I arrived here back on August 27th. Victoria's mom, Susanne, picked me up from the airport and drove me throughout Copenhagen giving me a mini tour before taking me to their hometown of Hellerup (only a 10 minute train ride from the center of Copenhagen). As soon as we got to the Ravn-Rahbek household, I was awestruck. They live in a huge 100-year-old house that was originally built in a dorm room style for young people/students. They have a large, charming backyard filled with apple and pear trees, flowers blooming everywhere and an idyllic swing set. We walked inside and I met Victoria's dad, Olfort, who was cooking up some delicious pasta with sugo for dinner. Conversation was easy with Victoria's parents; they were both so friendly and welcoming! I remember being so excited to call this place home for the next 3 weeks.
After unpacking, Susanne and I went to pick Victoria up from the furniture store where she works. Just to explain really quick, Victoria was also an exchange student in Turin for the 2012/13 year so that's how we became friends. As soon as we saw each other, Victoria and I ran up to each other and hugged. I hadn't seen her in over 2 years but it was like nothing changed at all! I love how when you're true friends with someone, the time spent apart doesn't affect the friendship one bit :)
|One of my favorite spots to relax, the sun room|
|Nothing better than a sunny day at the most charming house in Hellerupe ;)|
After 3 crazy weeks of sightseeing and going out in Italy, I was exhausted and looking forward to some R&R. So when Victoria asked me if I wanted to come to school with her the next day, I may have cringed a little. Then when she asked me if I wanted to get up at 6 am to go running with her before school, I may have cringed a lot... but I couldn't say no! While traveling, my policy is to always say yes to any opportunity. I don't want to have any regrets or missed experiences just because I was "too tired" or maybe "too nervous". Anyway, the next morning Susanne burst into our room bright and early, as promised, telling me to take my sleeping mask off and for us to get running! It was definitely a wake up call compared to sleeping till at least noon every day in Italy... I've come to learn that Danish people are extremely fit and active. Huge difference to my Pugliese family (Sabrina failed gym class last year) haha.
After our quick run through a cute little park near Victoria's neighborhood we got ready and left for school. In Denmark, they attend 10 years of primary school and then 3 years of "gymnasium" (high school). They're 18/19 years old when they finish gymnasium so it's one more year of high school compared to the United States (random note: Italy also has one more year of high school compared to the U.S.). However, in Victoria's family everyone took a gap year to travel at age 15/16 before they went to gymnasium. Victoria went to Italy at this time and technically "lost" a year of school because her credits didn't transfer over from Italy but her parents would argue that she "gained" a year of intelligence and experience and it doesn't matter that she'll be one year older than her classmates in gymnasium. Victoria has an older brother, Christoffer, and older sister, Benedicte, who both also went to Asia (Hong Kong and China, respectively) with AFS between primary school and gymnasium. This isn't extremely common in Denmark but I've met a couple other Danes who've done it as well.
Anyway, to me, gymnasium felt a little bit like college. Basically, you take all of your core classes with the same 20-30 students all 3 years of gymnasium and this class becomes almost like your family. Except every gymnasium offers slightly different education tracts and every student decides which classes they'd like to focus on the most. For example, Victoria does the music and Italian tract so she'll be with different students in music and Italian class but then she's with her main class for the core subjects like science, math, English, etc. Another student may choose to focus on biology and physical education and will thus have more class hours of those subjects. Victoria's classes are different every day. Sometimes she finishes at 3pm, sometimes 1, it all depends on which classes she has that day or if the teacher is present. Just like in Italy, if the teacher is sick or absent then that class is just canceled for that day.
Students also have a lot more freedom in gymnasiums; part of the campus is outside and they're free to walk down the street and buy lunch from a cafe. Also something that really astounded me was the fact that Danish students call their teachers by their first names! Most of the teachers are very young (in their late 20s) and extremely friendly/casual with the students. There's a lot of group work and discussion. It felt like students and teachers were on an equal level which allows students to really state their ideas/opinions without being intimidated. This critical thinking style of learning definitely works because Denmark ranks #1 in the Education First English Proficiency Index. I have yet to meet a Danish person that is not fluent in English. I think the country could be considered bilingual; their English vocabulary is astounding (possibly better than mine! haha) and they speak with ease and without strong accents. Danish people say that in order to be successful on a global level, English is necessary because since Denmark is such a small country that could easily be overlooked since no one around the world speaks Danish.
