In many ways, I think people going on exchange tend to make a choice: do you want to use your exchange city as a home base for wider adventures, or do you want to do a deep dive into your home country? Perhaps if it had been Asia - a place I had visited numerous times before - I would have chosen the latter approach. As it was, I was one of the flightier people on exchange — and a part of me wishes I had invested a bit more time focusing on Denmark itself and its smaller cities, really immersing myself in local culture, language and way of living.
I did the best I could — and really, when I think about it, didn’t do too badly for myself in covering the main parts of Denmark outside Copenhagen and my beloved Aarhus, of course. A year on from my 33hr plane journey, I very much miss the small, idyllic city I now think of as a part of ‘home.’
Someone asked me very early on what parts of Danish culture gave me the biggest culture shock and, a year later, I’m finally answering this question:
No one believes in umbrellas: My Airbnb host said it best: ‘it’s just water. Water dries’. Partly influenced by biking culture, partly because of Aarhus’ windiness and partly just because, the attitude of people in Denmark to rain and snow is just to put a hoodie over your face and walk at a regular pace. None of this ‘running from the rain’ stuff. To be honest, I like this philosophy a lot.
Blinds and curtains are optional: Day? Night? There’s nothing to hide — windows are almost always open, the contents of homes and my neighbours eating dinner on full display. At some point, I was told this is why the Danes take so much pride in their homewares.
Danes love fairylights and tungsten lighting: This is all part of hygge culture - creating an atmosphere of warmth and cosiness - but the most common and striking sight in winter is golden windows lit up during blueish evenings, with the window ledge surrounded by fairylights
The Danish Uniform: Is apparently all-black with spotless white low-ankled sports shoes and I have no idea how people keep their shoes clean. Note: works best if you are 6ft tall, 80% leg, platinum blonde and have ridiculously beautiful bone structure.
The classic Danish hot dog is wonderfully designed and I have no idea why more people don’t do it - a roll with a hole in it. Squeeze sauce (remoulade or this really delicious Danish hot dog sauce) into the hole, stuff pølser (sausage) in hole (half of it should stick out), hold vertically and eat. They got it figured out man. For 10kr.
*I even bought it to take home but accidentally got it confiscated in airport customs because I forgot it was in my carry-on and I no longer know its name ):
Everyone is fit AF: picture me putting on my 4th winter layer in my first week in Aarhus and watching incredulously as some dude jogs by through the snow downstairs in shorts. Also almost everyone speaks excellent English. There’s just this sense of calm about the city that I really do miss — I still consider myself a city girl but I can see why you would want to build a life for yourself in a place like Aarhus.
Aalborg was a beautifully quaint city, very similar to Aarhus, full of picturesque houses, little shopping streets, parks by the harbour and a beautiful contemporary art gallery: Kunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg. I found myself oddly emotional visiting the beautiful Utzon Centre, especially as I rounding the corner to see the Sydney Opera House model shining on a plinth. My homesickness while abroad was actually quite manageable but that was one of the few times I was hit by a wave of emotion, seeing a familiar sight of home. Travelled halfway around the world for the Opera House, go figure.
The northernmost tip of Denmark is the equivalent of a beachside holiday town, if your beachsides were full of tall grass swaying in the breeze, dark wood cabins, huge grass-covered sand dunes and beaches that were full of rocks instead of sand. I adored the rocks - they could have been pulled straight from a Scandinavian design store. No wonder they love their rustic bowls, colours and textures when their beach stones look like this! The tip of Skagen is famous for being where ‘two seas meet’, but if it was meant to be dramatic, we didn’t catch it on a dramatic day at all. What I do remember is cycling through Skagen, all the way to the tip, our small picnic on the sand, watching tourists take photos. Such idyllic days.
Odense, Denmark’s third largest city and the birthplace of Hans Christian Anderson and now housing the Hans Christian Anderson museum, is this odd blend of beautifully preserved traditional houses and a thoroughway into a more modern city. Sadly we didn’t get as much time as I would have liked to explore Odense as it was a combined uni trip to Egeskov Castle, but I do absolutely recommend its Street Food Market.
This was a daytrip organised by the university, which meant it was a lively affair with a busload of university students. Egeskov Castle is essentially an open air museum of Danish culture and history, combined with garden, combined with small amusement park for the children (and treetop-strung bridges). Definitely a great place for a daytrip.