Yesterday, I walked into a Danish sandwich shop and at first I thought I’d just order it in English.  But I’ve been to this sandwich shop before and I promised the person fixing my sandwich that the next time I came by, I would order in Danish.  So, I walked in and she had actually remembered my promise from about 2 months ago.  At first, I was a bit hesitant but it was about time that I put, “Jeg vil gerne have” (I would like…) to use.  So, I went for it and what transpired was actually a good moment.

I was actually able to order my sandwich and work my way through the payment, all in Danish.  We didn’t switch to English and I didn’t get a “Hva’” or “Hvad siger du?”  This may not seem like a big deal but for me it was truly a confidence booster. At this stage of learning Danish it’s all about learning the grammar, definitely the pronunciation and listening, but most importantly building confidence.

After the year 1864 in the Second War of Schleswig when Denmark suffered a series of defeats and territory losses that reduced it to its current size now, Denmark has been strongly focused on preserving its culture, its national identity, its welfare state and most of all its language. When putting the population size into perspective, Denmark is a country of about 5.5 million people and maybe 95% of the people speak English.  Danish only really needs to be learned if you plan on living in Denmark for an extended period of time.  So you’re constantly battling with the question of, should I even learn Danish?

My reply is, yes.  I think learning Danish is a gateway into the culture.  Danish is a straightforward language riddled with dry humor.  Compared to English, I don’t think Danish has that many words.  But, when comparing English to Danish, I think English is quite metaphorical and can sometimes tend to not be as straightforward or specific. For example, the Danes have four different words for “to think”, (at mene, at tro, at tænke, and synes).  I mean how specific can you get?  And trying to distinguish between the four verbs can sometimes be quite challenging.  I think when I figure those four words out and how to effectively use my glottal stop, I will have mastered Danish.  🙂

What yesterday’s experience taught me was that many foreigners learning Danish could benefit from more Danes that are willing to give them the opportunity to practice.  Many foreigners learning Danish actually love to practice but keep encountering Danes that keep replying back in English or have the belief that one should either speak Danish 100% correct or don’t speak it at all.  I’m sure many of the foreigners that are learning Danish have experienced, the notorious “Hva’ ” or “Hvad siger du?”, that just makes you feel like you are never saying anything right.   But as one that is actively learning Danish, I’ve learned 3 practicing tips in helping to build confidence in this stage of learning.

  1. If you want to avoid, a “Hva” or “Hvad siger du?”, try to speak up a bit more.  Sometimes when you think you might pronounce the sentence incorrectly, one has the tendency to speak softly.  Therefore, it might not always be that you have said the word incorrectly.  Sometimes, speaking with confidence helps build confidence.
  2. Don’t always feel bad about speaking slowly; the rule of thumb has been it’s better to pronounce the words correctly than to try to just say them quickly to prove your proficiency.  What I’ve discovered is that although Danes know English they are usually pretty self-conscious when they have to use it.  So, putting this into perspective, you’re just two self-conscious people trying to find the best way to communicate with each other.
  3. Until you have built up your confidence start with, “Jeg vil prøve at tale dansk….” which means “I will try to speak Danish…”  This helps prepare the Danish person, so they can know that you’re practicing Danish and most find it quite exciting that you would even take the time out to learn their language.

Overall, this is just a beginner’s advice as I am only in Studieskolen, Module 2.2.  Of course the obvious key to all of this is to practice as much as possible but I think often the confidence building part of learning Danish is sometimes missing.  Even as I am giving this advice, I still have to remember to apply it to myself. J

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Last Saturday, I attended an event called, “Matchmingler” and no it wasn’t a dating event.  Matchmingler was an event with about 160 students and post-graduates all interested in startups & innovations divided into the four categories: Computer Science & Technology, Business & Social Science, Natural- & Life Science, Design & Media.  Throughout the day we were given speeches and the opportunity to network, share and develop our entrepreneurial ideas with each other.

Here is a recap of the day.

