Two Years Ago

It’s been two years since I wrote this essay about Denmark. I created this essay for myself, but also to apply to college (it worked!) I’ve since then added to this document. I chose to write about something that changed my perspective about life, and Denmark was it. Re-reading it, I relive the moments I spent there, and the ones I never wrote about. There are a lot of moments that I haven’t written about, mostly because if I did, I would be typing for years. From playing laser tag in Sweden to when the Danes visited America, these memories I will cherish forever. I vow to go back to Denmark one day, hopefully with Aiden. I know my experience would’ve been different without him. Thankfully when we do go back one day, it will be another extraordinary adventure.

 

My junior year of High School, I went on a foreign exchange trip with 22 other students to Denmark. I had absolutely no idea what to expect; it was my first time on my own and leaving the country. I was going to live with a Danish family who had their own values and a culture that was different than mine. It was a ten-day trip, during which I had to embrace every obstacle and challenge that came before me. I was terrified, enthusiastic, eager, and ready for this exciting but challenging opportunity to explore this foreign country. I knew that this experience would forever be with me, so I wanted to make it epic. When we first stepped foot in Denmark, it was a cold and rainy morning. Walking out of the terminal, nobody complained about the rain or the wait for the bus. Everyone was pleased to be there, finally, and everybody was super excited. We got on the bus and drove for a what seemed like forever while tracking ourselves on the city map we were given. Finally, we made it to the school, where we would spend the rest of the day eating and meeting the Danes.

 

Later that day, my exchange partner Maria and I were picked up by her Dad, Kim. I think. Maybe it was her step-mom, Anna. Either way, we traveled to the “country-side” and turned around street roundabouts, and passed thick green woods. I fell in love with Maria’s safe cozy white farmhouse. I immediately felt at home. My favorite part about staying at Maria’s house was the shower and the meals. The shower was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. A long piece of glass came down from the ceiling to the flat ground. The shower floor was completely flat, and whole with the bathroom if that makes sense. Basically, it’s really open which means it gets super steamy, which was a nice detox. After you shower, you have to use a tool to push the water down the drain. How crazy is that? Also, meals with Maria and her family were always delightful. Breakfast was cheese, bread, and fruit, every morning. Literally all of my favorite things! Anna let me try expresso for the first time on the second morning. I was so tired from the plane ride and day that I needed to wake up. It was very different, and I was hyper than usual that day.

 

Anyways, Maria taught me more patience and positivity than I ever thought possible. I had many conversations with her and her family and friends about our cultural and social commonalities and differences. The first difference was in how reserved and honest the Dutch are as a people. While I would be speaking in my normal tone, it was common for people to turn and stare at my friends and me. At one point I could literally hear a pin drop while in the streets

of Elsinore, something so different than a typical day out in Philadelphia. Besides all that, Maria and were really connected at the soul. She felt like my sister, and before bed, we would hang out together and talk about our day, our life, and basically anything on our mind. Maria and I became very close during the exchange, it was a match made in Heaven. It was crazy how similar we were, even though we lived so far away from each other. While not out sight-seeing castles or taking in the beauty of Copenhagen, Maria and I would continue to discuss our interests only to realize how similar we were. We basically bounced off each other all the time. And this was when my perspective started to evolve. This adventure was a life-changing experience that has been a catalyst for my personal growth and maturation.

 

One of the first days in Denmark, we were put in groups and given a map to explore Elsinore. My first stop was a visit to the public library. Inside there were books, computers, people, and a cafe. It was a very modern building, with long glass windows, and didn’t smell like old books like American libraries do. I remember getting in an elevator, crowded and stuffed with my classmates. We went to the top of the library, and when I stepped outside, I saw the world in a completely new way. The cold air hit my face but was quickly warmed up from the shining sun. Across the water was Sweden, and to my right was the beautiful town of Elsinore. Our Danes were giving us a self-written tour guide they had made, but I can’t remember a word they said. I was completely stunned by where I was. I looked over at my friend Aiden, and the smile on his face was pure joy. We were here. It was so beautiful. No skyline buildings, no loud music playing in the streets, just complete bliss.

 

After that, Aiden and I silently made it our mission to have a completely different experience than everyone else had prepared for. We had been prepared in many ways by our teachers and had a lot of rules that we were supposed to follow. If you know Aiden and me, you know that was a very unrealistic goal for us. We decided to sneak off during some tours and at different places such as the train station, bowling alley and Freetown Christiana. It wasn't like we weren't interested in where the Danes brought us, because we totally were. We just wanted to take advantage of any spare moment we had to experience Denmark on our own, and that's exactly what we did. Even if it was against the rules, we didn’t mind the consequences against us, and luckily we got away with it.

