The One Year Anniversary Post

As of July 25th, we’ve been living in Denmark for one whole year! Yay! Of course, I missed this anniversary because morning sickness, so I never did a post for it. So I figured that would do that now.

Obligatory photos of us. I've been a really bad photographer lately and haven't taken any recent photos. I think this is of us on our way to the US in August.

Obligatory photo of us. I’ve been a really bad photographer lately and haven’t taken any recent photos. I think this is of us on our way to the US in August.

Also, I’ve been thinking that it may seem like from some of my blog posts that I’m a little down on Denmark. I have the habit of writing more when I’m upset or unhappy about something (which actually has many health benefits because science!). It’s a way of working through it for me. But when things are going well, I don’t feel as much compulsion to write. And the transition to living in a foreign country as a first time expat is rather difficult, especially for someone like me who is not always excited about big changes. So I’m worried that I’m not sharing the good, happy, and fun parts of our experience with you guys as much as I should be. Because we do have a lot of fun! And there’s a lot about this experience that I’m grateful for.

So, without further ado, reasons why I am grateful for Denmark and this experience:

  1. Brian can work and earn his PhD at the same time. This is a big one. This is the reason we came to Denmark and what makes it all worth it. In the US, this situation would pretty much be impossible. Companies and universities are not at all used to sharing information and copyright possibilities. But here in Denmark, they encourage industry and academia to work together (which really sounds like a good idea to me). So they have this thing called an Industrial PhD which allows Brian to work full time – and get paid – in a company while also earning his PhD, using the same work for both, basically. If it weren’t for this, Brian either would not be getting his PhD or we would be living on a PhD student’s and a librarian’s salaries, which I guess would have been an adventure all on its own.
  2. Denmark is a westernized country full of very proficient English speakers. You will have some expats who argue that it is a negative that so many Danes speak such good English (“you don’t learn the language as quickly”) or that Denmark is so similar to other Western European countries. These are usually the adventure hungry, wanderlust expats. Just to be clear, you will never hear that argument or complaint from me. I am so thankful, every day, that I can communicate in English. I just, I can’t imagine what it would be like to live in a country where that isn’t a possibility. Of course, we are both learning Danish, and I try to speak Danish whenever I can. But there are so many situations in which my Danish is not going to cut it. For instance, I had to call the insurance company today to figure out how travel insurance works. I just can’t have most of that conversation in Danish and know what’s going on. So, this is a big one that makes our lives here much easier. Denmark is just different enough, and I like it that way.
  3. It’s taught me to deal with being outside my comfort bubble. Ugh, it has taken me a while to see this one as any kind of positive or to be grateful for being forced soooo far outside my comfort bubble. The thing is, I don’t mind change or new experiences. I just like them a little bit at a time so I can adjust before moving on to the next thing. A lot of change all at once kind of overloads my system. This was especially hard for me with Danish, for some reason. There’s just something about learning a new language that makes you feel about 5 years old and 2 feet tall. But I have come to realize that it’s a necessary skill to have, to be out there and to be uncomfortable and to get on with what you have to do anyway. Recently, I think the baby-to-be has really pushed me through a big barrier, again with Danish. I’m always uncomfortable starting a conversation with Danes in English because I don’t want to be…I don’t know, the rude foreigner I guess. But as I said above, there are certain things that just work better for everyone if we all speak English. Doctors’ appointments, for instance. And recently there have been a few times where – due to baby-to-be – we’ve just had to get things done and I’ve just had to get over my weird hang ups and do them. And it all turned out OK. So I’m learning to not judge myself so much for feeling uncomfortable or for not being the perfect Danish speaking foreigner, for being who I am where I am on my Danish language journey.
  4. It’s taught me how to make friends. This has been a big one for me and probably is the thing that I’m most grateful for after #1 up above. I feel like after high school I kind of fell out of practice of making new friends. It comes so easily when you’re young, but it got a bit harder as an adult. You have less down time with random strangers, I guess. Everyone has their lives, and it takes more effort on both sides to build a new friendship. So when we moved here and literally knew no one, it was like back to basics in making friends. And the thing is, I actually really enjoy the process. It’s fun to meet new people who are going through the same things we’re going through. It’s fun to compare notes and share embarrassing experiences and complain about Danish. I’m hoping this all just continues when the baby comes and I start meeting fellow mothers. I’ve learned that in adult friend-making, it’s pretty important to have one big thing in common: expat, country of origin, mother, love of reading, etc.
  5. All the great new friends we’ve made! And thanks to my new found ability ;) we have made some really great new friends. Since everyone in the expat community here is missing their support network, it seems like you bond pretty fast, especially with the people you meet when you’ve just arrived. And it is a HUGE help to have people that are going through the same thing who can share stories and resources. We are definitely grateful for our awesome friends.
  6. The ability to travel. This is also a really big one. Living in Denmark means we get to travel a lot more in Europe, which is usually pretty difficult for an American. So we get all these added bonus experiences, which so far have been totally awesome. It’s not as easy – or as cheap – as everyone tells you it will be before you move, but it’s still easier than coming all the way from the US for each trip. Plus, we get to go places we never would have visited before like Stockholm or some tiny dutch town. I think next on our list are Iceland, Finland, and Norway.
  7. Living on our own. Brian and I have always lived in the same city as our families. And we’ve loved it. There is so much to be said for living around family, and we’d like to end up back in that situation. But I do think that it’s good for us to have this time to try and figure things out on our own. It’s that last push into adulthood, if you will.
  8. The change in our perspective. Brian and I are pretty open minded anyway, but living in another country just further broadens your horizons and forever changes your perspectives on a lot of things. Suddenly you really see that there’s not only one way to do things or one way to live.

