Sunday, January 25, 2009

Culture shock? Not what you'd expect...

As I prepared to study abroad, I received countless briefings on the dangers of culture shock. The pre-departure orientation seemed less of an orientation than a chance to scare us out of studying abroad, complete with dire warnings against parasite infested water and men with machetes. Of course, none of that really applies to Copenhagen, seeing as this is a city where people feel safe leaving their babies in their strollers outside as they have a meal in a restaurant and I'm pretty sure I'm safer here than I am in Minnesota. At this point, however, I feel like all of the warnings were for nothing. Maybe its because I've traveled a lot, or because I was in Kiev before coming to Copenhagen, or even because Denmark is not exactly exotic, but I seem to have skipped over culture shock completely...well, no, not completely. For me, the shock has not been against my American culture, but my Macalester culture. Because of where I live, I feel almost as if I am getting more of an "American college experience" here than I do at school.

To say the least, life has dealt me a great hand this semester. Other than the ordeal with the internet, I have no complaints. I am living on the fourth floor in Skindergade 40, a quirky building where everything - including the stairs, windows sills, and ceilings - is at a slant and everyone is prepared to have a good time. Only 2 minutes from the best shopping, bars, clubs, and (most importantly, of course) our classrooms, Skindergade is the envy of all unlucky students who have hour commutes. I share my apartment with 9 people officially, 6 girls and 3 boys, and 19 people unofficially (the 10 boys on the floor below us appreciate having nice girls who can cook on the floor above them.) We have very quickly become like a family, the 6 of us ladies serving as wives, mothers, sisters, girlfriends, etc. as we try to maintain some sort of order and provide the useful skills of cooking and cleaning (not without a price of course, we often get free groceries out of the deal.) After the first night when some of the boys from the floor below came up asking us how to boil pasta, we quickly fell into a routine of group dinners every night....which have all turned out delicious. So, here we have shock #1: living with people and eating somewhere other than a cafeteria.

One of the weirdest things to me (or perhaps I should say...most "shocking"?) is the number of "greek" people here. Now, I am not talking about Grecians, we have those at Macalester; I am talking frat boys and sorority girls. Take the floor below me, for example, which has been renamed "the frat shack" because 8 of the 10 guys belong to fraternities at their respective schools...a little bit different than Mac where a greek system would be very passionately rejected. Along with the greek people comes a greek way of life...including lots of parties, almost always on my floor. This of course, has been a great time and a great way to meet people, but I still am having a hard time learning the ins and outs of "greek life" (which comes with a very hefty vocabulary.)

Shock #3? Americans! Coming from a school where being a pure-blood American who speaks only one language is a rarity, finding myself amongst so many Americans is very bizarre. Not only can I pronounce everyone's names (which are very straightforward...Jessy. Chris. Jeff. Megan.), I can have also have conversations without feeling bad that I don't speak 12 languages and haven't lived on every continent (but of course, no hard feelings Macalester...I love my internationals.) This, I should have expected, seeing as one of our pre-departure exercises was to think about all of the international students we knew at our school and then try to get to know some of them so that we would have experience with people from other countries...Well, if you're at Macalester and don't know people from other countries, I would have to guess that you have been locked in your dormroom and have really bad social skills.

My classes have thrown me for a completely different kind of loop...they're huge! And by that, I mean they have 60 people. Yes, state school friends, you're probably rolling your eyes at this, but the largest class I've ever taken had 45 people in it and was a physics lecture class. I have gotten used to classes with 20 people max, sitting in a circle facing each other having a discussion for an hour and a half. That's another's been awhile since I have seen so much of the backs of people's heads. And not only are the sizes different, but I'm taking classes over completely different subject matter than I have for the past 2 years. Not that I don't love learning about things like nationalism and genocide, but I it will be nice taking classes on things like advertising and corporations. And, maybe its a bit sad to be saying this, but I am so excited for tests! My brain will appreciate the break from 20 page papers. Shock #4: changing it up.

So am I culture shocked? Yes, maybe a little bit...but the Danes have had very little responsibility in that.

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