Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Epic fail. Epic freak out.

I can't count or look at a calendar apparently. The halfway point of my time here hasn't come yet! It will be this weekend. When I was panicking last night, thought I had two more months here, but I actually have three. Now I feel a bit silly for freaking out earlier.

But I'm still really stressed out -- in the short term because of planning this Easter break trip. In the long run, I'm stressed because of the general drawing down of my time here. I have three more months but I will need a week or two to prepare for my exams and to pack and clean out my room.

If anything, my miscounting shows my level of panic.

I did email STA Travel to inquire about changing my return flight. They haven't replied yet with a price quote. Even if it's cheap to change the date, I actually don't have a place to stay past June 30th. The obvious solution to this is to keep traveling for about two more weeks but this brings about all sorts of logistical problems and additional expenses...

Monday, March 22, 2010

Things I Think About: Passed Milestones, A Pause

I have been here longer than I will be.

The halfway point of my time in Denmark slipped by without my notice. I arrived in Denmark January 4th. My return ticket is June 22nd. It's now March 22nd and I only have two months left in Denmark!

I have seriously thought about changing the date of my return flight. I am legally allowed to stay in Denmark until July 15th, though my lease for my house ends June 30th so I wouldn't have anywhere to stay for two weeks. Of course I could travel that whole time. Traveling is fun but very costly, even more so in the summer high season.

I'm beginning to be anxious about my time here, to be honest. I know everyone has already said studying abroad is one of the best experiences. I'm just reaffirming that it is.

It's anxiety about the three major components of my life here: academics, traveling, and my "normal" life in Århus.

The academic component is more pressing now that the end of the semester is within sight. Even though I have fewer exams and essays than a normal semester in the States, I hear grade inflation doesn't happen here. Additionally, I am more and more pulled away from Århus and back toward MSU because I need to prepare for medical school in the fall. More and more information is coming from CHM for incoming students. In about a week I may find out if which pre-clinical campus I'll be assigned to.

Traveling is an important component of my experience here. I've managed to go (or to book tickets) to some places I always dreamed about: Amsterdam, Oslo, London, Berlin, Brussels, Prague. But I've yet to go to  just as many other priority destinations: Paris, Ireland, Spain, Greece, Istanbul, Krakow. And the sand is slipping quickly.

I also feel a tension between staying in Århus and traveling. When I'm traveling, I'm not  This may come off sounding ungrateful for the opportunity to travel around Europe but I like the people here in Århus. We go to the city center. It's not a UNESCO World Heritage Site but it needn't be. We go to free concerts at the music hall. It's not the Vienna Philharmonic but it needn't be that either. We go to the town's museum. It's not the British Museum but it doesn't matter. We sit around the table eating pasta and drinking cheap beer. All these things make me happy too. I'm not here on an extended sightseeing trip; I also want to get to know people too. When I'm back in the States, I will tell people, "I have been to Prague and it is beautiful there." But just as important, I want to be able to say, "I have a friend in Prague." Two kinds of relationships with the city. The two are not the same. 


I was about to publish this entry when I saw my friend Beth, an American studying abroad in Milan, write about similar feelings of cultural shift and adaption. She also included this graph of cultural adjustment!

I think I am farther along than the marker on this graph because I am "anticipating return", which is to say I am panicking at the realization that I will return to the U.S. very soon. I don't want to leave!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Things I Think About: Big Talk, edited

An extended version of what was posted a few hours ago. 

One of the most read articles on NYTimes.com the past few days has been this one on the correlation between happiness and substantive conversations. This study found that people for whom substantive conversations -- rather than small talk -- made up a greater proportion of their total conversations rate themselves happier.

The author of the study on the reasons for this:
But, he proposed, substantive conversation seemed to hold the key to happiness for two main reasons: both because human beings are driven to find and create meaning in their lives, and because we are social animals who want and need to connect with other people. 
From Talk Deeply, Be Happy?

In the comments follow this article, one reader tried to draw a connection between social media and the substance of conversations, noting that this is perhaps why interactions on Twitter and Facebook don't make people happier. 

Of course it's just a causation but it is interesting to see evidence backing up what I have felt in my interactions with people.