Anne Skare Nielsen: Be Open
Chief futurist of the futurist company, Future Navigator
Anne’s talk was about not doing what other people do, but about being yourself and following your heart.  Her belief was that we are in an era of constructive visions.  Life has become not about having more but about how can we make it better?  She discussed how we can transform our minds.  We have the social mind, the narrative mind, and the transformational mind.  The social mind says: “World is out of my hands”, the narrative mind says: “I am playwriter in my own life”, and the transformational mind: “What can I do with what I have, every time something happens in my life”.  What we need to all do is strive to reach the transformational mind and to realize that it doesn’t always take a long time.

Nicolai Moltke-Leth: Commitment and Risk
Former Special Forces Soldier
Nicolai began with the quote, “The greatest danger for the most of us, is not that our aims are too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” Therefore, his speech talked about unleashing our inner power.  He thinks that what differs among people is not our abilities but the quality of our mindset.  Therefore, what are you willing to sacrifice to reach whatever you like?  It could be that you are focusing on the wrong thing.

A stable foundation for what you want is believing in yourself.  Therefore, you have to step  out of your comfort zone into a zone of development.  The key to doing that is tackling your fears!  He thinks we think and act within 3 levels, a green, yellow and red zone.  Now imagine this circle in three layers, in the middle or core is the green part and this is when we have the most control, the yellow part is the caution zone and the red zone is the zone that is on the furthest to the outside of the circle, it is the zone dominated by our fears.  What we must do is focus on increasing the green part or the core so that we eventually push the circle to its outer limits thus eliminating or greatly reducing the yellow and red zones.

Alex Farcet: What can I do for you?
CEO Startupbootcamp
Alex’s speech focused on networking.  He asked the question: What type of networker are you?  Are you an open, active, or closed networker?  Therefore, he explored the networking tool, LinkedIn and gave 5 tips for how to maximize usage of LinkedIn.
1)       NEVER use the default invitation text, personalize it when asking someone to join your network.
2)      WORK on your summary section, people read this and rarely scroll down unless interested in what your summary has to say.
3)      Keep your STATUS updated, maybe even link your Twitter page to LinkedIn.
4)      HELP Google by filling out the “Additional Information” section of your LinkedIn profile.
5)      JOIN groups.  This helps you meet people with similar interests.

After the speakers we had a networking session in which we got to discuss our ideas with each other through a walk through Frederiksberg Garden.  We finished off the event with a 3 course dinner in which after each course we had to switch tables and meet someone new!

Denmark is a knowledge-based society and this program was definitely one of the indicators of why Denmark thrives from people with innovative and creative ideas.  It’s a small country with a loud voice.  If it is to survive within the era of globalization and the recession, it has to continuously produce people that can generate new ideas and create more businesses that focuses on making what we already have, better.  Think of the co-founder/creator of Skype, Janus Friis, who is actually Danish.  Before Skype, there were instant messaging programs such as AOL and Yahoo, but Skype took the idea of those programs to an even higher level.

Most importantly, this program affirmed that people with a business background aren’t the only people who can be entrepreneurs!  If you want a desired result or outcome in your life, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, share and enhance your ideas with other people.  Success is not always a solitary act.  At the same time, find your own originality and don’t be a standardized product.  One of the keys to overcoming your fear is realizing that many share the same fear and thus that you are not alone in your fears, particularly the fear of not being good enough.  When networking, find people who resonate with what you want, desire or like. We are social creatures and thus a strong social network is highly beneficial in the development of your ideas and even yourself.

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Meeting the Danes for international students or foreigners in general has definitely been a topic of discussion in Denmark. Being a student and living here, I wanted to find more ways to interact and meet Danes outside of a party setting while also becoming active in the community. Meeting Danes through parties can be challenging because most of the times you are either screaming over loud music or not really communicating with someone who might happen to not be so sober.  🙂  So, while reading through the University Post’s, “Top 10 tips to meet Danes”, situated at number 9, I happened to discover, Café Retro Nørrebro.

Café Retro Nørrebro is a non-profit organization who gives its profit to development projects in third world countries, particularly Sierra Leone.  It is owned and run by the organization VIAid, which you are more than welcome to check out more about on the website (posted below).  Café Retro Nørrebro is currently divided into about 6 or so different volunteer teams, each serving the purpose of making the café a welcoming, friendly, and cozy spot for customers and volunteers.

