The Problem With Exchange Blogging

There is an intrinsic problem with exchange student blogs.  This is something I’ve witnessed with my exchange friends in the past, and my very own blog as well.  See, the main problem with blogging as an exchange student is that you’re blogging about how different your host country is.  All the little quirks and differences, perhaps the thoughts, feelings, and experiences that make you think of home.  But at the end of the day, almost every blog made to capture the essence of exchange is one that attempts to do so by contrasting an old life, and a new life.

And that of course isn’t the real problem; we watch documentaries and read news from far away lands to experience just that, contrast.  The first few months of a blog are always the most interesting, you can read raw thoughts on a new country, read about experiences you couldn’t hope to have back home, and live vicariously through the author as they go about their new life.  But what happens when a new life just becomes your daily life?  This is the intrinsic problem I mentioned before; eventually the contrast you were once able to identify becomes normal.

Yesterday I marked the fourth month living in Denmark.  Three months prior I could’ve written about contrast until my keyboard fell apart.  But now, everything just seems so normal.  I remember one of my earlier blog posts, it was about the rain and weather in Denmark.  The mere fact that it rained 6 out of 7 days of the week was so foreign to me.  But now? Now I’ve just accepted that Denmark is only suitable for amphibians and vikings.

All of this made me think; as an exchange student, I’ll tell people mundane things about life in Canada that just shocks them.  For instance, snow days.  Days where you don’t go to school because there’s simply too much snow on the roads; that’s just a regular facet of Canadian life.  But, to the Danes it’s incredible, especially when I tell them we get 10-15 of them per year.  This of course is just one example of “normal life”.  But, now I have two “normals” and it’s interesting to reflect on which of the two normals will win over in my mind.

Perhaps you may live a life that would be unimaginable to someone else.  It’s hard to imagine someone eagerly wishing to live vicariously through you in your own life, but yet it’s easy to become excited when you read, watch, or experience the life of another.  Is this because your life is merely uninteresting or normal? In my experience, no.

The more “normals” I experience, the more I realise how extraordinary normal can be.

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I’m Back.

It’s been a while since my last post, I think over a month to be honest.  A lot of stuff has been going on so I’ve been busy a lot!

Since my last post I’ve travelled to Western Europe when I visited Amsterdam with my school, I celebrated my 3 month anniversary since coming to Denmark, I changed classes in school, and I moved to my second host family.

Going to Amsterdam was phenomenal.  As you may know, I love large cities. My favourite place on earth is Manhattan; so, finally getting travelling outside of rural Denmark was fantastic.  Amsterdam was unlike any city I’ve been to before.  I was struck by just how quiet the city was at night.  I’d walk along the canals in the cool autumn air and could just quietly listen to the city.  Three months ago I was still in North America, never travelled to Europe, and now I’m sitting on a bench by the Canal enjoying one of Europes finest cities.

New York is a City to Dream in, but Perhaps Amsterdam is a City I Could Live in.

While I love Manhattan in all aspects, I find myself living Amsterdam in a different way.  Sure, there isn’t a constant 24/7 hustle and bustle, but perhaps that’s a good thing.  Seeing the sights in Amsterdam, the canals, the leaning houses, and the Dutch culture, it was amazing.  Oh, and I had the opportunity to see an old friend from Canada on Canadian thanksgiving.  Suffice to say, I had a great time.  I think Amsterdam is my #2 city of choice to live in.

Three months is a long time to be away from home.  No parents, no home, no Canadian comfort food (well, I brought maple syrup with me, but that’s besides the point) and no familiarity.  This exchange was a leap before you look kind of affair.  It’s been fantastic for me in more ways than one.  For instance, prior to leaving Canada, I was defined by certain characteristics.  Maybe I was that “smart guy”, or the “cocky guy”, but since coming to a country where I’m unable to express either of those things through language I’ve been forced to adapt and try to flesh out other parts of who I am.  It’s been good for me to expand upon different parts of my character.

