I am continuing to volunteer at the Improv Theater in Copenhagen. The volunteering is always shifting depending on what they need me to do but overall it remains consistent. I photograph the shows, as well as helping to set them up and break them down. Since it is an English speaking theater I do not face many language barriers. It is a very laid back and easy going space so overall it has been going really well.
I am proud of a show that I planned, hosted, and MCed at the theater. Usually the improv shows have fixed ticket prices but this was a stand-up show that we allowed people to pay what they wanted. We then gave half of the money to the theater and the other half we donated to planned parenthood.
I think this work has become more relevant because due to current events many people around the world have turned to comedy. The shows often get somewhat political and it is a great space for people to rewind and have a good laugh after a hard day. I think people are paying more attention to comedians because they are able to be more brash and upfront than journalists.
In my last post I talked about the most important rule of improv- saying “yes, and…” The second rule for improv is to always support your teammates. When someone on stage makes a choice, you have to follow their lead and support the decision even if it is not where you intended the scene to go. These philosophies extend outside of just performances and have become deeply engrained in the working environment of the theater.
Although many people work at the theater and we have different tasks and specialties, the teamwork is very high and we often collaborate to get things done efficiently. For example, when I volunteer to take photos or video of a show, I will also help with setting up the chairs and checking people in. I have also been sent on errands and asked to do other tasks that extend beyond my basic roles. It is a very group minded place and we all work together to have the shows and cafe run smoothly. This is a strong element in Danish culture. The social democracy is very focused on group mentality and building everyone up, rather than an individualistic approach to getting work done.
I am volunteering for the ICC- Improv Comedy Copenhagen Theater and Café. The ICC is a café by day and an improv theater/training session by night. I got involved with them last semester since I have been taking improv classes and attending their shows. The teachers are paid but the performers, baristas and other vital roles are volunteer based. The most important rule of improv is being able to say "yes, and..." in any situation. This means accepting your scene partners choice and adding to it. It also something we talk about using as a general rule in life.
The ICC has previously been receiving funding from the U.S. embassy since it is the only English speaking comedy venue in Copenhagen, which draws a lot of tourists. Seeing them struggle in wake of the election made me really want to devote my time to helping them stay up and running. It may not be creating social change directly, but laughter is one of the most important tools of medicine and I really believe in the importance of this space remaining open.
Although the classes and shows are taught in English, many Danes also attend. It can be challenging when they come in speaking Danish and I have to switch over to English. It is not an issue since they are coming to the space because they have a good understanding of English but it makes me feel awkward that I am in their country and do not know much of their language. I overcome this by laughing it off and being respectful of their culture in the other ways that I can.
I am studying with DIS- Danish Institute for Study Abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. I have been studying here since August, but by October I loved it so much that I decided to stay. I went home for winter break and have now been back for about two weeks. I am still adjusting to returning and having to make new friends all over again since most of the friends I met last semester were only here for the fall.
At first being abroad was a pretty lonely experience, even though I made new friends right away, it was hard to be so far from my family and friends who I had known for longer than a week. I felt a lot more comfortable and connected to Copenhagen when I began to meet and hangout with Danes. I went to improv comedy workshops at the Improv Comedy Copenhagen (ICC) Theater and I’ve made great friends from there.
The ICC Theater and Café is a café by day and an improv training center, and theater for shows by night. The café and shows are volunteer run from making coffee, to selling tickets and operating the lights, etc. I am volunteering with them by photographing/filming the shows, as well as working at the café during the day. The purchases from the café go to the costs of maintaining a theater space.
When I was deciding where to study abroad, I wasn't really taking climate into consideration. It wasn't until I was preparing to leave for Denmark last December and people started asking me, "Did you pack enough layers? Did you bring an extra umbrella?" that I started to suspect I might be in for some bad weather.
Copenhagen in the winter isn't awfully cold. During the past three months the temperature usually hovered in the low 30's. But because it was fairly mild, we didn't get much snow -- just a lot of gloomy grey skies and some rain. Couple this with the sun setting at 4:30 in the afternoon and you might begin to understand why the Danes tend to hibernate until April rolls around.
But once the sun finally comes out -- oh boy. There's a dramatic difference between cold and warm weather here in Copenhagen. In the cold, people scurry from one building to the next. The only folks you see on the streets are those braves tourists bundled in about 400 layers and clutching hot cups of tea or coffee -- that, or the cyclists commuting to and from work. And at night everything closes down early, with students staying in their dorms and families huddling indoors to enjoy some hygge.
In the warm months? Completely different. People look for excuses to stay outside. No matter what day it is or what time in the morning, people are hanging out in parks, sipping beer and enjoying leisurely picnics. You thought there were a lot of cyclists in winter? In the spring and summer the parade of bike riders is endless, and at least five bikes are locked to every vertical object in the city. And you'll find folks out in about way into the evening hours, eating ice cream cones and basking in the lingering daylight. (The sun doesn't set until 8:30 pm this month!)