I work for the Public Relations team as the “International Relations Manager”, where we meet about once a month at the moment, brainstorming and discussing creative ways to disseminate and market information about Café Retro Nørrebro among many other developing responsibilities.  For example, we recently discussed implementing a guest book where people get to write what’s on their mind while being at Café Retro Nørrebro or we’ve discussed different ways to increase the visibility of the cafe within Copenhagen such as through more flyers or post cards.

For me, volunteering at Café Retro Nørrebro produces the feeling that I am volunteering for something that I know serves an overall good purpose, which is giving its proceeds to Sierra Leone.  At the same time, I get to enjoy a cozy place with a relaxed atmosphere where I can easily have a chill night, meet new people while enjoying a nice drink, or even do homework since the cafe also has free Wi-Fi!  Also, I get to work with different groups of people and acquire professional competencies that will undoubtedly impact my resume.

I would classify Café Retro Nørrebro as still being in a relatively young phase, as a lot of structural components are still being developed such as creating more cohesion between the different volunteer teams.   If you’re a non-Danish speaking person and are worrying about the language barrier, they try their best to decrease the language barrier as much as possible but you have to keep in mind that most material and some events will be held in Danish.  However, if you’re looking for a great place to volunteer and meet really nice and friendly Danish people, I would really recommend you volunteer here.

Website: http://www.retro-norrebro.dk/index.php?id=708
Location and Contact Information: Jægersborggade 14 – 2200 København N – tlf. + 45 51 93 28 18
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Imagine you’re cycling through a city consisting primarily of 17th and 18th century buildings that produce a cozy and intimate atmosphere.  Everywhere you look, there are cafes and authentic Danish bakeries.  You see small kids walking around in their onesies.  Outside of the stores, are baby carriages left unattended while the parents are inside shopping.  Today is a lucky day, because the sun shines vibrantly in the sky, piercing through the grayness you’ve become so accustomed to.  As you cycle, you see nature and parks incorporated into the city life. Right in the center of the city by one of the most popular train stations, sits the Botanical Garden.  Even more, you see lakes that as the sun beams in the sky produce scenery that is bound to be displayed on a postcard.  In the middle of the lakes are snow-white swans, perched so elegantly in the half-frozen lakes, making you think of H.C. Andersen’s fairytale of the Ugly Duckling.

Next, you try to find street signs, only to discover they are on the corners of the buildings and many have different vowel sounds (æ,ø,å) that you can’t even begin to pronounce.  You want to speak to the people as you would do in a typical American city, only to discover they’re actually quite self-reserved.  Also, the people are very fashionable and black seems to be the most favorite color.

You continue your bike trip all the way to the extravagant Amalienborg Palace where the Royal Family is housed. As you cycle through, you try to get the Royal Guards to break focus and look at you.  Good luck with that. Eventually, you ride by a woman with a fish tale perched on a stone quite close to the shore and you flash back to your childhood where this statue is a Disney classic in American pop culture.  But as you continue to cycle around you see statues situated on top of buildings that one would have to really observe to become aware of.  You realize this city is like an enchanted fairy tale, where every building, every canal, every lake has some historical aspect to it that just sends you into a curious frenzy.  Even more, the buildings are vibrant colors and if you veer off main streets you eventually start riding down cobble stone streets making you feel like you’re living in the 17th century!  You eventually stop and realize the freedom riding through the city produces and the joy it incites from being able to explore the city at your own pace.

Describing Copenhagen to others can be a difficult task because as I’ve said before it’s a lifestyle experience.  You have to come to Copenhagen to experience the beauty within and the richness of culture that is so deeply entrenched into everyday life.  Copenhagen may not be the top city on everyone’s travel list and when you see the Little Mermaid, you think wow she’s kind of small.  Honestly, if she were bigger I wouldn’t think of it as a special Danish trademark, because keeping things small and moderate are also elements of Danish culture.