Today is my 100th day in Denmark.  300 days of Denmark only has 200 days left…  Chronophobia is the persistent and irrational fear of the passing of time.  I can definitely relate to that fear.  Sometimes I lay awake at night and think about all the people I meet here, the things I do, and the places I go— it’s all temporary.  Sure, the memories will exist for the rest of my life, but in all honesty nothing has given me more profound sadness than remembering my old life.  I don’t miss home, I miss the memories.  And perhaps someday I’ll miss the memories of my Scandinavian home.  That thought constantly runs through my head, and the fact that I can’t do anything to stop the passing of time really messes with me.  All I can do is try to ensure that I don’t waste any time.

This year is approximately 5.26% of my life.  But if I play my cards right the memories will account for a much higher percentage.

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Canada Is Weird.

Canada and Denmark inhabit disparate worlds.  Such is to be expected on an exchange; totally different cultures and beliefs.  And most of the time I am able to adequately explain my culture to the unfamiliar Danes.  “why do you drive everywhere? Why can’t you take the bus?”  Well, Canada is massive.  Public transport isn’t feasible for most of the country. “You’re from Canada, why don’t you speak French?”  For the same reason you don’t.  I live just as far from French Canada as you do from French Europe.

But there is one aspect of Canada I cannot defend or explain to a Dane.  And that aspect is our hybrid measurement system…

See, Canada is a metric nation, for all intents and purposes we are like most other nations.  And perhaps I don’t speak for all of Canada, but where I live, we use metric and imperial in a 50/50 split.  If you asked me how tall the CN Tower in Toronto is I could tell you in meters.  If you asked the cruising altitude of an airplane I’d tell you in feet. If you inquired how tall I am I’d reply with feet and inches in a heartbeat.  Want me to cook dinner? Sure, the water boils at 100 Celsius but the oven will be set to 350 Fahrenheit and I’ll certainly be measuring my ingredients with tablespoons and cups.  Want to ask a Canadian the temperature? You’ll get it in Celsius.  But, ask a Canadian how much they weigh and you’ll get it in pounds.  I’ll pump my gas and measure it with litres, but when I buy a coke it’s in a 16 ounce bottle (591mL).  Making things even weirder, when asking a Canadian how far away a city/town is, you’re likely to get a response in minutes and hours, not kilometres.

Why do we do all this? Why don’t we pick a system and commit to it? Who knows, maybe we’re just a little stubborn 😉

Awesome

Many words in Danish don’t have literal translations.  Words like “hygge” (by far, the most famous untranslatable word in Danish) which describes a general feeling of coziness and comfort.  However, Danish isn’t the only language with a linguistic monopoly over some words.  While talking to my host mom about the subject, she told me of an untranslatable English word.

The Danes don’t have a word for “awesome”

Okay sure, they have words that are synonymous for “great” or “fantastic”.  And they have words that describe a humbling experience such as: “ærefrygtindgydende” (It just flows off the tongue, doesn’t it?).  But the Danes don’t have a word that directly translates, or shares the same definition, to “awesome”.

Well, Denmark, I have some good news.  For I know of a Danish word that is synonymous with Awesome that you can have for free.  Because in my mind, “Denmark” and “awesome” are one and the same.

Denmark Five – Oh

By the time this post is 12 hours old, I will officially have been in Denmark for fifty days.  All I can say really is: “wow”.  Denmark has been so good to me, and of course, Denmark has been so good for me as well.  Long have I passed my personal record for time spent away from home on my own (two weeks while I traveled to New York city).  I’ve been here for seven weeks now.  It is crazy to think about really, fifty days prior I was in the Toronto airport, saying goodbye to my family, my friends, and my country. and fifty days later I’m sitting on the edge of my bed writing a blog post; reminiscing about old memories, and old faces.

But, no matter, new life – new me.

I’ve been up to a lot recently.  I toured an old prison on the east coast of Denmark, I was able to see one of Denmarks mega-farms, a massive facility responsible for a huge chunk of Denmarks agriculture production, and of course, I’ve seen a great many of the Danish cities – Odense, København, Roskilde, Vejle, etc.  Of course, I have to manage all of this while also maintaining a school life.  On top of all this, I must also maintain a personal life.  Maintaining a personal life while abroad is harder than one may imagine.  It is true that I have a lot of free time, but it can be difficult to preserve who you are while you’re away from home.  One the one hand, you wish to become an integrated into your new culture and be indistinguishable from any other Dane.  But on the other hand, you want to preserve your culture and maintain who you were before you left home.  For instance, flannel and plaid are rather uncommon and unfashionable in Denmark; but, as a Canadian, you’ll have to tear my flannel from my cold, dead, hands.  

