Jan 26th, 2012


By Nick Robison


I am sitting in the back student lounge of the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS) at Vestergade 5-7, 1456 Copenhagen (And on the train between København and Holbæk (this has been a multi-day post) and in my room at the Modin house). It’s been a long past couple of days and I’ve finally gotten a chance to collect my thoughts and chronicle part of my journeys. This post is really long and rambling, I’m hoping future posts will be much shorter and focused around a single event or issue. Until then enjoy this chronological journey through my arrival week:


****I left at 12pm with my mom and Grandparents to drive to Indy to catch my flight to Chicago, then to Copenhagen. We left with plenty of time and I immediately remembered that I left my hat and gloves on the dryer back home, but it’s not like I’m going to the frozen north so I should be fine, right? Upon arriving at the airport we discovered that United would not accept my paper work from the Danish government to allow me to enter the country. The way it works is US citizens can enter Denmark for up to 90 days without a residence permit and don’t actually have to submit their visa application until after arrival as long as their enrolled in an accredited work or education institution. To whit, we were given a letter from immigration services that stated we were allowed to enter the country and submit papers upon arrival (since our program is 4 months). Unfortunately for me (and solely me, based on my conversations with other students) my airline decided the letter was not enough and denied by boarding until I changed my return flight to within the 90 day window, of course, they wouldn’t wave the change fee or the fee to return my flight to its originally scheduled time once my visa cleared. $658 later I was booked on a flight home on April 19th with the obvious necessity to change it once I arrived. While all of this was going on the boarding window for my flight closed and as this was Saturday night was the final flight of the day, of course, there was an American flight leaving an hour later but to take it would require an additional change fee and I would forfeit my earned miles (for whatever that’s worth). Finally, right as the agent was about to book the American ticket she realized my original flight hadn’t even arrived yet and thus I was able to check-in and take my original flight. God is indeed good.

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful, although on my flight from Chicago I sat next to this girl who had never flown before in her life, but after I showed her how to work the seat belt she did fine. I slept most of the way.


We arrived in Copenhagen at 1pm local time (7am EST) and passed through customs without even a cursory scan of our arrival letters (much to my surprise). Once through we met the rest of the DIS group and those of us who were staying with host families got bused to a nearby Quality Inn (‘merica) where we waited for our families to come pick us up.

My family lives in Holbæk [Hull-bik], small town of 30.000 people about an hour outside the city center. I have to say, I think I won the host family jackpot, they’re pretty awesome. They’re a pretty typical family, the kids do sports, dance, and homework. They’re also pretty health conscious to the point that they pretty much only eat sugar (like sodas and candy) on the weekend and they even have a ‘candy cupboard’ that they lock with a padlock on the week days. Hmm… this seems familiar. They’re also quite frugal, Søren buys items like shampoo and butter in bulk whenever it’s on sale so parts of their house look like something off ‘Extreme Couponing’.

A lovely picure of my Danish host family
The Modin Family

Søren [Ser-in] – Works for the sanitation department as a video operator, his job is to maneuver a camera through the sewer pipes and check for blockages and cracks. I didn’t even know that was a real thing, but he’s been doing it for 25 years and seems to be pretty good at it. In his off time he works as a booking agent for a local music venue and this weekend we’re going to see Tim Christensen and the Damn Crystals, which he brought into town. He has a very sarcastic sense of humor, and though his English is excellent it’s sometimes hard to figure out if he’s being funny or if it’s a real comment that’s not translating correctly. I’ve decided to take the ‘bull’ approach and assume it’s pretty much all a joke and charge ahead with what I’m saying or doing; hopefully that doesn’t get me into trouble. I’m sure it will. I haven’t quite figured out how to pronounce his name yet, so I mostly just slur it out and hope no one notices.

Dorthe [Dory] – She is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, she’s extremely friendly and really, really loves her family. She’s also pretty much adopted me as one of her own and makes my breakfast in the morning and does my laundry. This is all on her initiative, I offered to handle my own chores but she insisted that she does it for all her kids, but I’m not complaining. She works part time for an insurance company in downtown Copenhagen not far from DIS, at some point she’s planning on bringing me to the office so I can see how a Danish company works and meet their risk management team, I probably shouldn’t be excited for that, but I am. She’s also an excellent cook and makes a wide variety of dishes.