So I think those are the big ones. I am also, of course, grateful for little things about Denmark, like the awesome public transportation system, the bike paths, living by the sea, the weather (yes, apart from the darkness I do quite like Denmark’s cool, mild climate, come to St. Louis in August and then we’ll talk). It’s nice to go through this list every once in a while, especially when I’m feeling frustrated about something having to do with being an expat in Denmark, and remind myself why this experience is actually quite positive and why we decided on the move in the first place.

Well, one year down, two more to go!

Our Experience (or lack of it) with Reverse Culture Shock

I feel like all I ever read about these days on expat forums in “reverse culture shock.” It’s all anyone ever talks about, probably because no one ever used to talk about it. What it means is that while living abroad you adapt to life in your adopted country. You change a little bit. Maybe the pace of life slows down or you have become more direct in speaking or you discover a liking for salty licorice. Then, when you visit or move back to your original culture, you have to go through the culture shock process all over again. You assume it’ll be no big deal. After all, you grew up in this culture. But you’re surprised to find that certain things just don’t fit anymore. You hate driving everywhere or you can’t stand how friendly the waiters are or you can’t find your favorite candies at the grocery store because Americans don’t eat salty licorice. (And for good reason.) 

So I was all prepared on our trip back to the US in August – for a month! – to experience some reverse culture shock. I was braced. And then…nothing. 

Well, not nothing. There were a few little things. It was weird being able to understand all the conversations around you – and a little annoying, people talk about the dumbest stuff! I remembered how ridiculously frustrating traffic is when you’re the one driving and how annoying it is to have to drive everywhere. The weather was almost unbearably hot at one point. I had forgotten what the St. Louis humidity felt like.

But mostly, it felt instantly normal and kind of awesome. We were surrounded by our family and friends. I could talk to people in stores without stress, without cringing at my bad Danish or at my need to speak English. I could go to the grocery store and choose between 30 different kinds of cereal! (Who knew this would become such a big deal for me?) I could eat Saltines! I could get cheap, fast, casual dining or takeout and didn’t have to cook every night! (That last one is a big one.)