A lot can happen in fifty days.  There are years where nothing happens, and there are weeks where years can happen.

 

 

 

Ensomhed

ain • sohm • hell

“Ensomhed” is the danish word for loneliness.  Something every exchange student goes through.  Something every living person goes through, no doubt.  But, Danish loneliness is something different.  Danish loneliness is sitting beneath a grey sky, dressed in all black, clutching a one dollar cup of coffee, and for that moment the comfort of holding something warm in you hands – that cup of coffee – is your best friend.

Danish loneliness is being a constant “outsider”. It’s being that person that everyone wants to practice their English on.  It’s that state of mind where all of a sudden all those English class lessons about the archetypal outsider all make sense.  For now, you are an archetype.  Danish loneliness is being reduced to your basic and primal attributes.  No longer are you that “smart kid” or the one who always dresses nice.  Nobody knows who you are;  you begin to question if you ever knew either.

Danish loneliness is knowing you left everyone behind.  People who loved you. A girlfriend, a best friend, your parents, your friends… everyone.  Danish loneliness is knowing some people may never forgive you for that, and knowing that some people couldn’t care less.  Danish loneliness is trying to forgive myself for doing that to them.  Danish loneliness is having new friends, but being unable to be friendly.

Danish loneliness prevents one from being excited for their return home.  For Danish loneliness is knowing you’ll never have a home.

 

Trump

Fear not, I won’t be delving into my own political opinion, nor shall I bash the President.  Moreover, this is an analysis of Danish general consensus.

Recently I attended a Boy Scouts meeting in Denmark, it contained all the regular facets of Boy Scouts in America and Canada; green shirts, neck ties, badges and patches, and the ever so chaotic energy in the air present in a group of young boys given access to fire and knives.  However, a stark difference was noted when the scout leader asked one of the boys to lead the group in a chant.  The boy approached the centre of the circle attempting to suppress a giggle behind crooked teeth, his freckled face dimpled with a smile.  The boy began to chant: “Who’s gonna build that wall?” the others replied, “We’re gonna build that wall!”.  The boy continued in between giggles: “Who’s gonna pay for that wall?” – “Mexico’s gonna pay for that wall!” the troop replied while laughing.  Of course, I don’t fault the children for laughing as children do.  To me, it was an interesting experience.  For many of these children, no older than ten years old, this may very well be the only thing they know of America.

But what will happen when these children grow up?  How will their opinion of America change over time?  Many of the adults in Denmark are bewildered by American politics.  Several American exchange student friends of mine have been called upon by my exchange organisation to explain and reflect on the situation.  Of course, their confusion is understandable.  The world has only had 1.5 years of exposure to Donald Trump as a candidate and president.  To many adults, their opinion, and subsequent befuddlement, is due to shock exposure.  But what of the children of Denmark? Those who may grow up under a potential 8 years of American politics.  What may they come to think of America?  For what may become of America’s reputation abroad when all a boy may know is how laughable the head of state is?

Europe has had historically favourable views of America.  And of course, in most regards, this is still true.  But I fear that is slowly beginning to shift.  One need only to look at the president’s recent speech at the United Nations.  Either met with laughter or condemnation, the Presidents words fell short of their mark.  And perhaps that will become the new view on America: “fell short of the mark”.  To many Europeans, after the Second World War, America was a liberator, a brethren in democracy; poised to tear fascism apart, America was slated to be Atlas, the titan who held earth upon his shoulders.

But perhaps Atlas has shrugged.

