In Defense of Socialism

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for awhile now, seeing as I am studying in a country with a lot of socialist policies and welfare programs. Before I went to Denmark, I certainly thought highly of their political system and programs, but after living there, I feel very strongly that their policies are excellent and make Denmark an amazing place to live. I am finally getting around to writing this as the elections are coming up, and some of these policies are being discussed in the race. (Note for the non-Americans reading this: our elections are fall 2016. Yes, it is already election season.)

‘Socialism,’ in America, is seen as a dirty word. We associate it with communism and whatever else, so to be called a ‘socialist’ has really become an insult. To this point, I will quote Bernie Sanders, who summarizes exactly how I feel about this issue:I have always believed that the countries in Scandinavia have not gotten the kind of honest recognition they deserve for the extraordinary achievements they have made…. In Denmark, all of their kids can go to college; not only do they go for free, they actually get stipends. Healthcare is, of course, a right for all people. They have a very strong childcare system, which to me is very important. Their retirement system is very strong. They are very active in trying to protect their environment…. It’s a more vibrant democracy in many respects. So why would I not defend that? Do they think I’m afraid of the word? I’m not afraid of the word.

Bernie also points out a lot of the amazing things that Denmark has to offer. But, as a disclaimer, I should say before I go on that the effective income tax rate in Denmark averages somewhere around 50%. YES, it’s a lot of money, but let’s discuss some of the things you no longer have to pay for or deal with if you live in DK:

  1. Health care. COMPLETELY free. As far as I am aware, the only health care expenses that you have are prescriptions.
  2. Parental Leave. Did you know that the US is one of FOUR countries in the entire world that does not guarantee mothers paid maternity leave? I don’t think this puts us in the “best country in the world” category, but it does give us a competitive advantage for the “worst” category. In Denmark, parents are given an entire year of paid leave. I absolutely cannot understand how you can claim to care about ‘families’ and ‘family values,’ but then support policies that don’t allow parents to spend time with their children. It’s the definition of hypocrisy.
  3. Unemployment & Sick Leave. You can receive sick leave benefits for up to one year, and I believe unemployment benefits can be collected for up to two years (though that might have changed/be changing). We currently have no federal requirements for sick leave, and our unemployment benefits are shorter and a much lower percentage of our salary.
  4. Education. How much college debt do you have? How many hours a week did you have to work in college to support yourself? Now, imagine a world where you have zero debt, and you were paid monthly, just for studying. Imagine no more, my friends. Just move to Denmark. University study there is funded for up to 6 years (so Bachelors & Masters degrees), and PhDs are fully funded and you are actually paid like it’s a job. (So, no need to eat ramen for dinner every night.)
  5. Childcare. Childcare is heavily subsidized by the Danish government. A Danish woman who gave an interview to the Guardian said: “I don’t know anyone who is a stay-at-home mother, and none of my mother’s friends was either. Nearly all women go back to work after having children in Denmark.” Now read that sentence and replace ‘Denmark’ with ‘the US.’ Did you laugh out loud? Me, too. I certainly don’t think that mothers need to work if they don’t want to (or fathers, for that matter), but how many times have you heard of a family where one parents stays home because his or her salary doesn’t make up for the cost of childcare? One is one too many.
  6. Retirement. Denmark was recently rated the best pension system in the world. Meanwhile, we have politicians trying to eradicate ours (great article on this topic: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/17/opinion/republicans-against-retirement.html)

Just for fun, I did a little calculation to compare Denmark to America. In the US, if you hold a Bachelor’s degree, you will make (on average) $2.1 million in your lifetime. This is around $50,000 a year, assuming you work about 42 years (and you might work even longer), so I’ll assume a tax rate of 25%. That leaves you with about $1.6 million. Let’s factor in the other costs: health care ($316,000 on average), college degree ($120,000 assuming 4 years at Pitt), and childcare ($94,500 more than DK, assuming you pay the average $18,000/year for 7 years and that Denmark subsidizes only 75% of the cost). Now we’re down to a bit over $1 million. If we assume your tax rate in Denmark is 55% (around the upper end of the estimates I’ve been reading), you have $945,000, which is just about $100,000 less than my US estimate. Then, you think about the things I haven’t included: retirement, unemployment, sick leave, etc., and they probably come out more or less even. So… are higher taxes really that bad? I would absolutely argue that no, they’re not – as long as your money is going to services that you will benefit from.

(Side note: yes, I realize that you cannot directly compare Denmark and the US. For example, salaries in the US are higher (but not for low-income workers) and living expenses in Denmark are generally higher. However, this is a crude way of showing that their taxes are often going to services that we are paying for out of pocket.)

There are also a lot of benefits of this type of society, beyond the $$$. For example, paid vacation time – they actually get it. We, apparently, get the least paid vacation time in the world. Also, low crime! Turns out, the combination of less poverty and more education creates a pretty safe society. Shocking. The list is virtually endless, but for me, the takeaway from all of this has been that there are very few drawbacks to making sure citizens are taken care of throughout their lifetimes in all sorts of ways, regardless of their background or socio-economic status, and very many benefits.

So, for people who want to prioritize ‘Freedom’ and ‘small government,’ that’s their choice. But if our ‘Freedom’ means sending mothers back to work two weeks after they give birth, crippling college debt, health care is a privilege, and working without vacation or the promise of retirement benefits, I don’t want anything to do with it.

Rachel

Sources:

http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/moneymatters/a/edandearnings.htm

http://www.thenation.com/article/bernie-sanders-speaks/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1361028/

http://www.collegecalc.org/colleges/pennsylvania/university-of-pittsburgh-pittsburgh-campus/

https://www.care.com/a/how-much-does-child-care-cost-1406091737

http://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/p23-210.pdf

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2730947/Americans-paid-vacation-time-world-countries-enjoy-FORTY-days-year.html

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Tour de Denmark

The last week in May, I had a small break between finals and was able to do some traveling around Denmark. One of the other Fulbrighters, Nate, is studying in Århus, so I was able to stay at his house and travel from there. He also had two friends from Germany visiting, (with their car, which was convenient), and the four of us had quite a fun week. I’ll break it down day by day. Below is a map of my travels, in case you aren’t up on your Danish geography (which I’m sure that you are):

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Map of my travels: Day 1: Samsø, Day 2: Skagen, Days 3 & 4: Århus, Days 5 & 6: Ribe

Day 0: The Ferry Incident

I was going to start with day 1, once we had already made it to Jutland (the peninsula part of Denmark), but the trip there makes for almost as good of a story. It really starts with what has now been referred to as the Copenhagen Bathroom Incident. Long story short, Nate and his friends were staying in an apartment in Copenhagen for the weekend. When they were about to leave, the bathroom flooded, and as Nate says, “we still don’t know how many people died.” (Don’t worry, no one died.) This made them late to get to my house, where Nicki and Konstantin had parked their car. By the time we pulled out of the parking lot, it was close to 5:30pm.

This doesn’t so sound bad, but we had bought a ferry ticket for a ferry that was at 7pm (to get from the island Zealand, where Copenhagen is and where I live, to Jutland, where Nate lives). Additionally, you needed to be there by 6:50pm, and since this is Denmark, there is no forgiveness for being late. Google maps said that the trip took an hour and fifteen minutes, but the GPS was telling us it would be an hour and a half. We made it there and scanned our ticket at 6:46pm, and were the second to last car on the ferry. I got out of the car and turned to see them pulling away the ramp. I checked my phone – 6:50pm. The Danes are not kidding around.

Day 1: Samsø

The first day of the trip, we went to the island of Samsø. I am almost hesitant to write about this place because it seems to be such a well-kept secret and I want it to stay that way. It wasn’t in my guidebook and it doesn’t really promote itself much, at least from what I have seen. It is most famous for producing all of its own electricity (from wind, yay!), which is why I wanted to visit.

To get there, we drove south from Århus and then took a ferry. Our first two missions were to get gas and to find the tourist information center. We passed a gas station in one of the small villages, but we figured there would be one in the bigger town we were heading to, where the tourist office was. Well, we made it through the town before we even realized we were in it. The tourist office was basically just a shed with booklets and flyers, and the gas station we had passed was the only one on that part of the island. It was the epitome of the small town feel.

Stopping in the town, we already loved it. The houses are very cute, and you almost feel like you are transported back in time.

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One of the houses in the town of Nordby

We first headed to the highest point on the island, and the view was absolutely breathtaking. I already knew we had made a great decision in going there. We ate lunch from the lookout point, and then walked down to the beach. It was a beautiful, sunny day (although pretty windy), and it was a very pleasant walk.

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View from the top

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The four of us

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The beach below

Then we drove to the most northern point on the island, which also gave us beautiful views, including the animals we saw on the way:

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Desktop background-worthy

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Every image from this island is just beautiful

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Nope, not the Caribbean – this is Denmark

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Beautiful flowers

By this point, it seemed like we were in a magical place – but it all got even better. We started making our way south around the island. First, we stopped at a place called Besser Rev, which is this really thin strip of land on the northeastern side of the island, but it was closed because it’s mating season for the birds. We then decided to head south to the castle. It’s a private residence, but we could drive by. On a whim, we decided to keep driving on the road instead of turning around, and we came upon the most magical sight:

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A magical field of wildflowers

I could hardly believe it. I have never seen something so incredible – a huge field of white flowers. It was breathtaking. We drove the whole way through the field and forrest to the coast, where we could see the offshore wind farm:

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Samsø’s offshore wind farm

We then turned around and made our way to the island’s lighthouse, where we went down to the beach and celebrated a great day with some Danish beers on the beach:

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This day in Samsø was an incredible day that I will always remember. Rarely in life does one feel that a day is ‘perfect,’ but this one really was – even though everything did’t go exactly as planned. I could imagine that most days on Samsø feel perfect. What struck me even more than its incredible natural beauty, was how generally empty the island was. We barely saw another soul the entire time we were there. I think it’s quite rare to find a place that is so amazingly beautiful, but yet has not been found and overrun by tourists (or even just residents). I would highly, highly recommend visiting if you are ever in Denmark – but keep it on the dl. 😉 It has definitely become my favorite spot in the country.

Day 2: Skagen, Grenen, and the Råbjerg Mile

The second day, we headed north to Skagen. Skagen is famous for being at the very tip of Denmark (or close to it), where the Kattegat and the Skagerrak come together at Grenen (the actual tip of Denmark). The town of Skagen is very cute. Everything is painted yellow, which apparently is referred to as ‘Skagen yellow’. It’s the sunniest place in Denmark, hence the yellow.

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The yellow town of Skagen

We ate lunch outside on the harbor, and it was the perfect day for it. After lunch, we headed north to Grenen. You have to park a bit south, and then walk along the beach to get to the actual point where the seas meet. The walk was windy, but the wind at the tip was like nothing I have ever experienced. Denmark is very windy, but the wind I feel on Zealand now feels like nothing compared to Grenen. It was a pretty cool view though, being almost entirely surrounded by ocean.

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The tip of Denmark

Afterwords we headed to my favorite part of the day, and the most unexpected part of my trip – the Råbjerg Mile. The Råbjerg Mile is a huge migrating sand dune, slightly south of Skagen. It’s the largest sand dune in Northern Europe, and it does not disappoint. When we first drove up, I could hardly believe my eyes. It was like being in the Sahara desert, in the middle of Denmark. I will let the pictures do the talking, but even they can’t do it justice.

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The wind here was also insane – at one point I could barely keep my eyes open because of the sand being blown at us. When I showered, I found sand all over my body, despite the fact that I was completely clothed from head to toe while we were there. I’m still finding sand in the pockets of my coat.

After Samsø, nothing else was quite as good, but the Råbjerg Mile is definitely high on my list of things to see in Denmark.

Days 3 & 4: Århus

We mostly relaxed the next two days, but we walked around Århus, and got to visit the City Hall and the art museum. On Thursday, we went to the City Hall. They have a bell tower there where you can look out over the city. It’s not normally open to the public, but Nate had a contact there from interviews he had conducted as part of his research. He showed us around the city hall itself and then took us up to the bell tower. I think my favorite part of the tour was learning that smoking is banned in the city hall, but there are still ashtrays all over the building because the Queen smokes when she visits.

On Friday, we visited the art museum, which has a really cool ‘exhibit’ at the top:

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Århus art musuem

There were also some cool and interesting exhibits inside. Definitely worth a visit if you’re in town.

Overall, I really liked the feel of Århus. It some areas, it seemed a little like Copenhagen, but it definitely has more of a homey small-town feel, and a lot of character.

Days 5 & 6: Ribe

Saturday and Sunday were the Fulbright final seminar in Ribe, the oldest town in Denmark. We took the train there from Århus on Saturday morning, arriving in the afternoon. We first had our wrap-up, where everyone got to talk about their research and what they have learned from this year. It was really interesting to hear what everyone has accomplished, and everyone’s thoughts on Denmark and Danish culture. Then we had a walking tour of the town, followed by dinner and drinks.

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Ribe, Denmark’s oldest city

The next day we went to Vadehavet National Park on the coast. We wore waders and walked in the water along the coast, looking at the fish and wildlife present there. It was an interesting end to my week – I now feel like I have had a wide variety of the experiences that Denmark has to offer. Ribe was also a great end to the Fulbright experience, and a great way to learn even more about Denmark.

It was an incredible week that taught me so much about the country that I am living in, and showed me how much more there is to discover here. I am thankful that I still have more time here to explore. 🙂

Rachel

P.S. Photo cred for a lot of these pictures goes to Nicki, whose camera is way better than mine 🙂

DTU Årsfest!

This past weekend I got to take part in a wonderful DTU tradition: Årsfest! It’s the DTU Annual Party (år = year, and is pronounced like the english ‘or’), or as some like to call it, DTU Prom. But I promise, this party is much better than your average prom. There is a dinner component, followed by a ball component. There’s also an “official” part before but that’s for awards and stuff and therefore not interesting for the average student.

But, to get to this party, first you have to get tickets, which requires you to go to another, different party, called køfest (queue party). (I just tried to translate that as queue fest and then I remembered that the english word is party… can’t even distinguish between Danish and English anymore.) You don’t have to go to køfest to get tickets, but it can sometimes be difficult to get tickets to the dinner (as opposed to tickets only for the ball that’s afterwords) because there are less dinner tickets available. So, of course, we went. The way it works is they give you a wristband right when it starts (5pm), and then people camp out and party at DTU until they give out a second wristband, which is “sometime between 12 and 7am”. Lol. Each of these wristbands has a number, but the first wristband and second wristband might not have the same number, and the second wristband number is the one that matters… I could go on and on about how idiotic I found the whole process (sorry guys – there’s a thing called the internet that would be much easier), but basically, you then show up in the morning to buy tickets, and wait based on the number on your second wristband. I waited in line for 2 hours, just to buy them, but anyway, we got the tickets and that was what mattered.

Then comes the fun part – the actual party! My friends came over early to get ready, which I actually found quite fun (for once). Being in a sorority at Pitt, I had to look nice for a lot of different events, so I did this all the time, but in Denmark, full hair/make-up/fancy clothes rarely happens. I don’t think I wore eyeliner or lipstick for several months before that. It’s more fun when it’s a rarity. After getting ready and making some small clothing alterations, we drank some champagne with some of my roommate’s friends at our house before heading off to the dinner. I was worried about being late because it’s very important to be on time in Denmark, but apparently for this stuff it’s not as big of a deal because they expect everyone to be drunk. (In case you aren’t aware, Danes drink A LOT. A lot.)

The dinner itself (as in the food) was okay, but we had a great time. We were sitting at a table with a bunch of Danes and they were really nice to us and a lot of fun. Turns out one of them studied in the U.S. last semester and spent Thanksgiving in Lititz with a classmate – such a small world! The best part of dinner was that you get about 3-4 glasses of wine included. It’s really quite a good deal, since a dinner ticket is 275 kr, but a ball ticket is 150 kr. For 125 kr (the price of the dinner itself, basically), you couldn’t even get 3-4 glasses of wine, let alone the food. For the dinner, they have tables all over the main building in order to accommodate all of the people. We were seated in the library, which was a nice setting. I wish I could say that it was weird to be drinking and partying in the library here, but most of the time, that’s what it sounds like in there. 😦 (The library is too loud at DTU – but that’s for another post.)

After that, there’s the ball. I wouldn’t really call this a “ball,” but that’s what they call it. There’s multiple areas with music and dancing. About 5 different bands performed, of which I knew one because they have a song on the top charts in Denmark (and the songs are in English), and we saw them. There were also times when a DJ performed, there was a Jazz band somewhere I think, and they also do this dance – Les Lanciers – throughout the evening. I never made it to see the dance, but apparently all of the Danes learn it in high school (though I couldn’t find one who could teach it to me). It has a French name, but they pronounce it like it’s Danish (smart move, guys, but you’re not fooling me).

This all goes on until 5 in the morning. I called it quits at 3 am, since we had started getting ready around 5pm and I was tired! It ended up being such a fun night and a wonderful memory. Also about 1000 times better than high school prom (maybe because they served alcohol…). I’m kind of sad that I probably won’t be here next year to enjoy it, but I’m really happy that I took the effort to get the tickets this year because I think it was my favorite night in Denmark, thus far. We’ll see if anything else can top it!

That’s all for now,

Rachel

EDIT: I forgot one thing, a bonus video from buzzfeed where Americans pronounce Danish words (hopefully this works): https://www.facebook.com/BuzzFeedVideo/videos/1697879390352936/?pnref=story

Finally, other people confirm that Danish is basically Simlish. 🙂

Reflections: One Year Post-Graduation

Congrats, class of 2015! I’ve seen so many pictures from graduation weekend at Pitt, and it makes me so nostalgic. And also makes me feel old. Where has the past year gone? In some ways, it seems like yesterday, and in some ways, it seems like ages ago. So much has happened in the past year, and my life is so different than it was then in many ways. Some days I feel like I don’t know anything, and some days I feel like I know so much. Today happens to be one of the latter, so I am sharing some of my graduate wisdom and experiences from my time abroad.

1) Always try things that make you uncomfortable

Growth doesn’t happen by staying in your comfort zone. I think the hardest thing I have ever had to do was move here to Denmark. I left my friends, family, and boyfriend to move to a country I had never been to, where I didn’t know anyone and didn’t speak the language. I wouldn’t want to live through those first few days here again, but this move has forever changed me and made me a better person. Not just because of the past 8 months that I’ve lived here, but because of the challenges I overcame during my move that taught me so much. This is only one example, but to quote GIRLS:

magic

2) College doesn’t have to be the best years of your life

I don’t know if this is even a cliché that people believe anymore, but let’s just all agree on it. I loved loved loved my time at Pitt, but I could never go back to living that life after all that I have been able to experience since graduating.

3) First impressions aren’t everything

This is even more apparent when you are meeting people from other cultures. I have definitely changed my opinion of people after getting to know them better, and I know I have friends who have done the same with me (both in the States and Denmark). So hold off on your judgments. Speaking of judgments…

4) Judging

Just don’t do it. One thing I really notice is how much Americans, including myself, spend talking about/judging others. I don’t know if this is something that Americans do more, or if it’s because of my specific environment, but seriously, people spend so much time worrying about others and it truly gets in the way of happiness. If you have time to judge others, use that energy for something productive and it will only make you happier.

My roommate Justyna sometimes says “people are all the same.” It doesn’t matter your race, your language, your culture, your class, we are all just fighting to survive and to be happy. Don’t forget this when you look at someone else, because you are just seeing the outer layer.

5)  Live abroad at least once in your life…

Okay so obviously I am biased here, but really, you can’t get this type of experience in any other way. I spend 99.99999% of my time with people from other countries, and there is really no substitute for this type of learning experience. You learn about other cultures and perspectives, you reflect on your own country and culture, and more than that, you reflect a lot on yourself. I cannot talk enough about how beneficial it is to be a part of an international community. There is also a lot to be said for learning how to be a part of another culture. It will change you in ways you never imagined, and it will be wonderful. (Okay, sometimes it will be really annoying, but mostly it will be wonderful.)

6) …But it’s not as glamorous as you may think

Sometimes I find it funny to think about what I thought it would be like to live in Denmark vs. what my life is actually like, or to think about how other people might perceive it. Let me let you in on a little secret: for the most part, it’s pretty much the same. Sure, there are some awesome perks, like being able to get to another country in under an hour or being 20 minutes away from the center of a major European city. But, in the end, I still spend endless hours studying in the library, I still get sick, it still rains, I still have to force myself to get off netflix and do something productive. I live less than 20 minutes from the ocean, but I’ve only gone a handful of times because of bad weather, work, and/or laziness. However, I do get to casually go to Spain for a weekend to visit a wonderful friend or vacation in Poland during my school break. But these moments are few and far between.

7) As President Obama said: bucket!

(If you don’t get this reference, read the news.) The most important lesson I have ever learned is that you should always (within reason) do what you want to do. Don’t worry about what someone else is going to think or what you think you’re supposed to do, do what makes you happy. At the risk of sounding like I’m stuck in 2012: YOLO. It’s true. I think one of the most freeing moments in life is when you stop worrying about what other people are thinking and just live your life.

8) “LDRs Never Work”

Raise your hand if you’ve heard this one. Everyone? That’s what I thought. Being in a long distance relationship is never easy, and a lot of times it really sucks, but if your relationship can’t survive distance, it probably wouldn’t survive a lot of other things in life. So many people I know here in Denmark are in LDRs, and we are all still happy people in healthy relationships. It’s not for everyone, but they don’t deserve the bad rap they get.

9) No matter where you are, people are the most important thing

The truth is, it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, what you have access to, how much money you have, or what you accomplish; it means nothing without people in your life who you care about, and who care about you and can celebrate life’s milestones with you. One of the happiest moments in my life was finding out I had won Fulbright, but that happiness is so temporary. Lasting happiness comes from who you surround yourself with.

I am sure I still have much to learn from my time here, but I really can’t overstate how much it has taught me.

Until next time,

Rachel

America, You Embarrass Me

I am taking a brief break from Poland to talk about something that has really been bothering me. It isn’t directly related to Denmark, but I think it’s important. Two different events have been in the news recently that have been a cause for celebration, in the eyes of many. The first is related to Humans of New York. If you follow the page, you know about the Mott Hall Bridges Academy, and the fundraiser that Brandon started that has raised $1.4 million for kids of the school, in Brooklyn, to be able to visit Harvard every year. The amount over $700,000 is going to a scholarship fund for the kids (so that’s also around $700,000 now). If you don’t know about this project, I suggest you read about it. You can read it on the HONY page on FB, or in various news articles such as this one. It’s pretty amazing that one young man and one photographer had such a huge impact, reaching so many people who donated and saw the story on FB or on the news. It does make you believe in humanity a little more.

The second one is a story about James Robinson, who lives in Detroit and walked 21 miles to work each day for 10 years because his car broke down and he couldn’t afford a new one. A fundraiser started for him raised around $300,000 and he was given a free car by a local dealership. If you aren’t familiar with the story, you can read a bit about it here.

Okay, so why am I talking about these things? When I first heard about them, I was inspired. They brought tears to my eyes. I thought “Wow, look at the generosity of all of these people. This is so amazing.” But then I thought about it a little more, and I realized something: this would never happen in Denmark. And it’s not because Danes are cold or heartless; it’s because, well, they don’t need to. Because, instead of giving selectively to the few stories of the poor and underprivileged that actually make the mainstream media, they give to everyone. Through their taxes.

Okay, so I’m not sitting here saying “Let’s raise our taxes to 40% WOOO YAY! Problems fixed.” I’m just saying, why is it that so many people are willing to give their money to this one school, when there are literally thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of students who are in schools where they aren’t told every day that they matter and they aren’t being given a decent education that will allow them to contribute to society. They might not even graduate, and if they do, they might not have learned enough to actually use their degree. Why can’t we give our money so that all of those kids have a good education, too?? I’m not saying the government is the most efficient spender of money, okay, but the reality is that public education is important and it’s the government that pays for it. To me, this story is really freaking embarrassing, because the United States, the “Greatest Country on Earth,” needs to have fundraisers in order to make sure our kids can go to college instead of prison. And we need to start a scholarship fund so that they can pay for it, because we think education is a privilege, not a right. Yep, okay, right.

And in the same vein, the story from Detroit is equally embarrassing because: 1) this man doesn’t have sufficient public transportation to get to his job and 2) he has been working at his job for at least 10+ years and can’t afford a car?! I can handle one of these things, but both?! No. Nope. No. We are the USA, not the developing world. Heck, a lot of developing countries are probably doing better at this than we are.

I will save my praise of socialism in Denmark for another post, but this all brings me back to something I have been thinking a lot about, which is how much education impacts society. A Facebook friend recently posted something suggesting a negative view towards Obama’s plan to give two years of free community college. I couldn’t help but comment, and I make it a general policy not to get involved in Facebook discussions/arguments. I commented because I now really feel like I can have an opinion on this issue, living in a country with free education (through PhD!) that actually pays its university students to study. The result is that you have less poverty, and therefore less crime, and guess what? The economy is pretty great too! (Unsurprisingly, I got no replies, because there’s nothing you can say against that!) Actually, you would be hard-pressed to find an aspect of life in the USA that is superior to Denmark. I met up with some Americans on Friday and the things we came up with were free bathrooms and free water… If I have to pay to pee and drink water in order to be able to walk alone in the city at 4am and feel safe, I think I’ll take it. So the reality is that giving free education to everyone has fewer and less dangerous consequences than allowing the uneducated of our country to fall into poverty and crime. (And then send them to prison – which we pay for! Wouldn’t you rather pay for that person’s education? Seriously, I can’t understand.)

If you don’t believe me, here’s a quote from the Milwaukee police chief from this week’s episode of This American Life: “As the social net has frayed, cops are spending enormous amounts of times with the social problems that society’s taken a walk on. And night after night after night, officers go through the same problems for which there are no solutions.” Throwing money at the problem is not going to fix it, but it is one part of a large puzzle that we really need to put together before it’s too late (if it’s not already). We could actually take a lot of what Ms. Lopez has been doing at Mott Hall Bridges Academy, combine it with some funding, and you have got yourself the beginning of some great education reform.

I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer, because it is wonderful that so many people have taken an interest in these stories. What I want to convey is that I wish we were a country that didn’t need to have these stories, because the problems of these people didn’t exist. Of course that isn’t possible, but we could be doing a hell of a lot better at it.

Rachel

Kraków (Poland Part 2)

Continuing the stories of my Poland adventure!

On Monday, we spent another day in Warsaw. We went to the Archaeology museum in the morning, which was small but interesting, and then the new Jewish History Museum in the afternoon. This museum covers Jewish history from the Middle Ages (and maybe even earlier, I already forget) until the present day, so it’s not just or even mostly about the Holocaust. There was so much that it was a little overwhelming, but it was a really well-done museum. Normal text to read on the wall, plus pictures, and interactive computer screens where you could read more about specific topics.

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The Jewish History Museum

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‘Kozacy’ at the Jewish History Museum

I was surprised at first to see the name ‘Kozak’ in the museum! There was quite a bit about them, but unfortunately, not so many nice things 😦 (Sorry, Joe.)

The museum is in a huge new building, but I think all of the exhibits are actually underground, and the top is offices and such. All in all, an interesting visit, but not a “must see” like the Uprising Museum.

Tuesday through Thursday were spent in Kraków! We left early Tuesday morning and arrived around lunch time. After checking into the hostel and grabbing some lunch, we set off to the castle area. We toured the church and castle there. They were cool and pretty, but nothing super amazing. I have heard people say they get tired of going into church after church in Europe or castle after castle. When I first started traveling, I thought that couldn’t possibly be true because I thought each place I visited was so wonderful. But, in the end, very few churches/palaces/cathedrals/castles are that amazing that they seem truly different in your mind. I still enjoy them for their history though 🙂

That night, we ate dinner at this place that I think is translated as “Grandma’s Restaurant.” You pretty much have to know where it is to find it, because outside there’s just a little sign with “Grandma’s” face on it. You have to go through these big and heavy wooden doors, through a lobby, into a courtyard, and then finally into the restaurant. It was so worth it though! I had stuffed cabbage there and it was delicious. Though I think my favorite meal was the pierogi from the first night.

The next day we went to a salt mine outside of the city. It might not seem cool from that description, but it’s pretty amazing. The mine is HUGE and they only take you in a little bit of it. There are a ton of carvings, and there are several churches/cathedrals throughout, but there’s one that is insane. The picture is below. The WHOLE thing is made of salt! It’s pretty unbelievable. You had to pay to take pictures, so I stole this one from the internet. It’s definitely worth doing a google image search, but the photos don’t do it justice.

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Wieliczka Salt Mine Cathedral

That night, we explored the Jewish district a little. We got dinner, and afterwords, dessert and beer. Or, should I say, sernik i grzane piwo (cheesecake and warm beer). Justyna had me order this in Polish, and the waitress got a kick out of it. I was pretty skeptical of the concept of “warm beer,” which makes me think of natty light that hasn’t been refrigerated or something, but it’s basically like the beer version of mulled wine. I think I definitely prefer the wine, but I am no longer disgusted by the concept. 🙂

The next day, we went to Auschwitz. This is what I had really been eager to see most in Poland. When we learn about WWII in history class, the whole thing seems so far away. More like reading a fiction story than history. I thought that by visiting, I would finally be able to get my head around the whole thing. We did a guided tour which lasted about three hours and covered both Auschwitz and Birkenau (which I didn’t realize were in two different places, before researching the trip). Spoiler alert: it didn’t hit me as hard as I thought it would. There were definitely moments where it was overwhelming. The first for me was when they bring you into this huge room with something like a ton of human hair, behind glass. It’s so hard to imagine how many heads all of that hair came from, and it definitely hits you, because it’s something you can visualize. It’s not just a number. The second was seeing the execution wall. I’m not sure why exactly this hit me; maybe because of the flowers there. I think I could also really imagine what a person would be experiencing, who was there to be killed. Unlike a lot of the camp, this area is basically the same as when prisoners were kept there. I can only imagine how helpless you would feel. In most of the rest of the camp, regardless of what they did, there may at least have been some concept of hope or at least of ignorance of what was going to happen to you. But if you were brought here, you knew what was happening and you knew it was imminent.

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The Execution Wall at Auschwitz

The third and most chilling moment was being in one of the gas chambers. Most of the chambers were destroyed, and the ones that still exist had been converted to bomb shelters, so again, you don’t get 100% of the effect. But it’s not hard to imagine. Everyone is silent when you’re in there, and I immediately got chills upon entering. I remember our guide telling us to look up, because you could see the the holes where the gas was thrown in and then sealed. It’s very hard to imagine that several hundred people suffered and suffocated in there for 15-20 minutes. We also saw the furnaces, which I was surprised to see were very small. I think only one body would fit in there at a time, which explains why they kept them going all the time. One thing I didn’t realize is that the prisoners were the ones that had to drag the bodies from the chambers and burn them in the furnaces. I truly just can’t imagine what they had to go through.

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Auschwitz

There were a few things that surprised me. The first, was how oddly beautiful Auschwitz is. The buildings are made of brick, and as weird as it is to say, it could almost be a cute little village. This fact definitely creeped me out, too. A lot of the brutality of the Nazis also went beyond what I realized had happened there. I could go on and on about all of it, but if you look you can find it easily. The thing that surprised me, most of all, was that I still cannot fathom the events that went on there. I can look at the vast amount of space and imagine how many people must have been there, and how miserable they must have been in the cold (I was freezing in a parka and boots), but so many other aspects are still beyond my comprehension. How such violence, abuse, and torture can exist, and how one human can do those things to another. But I think I would like them to stay there, because to be able to understand, I think you need to have some type of experience with those terrible ideas, and I am so very fortunate to be able to say I have not.

The trip to Auschwitz didn’t affect me in the exact way I though it would, but it did, unfortunately, make me think a lot about how much evil exists in the world. The sad thing is that these types of events and behaviors have been happening for centuries before the Holocaust, and they still happen in today’s world. We (the USA) have even done some of these things. This is the reality of the world that we live in.

(As a side note, this also got me thinking about how we value certain lives more than others. For example, we go on and on about the Holocaust, which happened 70-75 years ago, but largely neglect Boko Haram. Sure, it took us awhile to come in and end the Holocaust, but we still did it. And let’s not forget how many civilians we killed with the atomic bombs during WWII, and how many we still kill today with air strikes. We are never taught to look at those people as individual lives, but we are with the Holocaust. I could go on and on with this, but the moral of the story is that our history is really distorted and it’s sometimes really hard to see how.)

On a positive note, what I took away from the trip to Auschwitz is how lucky I am, and basically everyone I know is, for never ever having to experience anything even remotely close to this. The problems I experience on a daily basis, or even my biggest problems in life, are nothing compared to what so many people have suffered and do suffer. Evil has and always will exist, so all we can do it try to be the positive forces in the world.

One last post on the end of my trip and final thoughts will be coming soon 🙂

Rachel

Warsaw (Poland Part 1)

First post in awhile! I have been busy and haven’t had too much to write about until my awesome trip to Poland last week! My roommate, Justyna, is from Warsaw and she graciously invited me to come home with her over our week break from school! Let me say, it was such an interesting trip. I learned so much in just a short span of time and I think I am still digesting everything, but I will try to write about everything that I can.

We left Copenhagen early on Saturday morning and arrived in the center of Warsaw around noon. Justyna’s mom met us and took our bags for us so we could immediately start touring. First we went to the Palace of Culture and Science, which is right in the center of Warsaw. Apparently it was/is controversial because it was a gift from Stalin and also doesn’t really fit with the architecture in that area. It is the tallest building in Poland, which makes it the perfect place to view Warsaw! Unfortunately it was cloudy and foggy that day (and basically every day), but we could still get a good idea of the layout of the city. The area right around it is really interesting because there are a few very modern skyscrapers and a mall with a sort of rolling glass ceiling. The Palace and mall are in the pictures below (not my pics).

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Palace of Culture and Science

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The mall in central Warsaw

We saw so many things that day so I will be brief, but they included: Justyna’s university (Politechnika), the University of Warsaw & it’s library, the old town, the president’s house, and a few bars. We really got a feel for the city. Different parts feel like absolutely different places. The center is fairly modern (though it’s a little bit of a mashup), but the old town feels to me just like Prague (though the old town of Warsaw is actually quite new – it was completely rebuilt after the city was destroyed). The university areas felt like they could be in any European city, as did the bars. The most interesting part about this day for me was having Justyna tell us about the history of Warsaw and Poland as we walked along. There are plaques located on buildings throughout the city in Polish that give really interesting historical information, which I never would have noticed if I weren’t with a Polish speaker. One stated the year that the building was destroyed and when it was rebuilt. Another told of an incident where Poles were killed by Nazis. One especially interesting plaque showed of the spot where a German tank exploded during the Warsaw Uprising, killing over 300 people. More about this later.

That night we got to hang out with two of Justyna’s friends who were really nice and told us a lot about Warsaw, and then we headed home, exhausted! Justyna lives in a cute little village about 45 minutes outside of the center of Warsaw by train. It seems like a really nice place to live, as it’s quiet and wooded but it’s also easy to grab the train into the city. It was quite beautiful in the snow.

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Justyna’s Village

The next day was potentially the most interesting of our trip. In the morning, we went to Wilanów, the “Polish Versailles” (according to Wikipedia). Then we took a bus into the city, and grabbed some lunch. Justyna and I got french toast, so it was actually ‘brunch.’ (She had been asking what exactly brunch is, so I had to show her. There weren’t any mimosas, however, so it wasn’t a complete brunch.) Her friend met us afterwords and drove us all to the Warsaw Uprising museum. I had learned a lot about the Warsaw Uprising from Justyna before I went to Poland, but I learned so so much about it during my trip. This event is so fascinating and so crucial to understanding Warsaw, and also Poland, today. There’s no way I can write everything, so let me say first that if you are in Warsaw, you MUST go to this museum. The museum has so much information, but it helps you understand why this event is so talked about among the Poles.

For those who don’t know about it, since it was barely covered in US history classes, on August 1, 1944 at 17:00, the Poles began a fight against the Germans which lasted until their surrender two months later. Over the course of the uprising, 200,000 people were killed, and afterwords, the Germans destroyed the entire city, which is why so many buildings are new or rebuilt. When the Poles began the uprising, they thought that the Soviets were going to come in within a few days and help them fight. It became apparent later that Stalin had no intention of helping (though some may have realized this at the time). It was to his advantage for all of the rebels to be killed in fighting so that it would be easier to control the population later on when the Soviets swept in with communism.

This event was and is still controversial. They didn’t win anything, plenty of people died, and the entire city was destroyed. It’s easy to see how people would be against it, but I also have to think, would it have been better if they had sat there and let the Germans control them? If you’re going to go down, might as well go down fighting. I certainly understand why they did it – I can’t imagine what life must have been like for them, and I really admire their bravery. They kept going for two months! That might not seem like a long time, but after watching a movie about the uprising (more on this later), I don’t think I would’ve lasted one day. Justyna told me that every year, on August 1st at 17:00, the whole city stops for one minute. The cars stop, the trains stop, the trams stop, the people stop. And the sounds of sirens and horns fills the air, replicating the sirens that called the Poles to fight in the Uprising. I imagine this is a really powerful moment, and the fact that they still do this shows that this event is still important in modern Poland. (EDIT: Justyna sent me this video of that moment, definitely worth a watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ejd2rsXoQSI)

The museum does an amazing job of telling about the events of the Uprising in many different mediums. There were three things that I found especially powerful. The first was a 3D film that takes you over what Warsaw would’ve looked like after it was destroyed. It really made my jaw drop – there was barely anything left. And 70 years later, here I was in the same city, and you would have almost no idea that it had been built in the last 70 years. The second was the arm bands of the soldiers. These have a white and red stripe (like the Polish flag) with “WP” on them, either as the uprising symbol or in some other form. After seeing the movie about the Uprising, Miasto 44, I can see why these were cherished possessions. I am in awe of what the people who wore those bands had to do. The third was a movie with testimony from a Dutch or Belgian man, who I think was made to work for the Nazis, though he wasn’t a solider. I specifically remember one incident where he said the Nazis cleared a school (this was during the uprising) and young students were exiting. They were given the order to kill them, but “not to waste bullets.” So the Nazis bashed the heads of the children with the butts of their rifles. The man in the video said there were hundreds, and he described how blood spilled down the steps of the school. That image was one of the most disturbing from everything I learned about the Nazis. It’s so hard to imagine that human beings are capable of something like that.

