Our Global Classroom by Dominique G.
This summer, we are taking a three credit course titled “The African American Experience in Denmark.” We are learning about previous African Americans who have lived in Denmark and contributed to Danish culture and lifestyle. We also learn how their experiences in Denmark shape their moments in the USA and abroad. Our class experience is split into two major components: in-person instruction and outside excursions.
Our class instruction occurs at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS) Academic Buildings in Central Copenhagen. Classes occur from Monday through Friday. Every morning, our cohort would leave our dorms around nine twenty in the morning and take the metro downtown. We would often stop for coffee and croissants at a local 7/11 store or cozy coffee shop before arriving at Professor Ethelene Whitmire’s lectures at ten o’clock.
In general, lectures are casual and they are not overbearing. Students are expected to contribute to class discussions so it is essential that we dedicate time and attention to the class material. Although readings are frequently referenced during class, we often relate topics in the readings to our own experiences and general themes around historical events, such as the Civil Rights Movement. This discussion enriches our collective learning experiences and it’s great to learn from my classmates.
Lectures are delivered via powerpoint style and class attendance is mandatory. Each class day is centered on an assigned set of readings that we must complete prior to class. The readings we have are hand-picked stories of African Americans reflecting on Danish life and their experiences within it. For example, we once read short excerpts from Lesley Ann-Brown’s “Decolonial Daughter: Letters from a Black Woman to her European Son.” After reading her letters, she came to our class for a “Q & A” session.
The class was very impressed with Lesley’s talk and her passion and ambition overall. Many felt inspired to continue working for social justice and inclusion in our greater society.
After class, our cohort would embark on excursions. Excursions are a critical component of the course where we learn outside the classroom by experiencing Danish life. On our first official day of classes, we attended a boat tour that sailed us around Central Copenhagen. This helped us to navigate the city for ourselves for future excursions and activities. Since then, we’ve traveled to Nyhavn and Glyptotek Museum, among many other places. We’ve also ventured outside of Copenhagen and traveled farther to places such as Fredericksburg Castle and Horsens Prison Museum.
At the conclusion of our excursions, we would walk around the city, grab lunch and rest after a jam-packed fun day. Our group would often elect to hang out at Reffen, a multicultural food hub east of Copenhagen.
Overall, I think the combination of lecture instruction and excursions make our classroom experience enriching. When we visit different places and learn history outside of the classroom, there are many aspects from those moments that we can bring back to the classroom that enrich our discussions. In my opinion, excursions are a necessary component of a fulfilling, immersive learning experience, especially in a new environment such as Denmark.
The excursions allowed our cohort to live like Danes and experience the culture for ourselves. Considering that none of us had previously been to Denmark, it was necessary for us to explore Danish culture for ourselves outside of classroom walls so we can build our own experiences and memories that will for sure last a lifetime.
Learning on Excursions by Jillian T.
Closing out our second week in Copenhagen, I feel sensations of sadness and satisfaction—maybe that could be called “sad-isfaction”. I am dreading leaving this beautiful city. However, that is proof of the happiness I’ve felt throughout the trip. I’ve seen many things, tasted many foods, been to many places, but most importantly…I have learned many things.
When choosing which excursion to write about in this post, I had no doubt that I was going to choose our lunch and walking tour from the very first day. The excitement was palpable. Everyone was just excited to be here no matter what was planned or unplanned. The sun was shining, we were all still getting to know each other, and it was a great ice breaker. In the morning that day we had a boat tour with a lot of students studying abroad in Copenhagen and while that tour was amazing—beautiful views and a great bonding experience—it left a lot out about populations of Denmark that are not often talked about in history. The guide spoke of kings and queens and politics which as a history lover was right up my alley, but I also wanted to know about the colonies Denmark had during the slave trade, how women were affected by society, or at the very least some fun, odd facts that I couldn’t search online for. Talking with Professor Whitmire’s friend and our tour guide, Anders, did just that.
