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Tons of Learning and Hygge with the Danes

September 20, 2019

 

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel have read only a page.” 

-Saint Augustine 

 

Eight students and two teachers of St.Mary’s School had the privilege of exploring parts of the amazing countries of Netherlands and Denmark. This experience was part of the Indo- Danish Exchange Program where we would be exchanging culture and lives with the students of Århus Statsgymnaium in the city of Aarhus, Denmark. On 5th September 2019, we set out on a journey to Europe. 

 

Our Amsterdam Experience We arrived in Amsterdam on the 6th September after a strenuous 15-hour layover at Istanbul Grand airport in Istanbul. Amsterdam, in its beauty, was a sight for our sore eyes after the painful layover. We got on their local railway system which was very organized and reliable in terms of punctuality. We got off at a station called Bijlmer Arena. From there, our hotel, A&O, was only a scenic 10-minute walk away. The hotel was beautiful with spacious rooms, bunk beds and two washrooms per room, so that we could save on some time in the morning. The first day was spent travelling and by the time we reached the hotel, we were exhausted. Nonetheless, we went for a walk at night after a much-awaited dinner. In the night, the city of Amsterdam shows off its beautiful and clear night sky full of stars. One moment there is a clear sky with no clouds whatsoever, the next, it’s raining cats and dogs. This contrast of the weather adds to the allure of Amsterdam. 

 

 

The 7th of September was a very lively day compared to our previous one. All of us had to walk a lot, but we got to explore the beautiful city and we also saw a river running through the heart of the city which was gracefully accepted by the locals and had multiple bridges over it. There were also a lot of ferries which were using the river to get around to show other tourists the entire city. We had lunch amidst the locals of Amsterdam near a pond next to Van Gogh Museum. We visited the Van Gogh Museum after our sumptuous alfresco meal. We also had the chance to visit the Moco Museum, which displays some of the great artwork of unorthodox artists such as Banksy and Andy Warhol. 

 

I was rather intrigued by the works of Banksy, who toils in anonymity and vandalizes political posters and advertisements in order to create something much greater. We had to walk a lot in order to get to the museums and were all tired by the end of the day. That was what the opposite of what many locals do. In Amsterdam, we saw that more than people who use cars to get around, people use bicycles which is a healthier and greener alternative. The saddest part of the day was that we would be saying goodbye to the beautiful city of Amsterdam in the evening. We would be taking an overnight bus to the capital of Denmark which is Copenhagen. 

The Denmark Leg of Our Trip After spending the night of the 7th on the bus, we were all very excited to reach Denmark on the morning of the 8th only to explore Denmark in all its glory. Even though we were excited, 1 

we needed food so the first thing that we did after getting off the bus was eat something and freshen up in the public toilets of the local railway station which were surprisingly clean. 

 

Thankfully, the train station was right next to our destination, the Tivoli Gardens, an amusement park, where we would be spending our day. To be stress-free, we left all our luggage at the luggage storage at the railway station. 

Spending our day at this marvellous place was a splendid decision as all of us had a lot of fun at the park. From roller coasters to high altitude drops, Tivoli Gardens had it all. We decided that we would pick our luggage up the next morning as all of us were very tired and had one change of clothes in our backpacks. After a fun-filled day at Tivoli, we were all very hungry and decided to eat at a very fancy Mexican restaurant, and need I mention that the food tasted heavenly. The tangy spices used in the food reminded us of our own Indian cuisine. Stomachs full and hearts content, we took a bus ride to the AirBnB accommodation, on the outskirts of Copenhagen, which was our home for the night. 

 

The 9th was the day when we would be meeting the students of the high school, Århus statsgymnasium. We were divided into groups of two each. Shaayan was teamed up with me and we met our hosts. When we got off the bus, our hosts were already there. They were wonderful and very hospitable people who provided us comforts in a way where we felt at home. 

