The Story of Our Little Miracle

After our long study tour, my class was already in Oslo, so we decided to extend our stay and take our own trip up to Tromsø. I think that is a testament to how close your core course can get. Honestly, I had the trip of a lifetime that probably includes many of my favorite moments of studying abroad so far–I fed reindeer, I saw AMAZING stars, and I got to be in the Arctic Circle (which surprisingly wasn’t any colder than Buffalo in my opinion). Today, I wanted to share a story of a type of magic that isn’t fiction… the magic of ordinary life and fate and timing and friendship.

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are hidden in the most unlikley places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.

Roald dahl

Once upon a time, there were two girls. Let’s call them Tess and Katie. They met mere months before–so we can identify their quick, close friendship as the first magical moment of the day.

Tess and Katie started out the day with a bus ride adventuring away from the city. They weaved through giant mountains topped with snow to finally arrive and share their magical friendship with even more friends–Santa’s helpers (reindeer, duh)! Unfortunately, Rudolph was busy helping Santa prepare for Christmas, so they did not see any red-nosed reindeer. But they were just as excited to meet Dancer, Vixon, etc. Every Christmas, Tess leaves out reindeer feed, but they always eat the food before she wakes up, so it was so amazing for her to be able to feed them out of her hand for once!

After their time out in the cold, they got to enjoy the warmth of hot chocolate and cookies inside a traditional Sami people’s hut! Then, because they were so far north, they watched the sun start to set at 2:20PM, and by 3:30PM it watch pitch black.

The sun might have set, but Tess and Katie were not ready to end their day. They were up for more adventure! So, they decided to take a four-minute-long cable car up to the top of a mountain to see the sparkling lights of the city below.

One minute passed…

Two minutes passed…

Three minutes passed…

Four minutes passed…

Oh! How amazing the top of the mountain was–some might say it was magic! Tess and Katie could see the sparkling stars of space glittering above them and then look down and see the glistening lights of the city below. After about 20 minutes of staring in awe, they decided to head inside and grab a snack.

After their bellies were satisfied and filled, Tess and Katie thought about heading down the cable cars. But Tess wanted to go stand in the glory of the stars and lights one more time.

As they walked outside, they left many people inside. Tess and Katie were the only two on the platform when they noticed a faint green line in the sky. Remember, they are in the Arctic Circle, so the green light could only be one thing. THE NORTHERN LIGHTS! The two started jumping up and down and screaming. But then, the magic really started.

Tess and Katie heard something that sounded like raw energy, and then they saw it. The lights in the sky moved with immense speed and overtook the sky. The sky was the canvas and the light was the paint being dragged by the invisible brush. It burst through the air. Expanding, contracting, breathing, dancing. The colors of white and green and pink created a blanket over the city below. The northern lights they saw had color, they had movement, they had SOUND, they had creativity and flexibility. They had LIFE.

Simply no other explanation for these amazing lights other than magic. Just as quickly as the lights came, the lights left–in all of four minutes.

Four minutes of shock and awe and grace and harmony and beauty. Four minutes that couldn’t be captured on camera. Four minutes of purely just living in bliss and in the moment.

Tess even saw a shooting star right after the northern lights show. And she didn’t even have anything to wish for because at that moment, she had all that she needed.

After those four minutes, other people started to come outside and look for the northern lights. But they were gone. The northern lights were there just for Tess and Katie. They wanted to say hi to the two girls and no one else. It was Tess and Katie’s little miracle.

Tess and Katie processed just for a bit longer.

But eventually, they had to leave the mountain and take the cable car down. They had lives to return to.

One minute passed…

Two minutes passed…

Three minutes passed…

Four minutes passed…

The cable car took them back down to Earth, back down to real life. Maybe the top of the cable car was an alternate reality, Tess and Katie sure thought so. And they might have physically left that alternate reality, but they didn’t lose that feeling of magic.

If one thing went differently on that day, Tess and Katie would’ve missed the wonderful show that they so much enjoyed. Maybe they decided not to go on the cable car, maybe they decided to grab a snack, or maybe they didn’t want that one last look at the stars in the sky before heading down the cable car.

THE END


I had a pretty blessed life that day (and every other day). I thought that if I saw the northern lights I would be silent and take it all in but in all honesty, Katie and I just started screaming profanities. The two of us wouldn’t shut up about the show we saw and I’m convinced everyone else thought the two of us were insane and making the whole thing up. It just wasn’t possible to process the literal magic the two of us experienced.

Just wanted to share a friendly reminder for people to see the magic in ordinary, everyday things and wanted to give a huge shoutout to Katie for being there with me to see the northern lights so people didn’t think I was crazy! I’ll never forget our little miracle. Even if people think we were crazy, here are some pictures as proof of our magical day and pictures from our hike the next day! Shoutout to Haley for joining some of our adventures too 🙂

Long Study Tour: Norway

This past week, all DIS students traveled on a long study tour with our core course. My core course is Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism From a European Perspective. For our class, we traveled to Norway to focus on right-wing terrorism, specifically the July 22nd attack in Norway. With that said, some other classes did bike tours around the city or wine tastings or enjoy the beach, and I would not have traded my long study tour for the world.

Fear

On July 22nd in 2011, a terrorist set off a bomb that targeted government buildings in Oslo and then drove about an hour and a half to the island of Utøya where he targeted a political summer camp. Eight people were murdered by the bomb and sixty-nine people were murdered with assault weapons on the island. A large majority of the people were campers–children in their teens. This was the first terrorist attack of this scale in Norway.

Our first stop in Oslo was visiting 22 July Center, right by the government building where the bomb exploded. Here, we were first exposed to the topic of July 22nd formally in Oslo. From class, it was difficult to understand the extent to which Norway was affected by this attack as a whole. However, hearing about the event from Norwegians and being at the 22 July Center really helped highlight just how much the terrorist attack shook and devastated the country.

We spent two nights on the island of Utøya. The first night we arrived in time for dinner, then we settled down into our cabin, showered, and went to bed after a long day of traveling. I was highly uncomfortable trying to fall asleep knowing about the tragedy that occurred on the island. Walking to our cabin on the island, I absorbed the grief of families and friends who lost someone on July 22nd, I sensed the fear lingering in the air, and I felt the terror of the children running for their lives. The experience made me want to cry, curl up into a ball, throw up, and run away all at once.

