Vi har for tredje gang fået lov til at få indblik i Theresas udvekslingsoplevelse.
Hun kommer fra New Zealand og har været i Danmark i næsten otte måneder.
I’ve had numerous conversations with Danes in which they say ’I hope you didn’t come here for the weather!´ They have a point. It’s now August, the third month of summer. In New Zealand, the equivalent would be February and everybody would be wearing shorts and covering themselves in sunblock, even if it was raining. In Denmark, I’m already wearing a scarf.
No, I didn’t come for the weather. I came for the culture, the location, and the language. I came to be shocked and embarrassed and suprised. I came to fit in, to stand out, and most of all to grow up. And I haven’t been dissappointed.
Shortly into the summer holidays, we said goodbye to the summer exchange students- the ’oldies’ who had taught us about exchange life in Denmark, who had supported us, and who had quickly become our friends. We knew it was coming, of course, but it still came as a shock when pictures of our friends reuniting with their families and their homelands began appearing on social media. Natcha, Samanta and James were no longer my schoolmates in Denmark- they had returned to being students in Thailand, Columbia and New Zealand, thousands of kilometres away from me. Suddenly my local chapter of exchange students seemed a lot smaller and the world a lot smaller too.
I’ve started to not stand out quite so much here. With a black jacket and my hair dyed a few shades blonder than it naturally is, I can pass for a Danish teenager until I open my mouth and I’ve had a number of people mistakenly assume I am Danish. It’s always quite nice to be mistaken for a Dane, as it indicates I’m doing something right when it comes to integration, but it can be awkward if I don’t understand when people start speaking Danish to me! Awkwardness, however, is something every exchange student learns to deal with. You can spend days thinking you’re fitting in really well with your host culture, and then suddenly find yourself messing up the language, or missing some piece of social etiquette, or just being reminded that there is so much history and so many cultural and societal currents underlying every interaction that you will never fully be able to understand. One of the most suprising things to me about Danish culture is how homogenous it is, especially out here in the Jysk countryside. Although not all Danes are the same, not by a long shot, it remains possible to create an image of a ’typical Dane’ in a way that it isn’t possible to create a picutre of a ’typical New Zealander’ in Auckland. There is a typical Danish ethnicity, a typical Danish religion, a typical Danish mode of transport, even typical Danish food and typical Danish names. Perhaps that doesn’t sound strange to a lot of people, but it is constantly suprising for me. I am proud of my country, but like most of my New Zealand friends I will never have the assurance of knowing that my ancestors lived and died and were buried in the same place I grew up in for more generations that can be counted, practicing the same religion, observing the same traditions, waving the same flag. Like many New Zealanders, my roots only go back a handful of generations before my ancestors lived on the other side of the world.
The Danish language contributes enormously to the Danish sense of cultural identity, and has been a hugely significant part of my life in the past seven and a half months. My grammar remains atrocious, but but my vocabulary improved significantly over the summer holidays. Counter-intuitively, I learnt a lot of Danish while on holiday in France with my host family, where I really had to stretch my language skills to the limit to translate between my mediocre Danish, my mother tongue English, and my primitive French. I had a fantastic two weeks in the South of France and it was lovely to travel with my host family and see so many new things.
During the summer, I also managed to visit Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina with my actual parents who were travelling around Europe. It was beautiful and warm down in the south of Europe and it was fascinating to see how countries that really seem so close to Denmark (from a New Zealand perspective- we consider a country whose nearest coast is 2000km away to be our closest neighbour) have such enormous culutral differences.
During the summer I also travelled down to the huge Jamboree in Sønderborg and learnt a lot about Danish scout culture, and then afterwards made the most of my final week of summer holidays to travel solo around Sweden. I visited Stockholm and Malmö and learnt a lot about independent organization and travel. It was awesome to have the opportunity to have the freedom to plan where I was going and what I was doing at the age of only 16. I particularly loved Stockholm with all its islands and historical buildings, and I even took the opportunity to go out in one of Sweden’s National Parks and appreciate the famous Swedish forest.
Since the summer holidays, I’ve been back at school and am now in 2.g in HHX. I asked to be put in a 3.g biology class in HTX as well, which I am very happy in. Now, suddenly, I’ve turned 17, have become one of the ’oldies’ for a new bunch of exchange students, and somehow there are only three and a half months left of my stay in Denmark. I think this is going to be the first year in my life where I won’t wish for Christmas to arrive any faster than it naturally does, because it will mean leaving my amazing host family, the friends who have quickly become close to me, and the whole life that has become mine in the past seven and a half months.