Reading this, naturally I reviewed the substantive conversations I have had in Denmark. So there it was. The cause of the general dis-ease I have felt the past weeks coincides with the lack of conversations I've had the last couple weeks. It's not because the initial excitement of being in a new place has mellowed that I've been feeling drab. During the first few weeks I certainly met new people and made small talk with them but I also managed some really insightful conversations. Somehow this dried up in recent weeks while the stream of parties, dinner parties, and sightseeing trips Århus continued.

Don't get me wrong, I have many friends in Århus, friends whose hospitality I have and will depend on in the future, friends who invite me to their dorms for dinner, friends with whom I've drunk vodka, which apparently makes us good friends, so some Polish guys have been trying to tell me... but I've miss some element of the weeks before.

I want to know more than how to say cheers in their language.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Danishize: flag

If you've Skyped with me, chances are you have seen me drinking from this mug with a Danish flag motif. (If you haven't Skyped with me, why haven't you? My username is chenywang1102.)

More so than rectangular flags, Danes like skinny pennant flags. It was one of my first impressions of Denmark. In my first hours on Danish soil, I saw many such flags as the train took me from Copenhagen to Århus, crossing much of the country.

It's very easy to buy things with Danish flags on them. The first items that come to my mind are disposable plates and cups and toothpicks with Danish flags. In a supermarket, there will always be plain white plates and Danish ones.

Many exchange students have commented on the Danes' fondness for their flag. It's frequently a topic of discussion, leading to comparisons of flag displaying behavior in their home countries.

Our neighbors to the South, the Germans, are on the other end of the spectrum: they don't display the flag at all. My German housemate told me that if you see your neighbor flying German flag from their house, you first think, "My neighbors are Nazis". The relationship of a people to their history is a fraught one.

One of the Italian exchange students brought an Italian flag with him, which he sometimes takes to parties.

Of course Americans also love their flag, not only to fly the flag but to put the flag motif on many things, like those Old Navy Fourth of July t-shirts.

Things I think about: Marshmallow Peeps

A while ago I dreamed that I ate marshmallow peeps.

I'm sure this dream was prompted by the Easter merchandise that has popped in grocery stores in the past week or so. There is the usual assortment of chocolates bunnies and eggs. It's looks pretty much like the Easter candy we have in the States with the notable lack of marshmallow peeps.

The closest thing I saw to peeps were marshmallow bunnies but they're not Peeps brand in that they don't have the sugar crust nor are they fluorescent yellow. I really like the sugar crust so it's just not the same having regular bunny shaped marshmallows.

Things I haven't seen:
Plastic Easter eggs, however, so perhaps Danes don't hold Easter egg hunts.
Egg dye
Eggs on sale -- this last point irks me because egg are definitely more expensive here than in the States.

This flyer from a local grocery store illustrates the typical price of a dozen eggs: 25 kroner or $5. The organic ones cost even more. This is unfortunate because I really like eating eggs and I have grown accustomed to them being a cheap and delicious source of protein in the States.

Now that Easter is over, I bought some Easter marzipan eggs. But unlike the States where Easter candy is often 50% off, I got about $1 off candy originally priced at $5. I don't think we have marzipan eggs in the States, or at least they're not popular enough that I know about them. They have a crunch candy shell -- much like M&Ms -- followed by a layer of chocolate and finally a marzipan center. They're very good.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Danishize: Multilingual

Rather heavy blog entries, the last couple. A bit of levity now.  

I apologize for the technology hiccups of late. I think people who subscribe to my blog's RSS thought this entry was published already. But it wasn't. It's here now.

On the packaging of almost any product I have bought in Denmark is printed several languages. Usually it's in Danish, Swedish, and Finnish. This makes sense since they're the countries geographically closest to Denmark so the products are manufactured the same way and then sold in these Scandinavian countries.

Take for example Labello lip balm: læbepomade/läppcerat/huulivoide is Danish/Swedish/Finnish.
I may have said this before in some blog post but Labello is the Chapstick of Europe. It's the most popular stick-form lipbalm here. The regular kind comes in a dark blue stick but I have the shiny one, which is pearly pink.

Over time I have come to expect these languages so even I was a little surprised when I saw the packaging for these packets of Sindy brand tissues.

That's right, you can read the name of the product, number of sheets, number of ply, and size of sheets in 20 languages: English, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, Swedish, German, Belarusian (?), Bulgarian, Russian, Ukrainian, Romanian, Slovak, Lithuanian, Polish, Latvian, Croatian, Czech, Serbian, Hungarian, and Estonian.