 

One day, all 22 of us went to Copenhagen with Mr. Morbito and Ms. Daney, our teachers on the trip. We visited amazing places such as the Round Tower and learned a lot about the town. Did you know sometimes the Dutch leave their babies in strollers outside of stores or cafes? Yeah. Weird, I know. I swear the air is so much fresher there until you get hit with a whiff of cigarettes. Anyways, all of us students were given an hour and a half of free time in Copenhagen to explore. While most people decided to go get waffle ice-cream or shop, Aiden and I took this as an opportunity to go wild. We ran through the cobblestone streets of Copenhagen, while I recorded everything we did and saw on my GoPro. It was as if we had lived there our whole life. We quickly adapted to where we were and navigated the streets with no problems at all. We visited different shops and made new friends with employees who clearly saw our American eagerness. We took advantage of being young in Denmark and went into stores that we wouldn’t be able to get into at home. We even walked into a store that was full of old men in suits and ties puffing on cigars. Aiden and I looked at each other, confused. But decided to go in. We acted like it wasn’t a big deal that us, underdressed teenagers, were there. And luckily again, we got away with it. We drank coffee, ate sandwiches, took photos, danced to the marching music, and laughed the whole time. Finally, we got back and realized we were twenty minutes late and nobody knew where we had gone. Turns out everyone stayed in the main center of town, while Aiden and I ran around the entire city. It was awesome and our teachers couldn't believe all that we had done in such a small amount of time. Aiden and I continued our adventurous ways; strolling around the streets, eating all different kinds of food, dancing in the club, drinking beer, sitting at the bar with old people chain-smoking cigarettes, and making memories with our Danes.

 

But under all of this, there were things at home that kept holding me back. One of them being a boy who was graduating that year. It sounds so weird to me now because I can look back and laugh at what I went through with him. Like, why would I cry over this? Anyways, he shouldn't have had any effect on me in Denmark, but he did.

 

One day, we went to my favorite place in Copenhagen called Paper Island. It is sort of like our Reading Terminal market, but better. While I was there, I was getting super anxious because I had been talking to this boy from home. He had told me that he didn't want to talk when I came home from my trip, and I was devastated. Silly me. I walked outside and used my minutes to call my best friend Kaitie. I sat at an old picnic table, where a man in a winter jacket and wool hat, sat quietly, smoking a cigarette. I cried on the phone to Kaitie about how I was so anxious, and what he had said to me. Her wise words were simply, “Jordan, you are in Denmark. You’ve waited forever for this, and you're gonna waste time crying over a boy who doesn't care? Focus on yourself.” And she was right. Like always. After that, I forgot about everything going on at home and in the world, and let go of my anxiety that I had been holding onto.

 

We shortly ended the call and I sat there in silence looking around me at where I was. I felt embarrassed. Then the man spoke. “Sounds like you’re a long way from home,” I looked up and smiled. I replied with a yes and that I was sorry if I had disturbed him. He then told me how his best friend had left him for his wife, whose twins were not his. I immediately realized that my problems were so small and that I was here. In Denmark. With people who I love. I didn’t need anything else but my passport and my friends. After this realization, I felt free.

 

The man and I had a nice conversation about life, and he offered me a cigarette. I nicely said no thank you, gathered myself and went back into Paper Island where we all spent the rest of the evening drinking and eating. I kept thinking of the poor man I had talked to but quickly forgot because Paper Island became my favorite place of all time. The conversation, the laughter, and the joy was so pure. It was the best night in Denmark, and I think everyone who was there would agree. At the end of the night, we put Aiden in a shopping cart and pushed him through the cobblestone street to the train station; while he yelled: “I’m staying, I’m staying forever!”

 

I didn’t realize at the time was how familiar and extraordinary Denmark would soon become in my heart. Denmark made me realize that I need to live in the moment and enjoy everything I’m given. It showed me that there are bigger problems in the world and that I should worry less. Denmark guided me to find my passion for traveling and taught me to explore more about myself and other cultures. When I got home, I soon realized that the memories of Denmark would always be with me and that I would soon be back there one day for another adventure.

 

Photo Credit: Jordan G