When reminiscing about the previous ten days of the Denmark Exchange Program in St. Mary’s School, I can recall a whirlwind of excitement, education, exhaustion and entertainment. On behalf of the eight students from grades 8, 9 and 11 as well as the two teachers (Mrs. Annie Tharyan and Mr. Adityan Nair), I can safely say that it was a triumphant endeavour.
Our first destination was Amsterdam. We arrived to the land of freedom greasy, sweaty and starry-eyed after our 15 hours layover in Istanbul, Turkey. The first lungful of air made our bodies sing with joy after being relieved from the poisonous Delhi air. We spent a day and a half there, visited the Moco and Van Gogh museums and acquainted ourselves with the beauty and Scandinavian culture of Europe. The Moco museum presented contemporary, modern and street art through artists such as Andy Warhol and Banksy. Andy Warhol led the visual art movement through his art on pop culture and Banksy mocked capitalism and corporate chains through satirical graffiti and street art. Amsterdam was a very bustling but relaxed place. You could feel its comforting atmosphere seep in through your veins every time a stranger grinned at you for no reason.
The same night, we took a bus to Copenhagen. After a square meal and dropping off our luggage, we visited Copenhagen’s Tivoli (amusement park). We regard this with mixed feelings, since it was a juxtaposition of being scared witless and having the most fun we’ve had. But it was an excellent spot for both thrill seekers and people looking to brave their fear of heights (though it did result in a lot of throwing up). Up in the air, you could see Copenhagen in all its glory with the red-bricked buildings, billboards and blue domes and church tops. Though Copenhagen was more muted than Amsterdam, it was just as thrilling. Both cities had a remarkably less number of cars present on main roads, and people used bikes and cycles for their commute instead. An all you can eat buffet at a Mexican restaurant consisted of our dinner that night. It was fine-dining which offered both good taste and quietude.
It was then time to familiarize ourselves with our host school (Aarhus statsgymnasium) and host families in the gorgeous Danish city of Aarhus. We spent three days with them, and two of us stayed with each family. We visited museums, libraries, harbours, shopping marts, beaches and scenic spots with them. We also exchanged Danish and Indian cultures.
Sally Svinth and her family were my gracious hosts. They were genial, good hearted and funny people who made their house feel like a home to me. Dinner with them was the best part of my stay at Aarhus. They received my gift of a traditional Indian painting with great enthusiasm and were delighted when l taught them how to write their names in Hindi. Before leaving, Sally wrote me a lovely letter saying how excited she was to come to India and how pleased she had been to have us over. She even remembered the gifts l had bought for my family and my obsession with owls. They gifted me some chocolate to put on top of bread and butter. I truly believe l met some of the nicest people in the world.
Their school was in slight variation to ours. It was more technological since the students did all their work on laptops. They were also in groups for most of the classes and did not sit in pairs. Their hours were slightly longer, and they were allowed to move out during classes to sit on bleachers in the hallways.
On the first day of school, the Danish students made presentations for us to teach us more about their country. We learned about their welfare system, political climate, royal family and also Vikings, whom many consider to be their most famous predecessors. The Indian students also apprised the Danes about the traditional Indian practice of Ayurveda and its cures for obesity, hair loss, skin damage, coughs and colds, poor eyesight etc.
We attended Danish, Psychology and P.E. classes. We learned about realism in Danish literature through fiction and autobiographies. Realist Indian authors such as Arundhati Roy and Venita Coelho were
also discussed. Different groups made their presentations on adult bullying in Psychology, and we played Frisbee.
“Hygge” (hyu-guh) is a Danish word which has no translation in any other tongue. It can be transliterated into a feeling of comfort. There were many instances where we felt this way. It was definitely present on Indian night, where all of us let go of our inhibitions and sang and danced to the universal language of music. Roasting marshmallows by the ocean and drying our clothes by the fire after swimming were also moments that filled us with warmth and affability.
Danish museums were very aesthetically and visually pleasing, which made them all the more interesting and able to hold our attention. In the old city of Aarhus, we could visit actual houses from the 90s to see how all kinds of people lived firsthand.
Before leaving, our host interviewed us for a piece in their school magazine. She asked us about the perks and downsides about India. Pollution, overpopulation, racism, sexism and religious differences are definitely obstacles, but we wouldn’t have survived with this level of diversity for so long if there wasn’t some level for understanding. Even though I’m Hindu, my family still wishes each other on Eid and we definitely eat plum cake and exchange gifts on Christmas. In Denmark, the welfare system (student, home and maternal allowance etc) is definitely a plus. But many Danes have slight difficulties adjusting to immigrants and cultural differences.
The Danish are kind and friendly people who are not called the most trusting for naught. We could learn a lot about cleanliness from them. Telling them about India helped us realise and understand a lot about ourselves as well. The biggest takeaway from this trip would be that everyone in this world, no matter how far apart or different, can get along with each other through little bit of love and mutual respect for every culture.