An aside: People here use tissue packets more often than tissue boxes. I think in the States the packets cost more than a box with the same number of sheets but I don't think it's the case here.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Something I Think (A Lot) About

I was in a grocery store perusing the shelves of condiments and sauces when I saw a bottle of soy sauce whose logo was a Chinese man: the coolie hat, queue, little mustache, and unnaturally yellow skin.

I bought another brand of soy sauce. Its logo was written in "Chinese" font. I suppose that's a bit better.


During my first weeks in Denmark, I met a lot of new people. Naturally a common question is "Where are you from?" This time it came from a Danish girl I met briefly at a party.

I replied that I was from the United States.

"Oh but you're not American, are you?"

"I am."


I remarked in my facebook profile that I didn't realized how much I felt at home in America until I left it. I feel this most keenly when I am confronted with incidents surrounding race, in particular ways in race and ethnicity are not discussed in the States. It's something I think a lot about as I have addressed it here, here, here, and here. But none of those incidents directly concerned me as an individual. Today I am going to get really personal about exchanges I have had with people I know here in Århus.

Excerpt from the Study Abroad Handbook given to all MSU students when they go abroad. It represents not only the university's official recognition of race and ethnicity for its students abroad but I think typifies a sensitivity that many people have in general.

As in the United States, some societies and groups are more open to accepting diversity than others. People react differently to looks and behaviors they are not accustomed to or that appear unusual. Reports from students of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds are varied, from those who felt exhilarated by being free of the U.S. American context of race relations, to those who experienced different degrees of curiosity about their ethnicity.

While I have no illusions that the complexity of global race relations can be conveyed in a paragraph in a handbook, this excerpt describes most the kind of exchanges about race I have had in Århus: different degrees of curiosity about their ethnicity.Most of the time questions about my heritage are sincere. The atmosphere amongst exchange students is, for the most part, open and welcoming. Since we're all from different places, the people we meet have different customs and cultures.

But at other times I glimpse into the way race is conceptualized by people whose home countries have very different or altogether nonexistent dialogs about race. Most of the exchange students I know here come from ethnically homogeneous countries. That's just the fact. One student told me that it would be very rare to see a black person on the streets in her city.

It's one thing to simply note incidents of indirect racism and it's another to discourage such incidents from happening. Because indirect racism is subtle, it's all the more difficult to challenge, especially if the person expressing it is a friend. Not long ago, I did confront to an exchange student friend of mine about some racist humor that was circulated on facebook. No, confronted is not the right word. I merely made my known that I didn't think his joke about Asian people was funny. It was regarding the gesture is to pull one's eyes toward the side of one's head as if to emulate Asians.

The reaction I got was a common one: I was dismissed as lacking a sense of humor, overly sensitive. I wanted both my personal my feelings and the recognition of its offense to the wider Asian population to be acknowledged and but instead I was treated as if I was the one with the problem of not being able to take a joke.

I recognize that perhaps in other countries this gesture is an acceptable way to joke about a group of people. (Recall a Spanish basketball team photo in which every player gestured this way.) But I think this is very rude, childish, and tasteless. On the playground in elementary kids made slant-eye gestures but in later years made Jokes and gestures are time-honored way to mask poor judgment and pass on ignorance.


Coming back to my earlier comment about feeling at home in America. It's true. I really do feel at home there. I think our country is making sincere efforts to address race and ethnicity in meaningful ways. Of course at times I feel like some efforts are mere tokenism. Of course we're not living in a "post-race" country. But here in Århus, it's all the more evident to me that America is a multiracial and multiethnic society. Not only that but we recognize our diversity. but I am very glad for it.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Things I Think About: Intro

I am often asked by exchange students here and by friends in the States if I miss the States. On the whole, I don't consider my feelings about the States to constitute "missing". So no I don't miss the States, not to the degree that I would pack up and return home. The exception to this was during my first week or two here during which I did at times intensely, but not anymore. "Missing" doesn't convey how I feel often here. It's too strong, too sad, and too much longing. I feel something less than longing or sadness.

To describe how I feel, I prefer the Chinese word for "to miss": 想 because it is the same word as "to think". I often think about the ways in which Denmark is different from the States more so than "miss" my life in the States. I use the States as my preference point so naturally I am aware that I am not at home here.

