I am safely back in Copenhagen after a few days in Western Denmark. We stayed for a night in Aarhus, followed by a night in Skanderborg, and we packed a lot into three full days.
After making my way to Copenhagen Central Station on Thursday morning in the pouring rain, we had an hour-long bus ride to a co-housing community in Skibby. We received information and a tour from a happy-go-lucky Danish tour guide, who was thrilled to share with us her experience in the community. To an even greater degree than the rest of Copenhagen, the people living in the community share a mentality of equality. One-third of adults work to maintain their living space, and two-thirds work at jobs outside of the community, yet they all receive the same wages. Each person also gets a portion of pocket money, and that money is allocated only for fun purposes: taxes, food, and necessities are all included within the community. There is a kitchen staff, and each adult also pitches in two times per month to help cook and clean for dinner. However, our guide explained that she loves saving the time and money on a daily basis so that she can dedicate more quality time to her family instead of chores like cooking. People in the community live in apartments based on family size; income has nothing to do with apartment assignments. Instead, assignments change frequently, as families must move when they have newborn children or when a couple divorces. The kids living in the community grow up like siblings; there is even a huge space in the kitchen area for them to play together while the adults socialize. Members of the community may invite guests over whenever they want, and they are welcomed to enjoy dinner. Additionally, all food in the community is organic, and much of it is grown or produced on the community’s farm.
This place reminded me a lot of a Kibbutz, which is another type of co-housing in Israel. I think it is so interesting (and really, quite admirable) that people seem incredibly happy within this community; they live such simple lives, and they feel so full. The buildings have a very down-to-earth and rustic feel, and there are so many kids running around. My classmates and I discussed whether we’d want to try living in this type of environment. I said that I’d love to try it for a few months or maybe even a year, but in terms of long-term, I think I would want more control over individual choices I make in my everyday life. However, the sense of community that these people share even starting at a young age is so strong, and that’s awesome. It was definitely worth the visit, and it relates to our topic of Positive Psychology because we learned that community-building is an enormous aspect of happiness.
We ate lunch there, which was butternut squash soup (yum!) that felt good after standing outside in the rain for hours. Unfortunately, we got very unlucky with the weather this week. I also got a scoop of ice cream that had been made on the community’s fam, and it was truly as good as our tour guide had said it would be. Then, we boarded the bus for a long 4-hour bus ride to Aarhus.
We arrived in Aarhus around 5:30p.m. and settled into our hostel. The roommates were randomly assigned, and there was one bunk-bed per room. It was a nice place, but it was very cramped. We dropped our bags upstairs and then someone messaged in the Groupme that she was going to explore, so our entire class ended up meeting in the lobby. We had a half hour before we had to meet for dinner, so we roamed around the nearby streets, taking pictures of pretty buildings and canals along the way. Our hostel was in the center of the city, so that was convenient.
Dinner was at a fancy Italian restaurant, and although the menu was pre-ordered for the class, I was allowed to order whatever I wanted for dinner since not everything they served was gluten-free. I chose a pizza with pesto sauce and mozzarella cheese, and after having parmesan cheese chunks and the cocktails we were allowed to order with dinner (thanks, DIS!), I was very full. We had such a good time, and I was already more excited about my class trip after getting to know other people more.
After dinner, we were free to explore on our own. I ended up going with eight other people in my class to a pub right next to our hotel. The crowd was a mix of other Americans with their DIS class trips and young Danes celebrating the beginning of the weekend. We sat there for hours, telling stories and playing games. It was a fun night, and we also went to bed relatively early.
On Friday morning, we woke up at 8:30, ate breakfast at the hotel, and loaded our luggage onto the bus. We walked to the Volunteer Center Aarhus where we listened to a presentation and got a tour of the building. The main objective was learning about a specific volunteering initiative in Denmark: trying to engage young people in the community by offering them an activity that simultaneously helps improve the lives of people in Denmark. The woman who gave the presentation was an American, and she had had volunteer experience in both the United States and Denmark. After telling us about her job, she asked us to share what we thought about the differences in volunteering between the two countries. One difference that was evident by the mission of the Volunteer Center Aarhus is that Denmark tries to bring people in need into a more well-off community by giving them a positive starting spot. In the United States, people who volunteer often enter needy communities with the intention of helping while they’re there, departing a few hours later and leaving the community. One potential reason for this is that volunteer initiatives in Denmark are mostly government-funded. If someone wanted to start a local book exchange where students can use and return books for free, for example, the Danish government would provide this volunteer with the financial resources he/she needs to sustain the initiative. This is different from many volunteer initiatives within the United States, which often receive little to no money from the government to implement or sustain. This makes it somewhat more difficult to start a volunteer initiative in the first place.
After our presentation and tour, we spoke with two young Danes who currently volunteer at the program. They asked us questions about what life is like at college, as the Danish education system is very different than the typical 4-year American university. When someone explained the layout of a dorm, the Danes were laughing, saying it sounded like the movies. This was an interesting experience, as going to a 4-year college is a very common pursuit for people in my area at home, and challenging my perception of what is “normal” was cool.