After breakfast the next morning, we had a guided tour of the island. We walked around and continued to see memorials of where people died. The island is small, about 10x the area of a football field. I can walk around the majority of the island in 30 minutes. Everything that is on the island was affected by the tragedy. And it shows. There are memorials where people died along the Love Path. The boat we used to get onto the island was the boat the terrorist used to get on the island as well. The bullet holes are still preserved where the terrorist took lives from people.

You’re stuck facing the tragedy with no emotional or physical escape.

We heard a survivor speak to us the next day. He said when he heard gunshots he just sat down. In his mind, he did nothing wrong so the person shooting would not shoot him. The innocence of so many people was just ripped right out of their souls on July 22nd. The survivor also mentioned how many youths in his political party still get death threats and letters saying that “you should have died on Utøya” on social media accounts. I sat with my classmates, not saying much because I was just filled with anger and disgust at how someone could intentionally cause this much pain.

I just feel so lost in my thoughts.

How do these families deal with the pain? Where do you draw the line on free speech? Should we even say Breveik’s name? Why are we okay with mass shootings like this happening in the United States so often? Why is there so much hate in this world?

Determination

After July 22nd, the government and those involved in the attacks had to learn how to respond to the attack with a ferocity that the terrorist would not win. As July 22nd was the first attack of this magnitude in Norway, there was no precedence in the response and people had to learn as they went.

There were direct, measurable changes that occurred in response to July 22nd: upped security around government buildings and improvements in the police system to allow them to respond faster and coordinate between units more efficiently.

But there were also more intricate things that needed a response. What was there to change to prevent an attack like this again? How do you go about change? What narrative should be told about the attack?

Memorializing the lives lost

Many people argued about the role of the island after the July 22nd attack. Some people thought that the island should be preserved completely as a painful reminder of what happened that day in 2011. Others thought everything should be knocked down and rebuilt to forget about the event and move forward. What happened was a mix as decided by people involved with Utøya survivors on the island, and families of the victims.

To memorialize the event and the lives, Utøya created a room within a room. The inner room is the exact preserved room from July 22nd, 2011–bullet holes, pianos, and flowers exactly where the victims died. The outer room was built after the attack and shared the timeline of July 22nd, text messages that youth on the island sent during the attack, and stories of who the victims were and their goals in life.

The smaller room remained in its raw pain. The outer room served as protection for the smaller room. The two rooms are symbolism of Utøya’s goals. One to preserve the sanctity of the event and remember the pain of the lives lost. The second room was built for reflection to allow for growth. It protects the inner room so something like July 22nd does not happen again.

Reclaiming of Utøya

As we spent more time on Utøya, we participated in workshops. We learned about how Utøya reclaimed its original mission and continues to be a summer camp where they educated youth on the ideas of democracy. Something they highlight on Utøya is teaching youth that democracy is more than just voting and checking off a ballot. Democracy is using your voice to speak out against injustices and hate speech. Democracy is analytically thinking about the power individuals have and how to utilize it.

Before July 22nd, Utøya was an island to educate youth about politics. After July 22nd, Utøya reclaimed its original purpose and continues to be a summer camp where they teach young kids about democracy. July 22nd only interrupted the goals of Utøya for a short period of time while looking at the history of Utøya as a whole.

Writing the narrative of history as it continues to unfold

In addition to educating people on democracy, Utøya took on a new role in writing the history of July 22nd–a history that is both being shaped and written today. Utøya is still in a fight to retake the narrative away from the terrorist and replace it with a message of hope.

The second half of our study tour was spent in Oslo where we heard from different experts on right-wing terrorism and prevention methods used in Oslo. We also had the amazing opportunity to visit the courthouse where Breivik (the July 22nd terrorist) was on trial and discussed with many experts how to continue on after a terrorist attack like this and

It was interesting hearing different analyses of July 22nd and Breivik. Historians, survivors, and the general Norwegian public all tell the story slightly differently–an attack on democracy, an attack on the people of Norway, or a political attack on a certain party. Ten years after the attack, the narrative is still fluid and the effects are still being felt.

Life and hope and love (with anger)

My first reaction to July 22nd is still anger and devastation.

I’m not an angry person. I believe in hope. I believe in the good. It takes a lot to get me angry. But I’m so angry about this.

The anger is still prevalent. And so are the fear, the sadness, and the pain. But the uncomfortableness faded as more time was spent on Utøya. We began to fill the awkward gap of silence and fear with laughter and love and hope and life.

On Utøya, my classmates and I slept in the cabin where many survivors hid during the attack. Our cabin was filled with life on July 22nd, 2011. And we continued that tradition and filled it with life ten years later in 2021.

We took our shoes off in our cabin and the common hall with the library and dining hall. Taking our socks off made it feel more like home and released everyone’s inner child as we slid down the halls. In the library, we played games after dinner–I’ve never seen my class laugh as hard as we did when Campbell (our faculty/professor) lept through the air pretending to be Peter Pan during a game of charades.

There is a tree on Utøya that has paper tied to it with messages of hope and love. The notes danced in the wind like they were alive. Sometimes the wind was so strong that the notes were blown off the tree. But every day when my class saw the notes on the ground, we would pick them up and re-tie them to the tree, continuing the work of love and hope that others before us started.

On the island, there continues to be a juxtaposition on the island of life and death. They coexist in a dance–sometimes you feel more of the death and sometimes you feel more of the life. We couldn’t replace the grief and the pain, nor would I want to. It should always be there to remind people that kindness and acceptance are worth fighting for.

In my opinion, the reclaiming of Utøya was successful. Grief and anger and hope and life can and do coexist. Especially with a little bit of determination mixed in there.


Personal Note:

I was once told by one of my English teachers that to write clearly is to think clearly. I think that’s why I struggled writing this post so much. Because I legitimately have thought about my long study tour for tens of hours while sitting on busses and planes, walking to class, laying in my bed listening to music, etc. I don’t know what to do with what I learned during this week–I have more questions than answers. I still don’t have clear thoughts on my study tour. But the story of July 22nd needs to be shared, and it’s better done imperfectly than never being done at all.

There is another layer of frustration underneath the initial anger and the hope. This paper took so long to write because I felt like I had to find answers before I published the blog. Well, I got some news. I still have a lot of frustration and I still have no answers. I’ve never struggled so much to articulate my thoughts because they’re stuffed with frustration. But here goes.

