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By ZoNaseef

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.

...continue reading "April Updates"

By ZoNaseef


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.

...continue reading "Supporting Your Teammates"

By ZoNaseef

zoe 2/27-1


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.

...continue reading "Saying ‘Yes, and…’"

By ZoNaseef

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.

...continue reading "Study Abroad Round Two"

By Ashlyn

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.

By Ashlyn

I hate planes.

I didn't always hate planes. Well, that is to say -- I didn't always know that I hated planes. Maybe I always had it in me, though. I'm generally a pretty nervous person, and everyone knows air travel brings out the worst in people.

Before I went abroad for the spring, I had only flown maybe a handful of times. All of those flights were, for the most part, straightforward and easy -- a trip to Disney World, or to visit my grandparents, or to see my boyfriend in Chicago. No transfers. No passports. Stressful, yes, but infrequent enough that it didn't really matter. But now, after taking 11 flights over the past three months, my neutrality regarding planes has taken a nosedive (figuratively speaking) into full-blown dislike. But, since air travel is necessary at the moment, I'm learning to cope. What can you do if you're like me and you really don't like planes? Here are a few tips.

Figure out what seat works best for you. Are you a window sitter? Aisle sitter? Middle sitter (do those really even exist)? Find out which one gives you the most space (or reduces your airsickness most, or lets you lean up against the window and nap best) and try to aim for that spot every time. But, of course, you might not always get your first pick -- which leads me to my next point...

Try to be flexible. Of course, if you're nervous like I am that's a really hard thing to do. But if you're flying frequently, inevitably something will go differently than planned at some point -- whether that's something big like a flight cancellation or small like a reshuffling of seats. Try to remain as calm as possible when things get changed up at the last minute. Ask yourself, "Will this problem affect me still in an hour? How about 24 hours?" If the answer is no, then try your best to remain calm and roll with the punches.

Bring equipment/distract yourself. My tools of the trade include: minty gum, earplugs, noise canceling headphones, and a playlist of my favorite songs. If you tend to get hungry on long flights, bring a snack. If your neck gets sore, get one of those fancy neck pillow thingies. Also, it's always great to bring a distraction, especially for the longer flights -- something to keep your attention focused and away from the turbulance or that crying baby behind you. A book, crossword packet, or mobile movie will usually do.

Remind yourself of the facts. One of the reasons I don't like flying is that I really don't fully understand how the plane gets into the air and how it stays up there. It feels a lot better to actually know what's going on while you're zooming up around the clouds. Understanding can take some nervousness away. Taking a look at the statistics can also soothe a worried mind. Air travel is currently safer than ever, and though it might be hard to believe, you're better off in a plane than in a train statistically speaking! Think about that the next time you're a bit jittery before takeoff.

By Ashlyn

I've been in Copenhagen so long that I had forgotten that larger, louder cities exist on this planet. Case in point: Dublin. My communications class made the trip out to Ireland two weeks ago for our long study tour. We visited a number of interesting sites -- including Europe's Google, Facebook, and Amazon headquarters -- and learned about how new media influences communities in Dublin (as opposed to Copenhagen or the United States).

If you're thinking about making a trip to Dublin, here are a few can't-miss stops. We were only in the city for a few days (and most of that time was devoted to academic visits), but I still felt like I was able to get a good feel for the city and its culture!

The Guinness Storehouse. Any visitor to Dublin must go here. Guinness is ubiquitous in Ireland, especially in Dublin where the big storehouse stands. The museum is enormous with several huge floors, multiple bars and restaurants, and interesting activities around every corner. Tickets come with a voucher for a free pint -- try learning how to pull your own pint, or head to the top floor for a beautiful bird's eye view of the city at the Gravity Bar.

Malahide Castle. This 12th Century castle is the perfect destination for a half-day trip from the city. Situated in the midst of a beautiful botanical garden, the castle is a fascinating glimpse into the world of old Ireland. Take a tour inside the castle and hear about the Talbots, who lived there until 1976 -- and the ghosts who are said to haunt the castle to this day.

