What I Wish I Had Known Before Cope….

So, fellow blogger @marshallahmallow asked me, what I wished I had known before I came to Copenhagen and I decided to share my response (with contributions from friends) in this post.

Just to preface this as well, there are some generalizations and observations made from Americans in Copenhagen, so that may differ from that of a European coming to Copenhagen or Denmark in general.

 

Food

  • This might be indicative of the food industry of USA vs. Europe, but you won’t find sugary cereals that you’re familiar with back home. Kelloggs, General Mills, etc. are present in Denmark, but you will see different variations of your childhood cereals. Look for Frosties as your Frosted Flakes comparison!
  • Grocery food items are smaller than the US (and many of us have thought this contributes to why the trend of meal prep is relatively unknown here in DK). For example, I’m used to a gallon sized milk cartons and the carton sized in the country is a quarter of the size. Leading to multiple grocery trips during the week.
  • You won’t be able to find sweetened peanut butter!
  • Related to restaurants and grocery markets, there is a lower sense of diversity in food than that of the States. The biggest tragedy my friends have expressed is that of great Mexican food and ingredients.

Climate

  • When I say, Denmark is cold in the spring, I mean it! We’ve only recently started seeing the sun and shed our fur coats these past two weeks. That means invest in Vitamin D pills and make sure you buy gloves, hats, and scarves.
  • That being said, when the weather goes to and above 20 degrees Celsius EVERYONE in Copenhagen come out in droves. Don’t be surprised if your commute becomes 20 minutes longer because trains and buses are abnormally full to capacity.

Cost & Shopping

  • So, all of my friends and I knew this one, but we were still surprised by this one. Copenhagen is an expensive city and the whole of Denmark is no different. No matter where you go it seems everything is double or tripled the price than it is back in the states.
  • Also, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE DANISH KRONER! I made the mistake believing that Denmark is completely cashless, but I was sorely mistaken and by the time I was in Denmark it was practically impossible to take money out of an ATM and not lose half of my money just on fees.
  • Another important note! Danish pharmacies are completely different than that of the ones I’m sure you are familiar. They do not sell cold medicine or anything else found in your neighborhood Rite-Aid or Walgreens. You can’t get your medicine back home filled here as well. Similarly, the pharmacy stores have weird hours and don’t extend late into the night. I recommend bringing Day-Quil, Ny-quil, Z-quil, cough drops, seasonal allergy relief, and headache pain relief meds (or your personal equivalent).

History

  • I’ve already talked about this on my blog before, but my friends felt this point was something every visitor or study abroad student should know about Danish history – their colonial history.
  • With that, we have to come to the conclusion that everyone should know that racism and xenophobia are alive and well in Denmark. No matter how progressive Denmark seems and/or is there are drawbacks that students have seen or experienced while in this country.

Fashion

  • I’m here to let you know that yes Danes wear black, but no they don’t only wear black. Dark colors are a sign of a local, but I’ve also seen lighter colors as a part of their wardrobe.
  • An aspect of their wardrobe norms that was foreign to me was the implementation of tights. Tighs under skirts and dresses are seen as both fashionable and functionally necessary for the weather.
  • For the men out there, the Chelsea boot is a common footwear of the everyday Dane. So, if you want to prance around like a local make sure you grab a pair.

Danes – the people!

  • Upon first glance, Danes come off super unapproachable on public transit, in bars, and even walking down the street. But don’t be put off by appearances, for the most part, every Dane that I’ve mustered up the courage to talk to are very inviting and welcoming.
  •  That being said, Danes have a different perspective on political correctness and have different social taboos to Americans. The best comparison is with Danish humor is similar to the witty and deadpan humor of the Brits. For an American, this seems off-putting because they generally are more straightforward and blunt with their opinions and takes on topics. Some of my friends who aren’t used to that kind of socialization have remarked that it has made them uncomfortable more often than not.
  • I think this is self-explanatory or could be avoided, but make sure you know a little of the language. Many of the adult Danes are practically fluent in English, but it does help to bridge the divide between tourist and local. (Also, don’t be surprised if Danes don’t say “excuse me” (Undskyld!) everything that they do is with an implied “excuse me”).

Tourist Tuesday meets Blackness in Copenhagen Series!

This past weekend, the first monument of a black woman was erected in Denmark. Honoring the courage and strength of Mary Thomas, artists Jeannette Ehlers and La Vaughn Belle created this site specific installation. Queen Mary, posed like Huey P. Newton from an iconic 1967 photograph, sits on the waterfront near Copenhagen’s West Indian Warehouse.  Ehlers and Belle both want to incite ethnic Danes to contend with their collective memory loss of their colonial past.

I had found this most interesting that this monument was even made considering in the United States many believe that the eradication of Confederate monuments will erase history. While Denmark’s memory loss occurred because no monuments from the colonies were ever made until this year.

To read more about the installation and about the artists, click here.

Living with Social Anxiety Abroad

I always knew that I was an introverted person, but I did not know that I have social anxiety until the second year of college. I realized that had felt stressed and anxious in almost all social settings: from a theater rehearsal room, a Friday night party, or the cafeteria resounded with American small talks, to even a dinner with my Asian friends. It seemed that there was a giant wall that blocked me from fitting in with the rest of the world.

That’s the main reason why I decided to study abroad, to take a break from the “American” social life, the small college Wesleyan, the quiet suburb town, and more importantly, to reduce my social anxiety. It seems counter intuitive because I was moving to an environment that’s completely new without knowing anyone. To be honest, I did feel that way in the beginning. During the orientation, I was reminded of myself as a freshman, making friends all over again with other IFSA-Butler study abroad students and Queen Mary students. The presence of small talk was still prevalent because a large number of the (associate) students who study abroad at Queen Mary are from the U.S.

“Where are you from?”

“I’m from …  …”

“Wow that’s so cool!”

The fear of having social interactions and not being myself came back again. Sometimes the fear was so strong that I couldn’t even get out of my room to explore the campus as well as the city. By the end of the first two weeks, I was only able to make a small number of friends.

Fear is Only Temporary

However, the fear only existed temporarily. The truth is that once classes started, I did not feel pressured to be social again, because most people around me were also alone, walking alone, cooking alone, going to classes alone, going home alone. It’s easy to blend in to the crowds on and off campus. While having more time and space for self care, I also find out that most social interactions I have are natural and sincere, without the superficial small talk. I think it has to do with London and Queen Mary’s diversity; coming from all kinds of cultures, people here socialize with more understanding, respect and sincerity rather than having assumptions and making judgments, which usually led me to self-doubt and social anxiety.

 

Socializing through Cultural Discussion

One of the most amazing social experiences I had on campus was in my Making Contemporary Theater class. I was grouped with four other students of color to complete an assignment, to make a short politically and socially engaged theater piece. After we discussed with each other about who we are, and shared our identities, we found out that we all identified as third-culture kids. All of us grew up with more than one or two cultures, and we all think “where are you from?” can be a very difficult question to answer. In the end, we made an experimental performance that sets on an island, where “we” are the last five people of color on Earth. During the performance, we only speak our own languages other than English, as a symbol that we finally embrace our own identities. It had always been hard for me to be myself as a Chinese abroad and an international queer student, but here in the theater studio, I found a home and community where I truly belong. Everyone is different, but being different is also what we share.

Bringing Others Joy

I also created social interactions for myself through volunteering. I signed up to be a volunteer for the Chinese New Year celebration in London. A group of us, mostly Queen Mary students, wore costumes of Chinese zodiac signs and walked around in Leicester Square to add more joy and festiveness to the parade. Many people asked us to take pictures with them, especially children and their families. We sometimes waved at the children, gave them a high five, or simply smiled at them, all of which made them happy. An act of giving was definitely the best way for me to celebrate Chinese New Year in a new home. I witnessed and engaged in the simplest and most beautiful human interaction. This time, I didn’t feel anxious at all.

Studying abroad has helped me to understand my social anxiety better, and has also offered me insights on what it really means to socialize. Being in such a diverse city with more independence, I’ve become more confident and more inclusive about my own identities. By recognizing who I am as a unique person, I am becoming more open about and more used to living with my social anxiety. Social anxiety is a gift, and I am proud to own it!

Blackness in Copenhagen Series: Reflection & Choosing Cope

Close to a year ago, I had made my decision to study abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. Partly, the reason was that it was the most popular program for a Film major at my home institution. I figured why not travel to Copenhagen. I had no prior knowledge about the country beside it’s regarded by several studies as the happiest country in the world. I liked that it was a popular destination in the UK or Italy for an experience. It wasn’t until later that I researched the country’s stereotypes and demographics that was aware that I was to be a minority on a larger scale. I immediately steeled myself to seeing only white faces around me and being seen as an anomaly by the Danes.

I’m glad to say I overestimated how homogenous the society is actually. In reality, the city center is fairly homogenous and a lot of sentiments I’ve observed from Danes is fairly that of a history of sameness and a difficulty dealing with a growing heterogeneous society. Controversially, this growth in heterogeneity came from opening the borders to refugees and Syria. (Talk about that more) Consciously or Unconsciously, the majority of these minorities I have observed/ recognized live in the neighborhood of Norrebro, which many Danes considered the “ghetto”. The definition of the “ghetto” may be different for each Dane, but generally the Danes I have spoken to consider it the “dirty, unsafe, and undesirable” place of residence.

I want to explore how blackness is treated in a seemingly homogenous society and the consumption of African American content. Right now, I’m hesitant to make any more assumptions, but it’s been interesting so far. I can’t wait to educate myself some more.

You can read more from Kalee on her regular blog https://kaywithdanes.tumblr.com/

Reliving Anne’s Words

For my first stop on my travel break, I flew over to Amsterdam, Netherlands. It was my first time ever being in the country and it was a very fulfilling experience. On one of the nights, a friend and I visited the Anne Frank House and Museum. I didn’t expect for the experience to be so emotional, but it was eerie walking the rooms where these individuals lived in fear for their survival. Even striking for me was the fact that Anne’s words bore so much weight on second thought when you walk through the museum.

Like many middle schoolers in the United States, I learned about the Holocaust genocide that occurred during the Second World War and the recurring anti-semitism in present society. Reading The Diary of Anne Frank that year was astounding to me at that time, but I would have to admit it felt otherworldly. I had a hard time feeling that it was nonfiction than rather an elaborate and well done creative nonfiction. It was no fault of my teachers because we had the statistics and we watched documentaries about the whole ordeal, so the tragedy itself felt real and poignant. Yet, Anne’s diary and words felt remarkable and almost too good to be true.

It’s not until you walk those steep creaking stairs and scan the magazine pictures that Anne taped herself on the walls of her room that you feel like your walking the halls of ghosts. You’re instantly transported to a time and feeling where survival is not guaranteed. Pain is the only consequence that will follow no matter. I felt a similar feeling walking the halls of plantations in New Orleans.

The most profound piece of the exhibition is the only surviving moving images of Anne in a home video. Combined with walking the secret rooms and seeing her quotes on the plaques. It made it all that much real of an experience.

4 Common Myths About STEM Students Studying Abroad

As you probably know, STEM students continue to be the minority of those who study abroad in their undergraduate study. Many STEM students either think it is impossible for them to study abroad or feel like it’d be a burden. Let me assure you: those conceptions are not necessarily true.

Myth #1: It Doesn’t Fit My Schedule

STEM majors are known for their rigorous academic curriculum. With so many required classes as well as heavy workloads, labs, research projects and internships coming along, you might think that studying abroad wouldn’t fit your schedule.

However, if you talk to your academic advisor and contact IFSA staff, it is likely that you can find a program that accommodates your degree needs! IFSA also has an expert Curriculum Integration team who is ready to help any student match a study abroad program to the specific requirements for their major. So if you are not sure, just ask!