I urge you to keep an open mind when reading this.

I’m frustrated about the growing apathy of those towards the radial-right and I’m frustrated about how that has seeped into the mainstream across the world. I’m frustrated at the apathy that people have 10 years later when it comes to Breivik’s ideals after the initial outpour of love that Norway showed in their rose parades.

In response to the July 22nd attacks, Norway unified like never seen before with people marching to the streets as a beacon of hope with roses in support of the victims, survivors, and their families. The support was there for the 77 people that died. Love and hope are still very much so concentrated on the island, but that sentiment has faded in the general public of Norway. And so did the determination. Utøya is still fighting against it, but that is not nearly enough.

The initial outpour of love was because 77 people died. Are their lives insignificant now that no one cares? And where is it ten years later for the youth of the labor party still getting death threats? People were in support of the grieving families at the time, but no one is interested in doing the work against right-extremists (which are the ideals the terrorist stood for). Do we need something horrible for us to start fighting for the good? How do we go about showing love and hope proactively?

That made me feel even more frustrated about how I’m so numb to school shootings in the United States. I feel so separated from them but people are DYING and it feels like no one cares. Not really.

But I’m also frustrated because that brings in the debate surrounding free speech and democracy. Because I don’t know the answer.

My whole class was in a debate for a long time about the importance of free speech and to what extent it should be preserved. Some people argued that you shouldn’t be able to say any hate speech at all. Others said that censorship is how all fascist regimes have started and censorship is worse than the alternative.

I’m not taking a stance on the debate. However, I would like to point out that not listening to each other is, in a sense, a form of censorship. The whole time, everyone was so set in their opinions and refused to listen or concede and debated definitions of words, etc. For a class debate, that’s fine. But when you take that into the larger extent of far-right extremism, mainstream, and left-leaning ideals–if my classmates can’t even listen to each other, what hope do we have to change the world?

Here’s where I struggle the most–people are out here saying that we should fight for democracy. But democracy is where everyone’s voices should be heard. However, why should we listen to right-wing extremists who hate immigrants, gay people, and women and want to silence their voices? But then again, what makes my opinions more valid than his? And I know why I think my opinion is more valid than his–because I support all people and I support equality. But if I support equality, then his voice should be heard too. But I don’t want to support his voice. So am I against democracy? What makes one person better than another? Because in reality, we are just two people.

I’m just frustrated that 77 people died.

A lot of people when they learn about tragedies like July 22nd, they say ‘live every day like your last’ or something about telling your family that you love them. I respect and totally understand why people think that and I also agree with it and I love my family a lot. But the origin of that thought makes me so mad. Because no one should die like those people did on July 22nd and people should not have to live in fear of dying like they did. It was hard for me to sit through people analyzing July 22nd and the terrorist because in my mind I could only focus on the lives that ended that day and how no one seemed to care about them.

The experience itself was one of pain and sorrow and frustration but I’m so thankful for the experience that I had.

I didn’t want to forget about my experience in Utøya. The whole message was we CANNOT let Utøya go dark. The whole point of the island being ‘reclaimed’ is to send messages of hope, democracy, light, and life after the tragedy. On the bus ride leaving from Utøya and the plane leaving Oslo I just thought about how I could continue the work that began this week.

I believe that infrastructural change has to occur to prevent attacks like this. The attack was a result of a failure of democracy. And I have a vested interest in helping to improve the world. However, I have no interest in politics, so I sat and wondered for a long time about how I can positively change the world and make an impact in my own way. I did not want to leave Utøya as the same person who arrived. So I settled on simply making sure that I care for my direct communities–classmates, coworkers, friends, family, people I pass on the street, etc–through things like sharing a smile and making sure people are taken care of. I believe that people have a personal responsibility to check their biases and speak out against hate speech. I’m gonna do my best at that too.

So I’m still angry about this. But I do still believe in the good. I don’t know if I would say I’m hopeful, but I’m downright determined to spread good on my part.

Cooking in Copenhagen

I just want to start out with giving you all some background on my cooking skills. I once texted in my family group chat to ask how to make a tuna melt sandwich and they have never let me live it down. My dad likes to tell the story to others by saying I texted and asked how to make tuna. I’m here to set the record straight and argue that I’m not THAT stupid.

Throughout my time living at home, I had the privilege of having a mother who loves cooking and is also fantastic at it. Sometimes I would offer help cutting vegetables but most of the time I would be at sports or doing homework. Then I got to college where I have to pay for a meal plan. And if I have to pay for a meal plan, I’m going to use the meal plan. I also didn’t have access to a kitchen last year which also attributed to my lack of cooking skills. Needless to say, my transition into cooking for myself while studying abroad was not the easiest. But I was determined because I love good food.

I also wanted to take this opportunity of cooking for myself and use it to improve myself as an academic. How? Well, a wise professor once told me that working in a lab is just like cooking in a kitchen–both should be clean work places, timing is largely important, as is following directions, and planning beforehand is critical! I’m excited to return to school as a new and improved research assistant!

In my kollegium, I have access to a communal stove. However, I prefer just to cook in my apartment, so for most of my meals I only use a microwave or the stovetop. To get inspiration for my meals, I’ve talked to other people about what they cook. Most often, my favorite meal inspiration is going to the grocery store, picking out a cheap ingredient, and making a meal out of that. For example, eggplant was really cheap, so I came home, looked up “eggplant meal on stovetop” and voila! I am as an amazing chef as Remy (my roommate made me watch Ratatouille for the first time this week hahaha). Google is my best friend when it comes to cooking for both recipe ideas and necessary cooking skills like how to pan fry salmon.

Here are some meals that I have made that are easy to cook and at least somewhat economical–especially because I still have DIS food stipend money:

Pasta is a staple. And more importantly, all you have to do is boil water. I’ve learned that buying food to spice up the pasta and decorate it differently is well worth the investment.

This is the eggplant meal I previously spoke about. Roasted some eggplant in a pan (olive oil first on a heated pan, then added the eggplant until it was softish–my cooking is not an exact science) and added some garlic, spinach, and tomatoes to go with rice.

I typically have eggs and toast for breakfast. I’ve been experimenting with spicing up my eggs. I’ve put spinach in it, wrapped it in a tortilla as seen here, and sometimes added cheese. To really spice up breakfast, I like peanut butter on toast with banana on top. Peanut butter is actually much easier to find in Copenhagen than I have been led to believe. I have also embraced the European lifestyle and have a cup of hot tea at breakfast now.