Temple Bar. The best way to experience Irish culture is to go to an Irish pub -- and the best place to do just that is in Temple Bar. Temple Bar is itself a bar, but it is also the name of an area of the city famous for its Irish pubs. We visited several pubs, including the Brazen Head (the oldest pub in Dublin), and O'Donoghues, which features traditional Irish music. Be sure to order a pint and some Irish food -- I recommend mussels, bangers and mash, and Irish stew.

The Book of Kells. Now on display in Trinity College in the heart of Dublin, the Book of Kells is a beautiful illuminated manuscript that is well worth the cost to visit. The book is thought to have been created around 800 A.D. and was hand-crafted by monks. After viewing the book, you can take a walk around Trinity College's gorgeous library. Bibliophiles will not want to miss this!

By Ashlyn

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.

By Ashlyn

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!

By Ashlyn

"You don't have to swallow it," my friend Carly told me, wincing as though she could feel my pain.

"When I start something, I finish it," I replied, though I'm sure my face was full of regret. And my mouth was full of -- what else? -- salty licorice, a favorite snack of the Danes. But this was the strongest, most powerful salty licorice I have tasted in all of my days.

How did I get in this position? Let's rewind several hours and I'll explain.

I woke up early on Saturday. Carly and I had been invited by our visiting family to a lunch and birthday party that afternoon. At DIS, a visiting family is a Danish family that the school matches you up with to spend time with throughout the semester. It is for students who are not in a homestay -- a chance to get a taste of everyday life for a Danish family, to practice your language skills, and to meet new people.

Our visiting family lives about a 20 minute drive from Copenhagen in a nice house in the Danish suburbs. They have a sweet dog and a teenage son. We arrived round noon and found an incredible lunch spread laid out for us: seared duck slices; homemade rye bread; brie and fresh jam; lumpfish roe and blinis with creme fraiche; salmon and cucumber roulades; Danish meatballs with red cabbage on the side. We feasted and talked about the day's plans. A nephew was having a birthday -- he was very young. It would be a chance to see how the Danes celebrate. In Danish class we learned that there is usually singing and some sort of cake and a lot of Danish flags. I was excited to learn more.

We arrived at the birthday party, where about 30 adults and children were busily moving about a small house. It was cramped but the mood was happy. Our hosts greeted us and even though we were full from lunch we were encouraged to eat more -- this time a pork goulash with rice, a kale salad, and garlic bread. I used as much Danish as I could remember: tak (thank you), undskuld (excuse me), nej (no), plus several longer phrases. The family seemed impressed, but when they tried to ask me more complicated questions I had to switch over to English.

When dessert rolled around, we were already stuffed but we made room to sample the ice cream, meringue cake and cream puffs that were laid out on the counter. On the tables were big bowls of licorice gummies. Here is where I messed up -- I took a licorice candy and put it on Carly's plate, daring her to eat it. She refused, throwing the dare back at me. Of course I ate it.

"Ashlyn ate a licorice!" said my visiting dad, impressed. "One of the strong ones!"

"That one wasn't very strong," said my visiting mother. It was going to take more to impress her. I asked which gummy was strongest. "Hold on," she said, and disappeared into the back of the house.

A few moments later, she came back with several jars of frightening-looking licorice candies. "These are the really strong ones!" she said, while the rest of the family cheered. All eyes were on me. Was the American going to eat the strong salted licorice, or was she going to back out at the last second? Of course I was going to eat it. I couldn't get out of this now.

I began with a smaller piece of the salted. The puckery taste of the candy stuck to my teeth but wasn't too bad. It went down okay. I moved onto a larger piece that was a bit less appetizing. It was difficult to finish but I did it. The Danes encouraged me, collecting around the table as they watched the scene unfold. The final piece was a licorice candy dusted in salty licorice powder and with an extra-strong licorice core at the center. The moment I placed it in my mouth I was filled with regret. This had not been my best idea.

"You don't have to swallow it," Carly said, which brings us back full circle. But I did. I probably shouldn't have, but I did. And afterwards I had to lie down for a bit to let the nausea subside. Let me just say that nothing can prepare you for the awfulness that is salted licorice. Nothing.

My visiting dad leaned in to me. "That was very impressive! You have our respect!" Score -- it was worth it after all. Meanwhile, I watched the school-age children dip their hands into the jar eagerly, snatching up the strongest licorice they could get and eating it like it was... well, like it was candy. I suppose that's one thing I'll never understand.