I thought I might pick up a little bit of Danish after being here for 3 weeks but to be honest I barely even tried... it's just that since everyone speaks perfect English there's no need to learn Danish, not to mention the pronunciation is IMPOSSIBLE. Nothing is pronounced the way that it's written and you need to use the back of your throat to make the sound! When I told Victoria's parents I wanted to try and learn a little bit of Danish they just scoffed and said "Psh forget it!".
Anyway, back to Danish school. All the students literally looked like models; tall, skinny, blonde, blue eyes and dressed head-to-toe in designer brands. Everyone is so stylish and trendy, especially in Hellerup. Hellerup could be described as the Beverly Hills of Denmark. It was rated to have the most attractive singles in Copenhagen and everyone is pretty wealthy. Sometimes when I tell other Danes that I'm staying in Hellerupe they give me a condescending look and claim it's filled with snobs. I think this could be partially true but I've also met tons of down-to-earth, friendly people as well, including Victoria and her family.
Okay, sorry I keep getting off subject, so Danish teens are very mature and sophisticated. It's funny because EVERYONE in Copenhagen ALWAYS wears black! Victoria says it's just the classiest color and very fashionable. When I asked her friends what to wear when we went out, they all answered, "Black!!" haha I think it's ironic because I feel like Danish people are very happy yet they always dress like they're going to a funeral! Well here's some pictures of Victoria's gymnasium! :)
|During gym class I went to the library to "read" ahaha|
|New glass study area added to the old school building|
After school we took the train home (most Danish teens either walk, ride their bike or take public transportation to school because it's the most convenient and you must be 18 to get your drivers license). We relaxed for a little, ate some dinner then got ready to go out! Once a month, Victoria's gymnasium hosts a huge party for the students but first we had to go "warm-up". "Warming up" is how Danish people say pre-gaming; I think it's such a cute expression! They start warming up so early too, at around 6 we went to her friends house which was filled with people everywhere drinking beer, wine, gin & tonic, vodka and this weird licorice liquor (Danes love black licorice!). I've always heard that Danish people drink a lot, which is definitely true. Denmark is rated #11 in the list of countries by alcohol consumption per capita, drinking on average 10.6 liters annually per capita. However, I feel like they learn how to handle their alcohol since they start drinking at such a young age. Beer and wine is legal at 16 years old and liquor at 18. Despite being such a health-conscious country, a lot of teenagers smoke cigarettes. Victoria says it's more like a social trend in high school but most people stop once they graduate.
So anyway that night we "warmed-up" for a couple hours and then walked to the party at Victoria's gymnasium. It was so crazy (a lot cooler than homecoming back in the U.S.)! Everyone was drunk and the school was selling beer. I couldn't believe that a school party sold alcohol to the students but that's Denmark for you! So relaxed. Every room had different types of music and flashing lights just like a night club. But the night didn't end here; after staying at the gymnasium for a couple hours we took a train into the center of Copenhagen to go to a legit night club!
In Denmark it's legal to drink in public so I brought a beer with me on the train but I accidentally dropped it all over the floor... it was so embarrassing! Public transportation in Denmark is very clean so I felt really bad! Anyway, we went to "the most exclusive" night club in Denmark called Zen. It was a little expensive to get in: 100 kroner. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Denmark isn't on the euro and has their own currency called the krone (plural = kroner and it literally translates to crown). About 7 kroner equals 1 U.S. dollar. Before coming here, I thought Denmark was on the euro and was really surprised when I first arrived at the airport and saw signs saying candy bars cost 40. I was like wtf 40 euros for a candy bar?! Haha oops I'm dumb. But anyway, Susanne said that Denmark stays on the kroner because it benefits their economy since their currency isn't dragged down by other EU member nations. In 2000, Denmark tried to introduce the euro but it was rejected in a referendum.
Okay sorry back to the nightclub! So we stayed at Zen for a while then stopped for McDonalds (I was starving after 6+ hours of partying!!) before going home at around 3:30 am. To say the least, I was exhausted! Danes really go hard!
Well that's all for now because this post is already SO long (and I only wrote about the first 2 days in Denmark...). Stay tuned for more posts about life in Copenhagen! Don't forget to sign up for e-mail notifications! :)