Denmark is a small country of 5.6 million people. It takes just about four hours to drive from the tip of the mainland to the German border.
California is a state with a population of 38.8 million. It takes about fifteen hours to drive from the top to the border of the neighboring country of Mexico.
I moved from Gistrup, a small village in Denmark, where I biked to school every morning or occasionally took the bus to the city with my friends. On Sundays, I would get fresh bread from our local baker at six a.m. When I moved to an apartment in California in seventh grade, I not only had to learn English, but I also had to understand a whole new culture. Throughout my three years here at Pinewood I have observed a few key differences between these two places in the world.
Imagine doing assignments for each class, but they have no effect on your grade. That is how the Danish schools work. From a young age the concept of doing doing your work without any direct reward was bred into our minds. There are no grades or tests until ninth grade, and then you head off to a secondary school. There is little stress about anything (especially college), but deadlines are still met. At least twice a year a teacher, parent and student meeting would be arranged to talk about the qualities of the students personality rather than their grades. The curriculum included world religions, woodwork, sewing, cooking, and music. Denmark taught me how to work in groups successfully; California taught me how to work alone. From a young age in Denmark, we were taught to always respect others. California’s focus lies more on achievement. I believe that a combination of both systems would make a perfect school.
The new language and culture in America hit me hard. Just two years ago, I thought an alumni was a member of the illuminati. The upside to learning English was that I finally understand the lyrics to Rihanna’s songs (not “Work,” though–but no one really knows what she’s singing). The first thing I noticed as I walked into Pinewood on the first day was that I had a “race.” I never felt or noticed it in Denmark because I was just seen as a Dane. The Bay Area is so diverse and it is truly wonderful to see all of the different cultures under one American flag. The culture here is all about the rush, business at huge companies, and closing deals while sipping coffee from Starbucks. On the other hand, the Danes usually sit back at a cafe in the city with fresh juice or beer.
“Hygge” (hue-gah) is what Danish culture is in one word. It’s the art of making an ordinary moment meaningful and intimate. You completely forget about taking pictures for Snapchat or Instagram while lighting a candle when you eat dinner or just spending some quality time with friends and family. If you ever meet a Dane, ask them about it. Danish humor, in short, will probably not be understood or will be taken offensively by 90 percent of the world. It is very strange, dry, and morbid at times. Americans, on the other hand, are overwhelmingly loud, which makes their jokes all the more funny. These are just a few overlaying observations I made throughout my three years of finding my place between the two worlds.
California brought something out in me that I didn’t even know was there. Here, I found encouragement that I could really be whatever I wanted to be–this is the American Dream that is so often the goal for thousands of people.
You know something is real when it makes you feel like you’re in a cliché movie. But Denmark has given me something else as well: humility and kindness. Humility is not lessening your ego. It is seeing everyone else as your equal.
If you asked me even just a year ago if I would have done this move all over again, I would have said no. But now I know that it was all worth it, for I have found a second place where I belong.