EXCHANGE PROGRAM IN DENMARK -  FALL 1991

 

            In the fall of 1991 my wife, daughter, son, and I spent a semester in Denmark as part of an exchange program called Denmark's International Studies program (DIS) in Copenhagen.  In the middle of the semester, we went with a group of students from DIS on a tour of the former U.S.S.R. while it was falling apart.  After the semester was over, my family spent five weeks traveling around Europe, including visiting my second cousin at a US Army base in Berlin and my grandmother's cousin and his family in Finland.  This journal introduces some of our experiences on the trip, based on letters sent to family members in the US, and lists additional journals that describe my impressions of other aspects of Danish life.

 

OVERVIEW OF THE TRIP

 

            Before there were many options for studying abroad, Whittier College would send a group of students instead of one or two to DIS.  The program started when Whittier College faculty asked the University of Copenhagen to offer an exchange program, and it expanded to include colleges across the US.   In the past, one Whittier faculty member went along with the group as the Director, and I was able to do that in the fall of 1991 after being on the waiting list for several years.  That experience changed my life.  My family came with me, and it changed my daughter's life as well. 

 

            Before I went to Denmark, I was a workaholic, wearing button-down shirts.  While in Denmark, I picked up the Danish attitude of "Work hard, play hard."  When Americans play, they often feel guilty. Due to the influence of the Protestant Work Ethic, they feel that it is sinful to have fun, or at least that it is wasting time.  The Danes are not cursed with that attitude from America's Puritan founding fathers.

 

            The first weekend we were in Denmark, we went on a tour of western Denmark, and I went with a group of students to a dance club.  I rediscovered how much I loved dancing, which I had not done since I was in graduate school at the University of Washington.  There I had affiliated with the chapter of my undergraduate fraternity, which sponsored many dances.  In Denmark, I also rekindled my love of traveling abroad.  I had always wanted to make more trips since my first trip to Europe in 1967 while a graduate student, but hadn't had the opportunity since I was so busy teaching, doing research, and being a parent.

 

            In the middle of the semester my family and I plus my younger brother went with a group of students from DIS on a study tour of the former USSR as it was falling apart.  The tour occurred less than two months after the fall of Communism and the independence of the three Baltic republics: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and less than three months before the collapse of the rest of the U.S.S.R into independent republics. I describe that tour in a separate journal.

 

            At the end of the semester, I spend five weeks taking my family to major cities in various countries around Europe.  I remember my daughter complaining, "Dad, not another cathedral.  Not another museum."   But being in Europe gave her a love of traveling and the confidence to travel on her own later.  When we left for Denmark, she was a sophomore in high school reluctant to leave her friends in Whittier.  But at an international school in Copenhagen, she made friends with classmates from five different continents.  Knowing that she could do that gave her the confidence to attend college across the country in Connecticut, to study abroad and conduct research in Equator, and later conduct doctoral research in Finland, have a Fulbright award in Germany, and teach at a university in Ireland then in Germany, as well as attend conferences in various other places.

 

            When I returned to Whittier from Denmark, I was rejuvenated.  I reset my social age and began going to dance clubs every week for two decades.  I became the advisor for a local fraternity, and the advisor for a club of international students.  I began wearing foreign t-t-shirts and other clothing to my Introductory Psychology classes, and spending a few minutes talking about other cultures.  I sought other opportunities for foreign travel, and other travelogues are the result.

 

GETTING ORIENTED

 

            My family flew to Copenhagen on August 3, 1991, after being driven to the airport by friends who had studied abroad at DIS when they had been students at Whittier College years ago!   It was an 11-hour flight, leaving at 5:15 PM Saturday and arriving at 1:20 PM Sunday since Denmark time is 9 hours later than LA time.   On the flight, we saw the red canyons in Utah, then flew over Wyoming and North Dakota on the way to Hudson's Bay.  By the time we were over Canada, it was dark; but over Greenland we could see beautiful snow-capped mountains poking up out of the clouds.

 

            We flew there before everyone's fall semester started, so we would have time to get settled and do some sightseeing.  Tivoli gardens (a big amusement park, which was a model for Disneyland) closes at the end of the summer, as does Legoland, a city made of Lego blocks. There also is an open-air museum (like Sturbridge Village) and a museum of Viking ships nearby.

 

            The campus of DIS is in Copenhagen, but DIS arranged for my family to rent a townhouse in Lyngby, which is 20 minutes away by train.  I will describe the house in the next section.  DIS arranged for the college students attending DIS to stay with Danish families.

 

            The college students attending DIS arrived on group flights August 22-23, then had an Orientation Week from August 24-30, including a Danish language survival course which my wife and I also took.  She and I then participated in the semester-long Danish course offered by DIS to college students.  I struggled to keep Danish and German apart, and my wife struggled not to mix in Spanish! I will say more about the Danish language later.

 

            Whittier College had wanted me to teach a class at DIS, but DIS wanted the students to take classes from Danish instructors.  So I studied Danish, read a great deal, and learned all that I could as I usually do.  I also acted as an advisor not only to Whittier College students, but to other students as well, whom I would talk with at lunch at DIS.

 

TOWNHOUSE IN LYNGBY

 

            Although Copenhagen looks different than Los Angeles, my wife, daughter, and son didn't really experience culture shock until they saw the house.  By European standards it was very nice, but by American standards it was smaller than they were used to.  It was a townhouse in a building containing several townhouses side by side. The living room was about 9 x 15 which was fine, and the adjoining kitchen was about 7 x 10 which was okay. But upstairs the master bedroom was small, and the other two bedrooms were tiny.

 

            The biggest shock was the bathroom.  The ceiling slopes in the bathroom, so that I had just enough room to sit up in the bathtub.  The tub had a European shower, which means the shower head was on a hose with a handle so you could aim it wherever you want.  There was a skylight, but I had to have the skylight window closed, and put my head in the skylight, in order to stand up in front of the sink.

 

            There was a narrow stairway from the main floor to upstairs, and another stairway to the basement.  The basement had a laundry room and a study, but the ceiling was too low for me to stand up in the study.  We had my son's Nintendo set up there so we didn't have to listen to it in the rest of the house.  The washing machine in the laundry took three hours for one load.

 

            There was a patio door leading out to a private backyard which was about 20 feet wide and 50 feet deep.  It had a couple of trees in the middle and flowers along the sides.  (The townhouses behind our yard had no backyards at all).  There was a small front yard.

 

            I was not surprised by the townhouse since I had seen a wider range of European houses and apartments than had my wife.  It was much roomier and nicer than a downtown apartment would have been, which typically would have been 4 flights up with no elevator!  (I was in two such apartments downtown while looking for a used computer printer).

 

            Since I had been in Copenhagen before in 1967, it didn't seem very foreign to me -- even though there was another language all around me.  It seemed perfectly natural to be there!

 

SHOPPING IN LYNGBY

 

            We were zonked when we went to bed the night after we arrived, which was August 4. But we only slept 3 hours, then were wide awake.  We got up and ate breakfast, but three hours later we couldn't keep our eyes open, so we went back to bed. It took three days of sleeping half of the night and going back to bed mid-morning to adjust to the time zone difference.

 

            Monday afternoon August 5 we walked a mile to the center of Lyngby to buy "Net" passes at the train station.  Copenhagen, like most European cities, has excellent public transportation.  There are commuter trains, which are like subway trains, only they are not underground except for two stations downtown.  In addition, there are many buses.  You could buy a monthly "Net" pass which is good on the entire network of all trains and buses.  The Net pass cost 620 DKr ($95) per month for an adult, or half that for a child or youth.  Without the pass, it cost 8 DKr to get on the bus or train and 4 DKr for each zone you pass, which was more expensive and a hassle.

 

            Next to the train station were two small supermarkets and several other stores.  Food prices were higher than in LA at that time.  A block from the train station was the main shopping street, which had sidewalk cafes and shops like bakeries, vegetable stands, etc.  It was very reminiscent of Harvard Square (which is very European), and very pleasant.  A couple of blocks up a side-street was a large new indoor shopping mall.  Lyngby and other northern suburbs are the nicest areas in which to live in Copenhagen.

 

DOWNTOWN COPENHAGEN

 

            On Tuesday August 6 we rode into downtown Copenhagen.  There are two ways to do it. One way is to catch a bus 68 which goes directly to Ra'thuspladsen (City Hall plaza); that takes about 40 minutes, plus waiting for the bus. The other way is to catch any of 3 buses for a 5-minute ride to the Lynbgy Station, then catching any of 3 trains for a 20-minute ride downtown.  The second way is faster and allows more choice of where you end up downtown. First we tried taking bus 68 all the way in, but after that we've always used the train instead. 

 

            From Ra'thuspladsen it's about 3 blocks east to DIS, Denmark's International Study Program.  We walked there to see the offices and meet more of the staff.  One block from DIS is the "Walking Street," a series of streets for pedestrians only.  Along the route are sidewalk cafes and many shops plus the major department stores.  Right now there are many tourists, so it's the place where young people hang out. 

 

            Just west of Rathuspladsen is Tivoli, the famous amusement park which served as inspiration for Disneyland.  It closes mid-September, so we plan to go there in a week or two.

 

            A few blocks further west is the Copenhagen International School, where Jenn will be going. It's 2 or 3 blocks from the Vesterport (West port) Station, so it's easy for her to commute.  The area is okay in the daytime, but she shouldn't hang out there at night; there's a Playboy club a block away.

 

            On the way back from downtown, we stopped at a supermarket by the Vesterport Station.  It's now become a routine to stop at a supermarket on the way home, to pick up a few things each trip since we have to carry all of our groceries home.

 

            Stores in Denmark generally closed at 2:00 PM on Saturdays, and remained closed all day Sunday. They opened at 9:30 AM Monday-Friday, and most closed at 6:00 PM.  So if you don't buy enough groceries for the weekend, you are generally out of luck. (However, we did find a gas station mini-mart that stays open all day Saturday and Sunday).  It was nice that most people didn't have to work late, but when did they do their shopping? 

 

MY SON'S SCHOOL

 

      There are 4 English-speaking schools for elementary and junior high kids. Based on the information we had available, and my telephone conversations from LA with two of the directors, it appeared that Bjo/n International School would best meet Daniel's needs.  The school was located half-way between Lyngby and downtown, by train or bus.

 

            There were about 12 students per class, and the students had the same teacher all day. There were classes at various grade levels for English-speaking students, and other classes for Danish-speaking children.  The students were from 40 different countries, so for most of them English was their second language.  The school emphasized acceptance of diversity.

 

            On Wednesday August 7 we visited the school, and had an interview with the director.  I thought my son would have a hard time adjusting to all of the changes in coming here, but he did very well.  It turns out that one of the teacher's aides was a graduate of Whittier College!

 

MY DAUGHTER'S SCHOOL

 

            There was only one English-speaking high school, called Copenhagen International School. It was a college-prep school for children of ambassadors and businessmen, so it was expensive.  But it had the college-prep courses that she needed. The school had students from 70 countries, so my daughter was very excited about that. 

 

            On Wednesday August 14, we had an interview with the headmaster of the school.  He originally was a math teacher in Michigan.  Orientation was August 16 and classes began August 19.

 

BAKKEN AMUSEMENT PARK

 

            Although Tivoli is the most famous amusement park in Denmark, there is an even older amusement park called Bakken.  It was established 400 years ago. Thursday afternoon August 8 we took a 15-minute bus ride there through beautiful green fields and forests.  Bakken doesn't compare with Tivoli or Disneyland, but my son and daughter enjoyed the rides anyway.  We wanted to go then, because it closed at the end of August.  For me, the best part of the park was the soft ice cream -- you could buy huge cones all over the park.

 

FERRY TO SWEDEN

 

      On Sunday August 11 we took a commuter train up to Helsinore (Elsinore).  That is the home of the castle made famous in Shakespeare's play Hamlet. We then boarded a ferry for a 25-minute ride over to Helsingborg in Sweden.  The ferry was similar to a medium-sized ferry in Seattle, and cost $5 a piece to ride.

 

            Helsingborg is an old town on the side of a hill, with a walking street with many shops.  Since it was Sunday, virtually everything was closed.  I finally found a small Greek restaurant where I could buy a pita sandwich.  We walked up the hill to a 400-year old castle tower, and climbed the steps inside for a great view of the city and harbor.

 

            We could read some of the Swedish signs since they were similar to Danish, but the spelling was a little different.  On our return to Denmark, we felt like we were returning "home" as you might when returning to the US from Canada or Mexico.  After living here a week, Denmark has become very familiar to us.

 

THANKSGIVING

 

            Thanksgiving is an American Holiday celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. On Saturday November 30, my family went to a Thanksgiving dinner sponsored by the International Women's Club in Copenhagen.  My wife had met some of the members through our daughter's school.  They had brought the turkeys and some of the fixings from an American military base in Germany, since they are hard to find in Denmark!

 

TRAVEL AROUND EUROPE

           

            We travelled around Europe by Eurail Pass.  You pay a fee for a fixed number of days and travel on trains all over Europe.

            We were in Berlin, Germany December 21-24 to visit my second cousin (grandfather's sister's granddaughter) and her husband who was a male nurse stationed at the US Army base in Berlin.  

            We went to Amsterdam, The Netherlands, then to London where we stayed

December 26-28 at Pax Lodge, the World Center of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. 

            We went to Paris, France, then to Gland near Geneva, Switzerland to visit January 1-2 with the family that my wife had stayed with in the summer of 1966 and that I had visited in the summer of 1967. 

            We then traveled to Florence and Rome, Italy; Athens, Greece; Salzburg and Vienna Austria, and Prague, Czech Republic.

            Next we went to Tampere, Finland, to visit my grandmother's first cousin and his family, and Helsinki, Finland to visit more of his relatives.  

            We then returned to Copenhagen on January 26 for our flight back to Los Angeles the next day.

 

ADDITIONAL JOURNALS ABOUT DANISH LIFE

 

            These journals describe my impressions of Danish life in 1991, which may or may not be the same three decades later.

 

      Danish Alcohol policies

      Danish Christmas celebrations

      Danish Language in comparison with English

      Danish Minorities at the German border

      Danish Prisons without walls

      Danish Schools that differ from the U.S.

      Danish Scouts that are coed or just for girls