Every time, you go into a café you should expect candles in a dimly lit room, which are there to produce the Danish concept of hygge, which means “cozy”.  People will speak Danish to you, even if obviously you look like a foreigner.  Also, biking is such a huge part of the lifestyle here.  Every Danish person I know has a bike.  It’s healthy and a great way to get around/experience the city.  I think that Denmark definitely wants to attract tourists, but at the same time it manages to keep its originality.  Overall, Copenhagen has a small city appeal, but there is always something waiting to be discovered.  Therefore, to really appreciate what Copenhagen stands for, you have to actively engage yourself.  So in visiting, I challenge you to not only be captivated by the beauty but to also try to explore the lifestyle.

One of the biggest cultural shocks that I’ve had in Denmark, is how the Danes leave their babies outside!   They leave their babies outside when they go into the store or even when they are at home and this can even be in the winter!  In the winter, it isn’t like they leave the baby out in blizzards or anything, they usually have the baby wrapped really warm and in their insulated pram.  In the states, they would be charged with a long list of criminal charges ranging from child neglect to child endangerment.

But in Denmark, it’s totally okay for a baby to be left outside for a nap or outside the store while the parents are shopping.  The explanation that I’ve received is that it’s all about making sure the baby gets as much fresh air as possible.  I remember, when I first saw this I really wanted to walk up to the parents and tell them that they had left their baby outside!  But Denmark is safe in that regard and I haven’t heard of any cases of babies being kidnapped.

Also, in my limited interaction with Danish kids, the little kids are quite mature or independent.  I have yet to experience a Danish child having a temper tantrum in a store.  Also, I’ve witnessed little kids riding the Metro or biking by themselves.  I must wonder if this is because of the safety in the city of Copenhagen or just Danish culture in general?  It could be a combination of both.  However, I am very fascinated that babies can sleep outside, that the little kids can ride the bus by themselves and still be safe and it’s not a stigma or criminal offense in Danish society.

Oh Denmark, you continue to amaze me. 🙂

So spring semester classes began this week and in the introductory part of one of my classes, the professor told the class, particularly the international students, “You don’t have to come to class every day. In Denmark, classes aren’t mandatory.  We believe learning is about discussion, exchange, and independence.”   Now, I have definitely heard this said before by students, but not so much by the professors.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that on the first day class seems to be packed but then as the semester progresses, mostly 50% of the students tend to show up for class.  But this isn’t because Danish students aren’t motivated.  It just means that embedded into the Danish education system and undoubtedly affected by the Jantelov (which I will blog about soon), is this concept of equality.  Some sociologist and anthropologists have written about the Scandinavian cultural principle of “sameness” which corresponds to a flat hierarchy in many Scandinavian societies, particularly the Danish society.  The whole principle of the welfare state was to include the marginalized people in society and equalize opportunity for all people (regardless of social class).  Thus, taxation was implemented with a collective mentality in mind that everyone pays into the system (40-60% in taxes) and is supposed to get similar or the same benefits out of the system.

The flat hierarchy even extends into the classroom in which one should not address their professor by their title, as I have become accustomed to in the states.  This is even the case at the primary and secondary level of education!  But in higher education settings (Bachelors/undergraduate and on up), professors are only viewed as a secondary resource or another opinion on the subject being taught in class.  So students have the choice to attend classes, if they feel they will benefit from a particular lecture.

Looking back at my undergraduate classes, I can’t remember many professors saying I could call them by their first name or that class wasn’t mandatory.  But then again, I was often taught that it is disrespectful to call an adult by their first name. But respect in that regard seems to have been transposed through the Danish cultural interpretation of egalitarianism, where everyone is equal or at least supposed to be treated as an equal.  You respect the professor as one that is knowledgeable within their field but based on Danish principles, you still in some way perceive of the professor as your equal.  You have something to contribute to the lecture and discussion just as the professor has something to contribute as a lecturer and researcher in their field.  So within the classes, learning is really about discussion, exchange and independence.