These are moments that make me think.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Organizing Principles, a Bit of a Recap

I have been mulling over ways of organizing the photos and blog entries that have documented my time here in Denmark. My output in these two forms has been steady -- I have taken many photos and blogged pretty consistently -- but I feel that these scattered photos and blog entries are crying out for some motif to string them together.

Now I might have found some structure for these twenty-plus blog posts.. I will organize them into three broad categories.

Things I Think About: This is where all the really introspective posts go. They include things that are noticeably absent from Denmark. More on this later when I write another entry that belongs in this category.

Things I Think About: 
I Really Want a Striped Scarf January 10
First Days January 11
Every City has a Ghetto January 14
Foundation January 22
Finding American Food in Århus January 29
Leaving home January 26
Eating, alone and together February 16

Danishize: If the first categories are musings on the things that are lacking in Denmark, then these entries capture the tangible objects that mark my life here. These are observations on the quirks of Danish life. They're tidbits of little consequence but are perhaps interesting.

Things are Different Here January 4
Personal ID January 5
Honor System January 7
I Do Not Have a Boyfriend January 8
It Snows Into the Sea January 10
House January 23
MOMS. Not the woman who raised you January 24
Sun and Tan March 6
Setting the scene, two months later March 8
Kvindemuseet March 9
Meijer Brand Loyalty March 10

Travel Photography: Only three posts in the category. They're photo essays from my travels to Amsterdam. It's self-explanatory and an example of the way I want to incorporate photos in a meaningful way. Hope to do more of these in the future.

Travel Photography:
Little Ice Age February 11
The Light in the Morning is Beautiful February 9
Auricular Amsterdam February 5

I'm not sure which of these kinds of entries my readers find more interesting. One is more introspective and the other straightforward.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Meijer brand loyalty

When I was in Copenhagen a couple weeks ago, a girl in my room at the hostel asked if I was from Michigan after I told her I was from the States. She said that she's a native New Zealander who has lived in Texas for the last few years.
How did she pinpoint Michigan out of all the States?

She spotted my bottle of Meijer-brand contact lens cleaning solution. It turns out she lived in Grand Rapids for a few months before moving to Texas.

I felt a sense of kinship with her because we had shared the experience of shopping at Meijer in Michigan. Well, she even knew about Meijer, never mind having actually been to one on the west side of the mitten. I haven't even mentioned Meijer too anyone here. I'm guessing that no one else here knows about it since none of the other American exchange students are from Michigan. 


Sadly my bottle of contact solution is used up. In the last week or two, I have had to replace several American-brought toiletries with their counterparts purchased in Denmark.



This sounds silly and sentimental I know because the replacement toiletries I bought are all available in America -- Colgate, Alcon, Nivea. One could argue that I haven't gotten anything different.These items aren't unique to Denmark; You can buy all of them in the States too, (though I don't think Nivea is as popular in the States as it is here). Of course I have used Colgate toothpaste and Alcon contact solution before.

But the reason these empty bottles are significant is because they mark the first American possessions I have shed since coming to Denmark. Most of the things I brought from the States are items I will use during my entire time here, things like clothing, shoes, electronics. Most of the things I brought I will throw away, at least not until the end of my time here. And since I have been in Denmark, food definitely represents the majority of things I have purchased so those items are always gone within a few days. I couldn't have brought food from the States anyway. In throwing away the old bottles and using new ones, I feel like I am inevitably living here a little more.

Monday, March 8, 2010


On Saturday a few exchange student friends and I finally went to Kvindemuseet, the Women's Museum at Århus. I had been thinking about women's rights on this weekend before International Women's Day.
Women organizing for equal pay for equal work. Poster from the Danish communist party

It's a pity International Women's Day isn't recognized enough in the States. It's because of its origins from the socialist party. You know that if there's anything we don't like in America, it's socialists. Can you hear it in the scary campaign attack ad stage whisper...

I found most interesting the items about the second-wave feminist movement, in particular the collection of posters from that era about sex, abortion, and contraception. Well, I can't actually read them so I had to use the dictionary to piece together the meaning. I'm still not sure what some of them mean but I find them visually striking nonetheless.
P-piller is the oral contraceptive pill

The top corner of the left-most poster reads: Make Love! Not Babies!
Fri Abort: Free abortion If you get infected with the red dog, you can get a legal abortion. Maybe red dog is a slang term for pregnancy?