Oliver [Oliver] – The oldest boy, a strapping young man of 14, his one true love is video games, mostly World of Warcraft. He’s fairly reserved but really friendly and loves American music, but mostly it’s a lot of Bruno Mars and techno. Looks like I have some proselytizing to do. As next year is his final year of mandatory schooling before he beings specialized classes we’ve talked a bit about what he wants to do in the future. He’s thinking something in astronomy, I don’t think I’ve ever head a kid say they want to be an astronomer, that’s a new one for me. Next week I’m going into his school to talk about American education and see how a Danish school functions, apparently it’ll be a big day because the kids all bring money and buy their lunches at the grocery store (everyone here packs lunches, even the adults), Oliver said it’s mostly frozen pizzas and such, that’ll be a nice nostalgic moment for me.

Signe [Seena] – Also 14, her goal is to be a fashion model in New York. I’ve tried to dissuade her but she seems determined. She also loves making movies and has a couple short clips on Youtube. She also does Hip-Hop dancing but so far as refused to show me any of her moves, probably a good thing because I would then be compelled to join her, and no one wants that. The first day I arrived she and Lucas (see below) sat on my bed and looked at pictures on my computer (at their bequest) while I unpacked. It was mostly random pictures from my cellphone so I think it opened more questions then it answered. For her school she’s doing a geography report on Indiana and asked me to come in for ‘show-and-tell’, I’m looking forward to that and plan on teaching the kids Hail Purdue, it’s only appropriate.

Lucas [Lucas] – By the far the most outgoing and mischievous of the kids, he’s only 11 and doesn’t really speak English but as he’s attached himself to me both of us are trying to make a concerned effort to build a relationship in spite of the language barrier. He’s the athlete of the family and he runs, plays football, swims, and is a member of the circus where he does the rope and ball thing (I forget what it’s called, I’ll try and post a video of him doing it some time). He is a huge Justin Bieber fan and randomly starts singing lyrics from ‘Baby’, which is about the only English he knows. I’m pretty sure that in itself is what’s wrong with this generation. The other night he and Signe were prank calling the neighbors, I tried to teach them some American classics (Is your refrigerator running?), but they didn’t translate.

Søren also has another daughter (Saskia), but she’s off at University on a volleyball scholarship, I don’t know when/if I’ll get to meet her.

The remainder of Sunday was pretty low key, although the kids took the opportunity to introduce me to some Danish candies and sodas, as a thinly veiled attempt to score some more sugar.


My first DIS orientation started at 11:00am so Dorthe took the morning off to guide me from the house to downtown (as I said, she’s a gem). Our opening session was in the Glyptotek (I don’t really remember how to pronounce that, I think it’s Glyploteket) which is this really interesting sculpture museum/cultural center built by the founder of the Carlsburg brewery. As soon as I walked in I knew this program would not be what I imaged. Here are a few stats that I found interesting.

– This semester there are 864 students, all from the US and Canada (mostly the US, with one stray French girl, I’ve heard)

– 70% are girls (a strong positive)

– 80% are from private liberal arts colleges (and most have between 6-30 students enrolled)

– The program has been around since the 1950s

At Purdue this program isn’t really advocated or well understood so I had no idea what to expect, thus far, except for my times with my host family, it’s been all Americans, all the time. As we went to go get our books, find the classrooms, and get antiquated with the area, it became glaringly apparent that the Danes steer well clear of the massive clumps of loud, disoriented American tourists. It’s like talking in a Deer blind, it scares away the wildlife. That’ll be a big adjustment for me, I wasn’t expecting so many people or such a staggered immersion program. It’s a good thing I’m staying with a host family, otherwise I don’t even know if I’d see a Danish person.

The rest of the day involved really repetitive info sessions about how not to be an American (which based on the atmosphere in the street, was completely ignored), while excited to be in a new city I was really disappointed to be in a DIS bubble.

That night the kids took me to Netto, the local grocery chain, to get a SIM card for my phone and some more Paprika rice cakes that are quite amazing. They also bought a banana flavored marshmallow treat called Scum Bananar, those little sneaks capitalized on my presence to bypass the parental sugar ban. I knew I liked them.

I also went on a short run with Lucas, it’s nice to have activities that we can do that don’t require talking.