Easy meal right here. Store bought tuna salad mixed with spinach and put it on a pan with cheese to make a tuna melt!

First time cooking salmon… it was raw! Oops. Pro tip (or amateur tip I guess): Make sure the salmon flakes before you start eating it.

I had leftover salmon from the previous meal so I looked up a salad recipe for it and bought those ingredients! This salad was delicious with a lemon dressing and and avocado. Then I got to use the rest of the avocados on toast for the week.

I wanted to try out falafel and my roommate had extra corn tortillas so I made falafel tacos with hummus, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, and some lemon on top. I like to fry the tortilla for a bit–I think it makes it a lot tastier.

I’ve really come to appreciate the 3 minute walk to the grocery store every day. I go to the store almost every day (which is extremely Danish of me) and plan a meal based off of what I’m craving that day and on the leftover food I have in the fridge from the day before.

I also have a bag of potatoes that have been sitting on my shelf for a while that I’m planning on cooking sometime soon. I’m also hoping to try some tofu meals and experiment with lentils sometime soon. Sometimes it is hard to find some things in Danish grocery stores but I’ve found that patience can be my best friend when looking for things–most things are there, just in a different spot than I’m used to!

As long as you don’t get sick from your food you’re succeeding at cooking

Tess weber

The most important lesson in cooking that I have learned is that food remains edible under 95% of the circumstances I have cooked it. Therefore, I can eat and I won’t go hungry even if I don’t follow the recipe exactly or I accidentally make a really odd meal. Unsure if I will ever return to my dining hall after learning to somewhat cook this semester. I will have to make some exceptions though for team dinners with Nick #i<3saga !

Rose and Thorn (October 6th)

Just a reminder rose and thorn is basically a recap of the highs and lows of my day while studying abroad.

I’m going to start off with my thorn today. While abroad, some people catch feelings or they catch a fish or they catch a handball in Denmark. So far, I have caught none of those. Instead, I caught… wait for it… pink eye!

I’ve had pink eye before and I knew what it was right when I woke up. Last time I had pink eye, I walked 2 minutes to my schools health center and they helped me right away. I didn’t even know how to start the process of going to the doctors in Denmark.

Luckily, DIS provides all of this information to us and I was able to make an appointment at the doctors for 10:30 AM. The appointment itself was just like it is in the US. I arrived at the building, found the right floor, walked through the door of the office, and then checked into my appointment, sat down, and waited.

The office itself was a juxtaposition of sorts–all of the other patients were old couples but the office was decorated for little children with lots of little books, giant stuffed animals, and a bunch of toys. Needless to say, my age and the look of confusion on my face when I walked in made it really easy for them to know I was the English speaker that called to make an appointment.

When the doctor called me in, I figured out the office thought my name was Cass instead of Tess (even through I spelled my name out on the phone). After we cleared that up, she simply asked what was wrong, examined my eye, and within 5 minutes I had a prescription to help my pink eye. She was extremely nice and told me to come back if it gets worse.

I paid a $30 equivalent in cash but they did accept credit cards. DIS said that many doctors offices only accept cash. Just in case any of you happen to be in Demark and happen to get pink eye too, you should bring cash. With DIS insurance, I saved the receipt and I can file an insurance claim to get reimbursed (instructions found on the DIS website).

The next step was finding a pharmacy, an “apotek” in Danish, to get my eye drops. I found one on my walk home and stopped right in. Instead of waiting in line, you grab a ticket to get a number and a nice man helped me figure out how to get a number for my prescription. When everything is in Danish and you only speak English, things tend not to be self-explanatory.

After I got home, I put in some eye drops and I am well on the road to recovery.

Sometimes you get pink roses, other times you get pink eye. That is just life.

tess weber

My rose? I’m not really sure to be honest. Good practice of adulting? Got to see a new part of Copenhagen where the doctors office was? Got a good story to tell/blog post from it? Experienced the benefits of the welfare state? You choose.

24 Hours as a Tourist

The cheapest way to get around Copenhagen as a tourist is to buy a Copenhagen Card. You can buy this card for an allotted amount of time (24h, 48h, or 72h) and get free public transportation along with free entry into almost all of Copenhagen’s tourist attractions. Some overall tips for a Copenhagen Card trip: plan it in advance and make sure you get plenty of sleep the night before! I also want to emphasize that timing is largely important and valuable–spending time in the city allows you to hit the highest number of attractions, double check what days and times attractions are open, and starting in the later morning allows you to use the Copenhagen Card for early morning transportation to a further away attraction.

FYI within these 24 hours, we saved EIGHTY-TWO DOLLARS through buying a Copenhagen Card instead of paying for each attraction individually. We are all about #ballinonabudget!

Before I continue, I want to give a shoutout to my friend Laken for providing amazing company on this trip and to Maddie for being my personal photographer because I knew this was going to be a valuable blog post.

11:26 AM–The Round Tower

We activated our cards at 11:26 AM and started at the Round Tower that is located right in the city of Copenhagen. It is about a 7 minute walk from DIS. The building itself is a ramp on the inside and once you get to the top, there is a beautiful view of the whole city!

12:16 PM–The Royal Reception Rooms in Christiansborg Palace

I have already been to the royal reception rooms with a class but I was happy to return because my friends had not been. Within this exhibit, you can walk the throne room, see where the Queen of Denmark gives her annual New Year’s speech, and see beautiful artwork within the palace.

The tapestry room shares the history of Denmark. The tapestry below was my favorite and represents the 20th century. Highlights of the tapestry that you can look for include WWI and WWII, Donald Duck, and some famous politicians you may know. I found it fascinating how the artist illustrated the globalization of the world and the prominence of the impact of the US on Denmark. The most interesting part of the tapestry to me is the top right corner–“Fill in with your imagination” for the following reasons: (1) It is influenced by a German piece of artwork that aspired to question if everything that you can imagine has happened already. (2) The words are actually in English, something I didn’t even think about until our tour guide told us. (3) It may be homage to people wanting to fill in the tapestry with something they believe the artist is missing. And (4), it is the most recent tapestry and there is no more room in the hall, so I believe it points towards the future as well.