Cindy Tang studying abroad in EnglandIn addition to major requirements, you can also easily find fun classes that can fulfill credits for electives and general education. Cindy Tang, a psychology major from University of the Pacific, who currently studies abroad at Queen Mary, University of London, is taking a class on London and its Museums for her humanity credit. She has visited many awesome galleries and exhibitions, and even has had classes in a museum!

For some study abroad STEM students, they might miss out on the classes offered in their home school during their semester abroad, or in more rare cases, graduate later than their peers. However, Cindy Tang suggested that you might feel that you are “one step behind your friends,” but “ultimately you are living your own life at your own pace,” so it doesn’t matter if you are doing the same thing with other people or not.

“You are wherever you are.”

Myth #2: There is Not Enough Academic Support

In cases you don’t know it yet, STEM curriculum in U.K. focuses more on independent study. In addition to attending lectures, labs, and tutorials, you are expected to study outside of your class time. The benefit of studying abroad is that you not only experience living your life with more independence, but also take advantage of all kinds of support that’s available.

You can definitely be in touch with your home school’s advisors through emails while abroad. Additionally, you also have various resources provided by your host school and IFSA. At Queen Mary, the lecture videos and textbooks are posted online, so you can have access to them at any point during your study. Queen Mary has at least one international tutor at each school, whose job is to help you get used to their academic system. You will also be paired up with a buddy, a current student, who is there to help you with any question regarding academics, social life, and etc. IFSA staff members also often come to your school to check in with you, to see if you have any questions or concerns.

Myth #3: It’s Hard to Make Friends

Most of the lectures in U.K. have more than a hundred students in class, so there is less interaction among students as well as between students and faculty. However, you can still create interactions in other ways, such as signing up for societies and volunteer programs.

Studying abroad can also offer you a chance to meet more people coming from different cultures, some of whom might be your future STEM friends. Cindy Tang shared that on her way to London from San Francisco, she found out that the person who sat next to her on the plane used to be a psychology graduate student and now she works in U.K. They shared numbers and became good friends. Studying abroad is full of possibilities. You can even make connections with the “stranger” who sits next to you on a plane, on a bus, or on the tube.Marianna Sbordone studying abroad

Making friends can be as coincidental as Cindy’s encounter, but it can also happen on campus quite naturally and frequently. Marianna Sbordone, an engineering student from Harvey Mudd College shared that Queen Mary is a much larger school, which she “would have never experienced, coming from a school with only nine-hundred students.” As one of the few colleges in London that have a self-contained campus, Queen Mary provides great social spaces in its coffee shop, the Curve cafeteria, and the Drapers Bar & Kitchen where many students hang out together after class. You can easily grab a coffee or order a drink on campus with your fellow friends.

Myth #4: I Can’t Afford Studying Abroad

If you study abroad, it is true that the living expense can be high. However, London is actually rated as one of the most affordable cities in Europe. Especially, Queen Mary provides you with on-campus housing, which is already cheaper than renting apartments yourself. It’s also convenient for you cook in the kitchen at your flat shared with your flat mates. Cooking can always save you a lot of money from dining out. There are also scholarships and grants available for you to apply as well. IFSA offers a variety of work-to-study grants that can definitely help you cover some of the cost while abroad.

Even though studying abroad as STEM students sounds challenging, it is more than possible to do it. Cindy, Marianna and I highly encourage every STEM student to consider studying abroad for its countless benefits.  It may be easier to achieve than you think!

This blog post is brought to you by Unique Wenxuan Xue, a Wesleyan student currently studying abroad with IFSA at Queen Mary, University of London.  Unique is serving as an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-To-Study Program.

The Hidden Gem of Malmö

You’ve probably seen several posts about the destination Malmö, Sweden from other DIS student bloggers. I know I have it’s the reason why I decided to visit alone for the weekend two weekends ago. For that reason, I would repeat the points about how inexpensive Sweden is, how close the destination is to Copenhagen, how you can easily walk around forgoing a transportation pass, or that all the points of interest can be explored within 48 hours.