Now, we’ve only been abroad 1 year, so that probably isn’t enough time to fully adapt to another culture and lifestyle. Also, I don’t think you could say that I’ve fully integrated here. For one thing, I spend much of my day at home alone. (Imagine an old school housewife only lazier and without the retro housedress.) And during the “morning” sickness period, I felt so bad that I stopped going into my volunteer job and Danish classes were on summer break (thank god), so I don’t think I spoke any Danish for about 3 whole months. And it’s really true, the language barrier will keep you from feeling fully a part of the culture around you. 

So given all of that, I was a little apprehensive about coming back to Denmark. I was worried I’d have to adjust all over again. But then we landed, and I was so glad to get on the train from Copenhagen to Aarhus and see the familiar countryside whiz by. We got home, and we just picked back up with our lives here. Even if we’re not 100% comfortable here, it’s still familiar, and we’ve got our little routines and we’ve got our friends (all of whom I was excited to see) and we’ve got our life that we’ve made, just the two of us.

So I would say, the weirdest thing about this whole reverse culture shock experience is the realization that we have two totally different lives in two totally different places and we could go to either place and pick up with either life fairly easily. I’ve never had that before, and it’s a bit of a strange feeling. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it, but I’ll tell you one thing, it’s wonderfully reassuring to know that we have something to go back to and people at home who love us.

We have Big News, of the pitter patter of little feet variety!

First, let me say: I’m so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so sorry for leaving for so long without a word.

But, I have a really good excuse: I’m pregnant! See, here’s a (bad) picture of me sort of, kind of, almost visibly pregnant.

And for those of you who know St. Louis, you may recognize the famous and delicious ice cream stand behind us.

And for those of you who know St. Louis, you may recognize the famous and delicious ice cream stand behind us.

The reason that’s an excuse for not posting is that I had a really bad first trimester that included morning sickness that lasted all. day. long. I’ve never been seasick before, but I imagine it’s like taking a three month cruise which you can’t get off of and you’re horribly seasick the whole time. I literally did nothing but groaned on the couch while thinking exclusively about what I could possibly eat next that wouldn’t cause further harm. For a while it was a very small list that seemed to consist mostly of pizza and french fries with mayo. (Definitely NOT stir fry or barbecue, ick. Those things still make me nauseous.) So not a whole lot of posting on the interwebs could be done at this time during the groaning and the almost barfing.

And then we spent the entire month of August in the US visiting our family, so not much posting got done then, either. Luckily, I was starting to feel a bit better for that part or I would have been really upset because I had a list a mile long of food that I needed to eat while in St. Louis. I got to some of them (toasted ravioli!), though some others I still couldn’t really eat (cheeseburgers).

So that is my big news and my big excuse. I know I’ve committed the blogging sin, to disappear without a note, but hopefully I will be forgiven. And I plan on being back and making regular posts again, now that I’m feeling almost human.

The Biggest Small Town in Denmark

The Prettiest Street in Aarhus

Just thought I would pass the word along: Rick Steves – the ultimate travel guru – just did a write up about Aarhus. I first found it on the travel blog for The Courant, but I’ve heard that his article is syndicated and probably goes to all kinds of papers and blogs across the interwebs. We better get ready for an influx of cruise ships! :) Because of course Steves sings Aarhus’ praises. How could he not? He quickly goes through all of the highlights to hit if you’re visiting the city – the same things we took our families to see when they all visited, whew, we didn’t miss anything! – so it’s a really good post to check out if you’re thinking of visiting Aarhus but don’t really know what it has to offer. So if you’re feeling curious about what a professional tourist has to say about the city, go check it out. Or visit the part of his website about Aarhus to do some planning for your own trip!

The Danish Holidays May Throw You For a Loop

Why the flag? Because in Denmark every holiday of every kind is celebrated by decorating with and flying the Danish flag. Go Dannebrog!

Why the flag? Because in Denmark every holiday of every kind is celebrated by decorating with and flying the Danish flag. Go Dannebrog!

