Denmark: Global Gateway Summer 2022 (First Impressions)

First Impressions: The 5 senses in Copenhagen by Katelyn D. 

As this first week of exploring and experiencing Copenhagen, Denmark comes to a close I am filled with gratitude and curiosity. I feel beyond grateful for this incredible opportunity to experience another culture and learn from both immersion into a new environment and traditional learning in a classroom. With all the new sights, experiences, and aspects of life as an American student studying abroad in a Scandinavian country, I have increasingly grown more curious about Danish and Nordic culture, the experience of all different individuals in Denmark, and about the current lifestyle of the typical Danish individual. 

Every corner you turn or street you cross in Denmark and specifically, Copenhagen there are so many things to take in, explore, and experience. In the best way possible, one could call traveling to a new country a sensory overload! Seeing a different world, tasting all new foods, hearing new music and languages, following new scents to gardens or bakeries, and feeling like a new person, embracing various lifestyle and cultural aspects once foreign. 

The vibrant buildings, both older and upkept as well as modern and minimalist, create a great contrast that seems to perfectly compliment each block, making the city of cobblestone streets and countless bikes one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The countless trees, greenery and plentiful flowers make the city feel as if it is growing with nature, rather than impeding it. These same plants and flowers also create an aroma of fresh air and add to the vibrant city colors. One thing I noticed right from the start was how clean of a city Copenhagen is. Compared to some of the larger cities I have visited in the United States, Copenhagen streets and sidewalks are incredibly well kept with minimal trash, and besides some lopsided cobblestone, very nice walkways and bike paths. One can see various church towers protruding from behind buildings and dotting the skyline. The cobblestone streets are broken up by various canals and waterways, making the city’s public transportation even more effective, being made up of both trains, buses, and boat-buses that can more effectively cross where pedestrian or bike paths might not be present.

During one of our tours, we learned how the Danes are still improving their advanced transportation methods, making them more accessible, effective and efficient, for all across the city and country. Our group is a regular on one of the main metros, that brings us from our Basecamp in a more suburban neighborhood, in Kobenhavn S, right to the heart of the city where we attend our daily class! With this successful public transportation system, that means we also see lots of bus stops and my favorite, large red M’s that stand tall in the air, and mark a staircase that will take you deep underground to the metro system. Overall, the Danes have been able to put a modern twist on a city that has a rich history that dates back hundreds of years, while simultaneously preserving both the beauty of the past and the sustainability of the future, creating marvelous sights for all. 

Already in the first few days of being in Copenhagen we have had the privilege of trying both global and local foods! When we first arrived, DIS welcomed us with a pizza dinner after our long travel day, that we got to follow up the next day with this with an amazing authentic Danish lunch from a local restaurant along the canals.

The authentic Danish lunch is what is pictured here. It is called a Smørrebrød and consists of ‘open faced’ sandwiches. The bottom layer is a slice of rye bread, that is jam packed with tons of seeds, grains and fiber. This rye bread has been a staple of Danish cuisine for centuries as it is calorie dense, filling, and will keep one full for long periods of time. This was key many years ago when food was scarce or expensive for the working class family, but this bread was affordable to make and sustainable to eat. It has stuck in Danish culture all this time and is now topped with butter or lard and then a top layer of pickled herring, shrimp and hard boiled eggs, or flatfish. This was the first course, which was then followed by another plate full of color and delicious smells. The base of one half was a thick slice of pork with crunchy salty edges, topped with pickled cucumbers and cabbage that gave them a semi-sweet tang. This combination initially surprised me but even more so amazed me, as I was blown away by the combination of new and familiar flavors. This was topped with an orange slice as well. On the other side of the plate was a Danish chicken tartlet (tarteletter). To best compare, this was similar to what you might see in a chicken pot pie, but with less vegetables and additional ingredients. This simple dish was full of flavor. The creamy chicken was perfectly complemented by the light flakey crust that surrounded and created the base for the chicken. This authentic Danish meal is one I will remember for a long time, as I reflect on trying all sorts of new things and how my palette for these foods and openness to more things like this was able to grow from this experience. 

For the busy crowded city that Copenhagen is, in my experience, noise level, it is a pretty mellow city. There is a rhythmic beat of lots of footsteps crossing cobblestone paths, the ringing of bike bells, a hum from city buses, plenty of chatter from local Danes and tourists who fill the city, but nothing that is too harsh on the ears or too quiet. It seems as though there is a balance with occasional shouts and streets of greater silence, all filled with the background noise of surrounding areas. One can find peace in a garden or park square, or laugh loudly on the patio of a local restaurant. There isn’t a single way to describe the noises of a city, but rather what I hear seems to match the energy of this serene place.

This picture is of a more tourist location called Nyhavn. Nyhavn is one of the many canals that is lined with restaurants, shops, and many many boats. Looking at this image one can imagine the sounds of those at dinner with their family and friends, the sound of the footsteps on the cobblestone, then low buzz of the boats passing through the water, and if you are lucky, the local clarinet player will be sitting on ledge playing songs that somehow match the perfect ambiance of the harbor. In addition to local street artists, one can also experience a rich jazz culture and hear all sorts of Danish music along the streets or in local restaurants. Getting a little deeper of an experience and looking into the life of a Dane by listening to their favorite music, which often seems to include old American music!

As you walk through the streets of Copenhagen, almost every corner you can spot a hot dog/sausage stand that sells the most delicious food that is a staple of Copenhagen cuisine. These stands are not only plentiful but also the most fragrant. That means on many of the streets of Copenhagen you can smell the roasting of hot dogs and sausages, as well as the fresh air of a society that discourages the excess use of cars and toxic exhaust into the atmosphere. Thus far, every morning opening the window or stepping outside, I can expect fresh outside air that isn’t smoggy or polluted. Incredibly clean air, with the exception that smoking cigarettes is incredibly common, and often one can walk outside a cafe or pub and smell often local Danes smoking. Despite the common practice of smoking cigarettes, often smoking inside is not allowed, so outside is not overwhelmed by the scent and inside spaces are typically fresh and welcoming! Especially, entering any restaurant or bakery that lines the streets, and there is an aroma of fresh bread and foods from all corners of the earth. 