 

 

Danish Liquorice

If there is one food Denmark is famous for, it would have to be Danish Liquorice – “Lakrids” In Danish.  To preface, I’ve never liked liquorice to begin with, it’s taste has always been rather unappealing to me.  Oh how I underestimated just how unappealing liquorice could be…  First of all, there is no “red” or “black” liquorice in Denmark, it’s all black.  Jet black.  In addition, liquorice in Denmark is far from black liquorice in Canada.  Black liquorice in Denmark is incredibly salty.  Salty to the point where it almost numbs the mouth.  In my experience, Danish liquorice is overpowering and unbearable.  As I found out, there is a reason to this.  See, in Canada, black liquorice is made of ingredients you may expect, sugar, liquorice extract, etc.  But, in Denmark, Liquorice is made of three primary ingredients: Liquorice plant, charcoal, and ammonia.  Yes, the same ingredients you’d use to have a barbecue and clean that barbecue afterwards are used in the creation of candy…  As one may expect, it’s an incredibly powerful taste.  However, most Danes love it and defend it.  I suppose it’s an acquired taste.

Canadian black liquorice is hated by many; when Canadians are finished with a bag of assorted candies, more often than not people will leave all the black liquorice at the bottom of the bag – where it belongs.

This post is all in good fun, Danish ways of life are not better, nor worse, they’re merely different.  I’m thankful for the cultural experience, however, my tastebuds are not.1200px-Swedish_salty_liquorice

I Haven’t forgotten about you

It’s been a while.  But I promise I haven’t forgotten about you or this blog.  I’ve just been really busy recently.  So, perhaps there will be a flurry of blog posts in the coming days.

However, this post will be rather short.

As I approach the one month mark, the idea of Canada is becoming an increasingly difficult thing to wrap my head around.  It feels like I’ve always lived here in Denmark despite it being less than 30 days since I arrived.  Anyway, It’s the little things that remind me of home sometimes.  Like hearing an American accent on the television.  Or seeing the Danish flag draped in a way that it almost looks like the Canadian one.  Or even just someone asking me where I’m from and why my accent sounds so funny. Small things mean the world to an exchange student I suppose.  As a result, the big things mean even more really.  For instance, my parents shipped me a care package recently with a plethora of Canadian/America goodies in it.  I can tell you, every North American takes peanut butter for granted.  Every one of them.

Despite my mind finding it’s way home more often than not, I still find it difficult to miss my homeland.  One must venture away from the known so they can find what “home” actually means.

Talking to other exchange students; they all say the miss the feeling of being home.  But for me it’s different.  Perhaps I always feel at home, wherever I am.  Or, I have never felt at home and must keep searching for it.  Either way, eventually I’ll know.

I’ll write soon, I promise.

Making a Cinematic Video about Canada

 

For weeks now, I have sat upon several gigabytes of raw footage, unseen to the world except to the mechanical eyes of my hard drive.  Well, today that changes.  Today I finally finished my cinematic video about my hometown.  I’ve posted a link below if you’d like to check it out.  I think this will be my first blog post that isn’t about Denmark.  But, I wanted to share the process that lead to the release of this video; from the perspective of an amateur, not only in video editing, but in life as well.

So this project began months ago, before I ever even packed my bags for Denmark.  This began out of a desire to capture the essence of my hometown so I could show the people of Denmark what Canada is like.  However, as with many things in life, desire is easier than delivery.

To make an amateur video like this, I had to first actually capture footage to work with.  So in the few weeks I had left In Canada, I travelled around my local area to capture footage.  Being an Amateur, I had a terrible filming ratio of about 30:1.  This means for every 30 seconds of footage I recorded, I would only actually use 1 second for my final film.  The actual filming process involved me driving myself around with my Drone, DSLR Camera + Microphone, and GoPro.  Once I had several hours of footage, I decided it was time to begin editing.

Now, the editing process is very different than the shooting process.  It involves being finicky, precise, and most importantly, caffeinated.  I currently use Premiere Pro to edit my videos, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of what that program is capable of.  I’m excited to learn even more with Premiere.

Anyways, I have made several videos like these in the past, however, some part of me has ensured they never see the light of day.  Let me explain; when it comes to creativity, I seldom release it into the world.  Be it writing, art, or even videos like these, I never release them.  If one thinks about it, there are so many reasons not to be a “creative”.  What if I release it an nobody see’s it? What if people do see it, but they don’t like it?  The list goes on.  As a result, I’ve never released anything into the world prior to this project – We’ll see how that goes.

Perhaps I’m looking at this wrong.  Perhaps I’m doing it for the wrong reasons.  Who knows.  But I want to continue.

More posts about Denmark later.  I promise