No, I refuse! What I will talk about is something that I found most compelling aimlessly walking the streets of this city – the street art. When I first left the central station, I first came in contact with these sculptures along the coast.

The highlight for me personally of the street art was the murals hidden in several spots in the city center. A part of an Artscape festival in Sweden back in 2013, all of these murals popped up around the city and residential areas. Most of them are created by prominent figures in the street art sphere from all around the world.

Having no previous knowledge of Malmö, it was a pleasant surprise to see murals on sides of buildings and on garage doors of fantastic designs. These artworks reminded me of the murals in the urban areas of Philly that I’m so used to seeing every week growing up in that tri-state area.

But, if you are interested in the points of interest I visited here is a list:

  • Kungsparken – Free!
  • Malmöhus Castle (Museums and Aquarium) – $2.50 for Students
  • Turning Torso – Free!
  • Lilla Torg – Free!
  • Malmö Town Hall – Free!
  • The Stortorget – Free!
  • Malmö Konsthall – Free!
  • The neighborhood, Limhamn – Great Photo Places
  • The neighborhood, Sibbarp – Great Photo Places

P.S. Mom, your kid is alright!

Embracing Discomfort: Studying the Arts in London as an East Asian

Unique Wenxuan Xue is a Theater major at Wesleyan University, currently studying abroad with IFSA-Butler at Queen Mary, University of London. He is an International Correspondent for IFSA-Butler through the Work-To-Study Program.

This is what I wrote down on Facebook, right before the plane took off to London, the city where I would stay for the next six months. All kinds of anxieties started to upsurge into my body, and one of them is the fear of being a minority, an outsider.

During the first several days in London, I was actually very surprised and satisfied by how diverse London is. Especially in East End, where the campus Queen Mary, University of London is at, there are many Asian students and also Asian neighborhoods nearby. Walking on the streets of East London, I did not feel self-conscious about my identity at all, until I entered the Arts One building, where most of my theater classes take place.

I am a theater major, but I grew up not knowing what theater was, because back then, there weren’t many contemporary theater opportunities and resources available in my home city Beijing. After I performed my first monologue in a student-of-color performance festival at Wesleyan University during my first year, I felt empowered by performing and creating theater.  As I realized that I could express myself much more clearly and freely through the arts, I was also given the strength to embrace my cultural identity and who I am.

However, when I went to my first theater class at London, I realized that I was the only East Asian person, and perhaps the only person of color in the classroom. When I saw my first West End production, I noticed that people who were sitting around me as well as on stage are almost all white. The anxiety of being an outsider immediately came back and I felt uncomfortable to be the only East Asian person in a room. Even though the outside world is much more multicultural, the arts industry is quite the opposite.

Anxiety or a Learning Opportunity?

I knew that I had to work with my discomfort, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to concentrate, participate, and make the most of my experience here. I have kept telling myself that I am here to learn as much as everybody else. It is easy to say, but hard to do. There have been many times I would feel my heart beating rapidly and I was too anxious, unconfident, and scared to fully embrace my Chinese identity in a predominately white space. I believe many of the difficulties I face are just internal struggles –  my assumptions on the way other people look at me. Just because the school is too white doesn’t mean that people here hold prejudices. It might be true that I can be the first East Asian person they met who studies arts, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Maybe if I’d just allowed me to open up myself, things will change. Or maybe if I’d contributed more in discussions and conversations, they would also learn something new.

One of the few East Asian theater students I met at Queen Mary is Cindy Kim. She was born in South Korea, grew up in Hong Kong, and now studies in UK. She shared with me that having cultural differences from other students did make her feel lonely and alienated in the beginning, but it is worth going out there and making friends with those who are different from herself. It has helped her to break out of her comfort zone and expand her horizons. Thus, I followed what Cindy said and started to let go of my anxiety, turning the situation of being the only East Asian student in a classroom into an advantage for both myself and other students. After all, it can be a great learning exchange opportunity for all of us.

“How do you enjoy London?”

My professor sat next to me and checked in with me when I came into class in the following week. I smiled back to the professor, and showed her that I am doing well. During my first three weeks of school, all of my professors have reached out to me and offered me help. It has been really helpful for me personally to know that the professors here care about my study and my mental wellbeing.

“Thank you for your commitment, collaboration and creativity, it is not easy working like this with people who are new to you.” Another professor wrote me an email and encouraged me to keep challenging myself and embracing the discomfort.

Yes, Embrace the Discomfort!

It is never going to be easy to study arts as an East Asian no matter where I go. There will always be struggles and challenges, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t find my place in the art community. It is a community where different voices and cultures are celebrated in the most creative way. It is a community where people make thought-provoking performances that lead to social change. It is a community that keeps working to be more inclusive, diverse and equal. Especially in London, there are many people and organizations that are striving for a change in minority’s representation and visibility in the field of arts. It is actually very exciting to be in London during this time to both witness and be part of the change.

London, UK

Courses in my Major; Dominant culture; Men Abroad; Mental Health; Navigational Skills; Racial and ethnic identity; Reflections; Students of Color

Meeting Søren Balle

As a part of my Scandinavian Moods of Cinema elective, we watched the film Klumpfisken (The Sunfish) in preparation for its director, Søren Balle, to visit our class as part of a field study. Unfortunately, because of his busy schedule, he was unavailable to visit on our scheduled field study day (Wednesday) and he came later in the week.

We were able to pick his brain about his film and the film “industry” of Denmark. These were some of the key things that I took away from the Q and A:

  • The peninsula of Jutland has usually been portrayed in Denmark creative media as the butt of the joke. Balle wanted to change the culture of viewing this film to reflect the reality of its inhabitants as more than a one-dimensional punching bag. (This notion I really reacted strongly too as an African-American filmmaker.)
  • The film is unapologetically Jutland. The actors speak with the specific Jutland dialect (which worried distributors). It was shot on location and was heavily influenced by his personal views of his own hometown.
  • When making a film with state money (as European films are funded by the government in this case the Danish Film Institute), the creative control is heavily on the director and writer. Film is the space for the auteur to shine while television (as Søren has had the pleasure of directing for Danish television) has less control of the final product. The showrunners have the final say.
  • Differing from the states, film is the space to explore the minority and niche markets while television is reserved for the majority.
  • He hates the poster because distributors had marketed it as a romantic comedy which spoiler alert the film is not. Distributors believe that attaching a genre to the film would market it better which reminds me of Hollywood film.

CCW: The Good With The Evil

On the last day of our core course week, we all woke from our slumber in the city of Odense and shining sun. Something we haven’t really experienced in the cloudy city of Copenhagen. The bus jerks suddenly as we all tumble out in front of the unmarked tall building. We all remember why exactly they’ve taken the long way back to the city – Lars Von Trier.

The Brandts Museum has curated a fantastic exhibition about the works and life of Lars Von Trier. After the difficult film showing of “Århus By Night,” many of us were wary of engaging with another filmmaker that we already know is controversial.

That being said, the curatorial efforts of the museum is astounding. The exhibit was both interactive, engaging, and unsettling which is the same feeling you get watching a Lars Von Trier film.

With a career built on trilogies, introspection, and Danish moods, Trier has created really great art with extreme aesthetic merit. I have trouble with some of the subjects he tackles personally, and would gladly write a whole paper on my hang-ups on Trier (but I’m tired lol). But, he still created one of my more recent favorite movies of mine, “Dancer In The Dark” (again controversial).

It was enlightening to get an in-depth, hands-on approach to all things Trier. From props to screenings of clips from his films paired with the inspirational texts, there was not a shortage of stimuli for us. My favorite part of the exhibit is the screenings orientation. There is an enclosed circle of screens at the far end of the exhibit which showed all his films featuring female protagonists edited in a way that overwhelmed the senses. Also, a great place to nap.