 

Our first host was Cathinca, an eighteen-year-old in the highest grade of her school. We were introduced to the people that we would be staying with and after that the groups that were responsible for us took us on a walk to show us the area around their school. They also fed us some shawarma which was huge compared to the servings we get back home in Delhi. We talked about the differences in our cultures for some time. We called it a day and all of us headed to our hosts’ homes. Even though Cathinca lived in the countryside, the drive to her home was only 15 minutes away from the school. The home was surrounded by greenery, spacious and very isolated. We were first introduced to the family which was a rather simple one. Parents living with a 14-year-old son and an 18-year-old daughter is something that we regularly see in India, however, the experiences of this family are something that we won’t see back home. “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and souls of the people.” Mahatma Gandhi 

We were shown our room and told that dinner would be served at 7:00 pm. In the room, we realized how quiet Denmark is. At one level, we felt a little scared of the deafening silence, seemed like a scene from a horror film. We went downstairs at 6:50 pm and helped the family set the table for very tasty dinner that consisted of chicken and garlic bread. 

 

At the dinner table, we had a long and elaborate conversation about the cultural and political differences between India and Denmark. We learnt that the parents of students are paid for educating them and anyone who is jobless receives payment for four years by the government and all retired people are supported by the government financially. We also told them many wonderful things about our country. After the long discussion we went to bed eagerly waiting for the eventful next day. 

The First Day at Århus statsgymnasium The 10th was the day when we met our Indian friends again to exchange experiences that we had the day before with our respective hosts. We were given a warm welcome by the students of Aarhus. They sung us the Earth Song by Michael Jackson and Adityan Sir joined in to make the experience even better. 

 

We were then shown around the school by our respective groups. The school was huge with just 800 students. After that, we all went to the class. There, the Danish students gave us presentations on the culture of Denmark complete with their history as Vikings and a Danish word that cannot be translated into any other language. That word was hygge (hue-guh). It is that sensation of comfort and safety when you are with family or friends. The entire day was spent in talking to the students about our culture and them telling us about theirs after which we went to Old Town. It is a spot in which all the old buildings of Denmark have been preserved to show how people lived in Denmark many many years ago. It was an experience of a lifetime and I will never forget it. 

We went back to our hosts’ homes after admiring all the buildings and had dinner. Cathinca’s family was hospitable enough to cook something Indian for us for our last dinner at their house which was some naan and chicken curry. We had a long conversation with the family and then we went to sleep, wiser and more informed. 

With Cathinca’s Family in Aarhus 

The next day, 11th September, we bid farewell to Cathinca’s family and headed to the school. After spending the day and having lunch there, we went on a walk in the city, where we visited an old underground Viking church and the Rainbow Panorama, which overlooks the entire city along with an art museum situated in the same building as the 

 

 

 

We were led to the house of our new host which was extremely close to the school. In the evening, we had the Indian night in which we dressed up in Indian attire and enjoyed a Danish potlatch, thanks to the contribution of the students. We played the role of cultural ambassadors and showed the our new Danish friends some Indian dance moves. I must admit that those steps were rehearsed, but we improvised with some steps when the music played, and some steps were not as much rehearsed. 

Happy, bright and exhausted we head back to the respective homes of our second hosts and crashed. That night, I realized the true meaning of sleeping like a log. 

 

The 12th was our last day in Aarhus. On the 12th, we went to a museum which showed us the history of the Danish folk complete with the evolutionary cycle and interactive exhibits. Visiting that museum showed us a lot of what Danish culture is and how it is different from that of India. After completing our visit to the museum, we went to the beach along with our respective hosts. It was an excellent experience as we dove in the ice-cold water of the ocean. To top that, it started to rain as soon as we came out of the water which made it even difficult for us to dry. All the swimming and getting wet in the rain had fatigued us, and we went back to the hosts’ homes for our final night. 

As we were leaving the beach, we realized that this is our last day in Denmark and that we would only meet these wonderful people again in the month of November. We slept for some time as our bus to Copenhagen was at 11:00 in the night. With a heavy heart and tears in our eyes, we bid goodbye to the Danish students and left for Copenhagen airport. 

 

Memories and Lessons 

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” 

-Dr. Seuss 

This trip was the best and most insightful for all of us and I would like to thank Dr. Annie Koshi and the school for giving us this wonderful opportunity, an opportunity of a lifetime. I would also like to mention that no words can describe how thankful I am to Annie Tharyan ma’am and Adityan sir for making this trip fun and a huge success. 

From the bus rides to the train stops, from the classes to the waiting rooms, Annie ma’am and Adityan sir were our parents, friends, guides and guardians. I think Jane Austen was thinking of them when she wrote, “My idea of good company...is the company of clever, well- informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.” It epitomises both ma’am and sir. Thank you ma’am and sir, from the deepest depths of my heart. 

 

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