Submitted by Chase Doctor
On August 6th, 2017, I started school at Ega Undoms-Hojskole–over 4,500 miles away from St. Louis. After junior year, I had all the credits I needed to graduate high school except for one half practical art credit. I didn’t want to graduate early and start college at 17, but I wanted to do something new that would be a learning and growing experience. I decided to spend my first semester of senior year studying abroad in a small boarding school outside of Aarhus, Denmark.
When I left, I was very nervous to be living in another country where I didn’t speak the language or even know anyone. I had found the school on Google, and knew about it only from the Google translation of their website. I was also going to be the only American in the school; however, I knew there were going to be 20 other international students, which was comforting.
Upon arrival, I toured the school and was baffled by the beauty of the school, and the quality equipment. The music room was equipped with guitars, drums, keyboards, speakers, amps, microphones and more. I couldn’t imagine how they could afford all that they had when I was paying a minuscule portion of what private schools cost in the US (let alone boarding schools). I soon realized that I had failed to take into account their socialist government. The school was supported mostly by taxes and not by the tuition they charged.
We spent about a week listening to lecturers, learning the routines, and participating in bonding activities, especially among the international students. I was living in one of two international houses. Sometimes, I would hear up to five languages being spoken at once. In fact, I was the only person in the entire school who spoke just one language. The international students spoke English at the very least in addition to their native language, and the Danes students spoke English as well as, obviously, Danish. People who have learned at least one other language can also learn more almost naturally. I was baffled as some of my friends from Mexico and Italy just picked up each others’ languages from conversation.
Thankfully, I was not the only one who spoke no Danish; however, we then had to use translators in group meetings, which we quickly became sick of. We had these group meetings at least twice a day, and one of my favorite quirks of Denmark was that we sang at every group meeting. I was shocked initially by the amount of singing that was normal to the Danes. They had songbooks filled with traditional Danish songs as well as English songs like Imagine by John Lennon, or Morning Has Broken by Cat Stevens. While I was surprised at first, but I grew to love singing as an entire school, and I even learned some Danish through singing.
Even more than my daily dose of song, I loved the independence I felt while living at the school. I was in total control of almost every aspect of my daily life. I chose if and when I went out, did homework, cleaned, slept, and spent time with friends. I had a hard time working on my college applications and the multitude of essays that accompanied them because no one else from my school needed to go through the same rigorous application process that American schools require. It was a good test to see if I could live on my own before college, and I’d say I definitely passed.
Another freedom I benefited from was my freedom to travel. The entire continent of Europe is only a little bigger than half of the United States, which makes travel much cheaper and easier. While I was at the school, I went not only on a trip with my school but also on two with some friends. With my school, I traveled to Hamburg, Germany (which was only a five-hour drive) for four days where we visited museums, the canals, and other sites. In addition, I took a train with about ten other international students to visit Copenhagen. One of my friends had an apartment there, so we only had to pay for our train tickets and food. My favorite trip, however, was to Istanbul, Turkey with one of my closest friends. He had lived there his whole life so I was able to get a local’s view of the city, as well as seeing the best tourist sites.
Over the semester, my global perspective was greatly expanded not only through travel, but most significantly through the multitude of perspectives, I was immersed in. At breakfast, I would discuss recent global news with people who could even be from the countries that we only talked about in the US. There was also more freedom for discussion without the polarizing two-party system pitting people against each other. In Denmark, there are over ten political parties represented in parliament alone. Plus, most of my friends were from other countries with different structured governments and parties. Suffice to say, it was hard to discount someone’s opinion immediately because of their political views when you’ve never even heard of their party. Unfortunately, I have definitely been guilty of judging someone instantly after I hear their party, so this was an easy way to expand my views and consider points of view I hadn’t before.
I took many things from my time in Denmark. The things I’ve shared: a sense of independence, an expanded global perspective, a love for Danish folk songs, a first-hand understanding of socialism, and passport stamps from my travels. However, the memories that will always stand out are the friendships and connections I made with the people there. Though it may be cliche, it is so because of human nature proving it to be true time and time again. We are emotional creatures, who latch onto relationships with others, and some of the connections I made there were stronger than any I’ve had before. I hope to see the friends I made throughout my life.