life-style adaptable as possible. For example, traditionally one would have to take insulin shots at a specific time before one could even eat. Also you’d have to stick yourself with a needle. With this in mind, insulin shots would basically control one’s life. Well, Novo Nordisk in Denmark has created insulin that can be taken while you are eating and they have something that’s more like a pen but doesn’t have the same feel or fear associated with it as a needle. Also, through programs such as DAWN (Diabetes Attitudes Wishes & Needs), Novo Nordisk is trying to connect its products directly with the clinical level by empowering patients to be more active participants in the clinical process. It seems that their goal is to help make people with diabetes to understand that life does still go on. So Novo Nordisk in Denmark not only looks at making a profit as I usually have in mind for the pharmaceutical industry but they also try to connect their products with patients at the clinical level. It’s like adding a life story or face behind statistics about people living with diabetes.

We concluded the Novo Nordisk visit with student graduate presentations about working for Novo Nordisk and an informal networking buffet.