I have reached my final destination: Aalborg. This charming town is where I will spend most of the next six months of my life and I couldn’t feel luckier. I have already given a short background of Aalborg’s history (see: https://haynesandthedanes.wordpress.com/2015/01/13/who-where-what-when-why/) and I have to say that the town retains the atmosphere of an ancient place. Many of the streets and sidewalks are cobblestones (many times, with moss growing on them, which is always surprising to a Arizonan).
The homes usually made out of brick with white windows, which almost gives them a tidy doll-house look. There are no buildings taller than around 3 or 4 stories, so one may see the several church spires protruding from the rooftops.
I am finally feeling settled in. After a week of figuring out the bus stop, where to buy the cheapest food, how to communicate, where the school is, etc., I seem to understand my surroundings, at least, a bit better than I did when I first got off the train from Copenhagen. There are still some difficulties, yes, but I didn’t come here for a vacation…
Being a Foreigner 101
One thing I have noticed during my first week, is how much I feel like a foreigner. I’ve grown up in Arizona and besides some various trips when I was younger, I haven’t ever felt entirely culturally different. Now I do. A large percentage of the time, when I’m not in class or with other international students, all I hear is Danish. Now, I understand what it is like to come to a foreign country and feel the need to blend in– because, if you don’t, someone might spot your foreign-ness, your otherness. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be foreign at all– but when you’re completely mystified by the currency, called Kroner, (why the hell doesn’t Denmark have 10 and 20 bills?) and trying to pay a bus fare as quickly as possible, it’s easy to feel silly. Sometimes, I have even felt stupid and when I mumble a quick “sorry,” everyone knows I’m American.
That’s another thing: I never thought about how I had an accent, but now I’m very conscious of it. I hear, very clearly (almost annoyingly so), how different my English sounds from a Danish or British person speaking English. I stand out. There aren’t a ton of Americans here and so sometimes I feel as if I have an enormous American flag behind me with the words “GOD BLESS THE USA” in flashing lights above it, maybe even a couple gunshots ringing out as I walk by (because, as Europeans seem to think, all Americans love guns). In short, this isn’t what I would like to be necessarily associated with, thus, my desire to blend in.
However, I have also become proud of being American, despite the stereotypes that are sometimes thrust upon American travelers. Danes are more often then not very interested in hearing about Arizona, my studies, my future plans. I’ve become proud of the fact that I live very close to the Grand Canyon and love describing, to most people’s surprise, the winter storms that my hometown gets. As I describe the pine trees and the desert (in all of its unique beauty) I’ll find myself missing home– even though I thought I wouldn’t.
I have a bright green jacket that I brought with me for the cooler months. It’s a little too big for me, has a bright plaid lining and isn’t at all subtle. It’s not necessarily the jacket that I would have chosen to bring if I knew how much I wanted to blend in with Danish people– they all wear black or grey. So I’m sure you can imagine me, lost or possibly chasing the bus, in my giant green jacket– a spot of color in a sea of black, navy and grey jackets. I was joking with a Danish friend about this jacket and how much it stands out. She laughed and commented, “Sometimes I think it is good for the Danish people to be challenged.” I thought about what she had said for a long time after and I have come to realize that my difference, my status as a foreigner, isn’t such a bad thing.
From this point on, I’m going to embrace my differences, embrace the Kroner and embrace my green jacket.