I often hear some of my friends complaining about the way our semester abroad panned out, weather-wise. "If we had come in the fall, we would have had better weather!" they tell me. And it's probably true -- though the weather is nice now, there are still a few bitterly cold days ahead. Denmark doesn't get warm and stay warm until around mid-May... which is when we'll be leaving. (On a different note: CAN YOU BELIEVE THERE ARE ONLY TWO WEEKS LEFT TO THE SEMESTER? I can't even think about it. Nope. Not happening.)
But, to tell the truth, I wouldn't trade my spring semester for a fall one even if I had the chance. Though it might have been nice to enjoy more sun and to see Copenhagen in summer at the end of August, the daylight would have grown shorter and the weather colder each day. I enjoyed watching the city slowly bloom -- witnessing the Danes (and my fellow American students and I) crawl out of hibernation and finally leave the house to enjoy the sun. If I've learned anything, though, it's this: winter, spring or summer, Copenhagen is beautiful in all weather.
Hey you. Yeah, you! You want to visit Copenhagen? You want to visit Copenhagen and skip tourist trap operations like Tivoli and the pocket-emptying experience that is Noma?
Most people prefer to go to a city's main tourist attractions when traveling. However, as great as viewing the "must-see" sights is to the eager traveler, sticking to the beaten path is not a great way to take in the full depth of a city's culture. For anyone interested in coming to Copenhagen and getting an "insider's" look at the city, the following are a few tips to point you in the right direction.
Insider Site: The Botanical Gardens
While most prefer to see the castles or visit the Little Mermaid statue at the harbor, some visitors to Copenhagen might prefer the beautiful Botanical Gardens. The garden is host to a number of different plants and funguses and serves as a "gene bank" for many different species. It is a part of Denmark's Natural History Museum. The grounds are lovely in the spring and summer; even in the winter, though, the large heated building is open during the day and shows off all manner of plants, big and small. Those with a love of nature should not miss it.
Insider Eats: Torvehallerne
Right outside of the Nørreport metro stop is Torvehallerne, nicknamed "the Glass Market." Two glass buildings feature a smorgasbord of delicious treats, from fresh-baked bread to pastries to-go, squeezed juice, gourmet chocolate and more. Personal favorites include the dulce de leche oatmeal from Grød, the pulled chicken banh mi from Lêlê, and a pack of sweet Danish flødebøller from Summerbird.
Insider Drinks: Lidkoeb
Looking for a fun place to spend the evening sipping drinks? Lidkoeb, located in a back alley in Vesterbro, is a three-level bar with an interesting theme on each floor. Get beer on the entrance floor, cocktails at the level above, or sip whiskey on the top floor. Keep your drinks inside at the bars and comfortable tables, or head outside to the covered patio. In the colder months, heated lamps and furs keep bargoers cozy.
Insider Fun:The Meatpacking District
Anyone who goes out regularly in Copenhagen has been to the Meatpacking District. What used to be a big collection of meatpacking establishments has been turned into a hip center for bars and nightclubs. Located on this stretch in Vesterbro is Jolene, a popular nightclub and bar, as well as Mother, a popular pizza restaurant. Follow the hordes of young Danes on a Saturday night and you won't miss it.
I don't usually go home for Easter in the U.S., but I do usually spend it with my family. For the past two years, my parents have made the drive down to D.C and have taken me and my boyfriend out for Easter brunch to celebrate. This year, 4,000 miles away from home, an Easter reunion just wasn't in the cards. I had accepted the fact that I was probably going to have to spend the holiday alone.
Luckily, my host family swooped in with an offer of Easter lunch festivities. Never one to pass up a chance to learn more Danish traditions (or any offer of food), I eagerly accepted.
The traditional American Easter spread usually consists of either a glazed ham or a roasted lamb, with potatoes and spring salads on the side. Rolls are also usually present at the table, or some other sort of white bread to go along with the meal. For dessert, something light like angel food cake, vanilla custard, or a lemon tart is typically served. Americans tend to eat quickly and the meal usually lasts for only an hour or so.
The traditional Danish Easter is much different. Our lunch was a multi-course affair that lasted five hours (with many between-course breaks, but still). The first course included two types of bread (rye and sourdough), three different types of pickled herring (regular, dill, and curry), hard-boiled eggs, shrimp, crab salad, and fried fish with remoulade. For the second course, we had frikadeller (fried meatballs), hakkebøf (ground beef casserole), and stegt flæsk (roasted pork). After that, a cheese and fruit course. And then dessert: hindbærsnitter (raspberry bars) and my contribution, Easter brownies.
Oh, and beer and plenty of Danish snaps (aquavit).
Also of note: American Easter traditions include opening Easter baskets, usually filled with candy, and hunting Easter eggs hidden around the house by parents. Favorite Easter candies include jelly beans, Cadbury eggs, and Robin's Eggs.
Danish Easter traditions are a little different. Instead of Easter baskets, Danes feast on huge hollow chocolate eggs that are filled with sweet treats. Easter egg hunts do happen, but more popular is the tradition of "gækkebreve" -- you write letters to your friends and family, but leave out your name. The receiver of the letter has to guess who sent the letter. If they can't guess, they owe you a chocolate egg! Easter candy in Denmark includes Haribo gummies and the ever-popular treat of licorice.
