Archive for August, 2011

Initially, I intended to end this blog with my “Farvel Danmark” post but I wanted to give myself some time to process my transition back to the U.S.   I definitely have experienced waves of reverse cultural shock but it has all made me reflective of my own country and culture.   And I think many of my friends have probably become pretty annoyed with me comparing everything back to Denmark.  I guess that is all a part of living there for a year, the enchantment of having discovered a small country and feeling like it was my home.

As I am preparing for another world adventure, this will be my last blog post.  I have enjoyed sharing my experiences in Denmark.  So bare with me as I put on my philosopher hat and share with you 3 life lessons that living in Denmark has taught me:

  1. Live within your means.  As I reflected on this principle, I was immediately met with the challenge of the American Dream.  Initially, I would argue that the American Dream meant striving for economic independence and the opportunity for social advancement through thrift, hard work, and financial gain.   Now is has come to mean, finding a way to instant wealth!  Ultimately, in a capitalist society meaning that life is almost ruled by money and assets such as having a big house and nice car is what separates the successful from those who are not.  This is not to say that there are not threads of this thinking in Denmark but I think for many Danes, life is about being content with having (at the very least) your basic needs met.  Therefore, living within your means doesn’t mean denying yourself of what you feel might make you happy but it’s learning to separate your needs from your wants by satisfying your wants when your needs have been met.  I guess now I can see that maybe having a big car or house isn’t really necessary. Maybe with a change in focus on living within what you already have and not just the pursuit of acquiring luxurious assets, maybe many Americans could save more.
  2. Work to live and don’t just live to work.  Try to find a balance between work (be it a job or school) and make time for yourself, family, friends, and/or leisure.  Most jobs end by at least 4pm in Denmark and that means people are usually on their way home to spend time with family or friends.  There are 24 hours in a day.  8 hours would be ideal for sleeping, 8 hours for work, and technically you should have 8 hours left for whatever.  If you’ve worked 7-8 hours already, why go home and work more?
  3. Humor has the power to counteract some of life’s worst situations.  Danes have a way of adding humor to every aspect of life.  Although, it takes some getting used to, I’ve come to appreciate it.  So learn to laugh more and see the lighter sides of things.  Maybe we should learn to live life with no regrets because a good day gives you happiness and a bad day gives you experience!

So in conclusion, I just wanted to thank all the people that have read, followed, and commented on my blog.  I always welcome different perspectives as they help me expand my understanding of U.S. and Danish differences but also allow me to become aware of my own biases.  Thanks Denmark for the incredible life lessons!

I have now been back in the U.S. about a little over a month and every part of me, feels as though I was plucked from Denmark before my time.  As I try to re-establish a routine and re-adapt to the U.S. lifestyle that I left behind for a year in Denmark, I can’t help but feel like I’m having an outer-body experience.  I keep noticing things such as the obesity epidemic in the U.S. maybe because of the use of high fructose corn syrup in almost every food product (even food products such as applesauce) and how culturally, eating healthy is still like a vice.  Still there is a strong focus on living a lavish and extravagant lifestyle (so indicative of what many perceive of as the end result of the American dream), pushing them to live beyond and not within their means.  And most of all the visibility of the low-income/poor class, so indicative of the growing gap in wealth within American socio-economic classes.  Not that I didn’t notice these things before, but now I have an outside frame of reference that almost makes these experiences seem uncanny to me.

But, I can also smile as I notice the biking lanes that have been implemented in St. Louis and people are slowly taking a liking to it.  Although, I know it will probably take some time since most of the bikers here really stand out with biking attire, consisting of everything from biker shorts to helmets as though they are competing in the Tour de France.  When in Denmark I became accustomed to bikers ruling the streets, babies riding in the back of bike seats, women riding bikes while wearing dresses, or men in business suits, as biking has become an everyday way of life.

Each day, as I try to re-adjust to American lifestyle, I can’t help but to really look at my hometown with a fresh set of eyes, wondering how much do I really know about my own hometown.  You know how you can live in a place for years, get so use to it and then not really know much as you thought you did about it?  Oddly, I don’t even feel attached to my hometown!

There are still challenges with even applying my public health studies, the study area of my Fulbright research.  I felt so empowered from the high quality classes that I had taken about how to improve health for populations.  But now I realize just how difficult it is to apply my public health knowledge from Denmark to just the lifestyle of my own family.

I’ve noticed that in terms of healthy eating, it isn’t that people don’t necessarily want to eat healthy it’s just for many with the already tight squeeze of finances spending a bit extra on something healthy doesn’t seem cost-effective, beneficial, and/or isn’t even a top priority.  It’s more like, why buy wheat or whole grain bread for just a little bit more when I can buy white bread and apply that little bit more to a future bill payment.  This is the reality that I realize I live in (as I can only speak for myself).  Then, I begin to think about the high taxation of Denmark, how it feels so justified with all of the welfare benefits that the Danes receive, universal healthcare, paid higher education, and overall just a high quality of living.

I don’t know if I could quite call all of this reverse cultural shock.  It’s not that I am looking down on the U.S., I just seem to notice all the subtle intricacies of American culture or my life that I either took for granted or had become so accustomed to, that it wasn’t any need for me to be conscious of it.  In many ways, it feels like I didn’t just leave behind friends in Denmark but it feels like I left behind an extended family!  I really miss you, Copenhagen!

I am sure that this phrase haunts the many that have decided to move to another country.  It is the words that produce the feeling of you don’t belong, so just go back to where you came from.  No matter where you live there will always be good or bad, positive of negative issues with your environment.  Just because you are living in another country doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t be able to express the challenges or problems that you might face.  Speaking about your challenges, doesn’t mean you are necessarily verbally attacking the country that you are in, but it is acknowledging that this is something that might be difficult for you.  It provides an opportunity to create discussion and analyze how your situation be changed.  In fact, it could even show how invested you are in the country, based on the fact that you have so much to say.

I’ve heard this said to so many people in Denmark and even to me and it’s such an unfair statement.  Not everyone completely loves the place that they are from or wants to continue their life in their home country, and some for many different factors have been forced to leave their home country (such as refugees, asylum seekers, or other groups of migrants).  Everyone has a voice and ideally should be able to use it, within reason of course and hopefully with some reflection that words have consequences and we are accountable for what we say.

On the other hand, I am aware of those that move to a country and do nothing but complain and focus on all the negative aspects.  This is not to excuse those that are guilty of such behavior.  But with an increasing globalized world, many countries are experiencing demographic changes which undoubtedly will bring about challenges with co-existing with people that you probably are not use to (culturally speaking).  So, the next time you think about telling someone, “If you don’t like it then go back to your own country… ”, at least try to understand their perspective.