Arriving in Denmark, and adjusting this past week has been a bit of a roller coaster of emotions. When we arrived on Sunday, May 22nd, we were full of excitement, nervousness, and anticipation, with a serious lack of sleep. As we have all been able to bond with each other, learn the city, and settle into our lifestyle here, I feel as though not only has the city become more and more comforting, but also inviting. While it is easy to feel foreign or like an outsider not understanding much of the local language, or knowing much about different aspects of Danish life, with both trial and error, as well as an incredible community of students and staff for support, I feel I have made monumental strides in getting out of my comfort zone and learning from the various experiences we get to have inside and out of the classroom. Majority of the time locals and other visitors of Denmark are incredibly kind, and while many times people will keep to themselves, their willingness to assist and work with us makes one feel valued and appreciated. Not every person will be perfect or the most kind, but that’s typical anywhere, and the majority will make you feel welcome whether you are in a restaurant, book store, ice cream shop, or castle from centuries ago. I feel that Copenhagen can be a daunting city as an outsider, but within a day one can feel and experience how welcoming and safe the city is. 

As we continue to embark on this journey abroad, I look forward to all that there is to learn and do, already feeling as though spending this time in Denmark has already made such a positive impact on my perception of traveling abroad and the confidence I have in myself to overcome challenges in new environments. Really stepping out of my comfort zone and taking on a new level of independence while abroad has taught me so much about others as well as myself! Learning course content in both traditional and immersive settings has allowed for deeper understanding and greater reflection, all of which are building life and educational skills I will carry with me long after this study abroad session has concluded. Studying abroad with UW Madison Global Gateway has already been the most incredible week, and I cannot wait for all we have in store for the two weeks that follow. 


A “We’re not in Madison Anymore” moment by Isabella A. 

As we have explored Denmark many things have surprised me that are so different from life back in the United States. I went to Italy and England back in 2019 and I feel like I wasn’t as vigilant of the cultural differences between European countries and the United States because I didn’t notice little things that make the country its own unique society. 

The fashion is way different in Denmark and I personally really like the H&M business casual look they have going on and I am trying to mimic it and maybe even continue dressing that way in the United States. From men to women to children they mostly all dress better in my eyes. For example, today we went to the Glyptoteket museum and a little boy who was about age eight was wearing a suit jacket and jeans and that is just something you would hardly ever see in the states.

I also took note of how independent the children are, I have witnessed many children navigating the city through public transportation completely by themselves and this is something you don’t see often in America since it is way too dangerous for young kids to do. Additionally, it’s surprising to see babies just left in their prams outside of restaurants because again if this happened in such a large city in America a baby would be taken or people would consider this child abandonment. 

Public transportation is also interesting since most of the time if you scan your pass to ride the metro or bus or not is really on the honor system. They do have ticket masters come through very rarely. Late one night we did have to show our tickets once and someone didn’t have a pass so he got fined. An interesting scene some of the other girls in our study abroad group saw was some Danish teens didn’t have their tickets, so they just shoved the ticket masters off the train so they couldn’t scan their tickets.

The food here is also different because certain preservatives are banned and their portions are smaller. I tried a drink today at Starbucks that they only have here in Denmark which was a Mango and Orange refresher and their venti is way smaller than ours. They also make their food less greasy as well, today I had a stir fry and there was so much less grease at the bottom of the bowl. One thing I’m glad I remembered to do was to bring a water bottle everywhere because places to get water are way more limited and water isn’t usually free at restaurants so I just bring my water instead. The architecture and the roads are also way different here since Denmark’s history of permanent roads and buildings goes way further back than America’s. A lot of the sidewalks here a still cobblestone from way back when and this was also the case in Italy, but it surprised me that this was also in Denmark as well. The architecture here is also a mix of modern and clean, but then you also have buildings still in use that were built in the sixteenth hundreds. It’s crazy to see the juxtaposition when buildings like this are right next to each other in Copenhagen. 

Even though I am writing this blog after only being here for a few days we have done quite a few things that have allowed us to interact and see the culture of Copenhagen. Our group has gone on a canal tour and a walking tour of the city which were both great ways to explore Copenhagen and we got informative information from both. Our walking tour started with a lunch where we ate a traditional Danish dish called Smørrebrød which is a slice of rye bread with various combinations of toppings such as pickled herring, roast beef, and eggs topped with mayo and shrimp. Then another dish consisted of pork topped with pickled cabbage and cucumbers and a pastry stuffed with chicken. I loved that I was able to try some new foods, but to me personally, it was just okay. We also got to explore Christiania which is this very cool community that has its own rules and regulations completely independent from the Danish government. They had a ton of vendors selling jewelry, clothes, bags, etc. 

Unfortunately, I missed the changing of the guard because I was left behind after class and had to navigate my way there with two other girls that thankfully came back for me because this was only our second full day here we were able to catch up. I have seen the changing of the guard in London, so at least I had an idea of what went on. 

We also went to Reffen which is this cool area with all these food trucks. There was Mexican, Indian, Korean, and Mediterranean food just to name a few. Today we went to the Glyptoket museum and we got to see exhibits about Danish, Egyptian, Roman, and Greek cultures.

Our first week here has been so fun and I am so grateful for the experiences that I have been able to have while here in Copenhagen. I’m very excited to continue to make more memories with the amazing people I have met on this program.