12:24 PM–The Ruins under Christiansborg

Denmark is a very old country with a long history and many of the palaces before Christiansburg have ruins underneath the current palace that have been excavated. I’d recommend going to see the ruins if you’re interested in finding out more about the long history of Denmark and being able to see history in person!

1:00 PM–Lunch break

We had a lunch break and a little bit of time to kill because we were waiting for the royal stables to open. To get prepared to meet horses, I wanted to get in the mindset of horses so I ate some carrots.

1:24 PM–Thorvaldsens Museum

This museum is to honor the artist Thorvaldsens who was from Denmark and worked in Rome for a majority of his life. To speak to his talent, Thorvaldsens is the only non-Catholic artist who has a piece displayed in St. Peter’s Basilica. I loved the GIANT statues that you can see below.

1:53 PM–The Royal Stables

My roommate and I both have an obsession with farm animals. Therefore, I was obviously very excited to go see horses. You can often see these horses prancing around in front of the palace. Pro tip: watch out for horse poop when walking around this area.

2:26 PM–The Danish Architecture Center

I’d say this was my favorite stop of the day. A rule I live by in my life is that a museum with a slide HAS to be your favorite museum. The museum was obviously about architecture, hence the name, but it was about much more than just that. They discusses the right to public space and how Copenhagen has transformed into multi-use public spaces, the impact of the welfare state on housing, the issues of the prison systems, and Copenhagen’s path to sustainability.

3:40 PM–The Museum of Copenhagen

My friends and I realized we had way more time to explore than we anticipated, so we looked up a nearby museum on the map and checked it out! This museum is one of the strangest museums that I have been in. It gave me the kind of vibes like I was entering someone house who just liked to collect random antique things. If that piques your interest, check it out! If not, feel free to skip it. A lot of it was history about the building and some strange videos.

4:42 PM–Tivoli

When Walt Disney was in the process of designing the Magic Kingdom, he visited Tivoli for inspiration. I wouldn’t directly compare Tivoli to the scale or magic of Disney, but it has its own unique aspects. Lots of fun rides, lots of games, lots of delicious food options (even a food hall), and lots of people. I just walked around with my friends instead of going on rides–none of us were really amusement park type of people and the rides do cost extra on top of the entrance fee. Nonetheless, Tivoli was beautiful and worth the trip. There was great people watching and we had a nice place to sit down and eat food after our long exhausting day of being tourists.

10:45 AM–Random Beach ?

This section has nothing to do with the Copenhagen Card but it was still relevant to the 24 hours as a tourist! We took the train to see Louisiana and arrived before it opened so we took a walk and found a cute beach. We walked by a little yacht club with sailboats.

11:21 AM–The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Because we took a walk, we didn’t realize that there was a line forming to enter the museum. We got back from our walk at 11:00 AM to a full line. Automatically, I panicked because our Copenhagen Cards expired at 11:26 AM and I wasn’t sure if we would make it through the line by then. But don’t worry, we made it and met a German woman on the way in–she was saying that everyone still has to wear masks in Germany all of the time, so brownie points to Copenhagen for doing so well with COVID!

Louisiana is well worth the visit–I’d say it was up there with the Danish Architecture Center. There are so many exhibits that are all so unique and even outdoor artwork and a beautiful water view where we could sit and enjoy lunch. It was the perfect end to our 24 hours as a tourist.

Since our card expired, we had to buy the train ticket back to central Copenhagen, but it was well worth it. The 24 hours were jam-packed, super busy, and also amazing and educational.

I was exhausted by the end and took a nap when I got home 🙂

Core Course Week! Cont’d

The first half of the week was my first time leaving Copenhagen since arriving in Denmark. When I returned to Copenhagen for the second half of core course week, I was so excited by how much I felt like I was returning home. In the short four weeks I have been here, Copenhagen really has become a place that I can call home.

Highlights of the week as a whole were making new friends and becoming close with my core course group. A constant joke throughout the whole trip was that everyone in DIS has only known each other for four weeks. In our opinions, that isn’t actually enough time to get to know someone well. We laughed about the absurdity of casually taking a trip across Denmark, an ocean away from everyone we knew, with a bunch of strangers. But then, we also all agreed that we had some close friends in Copenhagen so far, or in this case, “best strangers,” as we called it. At the end of core course week we didn’t feel like strangers anymore.

Day Four

We luckily got to sleep in after traveling. That afternoon we met in our classroom for a discussion with a journalist who covers the Middle East. This journalist has been covering the Middle East for a long time and just traveled to Kurdish-controlled northern Syria to speak with a Danish citizen living in the camp there. He shared her journey and how she willingly chose to join the Islamic state, then realized quickly that life is not what it was advertised to be. Afterwards, she escaped to the Kurdish camp where she currently resides. There are about 10 women with similar stories who would also like to return to Denmark.

Day Five

For the last day of Core Course Week, we visited a community center in Copenhagen. By this time I have lived in Copenhagen for around four weeks, so I’d say I know it decently well. However, for this site visit, I traveled to a new part that I haven’t seen yet. We visited the community center Krudttønden in Østerbro.

The community center was the site of a terrorist attack about five years ago and the presenter was actually at the attack. For his first presentation, the speaker recounted the thoughts going through his head during the attack and what other people did when they knew there was a shooter outside. He also shared how the trauma stayed with him for a long time and the long road to mental recovery that he had. When we have spoken of terrorism within the class, it is largely on the discourse of terrorism and separated greatly from the trauma and personal experiences, and this was a unique opportunity to bring the broad concept of terrorism back down to a single experience that someone had.

In his second presentation, the presenter shared his expertise on the subject of satire within religions throughout history. Satire has been used to critique both religions and religious leaders in a humorous manner that was easy for illiterate people to understand–similar to political cartoons in modern day. Oftentimes, violence has been used against those who publish satire on religions, which was part of the reason for the attack Krudttønden.

Core Course Week!

This past week (Sept. 13th-17th), I had the wonderful opportunity to travel within Denmark with my core course, which is Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism from a European Perspective. This was an AMAZING opportunity to learn from outside perspectives, listen to experts in their fields, and visit the sites where people do real work that applies to our class. For the first three days of the week, we traveled to Odense and Aarhus. The last two days were spent in Copenhagen and I will discuss them further in a second blog post.