We also watched some Danish TV, specifically this show about this American woman who married a Dane and then got sick of the cold (an understandable problem) and fled back to Florida with the kid. It was funny because the parts shot in the US were in English with Danish subtitles but the parts in Denmark and the narration were in Danish with no subtitles, so I caught about half the show and Dorthe translated the major interludes. The next morning about 5 other people in my info session watched the same program with their host families, apparently there are only a couple of popular channels over here.


My day started at 9:30 which meant the alarm went off at 6, or midnight eastern time. After I peeled myself out of bed I biked to the train station (about 3km) with Lucas and Oliver and made my way to DIS solo. It’s not really that impressive, it’s a pretty straight shot and the central train station has a lot of English.

If I thought Monday was tedious and boring, Tuesday was even worse, the programs were long and reminded me of those awful Freshman classes we all had to take.

That evening the kids had me take practice tests for the national english proficiency exams, I’m proud to say I scored 100% on level 8. Then they had me stumble through the level 2 Danish test and laughed as I butchered just about every pronunciation. Just so you know, written Danish has almost no correlation with the spoken language, they randomly drop syllables and certain letters make different sounds between 2 adjacent words, most of the time I’m pretty lost in how to speak, but it’s also very linear in its format and many words have a passing similarity to English to its possible to follow the meaning of a sentence without being able to pronounce it.


Most of Wednesday was spent on an ‘Amazing Race’ style event through Downtown Copenhagen, this was the first time we really got a chance explore the city and the first time we were in a group of less then 25 people. My group of 4 visited the parliament building, the national cathedral, the queen’s palace, and this little square nestled in between these apartments and cafes that used to house a monastery. The city itself is really cool and it was nice to be able to wander around and go at our own pace. It gave me much more hope for this program.

That evening Søren’s mother came over for dinner (as she does every week) and made a traditional Danish meal of potatoes, meet and cooked onions (I don’t know how they’re cooked, but they’re delicious). Denmark was playing Sweden in the European Handball Championships and Søren’s mother is a big fan so I got to watch my first match. I’m kind of surprised it’s not a more popular sport in the US, it’s really fast paced, the players are really athletic and good looking, and it’s really physical. Anyways, Denmark won so they’ll play Friday in the semi-finals against Spain.


****That brings us to the present. Today was the first day of classes and I had one at 8:30, originally I only had class on Tuesdays and Fridays, but recently they changed my schedule to give me an extra 2 days of classes, but since there’s only one class scheduled it means I have a 3 hour commute for 80 class minutes. Not my favorite arrangement.

My first class was Healthcare Delivery and Prioritization in Northern Europe it’s taught by Morten Eiersted a researcher at HIV-Danmark, the class itself is focused around field studies and out-of-classroom experiences and should be quite interesting, thus far it’s been pretty rote.

After class I went for coffee with 2 of the girls in my class from Brandeis, they both thought I was Jewish after first meeting me, I think that’s a complement, I’m not sure. It was nice to meet some older students as most of my classmates are 2-3 years younger then me, and many have never been out of the country before which creates a disconnect in our overall goals.

As I had the afternoon off I took the opportunity for a quick nap, I’ve been under the weather for the past couple of days, I assumed since I now have a regular sleep schedule, am eating healthy food, biking 6km a day, running a couple of times a week, and walking a comparable amount, that I would be super health and fit; however, I think the busy schedule, time zone adjustment, and long stretches of darkness have done a number on me and my body it not quite ready to roll yet. Hopefully it passes before the weekend.

For dinner Oliver and I made fried fish patties which came out of this paste like substance that I’m sure hasn’t been real fish in quite a long time. I haven’t seen anything like it in the states but Dorthe promises it’s healthy and it was quite tasty so I’m taking it for lunch tomorrow.

This evening I had a phone interview with the University of Washington’s Division of Biomedical and Health Informatics. Of the 4 potential research faculty I listed on my application, 3 were on the call ,including the graduate program director. I think it went quite well, one of the professors remarked that there are several faculty who would be quite excited to work with me on my projects. Fingers crossed that they accept me, Seattle is a great city and UW is a fantastic school. I should hear back by the middle of February.

So that’s life up to this point (22:20 CST Thursday), I have class from 8:30 to 16:30 tomorrow and a public health social immediately following (nobody parties like like PH kids party ’cause a PH party don’t stop!)

I’m going to try and keep a semi-regular schedule of posting to try and process what I’m experiencing and let others live vicariously through me!

Until next time,