So, speaking of Sankhans aka midsummer aka a holiday I’ve never heard of before coming to Denmark…

OK, OK, I’ve heard of midsummer. I’m not an animal. And I do read a lot of fantasy novels. But I’d never heard of the tie in with St. John the Baptist. (Leave it to those Catholics to so blatantly hijack a pagan holiday.) Nor have I heard of the Burn all the Witches! tradition. I thought midsummer was all about picking herbs to get them at their most magically potent and dancing around poles with flowers and jumping over fires for guaranteed fertility in the coming year. Not sending witches back to Germany… (hehe, that still cracks me up, every time.)

Yeah, so speaking of crazy holidays, I wrote another post over at Panorama about adjusting to the Danish holidays. Because they can take some getting used to at first, especially if you’re from the US.

Why? I’ll give you a hint: it’s because they’re all based on religious holidays, which will really blow your mind if you’re used to separation of church and state. (Or, my mind is just easily blown – which Brian tells me is the truth – and no one else but me really cares about this.)

BUT there’s something else about their holidays that really could blow your mind: they’re all in the spring. Literally, all of them except for Christmas. There are no holidays between June and December. What’s up with that?! I miss all my fall holidays!

So go read and enjoy :)

The Land of the Midnight Sun

OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Denmark is not the land of the midnight sun. That title belongs only to places above the Arctic Circle where the sun actually does not set at night.

BUT… Denmark is getting pretty close. This coming Saturday, the 21st, is the longest day of the year, Midsummer’s Day aka the summer solstice. And on that day, the sun will rise at 4:30am and set at 10:15pm, giving us a total of almost 18 hours of sunlight.

Which is pretty awesome if you think about it. But also maybe not so awesome? Because it wreaks havoc with my sleep schedule. At first I thought it was because it stays light so late, so it makes turning your brain off and actually falling asleep more difficult.

I mean, just look at what 10pm looks like in Aarhus!

10pm Sky in Aarhus

10pm Sky in Aarhus

 

It’s like it gets to 3pm, and it just never gets any darker than that. And even when the sun does finally set, the twilight lingers until well after 11pm. And it’s bright enough that I don’t need any lights if I have to get up to make my way to the bathroom.

But I’ve recently decided that the really hard part is the early morning sun. I keep waking up at 5:00 in the morning and thinking it’s well past 8:00, then finding it difficult to go back to sleep. It’s crazy bananas.

Luckily, I’ve dug out a sleeping mask we bought for long plane trips and have been wearing that to bed. Otherwise, I don’t think I’d be able to get any sleep at all as I’m a fairly light sleeper.

This is what I'm like to the sun in the morning.

I’m not the best morning person.

We’re trying to decide what we should do to mark the occasion of midsummer night. We may try to stay up all night and see the sun rise, but we’ll see if we actually do it in the end. I never was one for all nighters.

The Danes actually celebrate the occasion on June 23rd, what they call Sankthans (their version of the Catholic holiday St. John’s Day, celebrating the birth of St. John the Baptist). And they mark this holiday with huge bonfires over which effigies of witches are burned. I’m not even kidding. Actually, they burn them to send them off to Germany, where, clearly, all the evil witches belong.

We’ll definitely try to track down some of the bonfires and see how the Danes celebrate this holiday. If you’re in Aarhus for the occasion, you can check this calendar to find some bonfires near you.

More Blogging Than You Can Handle

Hi everyone. Sorry about the lack of posts and general MIA-ness recently. We just got back from a trip to Stockholm over this past long weekend, the last public holiday we’ll see in a long time, until Christmas! I’ll have a post on all our adventures as soon as I can get the pictures loaded onto my computer.

But until then I wanted to let you all know that I’ve started blogging for a magazine here in Aarhus called Aarhus Panorama. I’m kind of like the resident foreigner, writing about the outsider’s perspective on Aarhus. The audience is mostly Danes, so it will be a bit different than what I write here.