So I think to study in Denmark, it requires a high degree of self-motivation.  There usually aren’t assignments or even tests or mid-terms throughout the semester as one might expect, coming from an American tradition.  Usually, you either have an oral exam or a research paper at the end of the course that determines your grade.  Overall, I will definitely attend all my classes, because as much as I like to read about public health, I love discussions and hearing different views on the topic.

Last Monday, I went to Sam’s Karaoke Bar with some of my international friends.  Sam’s Bar is a very fun place to hang out and actually has a variety of songs, spanning multiple genres of music and even different languages, like Danish (or course), Spanish, etc.  Well, as usual people pick songs that are favorable and that most people know.  So some of my friends and I started off the night with the Black Eyed Peas, “I Got a Feeling”, which is a great song to get people involved.  There weren’t many people in Sam’s Bar as we were there around 10:30ish.  Later, I decided to sing Elton John’s Circle of Life for my first song and it was okay but I swear I don’t remember that song being that long.

Well the night was generally low-key until about midnight, when a huge group of students, walked in, very loud and speaking what was so recognizable as AMERICAN ENGLISH.  Before long, the place was filled with North Face jackets, one guy had on an American Flag shirt, excessive amounts of shoutouts, saying “That’s my boy” or “dude” and “like” after every word…  I felt like I was in an American movie or something! Next, as I was with other Danes and international students, for some reason many of the American students did not assume I was from the states.  So I was usually approached throughout the night with questions like, “Do you like American music or American culture?”  Then when I hesitated to answer, one guy proceeded to try to speak Danish.  This was one of the first times, I’ve heard a non-native Danish speaker, speak Danish and this is not to make fun of the American guy but I can empathize with how the Danes must feel when they are used to hearing their language a certain way and then an outsider says something that to us isn’t a subtle linguistic and phonetic difference, but that makes all the difference in Danish!

As I flash back to studying abroad in Denmark, 3 years ago, I tried to put this into perspective.  I tried to understand how Americans might be perceived or how we might project our identity.  This was such an interesting experience for me, because I have actually only hung out with Danes since I’ve been in Denmark.  I noticed how the group dynamics were just structured quite differently.  When favorable songs were sung or played, I immediately noticed most of the Americans grinding on each other.  Interestingly enough, I know it exists in Denmark but I have not been to many Danish parties where all they do is grind on each other.  This isn’t to say that all Americans just grind on each other, but I noticed in my experience, that most Danes have tended to focus on dancing in a more reserved fashion.  Also, if it’s not in a “reserved” style of dancing, it’s dancing with not such a focus on “dirty-dancing” that can be found in most American parties (of course, it’s always depending on context). I guess you could say, most Danes dance with and not on each other as much as I’ve witnessed at some American parties.  Also, as soon as the American students walked into the bar they bought big bottles of Vodka or the more expensive alcohol, whereas, I’ve experienced Danes mostly drinking beer (which is cheaper) and maybe a cocktail here and there.

At the Danish parties that I’ve attended, the Danes actually focus on socializing.  We sometimes sit and chat about many topics, ranging from politics to pop culture.  I’ve had some of my best heart to hearts or intercultural learning experiences at bars or parties.  I remember having a discussion about if the Nordic healthcare systems are any better than the U.S. health system.  Yes, this was at a party and it was totally acceptable!  Everyone usually has so much to say and have been quite opinionated.  But this isn’t to say that we just sit around at Danish parties and talk, it’s definitely all about having fun because Danish parties are VERY long!  I know back at my college we’d usually start the party at maybe 10pm and end the party around maybe 1-3AM at the latest.  But in Denmark the parties that I’ve attended usually have begun approx 6-8PM with a hyggeligt (cosy) dinner.  Then, the real party starts after midnight, which means the parties can tend to end as late as 6AM, sometimes!

I hope this isn’t much of a surprise, but most Danish parties are filled with copious amounts of alcohol but even then most Danes drink responsibly.  I have not witnessed ONE person drinking so much that they’ve passed out or puked all over the place as most college parties have tended to be about (in my experience).  Well, the running joke is that since most Danes tend to start drinking around 14+, most are mature by the time they reach the university level, anyway.  🙂