We met Anders for a traditional Danish meal called smørrebrød, which was super interesting though I am not here to talk about food, and immediately this man was the coolest guy I had ever met. I loved this meal, not because of the food, but because of the conversations being had during it. We all were asking questions about anything and everything Danish. We wanted to know where African Americans, women, and queer people hung out. I wanted to know everything that Anders knew. As a historian, he knew a lot. That lunch, being very casual and not clearly tied to our course, set the stage for how our discussions in class were going to go and it made us all feel so much more comfortable asking questions, answering those questions, and sharing things that we knew. There is no hesitation or nervousness in asking about things you didn’t know because the chances were that everyone else is wondering too.
The tour that followed the lunch was an educational ball of fun. The first fact shared was about how Copenhagen is built on 400 year old human feces. Isn’t that lovely? Surprisingly, it doesn’t smell that way, but don’t dig a hole too deep I guess. The next stop was a major piece in the history of the LGBTQ+ community in Copenhagen.
It was this unassuming four story building that most people probably walk right by without a second glance, but a few decades ago this building was the community center for the queer people of Copenhagen. It was the place they would gather to have parties, eat meals together, and exist in a space where they were safe and happy. This building makes me wonder how many other seemingly insignificant buildings hold purpose and history within its walls. We continued on to other sights like the new and old squares of town where we saw the old city hall, prison, and pole for corporal punishment. It was kind of spooky, but very gripping. I forgot to take pictures because it was so cool to hear about it all. We walked past residential streets from centuries past and walked inside churches that took many decades to build.
I could say that the ties to the course from this tour were things like walking past famous jazz clubs and cafes that African Americans like Roy De Coverley and Ben Webster sat in and that is very true, however a tie that connects to the whole entire class and program is the curiosity it created. For me this lunch and tour made me so excited to learn and absorb. I could not wait for the next day, the next class, the next excursion. It was so, so, so, so amazing. This excursion made me and all of my peers ready to hit the ground running. It made me ready to jump out of bed to see as much as I could in a day’s twenty four short hours. It put into perspective why Black Americans would travel to Denmark for fun and for life. I couldn’t wait to ask another question, get another answer, meet a new person, learn a new fact; this excursion started the fire from the very first day.
Now, I could write on and on, but it is another beautiful day in Copenhagen and I have new places to go, new things to see, and new facts to learn. Gotta go!
A “I’ve never thought about that before” Moment by Claudia L.
The freedom and fluidity of our discussions in and out of the classroom make the perfect environment for an enriching education. We have had multiple guest speakers come into our classroom each week and we also do an excursion to a place almost every day.
Author, poet, and activist Leslie Ann-Brown visited us this week, creating an equally collaborative conversation-based classroom environment. We asked her questions about being black in Copenhagen and how her son grew up possibly struggling with this Danish exclusion that many non-white people face here. She also spoke about our education system as a whole and how it is damaging to students. While I am a big advocate for education, this discussion opened my eyes to the unwelcoming and competitive culture that education is in the west today and the possible ways we can work through it. I was also able to ask her about her healthcare experience here, while I know there are large disparities between white women and black women receiving care in the US, especially in Wisconsin. She explained that the disparities still exist here and provided an emotional personal anecdote about conceiving her son. While I am studying to become a medical provider, this discussion encouraged me to analyze my future further and think about who I could help when I’m a doctor. To end the class, she signed and gave us all paperbacks of her book, which I am currently enjoying reading.
The after-class excursions, either planned by our program or on our own, add the most to my learning experience here in Denmark. While walking through museums filled with various exhibits, many insightful conversations occurred with my peers while we analyzed how different cultures are
portrayed by the Danish. While going out, we are on the search for insights into Danish culture, and understanding their prejudice and hiding history can demonstrate a lot. Also, just talking to Danish people has made me learn a lot about the country of Denmark and how they view America. Many Americans brag about America being the best country and the home to most opportunities and I know that it is simply not logical to make that kind of a statement, but it has been so interesting to see it from a European’s point of view. I learned about the almost laughable light they see our policies and actions in and feeling of neutrality while we are not as important as we think we are. These light-hearted conversations I had with many people in Copenhagen provided me with a laugh and insight into their culture.
There are so many wide-ranging benefits that I am experiencing from this global classroom. The program places importance on real experiences and actions rather than sitting in a classroom all day, and the prosperity of my learning is evidence that this teaching environment works. I have never thought that this much free time to explore and be independent in another country would benefit my passion for learning so much.