Throughout the lectures and discussions my class participated in, I often left with more questions than answers. However, I began to think more about how every action, whether it be of terrorists or governmental organizations, is much more complicated and nuanced that it may seem. I have almost none of the answers to how these issues should be solved but I wanted to share my experience because I have never discussed terrorism in a manner like this before. You may not agree with many of the opinions and research of experts that I am sharing today. However, I implore you to read what I learned this week and start to think more about how it applies to many different aspects of life and how you can confront your own biases.

I would like to emphasize that many of the discussions my class partook in were controversial. I am sharing for academic reasons and because I think it is important to view many perspectives within a difficult topic. And because I know my parents will really appreciate this. I also hope to raise some questions and invite you all to participate in discussions on these topics. After every event or lecture my class would be silent until the bus doors closed. Then, we would explode in conversation sharing opinions on what we found interesting, topics we found surprising, and sometimes just straight up questioned the information we were told by the presenter.

Day One

We met last Monday at 6:30 AM to leave–luckily we all got to sleep on the bus. Another bonus? Our bus was a party bus with fun lights :))

Our first stop was in Odense at the anti-radicalization unit to discuss how Denmark assesses potential threats and prevents people from going down an extremist path. In Denmark, they rely mainly on social workers and preventative measures unless an individual/group is deemed dangerous, which results in police being involved. I thought the most interesting tactic was how they prioritized “assessment” just as much as “resistance” while evaluating someone’s potential to develop extremist behavior. In their words, “assessment” is an evaluation of someone’s home life, friends, their use of free time, etc. If there is a part of someone’s life that is lacking, the anti-radicalization unit will do their best to bridge that gap. For example, they may assign a mentor to a child who does not have a father figure at home. The “resistance” that the anti-radicalization unit evaluates is the hate speech a person may use, their tendency for violence, etc. The more resistant a person may be, the more likely the police have to intervene.

Our second stop was at Odense University where we discussed the use of empathy within terrorism. Our speaker emphasized how people can be extremely disconnected from the cause and completely disagree with it, yet still have the ability to empathize with it. She gave the definition of empathy to be “viewing the world through someone else’s eyes and feeling how they feel from their perspective.” She shared that empathy can help us better understand why terrorist attacks happen and the goals of the attack. For example, motives may be revenge and to incite fear within a country. If the motive is to incite fear, one way to combat terrorism is to encourage unity in the public. If you’re interested in this idea more, I suggest looking at the differences in the handling of 9/11 and Christchurch in New Zealand. Empathy becomes even more complicated when the layer of politics is added into terrorism. My class was left to think about some questions like if we should empathize with terrorists; how to best empathize with terrorists and in what forms; and in reality, who can actually be expected to empathize with terrorists?

Afterwards, we went to the hotel and had about an hour of free time in which we visited the King’s Garden and walked by Hans Christian Anderson’s childhood home!

I took this picture as a joke to send to my mom because she loves Hans Christian Anderson. Unfortunately, it is the only picture I have with the house.

For dinner we had a buffet of pizza at a local restaurant and I can boast that I tried all five types: Hawaiian pizza, a spicy meat pizza, a white pizza with potatoes on it, a vegetarian pizza with arugula, and a New York pizza. I decided that I have a neutral opinion on Hawaiian pizza, I don’t hate it but I wouldn’t order it on my own–the weirdest part of it to me was that I was trying it for the first time in Denmark of all places. The New York pizza had mini hot dogs and bacon and other meat on it. All of the people in my core course from New York were quite confused by the name. We decided Danish people just think we are meat loving barbarians.

Day Two

The next day we made an early morning trip on the bus to Aarhus, the second largest city in Denmark (only to Copenhagen). We started the day by listening to a lecture at Aarhus University on political radicalization within the online sphere. Our presenter shared his research that social media does not radicalize people as much as one may think. He described that people with extremist views often seem more prominent on social media–something I’m sure many of us have noticed. He argues the visibility of extremists results from the condensation of the groups on a single platform as opposed to being spread out across the world.

For lunch we stopped at Aarhus Street Food which is a large food hall with many stands of authentic different ethnic foods. My favorite part of the food hall was the beautiful desserts–I got an salted caramel ice cream popsicle with popcorn on the outside. The popcorn was really what sold me, I was just kind of intrigued.

Delicious falafel wrap from Aarhus Street Food

The second stop of the day was to watch the film “Behind the Veil” and speak with one of the large contributors of the film. The film uses two Muslims from Europe (not Denmark) and equips them with hidden cameras to record different mosques and Imams. The goal of the film was to document the differences between what Muslim leaders tell the Danish public and what they tell the followers of the church. Some questions that were raised: Does the film show the whole story? Is it ethically right to use hidden cameras? How did the film contribute successfully to society, if at all? What biases affect the making of this film?

We did a walking food tour around Aarhus for our dinner with five stops. For the first stop we had an open faced sandwich with iced tea. The second stop we had a glass of wine with a charcuterie board. On the third stop we tried a traditional Danish dish called ‘cold bowl’ in English, provided by our tour guide. Then, we had tapas at the fourth stop which was a bowl of risotto with a scallop (I forgot to take a picture). The final stop was my favorite–homemade gelato!

Best part of the day? I got to do an Instagram takeover! It’s no longer up because it expires after 24 hours but feel free to check out @dis.copenhagen where there is lots of cool pictures and helpful information! Below I have included some of my pictures from the takeover.

Day Three

Our last day away from Copenhagen–we started the day with a visit to one of the mosques in the film that we watched yesterday. There, we discussed the difficultly that Muslims have while integrating into Danish society and the difference between assimilation and integration. The imam of the mosque was able to share his opinions on the film that we watched the previous day. He was also open and honestly while answering all of our questions regarding Afghanistan and his views on extremist Islam.

We grabbed some lunch before heading home. I couldn’t not get some dessert so I tried some baklava and got an extra one to take home to my roommate.

On the way home, I had an opportunity to sit with my thoughts for a while. I genuinely don’t think I will ever have an academic experience quite as unique as this again. It was fascinating seeing the wide differences between the views of the film director and the imam of the mosque. Both were discussing the same issues, yet they had extremely differing opinions on the same matter because of their background and current position in society. Personally, the quote came to mind was, “there are three versions to every story: yours, theirs, and the truth.”

I had four large takeaways from this core course week: (1) note your own biases as well as others, (2) think about where other people are coming from, (3) learn to communicate with people even when you fundamentally disagree, and (4) nothing beats delicious food.

Living in Mønten Kollegium

While participating in the DIS Copenhagen program, I decided to live in a kollegium setting as opposed to a homestay. For students who live in a kollegium, DIS provides both a form of transportation and a card with a grocery stipend. Furthermore, the kollegium option gives DIS students the opportunity to live with one another and meet Danish residents who also live in the kollegium.

Transportation

For the transportation, I opted for a commuter card where I can ride public transportation (the bus and metro) throughout the area near my housing and to DIS classes. Other people opted to ride bikes, which are a popular form of transportation here–much more so than in the US. I am still terrified to ride a bike here. There are more bikes than cars and Danes tend to have no mercy on those not following the rules of the bike lane. However, my friends on bikes are learning quickly!

There are benefits to both types of transportation. Bikes give you more freedom and are probably the fastest mode of transportation. On the other hand, public transportation is nice when the weather is poor and you don’t feel like doing any more exercise that day.

Again, I have the commuter card, but I still tend to walk to school every day. It helps me wake up for my 8:30 class and I get to enjoy the city! Mønten is about a 30 minute walk from my DIS classes. I still learn something knew about the city and the people every day when I walk–more on that in a previous blog post. Here is what the walk looks like to school every day!

Grocery shopping

One of my larger struggles has been navigating grocery stores. The first time entering a grocery store was extremely overwhelming because I can’t read an ounce of Danish. An extremely common mistake here is that DIS students buy yogurt instead of milk because they both come in cartons. Some advice to avoid mistakes in the grocery store: Google translate is your best friend, most Danes are glad to help if you ask (but you have to ask–they won’t help unless you do), and rely on pictures. Also, don’t forget your wallet!

Because I live in a kollegium, I get a food stipend from DIS to spend at certain grocery stores. One of those grocery stores is Netto which is a great store for buying cheap groceries. This is random but I also LOVE their hummus. The closest Netto is a 3 minute walk, but it is smaller. It is a great place to stop for Oreos on the way to class–I’m not saying I did that though. I prefer to do my grocery shopping for staples at the Netto about a 10 minute walk away where there are many more options of food.

I also like the grocery store Irma because it has a nice produce section compared to Netto in my opinion. However, I use my credit card here because the food stipend cannot be used at Irma. My visiting host family recommended MENY because of its meat and fish selection. MENY also has an American food section! I have not tried it yet but I’m looking forward to it.

An observation I’ve had at grocery stores–I always have way more food than everyone else. I learned this is because Danish people tend to go to the grocery store every day as opposed to how my family goes to grocery stores about once a week.

Social life in Mønten

My first day here, I arrived before my roommate and completely unpacked right away. Then, I took a nap and woke up hours later, confused what day and time it was. I was alone in my room and had nothing to do, so I went to join some Danes in the common room where they were checking in DIS students. I hung out with them for a bit and learned more about the surrounding areas, popular places for students to hang out, and tips to avoid making Danish people angry. We also laughed about how easily Americans are spotted within Denmark–supposedly Americans tend to be more flamboyant and speak louder than Danes. Weird, who would have expected?

All DIS students have the DIS Navigate app which helps us learn about events, fill out fix-it requests, and join certain groups. I am in the Mønten group where people post and welcome one another to join activities. From these posts, I joined a pick up game of soccer and watched the Denmark national team soccer game in the common room. People also post about leftover food in the common room. That’s a personal favorite of mine.

Another benefit of Mønten is joining a food group! These groups are a mix of DIS students and permanent residents (Danes) who gather and eat food together. Groups can choose how often to eat and even if they want to cook meals together. My food group is meeting for the first time next week!

To help people make friends within the kollegium, Mønten has monthly social gatherings with residents in the common room where there is foosball and a television upstairs. The first one is tonight! And there is also a pajama themed one next week!

I’ve been fortunate in my living situation and I’m happy to call Mønten my home for these four months!

Rose and Thorn (August 29th)

I always struggle figuring out what to tell my friends from home the few times that we have talked since I left–I’ve done so much and can’t possibly catch them up on everything I have done. So instead of trying to rush and give bare minimum details to my friends, we play a game we call ‘rose and thorn.’ Basically, you share the best thing that has happened since you have last talked, which is the rose, and the worst thing that has happened since you last talked, the thorn. Today was an interesting day because I experienced a very blatant thorn and a very blatant rose. I always like to start out with the bad because then you can end on a good note. Conveniently, this order also happens to be chronological of my day today.

My thorn involved going to a new grocery store. I walked a little bit further than normal to go to a larger Netto with more options. I was so excited, especially because I have finally settled down enough to start cooking and planning meals (something that I am hoping to improve on while abroad–ask my mom, the extent of my cooking skills is making toast). I was just getting ready to checkout when I realized I was standing in the middle of the grocery store, holding a basket full of the groceries I picked out, only to realize I didn’t have my wallet. So yeah, sometimes I’m not the brightest. I knew it was right on my desk because I previously ordered something online, but I was still mad and contemplated how to proceed. Was it worth it to go back and get my wallet? If it is, do I put my groceries back or leave my basket somewhere and hope no one moves it? Fortunately, I noticed another DIS student. I swallowed my pride (and lost my dignity), and asked her if I could pay her back if she bought my groceries. She kindly said yes–Melanie, you’re my saving grace!

Moral of the story, mistakes are made abroad–even really stupid ones that are easily avoided. But even though I was frustrated with myself, life went on. Another moral, even when you feel alone, you’re not. DIS has your back, students look out for one another, and if worse comes to worse, asking a Danish person for help isn’t that scary.

My rose was a pleasant improvement on my day. Remember how I said I made an online purchase with my wallet and that’s why I forgot it at home? I actually bought some baked goods from Brødflov, a local cafĂŠ that sells bread and pastries. I made the purchase on an app called Too Good To Go, where restaurants sell food that they have at the end of the day for really cheap instead of throwing it out. The app is also active in the states and I’m excited to continue using it when I return home. For those of you currently in the states, I highly recommend it. When you order, you pay a set price to get a ‘surprise bag’ of whatever is left at the restaurant and there are set times to go pick up the food. I love the app because it combines three passions of mine: the environment, food, and saving money. This was the first time using the app and I had no idea what to expect, I was just hoping for a pastry and a roll. I walked about a half mile to Brødflov, sulking in my annoyance about how I forgot to bring my wallet to the grocery store. When I arrived, I was so pleasantly surprised to receive this huge bag that was stapled shut.

