Forging My Identity in Denmark

by Judah Chandra, DENMARK

I remember getting my admission letter to Denmark, and thinking that I did not know very much about the country, and imagining what it would be like when I arrived in September 2014 for my Erasmus year abroad. The first thing that struck me was how much I felt I stood out. With my full Indian heritage, I noticed how different I was from the predominantly white, ethnic Danes around me. This feeling of being the ‘other’ was fairly palpable for me, and it led me to tailor my studies to look at Danish national identity and what it meant to “be Danish.” As in many other European countries, there has been a widespread focus in recent years on national identity, amidst a climate of immigration being seen as negative, and rising terrorist fears. Like many others who stay in Denmark for an extended period of time, as the months go on- the honeymoon period disappears and you begin to see both the pros and cons of living in a country.

When I first arrived, I had seen Denmark as most of the Western Media does- a socialist paradise, amazing welfare, “hygge” (check it out) and consisting of pretty people. Over my time there, I noticed and understood some of the flaws in their system. That’s not to say that there aren’t still amazing things about Denmark- there are. Only that I became more aware of just like every country in the world; there are always problems. Apart from this, I did enjoy my time there as a student. I was part of a range of departments where Danish students organised really fun events for us exchange students from all around the world. I enjoyed having conversations about politics, race, national identity, and national differences. What also struck me in these conversations was that there were progressive young people around who could readily accept that I was both Indian and British. As the only British POC in many of my classes, it also allowed my fellow international students to understand that England was more diverse than the BBC documentaries and ‘Downton Abbey esque’ TV series showed. I also enjoyed exploring Copenhagen and other cities such as Aarhus (the second city) and Odense (the third city and home of H.C Anderson- the chap who wrote The Little Mermaid).

It’s difficult to compare Denmark to the UK, as ultimately their histories, geography, language and culture differ. But one quick comparison is that Danish sure is a strange language to learn and is often said to sound like a “person speaking with a potato in their mouth”. Just ask a Danish person to say their dessert called ‘rød grød med fløde’ and you’ll have an idea on how strange is sounds- particularly to a native English speaker. So should you visit Denmark or even study there for a year abroad like I did? Absolutely. I am of the belief that autonomous individuals can decide how they view and learn from experiences- particularly when travelling and exploring new countries. I personally would never take back the experience of my time in Denmark. In many ways, it shaped me into who I am today and I am still in contact with international friends who I met over there.

So some tips if you do ever go out there: – If you’re in Copenhagen (the capital), make sure you visit Malmo, Sweden which is a 30 minute train ride from the station. – Definitely visit Aarhus- the European Capital of Culture 2017. – Learn Danish or at least a few words such as Hi (Hej), Bye (Hej Hej), Thanks (Tak), Beer (øl), Cheers (skål), – Have fun- and if you’re going in winter then you should wrap up warm as it’s pretty cold out there. All the best with your adventures and remember, fortune favours the bold.