We had three hours to explore Aarhus on our own before the next academic session, and at this point, we were all hungry. The Danes told us we had to try Aarhus Street Food before we left, which is essentially the Copenhagen-equivalent of the Glass Market. It was a great place to go with a large group of people because everyone was able to select their meal from a large array of vendors. I ended up getting a poke bowl, followed by a make-your-own popsicle for dessert. The popsicle had custard gelato inside of it, and I selected chocolate flakes and coconut for the outside. It was SO yummy. I was with a smaller group from my class, and we walked to see the water and other pretty Aarhus spots in the daylight.
Then, we met our class at the Aarhus School of Art and Design, where we weren’t exactly sure what we would be doing. Kamilla had been somewhat secretive and mysterious when she was describing the activity, and someone in my group predicted (based on the clues we had gotten) that we were going to draw pictures of a naked model. Sure enough, this was correct. We were a little apprehensive when we entered the building. The art teacher was lovely. She explained that we had to just let ourselves go for a while; we had to release the negative voice in the back of our heads that says “I can’t draw,” and she challenged us not to be perfectionists. Given her instructions, it was pretty easy to do this: we only had 30 seconds to complete an entire sketch of Emma’s body before she changed poses. The whole class was sitting in a circle around a mattress. We all had our own drawing tables, and after the teacher finished explaining the instructions, Emma de-robed to expose her completely naked body. At first, it felt a little weird to have to stare at her in order to draw something. However, after a few 30-second trials, I kind of forgot she was naked; it was like drawing anything else. Luckily, everyone was very mature about the whole experience. We did several exercises with different instructions, such as not being allowed to look down at our paper while drawing her body for four minutes. Four minutes was the longest exercise, and I’m grateful for that. I would not consider myself very gifted in the drawing department, and I had set my expectations so low for myself given the time frame that I was surprised I could even draw something that resembled a human.
After Emma had put her clothes on, we had a discussion about the activity, and it was amazing how much people seemed to get from it. We talked about the concept of flow, which is a well-known topic in Positive Psychology. Flow is a state when a person feels energized, focused, and not self-critical, trying to make the most of a moment. We were also able to ask Emma about what it’s like to model while naked. She said that we were a very good group to work with because we were so respectful, but that she’s had audiences in the past that haven’t been as kind. We talked about how seeing the body in a non-sexualized way is a very uncommon experience. Even in advertisements, we are often exposed to hypothetical ways to make the body more attractive. In this activity, however, the body was merely the subject for our pencils to draw. Kamilla added that appreciating the body’s beauty with all the imperfections was connected to our “flow” and letting go of the negative voice telling us we couldn’t. In that hour, we accepted the imperfections both in Emma’s body and in our own artistic deficiencies, using these imperfections to make the experience more powerful. I definitely enjoyed the art class more than I thought I would.
It was getting dark by the time we left, and we headed on the bus to our next destination: a cabin site in Skanderborg. We were supposed to have a nice campfire that night, but it was pouring rain. When we arrived, we were told to make groups of 4 based on the people standing near us, and we headed to our assigned cabins. After settling into our (very spacious) cabin—it had two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, and a living room—we gathered for a buffet dinner in the main room of the resort. I was really tired, and the dinner definitely did not compare to the night before. The evening activity was fun, though. We thought it was going to be an academic discussion, but it was basically just charades with the class, and Kamilla had bought us snacks, candy, and beer. After the official game night was over, everyone ended up staying in that room and talking for longer. We played a few riddle-type games. Then, we headed back to our cabins.
On the third day, we woke up to another hostel breakfast, followed by an academic reflection on the week. It was very helpful for the paper we have to write this week, as we were able to brainstorm together all the topics we had further explored on our trip and how they related to what we have already discussed in class. I’m not sure yet what I’m going to focus my paper on.
Our first stop was the Aros Aarhus Art Museum, which is famous for its top floor panoramic view of the city through different colored lenses. That was my favorite exhibit, though the other ones with various mirrors and hallways were really cool, too. Then, it started to rain heavily, just in time for our walking-food tour of Aarhus. It was hard to hear the guide over the sound of the rain, especially because I was wearing my hood. However, we stopped at three different places to eat along the route, and they were all delicious. My favorite was the stop with gluten-free chocolate cake. 🙂
The ride back to Copenhagen was long, but I was able to be productive on my computer by writing a paper for another class that’s due this week. When I got home, I was exhausted, and I went grocery shopping and got into bed early. Almost everyone in my class was so sick, and I am really hoping to avoid whatever is going around. I have too many exciting things coming up to feel sick! Emma (not the model, my friend from school) and I started to plan our itinerary for this upcoming weekend in Rome, and I am really looking forward to that.
Today is my day to re-group. I slept in a little, went to the gym, got lunch at an all-organic (DELICIOUS) cafe near DIS with Goldie, and I am getting some work done. Adina gets back from her weekend trip tonight, and tomorrow I start another “normal” week of classes. I have a fair amount of work in the next few weeks because I have papers in addition to my weekly homework, but they don’t seem too bad.