Love, Not Infected
Many people have STDs but do not know it. Committee for Health Education

Something about voluntary motherhood -- ønskebørne means a wanted child.

I can't figure out if this poster is advocating for the right to abortion. The red paint font looks rather menacing.

The museum is small but I'm glad I went though some of the displays seriously lacked English explanations, like there was an exhibit about women's participation in government that was all in Danish. I managed to take away this graph illustrating women's representation in local and national government.

Percent of females in the Danish Parliament (red) and Århus municipal council (blue) 1909-2006
Almost 40% of members of Folketing, the national parliament, are women in 2006.

Afterwards I went to a coffeeshop with an rooftop patio. We soaked up the sun and looked out on the orange-tiled roofs in the city center of Århus.

Notable dates in Danish women's rights:
1915 Women gain the right to vote
1970s Red Stocking women's movement begins
1973 Abortion is legalized
1989 same-sex marriage is legalized
1999 A cabinet-level minister for equality is created

Setting the scene, two months later

Yikes it's been a long time since I've updated my blog. This entry is basically a fact dump. It's very likely that I've said all these things before but just for the record here:

Århus is spelled with the letter Å but it is also spelled as Aarhus. This is because the letter Å was introduced in 1948 to replace Aa. The name of the university is technically Aarhus Universitet because it was established before the new letter was  used. But the name of the city is Århus. Å is also the last letter of the alphabet. After z comes æ, ø, å in that order.

I'm taking classes at Aarhus University. Two of my three classes are regular courses open to Danish students. The other is a Danish politics course only for non-Danish students. Danish college students don't need to learn the names of Denmark's main political parties. That's what we're learning now.
I have never lived so close to all my classes. They are all within a five to seven minute walk from my house, which isn't on campus but is just across the street. It's so close to the university buildings that I can get their wireless internet (though the signal is weak). Even when I lived in Case Hall, I still had classes or work in a distant corner of campus.

From my window, the university -- the yellow building with the orange roof -- is literally across the street. 

Århus is also the name of the city where the university is located. It's the second largest city in Denmark with 300,000 residents but it's really quite a small city by the standard size of cities. It's also a college town. There are something like 40,000 students here.

Århus means literally "the mouth of the river" because there used to be a river running through the city. But in the 1930s the river was filled in in order to make a street. But now a section of the river has been reopened and there are lots of expensive bars and cafes along it. If you've seen any photos of Århus that show a river, it's that bit of river.

EDIT: I'm not sure why the river was filled in but I'm guessing it had to do with its declining significance for trade. I was surprised to hear about it too especially because the river gave rise to the city and its name.

Like this photo, taken in the summer

Friday, March 5, 2010

Sun and Tan

Yes griping about the weather is boring but I feel compelled to address the issue because we have had an incredible three sunny days in a row. Let's recap the sunlight or lackthereof since I arrived in Århus two months ago:

When I first arrived in Århus, there was a noticeable lack of sunlight here at 56 degrees north of the equator. We are on the same latitude as Edmonton, Canada and Edinburgh, Scotland. East Lansing is 43 degrees north.This took some getting used to, especially because even though sunset was at 4:30, by 3 o'clock in the afternoon the sky was noticeably fading to gray.

Grey afternoon in late January

The problem isn't just the hours of sunlight but the weather too. It's almost always cloudy. I forgot to bring sunglasses with me but I don't think I'll need them very often, the last couple days being an exception.

There's a tanning salon very close to my house. It's called Dark Tan. My mentor, a Danish girl who was assigned to help me transition to Århus, pointed out to me that tanning is very popular here despite its known cancer risks.

You may have heard me say this before, but I also saw an alarm clock/light combination. The light gradually turns on 30 minutes before the alarm goes off. My Norwegian housemate has such a light. I can definitely see how this light is useful in the winter months. In Michigan we are no strangers to waking up and getting ready in the dark but the darkness lasts longer here.

The hours of sunlight are fine now. The sunrises at 6:59am and sets at 6:03pm. East Lansing still gets a bit more sunlight than we do, with sunrise at 7:06am and sunset at 6:33pm.

To end on a happy note, not a cloud in the sky three days ago: