Going Home: What No One Really Talks about

A few months ago, I sat down with two Polish friends in an Irish Pub in Copenhagen. We talked about many different things and I felt inspired by their input, as I always do when I find myself among people who come from different places. Foreigners (to you, which potentially, could be anyone…) always bring their own backgrounds into the conversation and that is, to me, what makes these conversations particularly rich.

That day, we knew it, was one of the last nights we would spend together as I was a few weeks away from going back “home”, a home which hadn’t been mine for the past 5 and a half years. It was about to be special, in many ways, and our conversation slowly went on to touch on the most interesting topics to the nomad’s life: being “back”.

Surprisingly enough, I had never talked nor heard anyone talk about what one of my two friends mentioned: pressure.

Oh, the pressure of going back home… Where do I start? Does being “back” really mean being “back” to where we left from, to the mindset we were in before flying out, to the same routine, to the same house, to the same people?

Going back home is very hard – because everything can be the same and yet nothing feels as it fits anymore. But the expectations are the same. Your parents expect the same from you. Your siblings. Your friends. Your country’s workplace. Your neighbourhood. Nothing has changed but you have and everything needs to be updated.

The food you couldn’t live without suddenly doesn’t look appealing to you anymore; you find yourself having to look for conversation topics to discuss with your best friends when you used to spend so much time together without ever wondering why you’d have to leave; the places you used to love have become dull; no job position seems to be of interest for your profile and your desires; the people you thought could understand you the best have no answer to comments or questions nor does it seem they have any interest in listening to you anymore.

And it’s hard not to think it is bad. That you are bad, that they’re bad, that the food is bad, that the neighbourhood is bad, that the work situation is bad, that the people are bad, that everything is bad. It is hard because, somehow, it feels like it. Because in that other place, you found this amazing food that seems to have been made for you; you found this company to work in, which you loved so much you could have created yourself; you made such special friends you wished could have come along with you; you’ve seen so many places where you’d see yourself live a daily life; you’ve seen so much that what you have now, back home, does not seem enough, does not seem to fit who you are anymore.

Everyone, everything – they keep expecting the same things from you. The same behaviours, the same way to dress, the same tastes, the same desires, when maybe, maybe, something has changed within you, some things have changed, you don’t really know why, but you find it hard to explain and you’re not sure where it comes from, but it’s there, it’s different, it’s special and you wished you could do something about it.

I think it’s about updating and being okay with the change that’s happened within. Being okay with the fact that you’re not the same. And that it’s a good thing.

Maybe our home countries can deal with our changes, too (and by home countries, I mean everything around us, the people, the food, the landscapes, the plants, the animals, etc.); but we have to make the update, be proactive and change what has to be changed. Updating might not work, but it’ll be worth the try. And then the world is still open, and there’s still time and places to go…

youve-changed-id-hope-so-drawing

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The Danish Virtuous Circle: The Importance of Responsibility

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how being both a student and a worker in Denmark is an amazing thing. I take the idea further and tell you what I feel makes the workplace such a great and open environment to learn from.

In general, Denmark is amazing when it comes to work experiences, especially when, like me, you come from a country where being a student reduces you to a no-one, an incapable, someone who isn’t fully “complete” yet, like a baby who’s been in their mom’s womb for a few months only and is not ready to come out yet, or like a teenager who hasn’t finished high school yet, and the list goes on.

In many countries, when it comes to work, I have the feeling that some things are never going to be enough. The school you went to, the experience you have, the way you use your experience, where you’ve worked, and blablabla… It is never going to be enough because someone is always going to be better than you. And if you happen to find the job you’re enough for, a job you like, then there probably will be many other jobs than will be better than yours, more paid, etc. Or maybe that’s just the conservative elite French system?

Life-long education

In Denmark, you are taught many things that are not typically part of a school year curriculum. So a few things you are taught are not about maths and grammar, they’re skills you need to be part of a society that works as a whole. You get taught teamwork (through a lot of group work and discussions), how to speak in public (so even the shiest ones can say what they have to say), how to take initiatives (assignment instructions are very large), how to listen and be listened to (there is almost no hierarchy both at uni and the workplace), how to be part of society (at university, in classrooms where 30+ fit, tables are put in an open rectangle rather than in rows that face the teacher), all in all, you’re taught how to be responsible for your own actions.

… And you get to develop your skills at your workplace(s), where you’ve started working at as soon as you were able to be treated as a human being who has a brain and who can use it and who can have a sense of responsibility.

See, in many places, this would mean waiting until you are 25 years old.

And it’s a huge problem!

Can you not remember being a kid and happy to be treated as a responsible person who can do things on their own? How did that make you feel?

If you have no one, nothing near (or far from) you to help you build confidence, especially as a young and ambitious woman living in the 21st century, how can you manage? Let’s not talk about ads and all the things that make women feel like we always have to be, or have, or behave in ways we are not, with things we do not have, or behaviours we do not find fit our personalities – let’s just say that you cannot be about 25 years old and entering the job market and be expected to thrive just in a snap of fingers.

From living and experiencing both the university and the workplace in Denmark, I can honestly say that I have gained as much academic knowledge as I have acquired and developed personal (and inter-) skills.

Responsibility, what for??

In Denmark, you are taught to be responsible. You don’t need a stupid doctor’s note or letter from parents to tell your school that you’re sick when you’ve reached age 16. Of course, people abuse from that, and they miss the entirety of the 25% absence allowed during a school year in order to sleep in or do whatever they feel like doing, but they also get a sense of responsibility. And that’s one of the most important things you need to be taught when you are 16 years old, because throughout your life, no one is going to take you by the hand to give you everything you need, everything you want, everything you aim for.

When you get sick, you need to catch up on what you’ve missed in class.

When you get fired, you need to find a new job.

When you’re not happy wherever you find yourself, you need to get up and go out there and look for what makes you happy.

And so in Denmark, you’re more likely to find people who take initiatives and who are responsible for their actions because they’re taught to do so from age 0 (okay, okay, more or less, maybe not that early. I am just exaggerating here because it seems like it really is a normal thing, whether 50 or 10). Elsewhere, it seems way less important to be taught that responsibility is a real thing in life.

In class, when professors give questions to discuss, and you end up discussing the questions with international students only, you end up discussing other non-uni-related things after a little while and wait until the professor starts speaking again. When you discuss questions with Danes, there’s a 5-minute break at the end of the discussion, just before the professor starts speaking again.

So surprisingly enough, in Denmark, you end up with responsible people. Danes seem to like to want to things. They want to help, they want to grow, they want to learn, they want to live well, they want good things from life, whatever they might be.

Again, if this country’s considered one of the happiest on Earth, what can it be that makes them so happy? Responsibility has definitely its part in the game.

The Danish Virtuous Circle: When Being a Student Cannot Really Get Any Better

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My campus on a sunny winter day

Almost everything I thought I’d experience when moving to Denmark has proven to be wrong. Danes are not closed, they’re just not looking for friends; the weather in Copenhagen is not as bad as they say it is; in the winter, the Danes hide, and in the summer, they’ll be as tanned as Spaniards from being all day every day in the Sun. But yes, life is expensive, and yes, “hygge” moments are a real winter thing.

Besides taking my mind beyond those clichés we all have about the Danes, I have learnt much more than I thought I would – my experience has taught me that every country, every place is unique, but I had no idea Denmark would have so much for me to learn from.

Especially from a professional point of view. Let me elaborate on that.

The Famous SU Grant

When you first get to Denmark as a full-time “international” student – meaning you’re not doing any kind of exchange programme but rather just moving to the country for the whole duration of you bachelor/master’s degree – you quickly learn how things work for local students. Just for being lucky enough to hold a Danish passport, the government gives you some kind of student salary (“Statens Uddannelsesstøtte”, commonly referred to as “SU”, which means something like “State support for education”), which is about 500-600€/month. How great is this? Anyone who studies and has a hard making ends meet, and who might have to work before starting any educational programme, or while doing so, can already make up how much time that would allow for more studying or sleeping.

And although many of us students out there working for the same amount of money every month might feel like we wouldn’t need to work anymore if granted with such a heavenly gift, this is not what goes through a Dane’s mind. No, no. That’s partly because if you live in anywhere in the city in Denmark and want to be independent, 600€ won’t take you far – you might just be able to pay for your rent and eat pasta and rice every month.

So what do Danes do? They work, yes, and that’s the most interesting part.

CV Stamps: Diploma and Professional Experiences

In Denmark, it is straight-forwardly unconceivable for you to graduate without having at least supermarket or restaurant/café professional experiences. In fact, in many supermarkets, you’ll find 16-year-olds standing behind cash machines and bakery counters – at least in Copenhagen. Coming from France, a country where it is very hard for you to find a job before you turn 18 (if not impossible), it was very surprising to me.

But that’s for the better. It means that later on, students get other jobs. They might just want to experience something else, if given the opportunity to.

And that’s the best thing: they are indeed given the opportunity to properly work. And what I mean by properly is not that you get to stop working in supermarkets to go on to working in cafés, then restaurants, then offices, all the way up to the “”best”” jobs found throughout society. No; it means that you have the choice to have the job you want.

It means that if you want to work in a company that offers you to practice what you’ve learnt at university, you can.

The gigantic glass windows at the Faculty of English allow a lot of light to come in - the best way to encourage students to study even on grey days.

Between the Uni Library and the Office: the Outcomes

And if you do get to work in a company that has what you’re looking for to offer, you are not seen as the small person, the one who does not yet hold a diploma. You are a student with skills that the company can use. You are learning and open to do so. You are given responsibilities. You get to take initiatives and you are listened to. You get congratulated on when you produce good work. You get told when you make mistakes. You get to learn about life in a company. You get to learn those things you cannot learn at university – just simply because life in the professional world does not work the same way as in the academic world.

And that makes you feel rich. Not only money wise, especially compared to life in other countries as a student, but also mentally, psychologically, professionally. Your experiences get intertwined and if you are a humanities student like me, you realise the world is full of opportunities. Because you study languages or sociology does not mean your only option is to become a teacher.

It means you can be whoever you want to be, according to your aspirations, interests and strong skills.

You are not trapped, your life is in no way doomed to boredom if you have chosen a career path the world does not seem to need, that the world reduces to the lost and dreamy.

After living for one year in Denmark with both academic and professional experiences, not only do I feel ready to jump into the full-time professional world, but I also feel excited. I feel I have been given real keys for getting out there and being part of the working society – and I will happily do so, probably the way my fellow student Danes will, too.

Thinking I have one year left with more professional and academic learning at the same time simply just excites me. I feel extremely grateful and I think Danes do, too. Is this one of the explanations to why they are considered the happiest people in the world?

Liked this article? Stay tuned! More information on life as an “international” student and worker in Denmark is to come.

These Expected Hours Spent at the Local Library

     I’ve always loved books. I grew up having books read by my parents at night since I was a kid; and luckily enough, I had two younger sisters who made it possible for me to hang on a little longer to the bedtime stories. On Wednesday mornings, my mom would take us to the library for the kids reading session, and although I don’t remember much of it, I remember loving it. When I was about 8 or 9, however, my mom decided it was time for me to read on my own. She bought me the first book of the Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (which I just learnt is a pen name… I often wondered how a name could sound so cool) and offered to read the first few chapters with me – yes, I was very reluctant to give up on this moment of the day.

     This was the turning point of my love for books. I had just moved to a new room on my own, had a loft bed where I could withdraw to my bubble and pretend the world under and around didn’t exist, where my imagination had no limits. When I buried myself into the lines of this series of books, I left the Earth; I left my room; suddenly, I was in that old frightening house where the Baudelaire kids lived, I felt how they felt, I could relate to them. This is when books started to be my escape from the Real; and still now, I immerse myself into a fantasy-like story when I’ve had enough of reality.

girl drawing on book page

Source

    Suppressed sounds, paper pages turning, muted steps, low voices – library atmospheres are among my favourites on the planet. Bookshops go hand in hand with that and I find it very hard to spot anything else when there is one a few meters away from where I stand, and even harder to force myself to leave the place empty-handed (obviously, wether I walk in is not remotely a matter I have to decide upon).

       A few months ago, I wrote about the Wanaka library and how I unexpectedly ended up staying for a few hours instead of hitting the road (you can read the article here). Going back to a routin-y life, it also meant going back to the world of daily studying and library visiting – and although it happened to be quite challenging in the beginning, the part that involved my being in libraries on a daily basis has delighted me.Today, as I finally entered the Black Diamond library here in Copenhagen, my reaction was instant: I felt blessed. I was told the inside of it was surprisingly very old, since the outside of the building looks very modern – black and diamond-shaped, as its name suggests, covered in gigantic glass windows, located by København havnen, the water in between the inner city and Christianshavn.

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This is the Black Diamond library from the other bank and inside. (source)

     My first thought was to wonder why I hadn’t been there before. It took me three months to finally visit the Harry-Potter-like royal library. I was in the book; or I could also have been at one of the UK’s old university libraries – all in all, something I never thought thought would be available to me on a daily basis. I am amazed at the wooden shelves, the wooden tables, the publishing dates written on the books closest to me (1894!!!), the green lantern-like lamps above the wooden desks part that separate two people facing each other.

     What is it with libraries? Is it just me? I am always so impressed by them; if I had more times on my hands, I would go through all the books on the shelves and go through their pages; wonder how long it took to gather these words together; wonder who was responsible for the publication, the editing; wonder who got the idea and how, when, where.

      If I could, I would move to live in a library. That’s right, I’d never get bored; stories could be the product of one’s imagination or factual, I’d learn new things, new words, anything, every day; yes, really, that sounds like a good idea, I would like to move to a library.

old university library copenhagen denmark
For lack of a picture of the actual old part of the royal library, this is the old university library, that can be entered from Fiolstræde. (source)