So if you just can’t get enough of me and want to read even more, head over there to check out my other posts. I’ll let you all know when a new one goes up. I’ve just started writing – and really their website has just launched – so I only have one post so far. It’s about traveling in Europe when you’re already an expat, and you can find it here.

Cheers!

Summer’s Almost Here!

Finally we’re seeing some sun in Denmark. We were in Copenhagen last week and had beautiful weather the whole time, which is a first. Usually it rains nonstop every time we’re there. Though it’s a little cooler and cloudier here in Aarhus, I can finally glimpse summer around the corner. So in honor of the coming summer, I thought I’d make a little list of what this turning of the seasons means for someone like me living in Denmark:

  1. Light! June 21st is the longest day of the year, and every day we get closer to that date we’re seeing longer and longer nights. We get almost 3 minutes more sunlight every day, to be exact. Tonight, the sun isn’t supposed to set until 9:47pm, and the twilight lingers until 10:30 or so. After a dark winter and gloomy spring, this extra light is very much appreciated.

    A picture of Marselisborg Lystbådehavn.

    A picture of Marselisborg Lystbådehavn at sunset. This was taken at about 9:40pm over the weekend.

  2. Parties in the park. The sun is so much appreciated that the minute work is over people flood the parks of Denmark to hang out in the sun. I’m in no way exaggerating. It looks like people waiting for the fireworks to start on the 4th of July. In Copenhagen we stayed near the King’s Garden by Rosenborg, and at 2pm people started trickling in. By 5pm, the park was PACKED. Of course, we were right there along with everyone, enjoying our pizza al fresco.Partying in the Park

    Mmm, pizza.

    Who puts salad on a pizza?! 

  3. Late night walks. Because of the light nights, we’ve started taking more walks after dinner, even as late as 9pm, while the sun is setting. It’s really fantastic.Sunset Walk
  4. Sunglasses. (Is this really the fourth item on the list that has to do with the increased sunlight? Why yes, yes it is. It really is that important.) I don’t know if this is just me, but I swear the sunlight here is stronger or brighter or something. I noticed this when we first arrived last summer, too. As a result, if I go outside for a few hours without my sunglasses, I’m guaranteed to get a headache. So now my sunglasses, which I never used to wear in the US, go on as soon as I leave the house. It has the added benefit of making me look really cool.

    Yep, super cool.

    Yep, super cool.

  5. Flowers. They enjoy the sun, too, and they are everywhere right about now and soooo pretty.IMG_1961
  6. Strawberries. The coming summer means that we’re starting to see more variety in the produce at the grocery store. I actually saw whole pineapples the other day! (And bought one immediately.) And bing cherries. Those are my favorite. I can’t wait until later in the season when they arrive really ripe. But the one most important fruit for a Danish summer is the Danish strawberry. They’re really big on strawberries around here, and I have to say that I don’t blame them. I bought this batch just the other day, and they are without a doubt some of the best strawberries I’ve ever eaten. Yum!The Delicious Berry
  7. Softis. It’s like someone took your everyday soft serve ice cream, stirred in a healthy portion of whipped cream, and served it to you on a cone. It’s the traditional Danish ice cream and a special summer treat. And it’s delicious.  But the Danes love ice cream of any kind, and the minute it is even a little warm and sunny outside you’ll see people lined up out the door to get some. The only kind of ice cream I’ve had trouble finding here is the harder kind that’s more typical in the US. We’ve pretty much had to buy some (veeeery expensive) Ben & Jerry’s cartons at the store if we’re craving that texture. But it’s not really necessary because the soft ice cream (resembling gilato) that is all over in Aarhus is really yummy.
    Nom nom nom. The strawberry swirl is our favorite flavor.

    Nom nom nom. The strawberry swirl is our favorite flavor.

     

So that, so far, is what late spring/early summer in Denmark means for us. Hopefully soon we’ll get to try some other Danish summer traditions like grilling outside and visiting the West coast for a dip in the ocean. But we’re pretty happy with what we’ve got so far.