But as different as they are, both Danish and American Easter celebrations end the same way for me: with a nice long nap on the couch!
It's difficult to believe that I've already spent two months in Copenhagen. It seems like only a few weeks ago that I was saying goodbye to my parents at the airport. "The time is going to go by so fast," my mother told me before I left her at the security checkpoint. "Make the most of every moment." I promised I would.
Two months later, I wonder if I have truly done what I promised that I would do. Lately, I have found myself falling victim to the tyranny of routine. I don't explore as much as I used to. I prefer to run from class to class, then curl up indoors with a cup of tea instead of walking around in the cold Copenhagen air. It has been weeks since I've visited the palaces, or walked along Nyhavn harbor, or had a pastry in a cafe and people-watched out the window.
Am I becoming bored? I began to wonder. Many of my friends from back home have told me, "You can't be bored in Europe! You're abroad!" But that, of course, is not true. You can be bored anywhere. You could probably be bored at the top of Mount Everest.
But boredom is more often a side-effect of comfort. I have been guilty of staying in my comfort zone lately -- of staying in when others are going out, of going to the same tried and true places and seeing the same tried and true sights. I have slept in instead of waking up early to see the sunrise; I have stayed in to watch Netflix when I could be exploring Copenhagen's nightlife.
Now, with only two months left to go before I return home to the United States, I am realizing once more that there is too much to accomplish here to sit on my laurels and let time slip by. I need to push myself. It can be difficult, especially in a school setting, to find the energy and time to force yourself to leave the house or library and search for adventure. But with time so short, and the days going by so quickly, it is important to remember that every moment is precious. (That sounds pretty cheesy. It's true though. A lot of cheesy things are true when you're studying abroad.)
So I'm going to try to regain my sense of adventure now, halfway through my time in Copenhagen. I want to explore, to see things that I've never seen before, and to meet new people. This week I will be touring a local brewery and going to a Danish family's birthday party -- two exciting events that I am hoping will jump-start my plan of action!
For those of you planning on studying abroad in the future, don't feel guilty if you begin to get "bored" in the city that you choose. If you don't want to go out every weekend, don't. If you feel tired some nights, stay in. Just make sure you keep track of time -- the months go by quickly when you're away from home, and one morning you might wake up next to your packed suitcase and wonder why you didn't accomplish more while you had the chance!
One hundred and five people (or somewhere close to that number) told me, before I left the United States to study abroad, that I was going to experience some sort of culture shock when I got there. That I was going to be confused and, inevitably, would do a lot of things to embarrass myself. “Don’t worry if you make a lot of social faux-pas during your first few weeks!” they all said. “It’s normal! Don’t get upset about it!”
Foolishly I thought that I could escape this issue by just being as observant as possible. Just follow the Danes, I thought to myself as I scurried about my first week in Copenhagen. I mimicked their walk, their talk, the way they ordered their coffee. I wore dark colors and attempted to copy that stereotypical, stoic Danish resting face that many wear as they go about their business. I learned a few Danish words like tak (thank you) and undskyld (sorry). I attempted to blend in as much as possible.
All was going according to plan until my first trip to the grocery store. I sauntered in, feeling sure of myself – then realized, with a sinking feeling, that I was about to be in for a challenge. Everything, and I mean everything, was in Danish. I don’t know what I was expecting. Shaking in my boots, I looked from one product to the other, attempting to figure out what boxes and cartons contained just by looking at the little pictures on the label. A picture of bread – flour, maybe? Meat with a pig on it – must be pork, right? The mysterious items that had no images on their packaging were ignored altogether.
Eventually I managed to sneak up behind some unsuspecting shopper who looked like they knew what they were doing. I followed at their heels, glancing at their purchases and putting similar items in my basket. I felt pretty confident that their choices of eggs, milk, bread and cheese would be good enough for me, at least for the first week. Can’t go wrong with some good Danish dairy products.
I went to the checkout counter, smiling as I told the woman behind the register “Hej!” She was firm-lipped, not even looking up from her work as she furiously scanned items. Small talk, as I would come to learn, is not very popular in Denmark. The woman then shot her head up and said a quick string of Danish words that I didn’t understand. “Excuse me?” I stammered, already flustered.
“135 krone,” she repeated slowly, staring at me. I laughed way too loud and handed her my food stipend card to swipe. Then I rushed out the door with my head down, groceries swinging from my side.
Later, putting my purchases away in the kitchen, I decided to sample some of the things I had bought. I made a sandwich and poured myself a glass of milk. As soon as I took a sip from the glass, though, I knew that something was wrong. The taste was extremely sour, as though the product was far past its expiration date. But on the top of the carton, the date provided was still half a week away.
Then I noticed – the label said “karnemelk.” A quick Google search and I found out I had bought a big old carton of Danish buttermilk Sighing, I choked down the rest of the glass. I wasn’t about to let 15 krone go to waste. Plus, according to a few of my teachers, the Danes often drink their buttermilk straight.
When in København, I suppose!
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