Honestly, my back and arms and wrist hurt from carrying the bag home that half mile! I opened up the bag and was even more pleasantly surprised with loaves of bread, countless rolls, and AMAZING pastries. Before you scroll all of the way past the picture, I want you to guess how much I paid for this absurd amount of bread.

Got a good guess? OK. I paid basically $5 for this much bread. For background, I love eating bread and butter. I think I could live off of it. I made a solid dent in the food on my own–I ate a roll, a cinnamon bun, and sampled a larger slice of everything else. I wanted to spread the wealth, so I gave some to some new friends, some people in my hall, and some random people I found in the common room of my kollegium. For those of you looking to study abroad, pro tip: the best way to make friends is to give them free food.

So yeah, the day started out frustrating, but got so much better by the end. That’s just life.

Walking Around Copenhagen

Today marks seven days since I left the United States for Copenhagen. To get to know the city better and because I have no specific set-times to be anywhere, I have been walking everywhere.

There are different forms of transportation that I could take, but walking is the best way to see the city. As opposed to the bus or metro, walking allows you to move slowly to absorb your surroundings of buildings and other people besides you. While biking, DIS students tend to focus on assimilating into the Danish biking culture and following the rules of the road instead of focusing on the city. This is not to say that walking is superior to public transportation and biking in every way–because it isn’t. Walking just happens to be how I best learn about the history and culture of Copenhagen on my own.

After walking through the city so often, I can confidently say that Copenhagen already feels like home. I am truly in love with the beauty of this city. There is always an energy about being somewhere new that automatically makes it exciting. However, in Copenhagen, as I walk, I feel more–I can literally feel the beauty of the city. Here are a few pictures where I got to capture it:

I was very lucky with the first couple of days in Copenhagen because the sun was shining, so I had the freedom to walk around the city. This past week I have been playing a game with myself to familiarize myself with the city. In this game, I try to get home without using directions, whether it be from the DIS student hub, new restaurants, or tourist sights. Sometimes I get lost, which allowed me to see a new part of Copenhagen I have not yet been to. Other times I find myself on an efficient route to get home and I gain confidence in my ability to navigate my new home. No matter what, I learn more about the city and the people that live here.

There are three main things that I have learned about Copenhagen and came to largely appreciate in Denmark during my time walking around the city:

  1. Danish people do not smile at each other. At home, I believe there is beauty in exchanging a smile with a stranger when you walk by someone. I love smiling at people–happy people make the world go round. However, after a week of walking around Copenhagen, I now also understand the beauty in people not smiling at each other. People here live their own lives and mind their own business. There is a relief in co-existing with others while not worrying to please others. Similarly, there is no awkwardness that you feel in the US when you cross someone while both staring at your phones to avoid eye contact. Which leads me to another thing–Danish people are never staring at their phone when they walk. I imagine they are much better at experiencing the world than people at home I see on their phones all of the time.
  2. The skies are often grey in Copenhagen. Absence from the sun makes the heart grow fonder. Because the sun is rarely out, the sunny days are THAT much more enjoyable. Grey and cloudy skies also feel like home to me. I am also from one of the most grey cities in the US–Buffalo, NY. The best part about the grey skies in Copenhagen is the light rain or mist that comes from the clouds (side note–one of my first purchases was an umbrella. It is a necessity). That weather has led to two rainbows in the past two days which are pictured in the above slides. If I were not out walking, I would have missed both.
  3. Street signs that point out Copenhagen attractions. As shown in the slides above, on many street corners, there is a post that has labels of attractions pointed in their direction with the distance to the attraction. Sometimes I pick one of those attractions at random and try to find it–that is how I got to the Rosenborg Gardens! The signs allow me to stay off my phone while finding places to go which is beneficial for both not looking like a tourist and to live my life more freely.

My roommate always laughs at me because I come home and I explain what I found on my adventure that day walking around the city. I enjoy doing the walks by myself because it allows me to be alone with my thoughts and focus on absorbing as much Danish culture and history as I can.

Here are some of my favorite places I have spontaneously found around the city (while aimlessly wandering and using street signs):

This is the Christianshavn waterfront–about 1 mile from my kollegium. I looked up a pretty place to run near my apartment and was not disappointed! My run was longer than I would’ve liked though because I got lost on my way home.

This is Ørstedsparken: I had to look up the name after I arrived home. I read on a sign that the park was built for ‘romantic promenades,’ which I find amusing in this day and age. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful green space within the city and had lots of cute dogs!

This is a little courtyard in Copenhagen City Hall which is located on the square I pass through every day on my way to school.

This is Torvehallerne (aka the Glass Market) which is essentially a food hall and market all wrapped into one. I could smell the strawberries from 3 feet away! This will be frequented often in my future.

(Danish author of the original The Little Mermaid) in Rosenborg Gardens--a beautiful place to enjoy nature within the city where many Danes were playing games and enjoying the sun.

This is a statues of Hans Christian Anderson (Danish author of the original The Little Mermaid) in Rosenborg Gardens–a beautiful place to enjoy nature within the city where many Danes were playing games and enjoying the sun.

Even on my way home yesterday, I walked across a different bridge to get home and I found a new grocery store that I haven’t been in yet. I walked in to see if they had other options from grocery stores closer to me. I also decided to buy some mushrooms because who goes into a grocery and doesn’t buy anything? I already stick out in Copenhagen enough.

One step at a time is good walking

Proverb

I have loved my first week in Copenhagen and will forever cherish the memories I have already made but it feels like there are endless things to do. While I have walked around the city, I keep finding more foods I would like to try, friends to keep in contact with, and places to visit. As I continue to walk, I want to make sure that I walk with the right mindset–I want to think about how “one step at a time is good walking.”

Here are some thoughts I hope to keep with me the whole semester: (1) While being overwhelmed with amazing possibilities of what to do, friends to make, restaurants to try and multiple foods to try at each, I am taking everything one step at a time and one day at a time. Unlike previous times I have been in a foreign countries, I have four months to do everything I want. (2) I’m going to live life with during every single step. It’s important to absorb everything because the trip will end eventually and I was to be grateful for this time while I have it. (3) When issues do arise, because that is inevitable, to solve them one step at a time and be patient with myself. It takes time to solve problems and grow, especially because I do not have the usual support system that I have at home.

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