After the museum, we went to Justyna’s grandparents’ house. They were so sweet and welcoming, and they didn’t speak a word of English but they were so kind to us and gave us dinner, drinks, coffee, tea, and dessert. It was quite a treat! They also told us some stories from during and after the war (they were both born during) and about communism. The one that stuck with me was her grandfather talking about his parents. His father was an Uprisinger, and miraculously survived, but was later captured and taken to a camp, where he most likely died, as did many of the Uprisingers who originally survived. After the Uprising, his mother, who was heavily pregnant with him, had to leave the city (because it was going to be destroyed) with two young children and walk on foot for many miles to get to safety. I cannot imagine her situation; not only to make this journey alone but to face raising three children in those circumstances. These are the type of stories that many Poles have in their families.

This was my general impression, over and over, that Poland has been through so much in the last century. The Poles were widely exterminated during the war (Auschwitz was originally built for Polish prisoners), Warsaw was destroyed, their intellectuals were killed by the Soviets and the Germans, and then they were under communism for a long time and only escaped around 25 years ago. When I was there, I could definitely tell it was a formerly communist country. You can see the infrastructure, especially the ugly communist buildings, that were built during that time. But I really find it quite amazing that Warsaw and Poland bear so little evidence of the destruction and oppression they received for so many years. I am sure you can see it in some places, but you really have to look for all of this history; it’s not obvious.

I have so so much more to say but I am going to cut it here for now because I am tired of writing! I will write more about my trip, and specifically Krakow, in another post.

Rachel

Privacy

I have now been in Denmark for a pretty long time. Okay, three months isn’t THAT long, but it’s definitely long enough to stop noticing when things are different from home. Unless someone asks me, I don’t really think much about how life in the U.S. would be. For example, today I was talking to some groupmates for a project about metric vs. english system for liquids, and whether things are weird for me here in metric. It really isn’t, but it is weird that everything is smaller. For example, soda is sold in one liter bottles instead of two, and individual bottles are 50 cL here (ours in the U.S. are about 65 cL). I noticed this in the beginning, but it took me a second to think “oh, yeah, that’s not really normal to me.” So you get the point – pretty assimilated.

Well, there is still something that surprises me! It’s privacy. I used to think we cared about privacy and security in the U.S., but turns out that in some ways, we really don’t! One big thing is the banking here. First of all, getting a bank account as a foreigner is hell (luckily Fulbright helped us with that so I barely had to do anything). That aside, you then are approved for a debit card, and the one you get depends on your record (pretty bizarre to me, I’m used to just one debit option). I have a MasterCard, but the privileged people get a Dankort (which is the only card you can use for some things, such as having an automatic reload on your travel card). And then all of your cards, debit or credit, aren’t swiped, they use a chip, and they all have PIN numbers. No signatures. It’s more convenient in a lot of ways but counterintuitive as an American.

Then there is the thing that just really boggles my mind. The NemID. What is the NemID, you may ask? WELL, every time I log into my online banking, I enter my username and password, which are my ‘NemID’ and a password I chose. Then it tells me a 4 digit number, and I have to enter the corresponding 6 digit code from a card that I was sent in the mail. There are about 150 codes on it, and they have to send you a new one once you use all of the codes. (I would post a pic but it would compromise my security :P.) It definitely makes things more secure, but kind of annoying because you can only login if you have the cards with you. You also might be asked to use NemID to authenticate various other things. I find the system a little cumbersome.

Another interesting thing. Remember the Pakkeboksen? Well, I ordered some new clothes and I had to pick up the package from a Pakkeboksen. They sent me a text and an email with the address and two PIN numbers. You have to go to the box, enter each PIN number in succession, and then SWIPE your government health card (every citizen has this ID). Not entirely sure why there are two PIN numbers. I mean if someone gets the first, they will probably have the second since they’re sent together. One PIN and then the health card should be more than sufficient ( I can’t even imagine having that much security in a similar situation in the U.S.) They also won’t leave packages at your house unless someone is home, and you have to sign pretty frequently for packages (I’ve had to do it a few times for my roommates).

I guess this is proof that a society doesn’t need guns to be afraid of their neighbors? (Kidding!!) I just find this particularly interesting since the society here emphasizes collectivism (contradictory to the intense individualism of the U.S.), but I guess in a way it is also very logical. I would imagine the reason is more based on logic than fear or distrust.

Just my two cents for the day!

Rachel

It’s Election Day!

Well, today is election day, and it is the first time in awhile that I won’t be glued to the TV when the results come in (because I will be sleeping… hopefully). It certainly hasn’t stopped me from being glued to cnn.com most of the day, however, and I am just now getting caught up on all of the races. (Fun fact – the woman running against Mitch McConnell is a Chi Omega! If only that fact was enough for her to win.) It’s funny, because election day is normally one of my favorite days, but the more I read today, the happier I am to be across the world. You know how when you look back on something, like a relationship or experience, you often remember it much better than it actually was (i.e. 500 Days of Summer)? Yeah, that’s me and the U.S. Some days, like yesterday when my entire house smelled like cigarette smoke because the construction workers smoked either in or very near my house, I think things like “Ugh, this would never happen in America!” And when I talk to people from around the world, I realize that all countries have their problems, and politics everywhere are ridiculous. They’re all corrupt in some way. So maybe we don’t have it that bad.

Except, just kidding, we actually do! Because when I read about the issues in our elections, I realize we are talking about things like healthcare – SERIOUSLY people are upset about others having healthcare. Especially now that I live in a socialized healthcare system, I literally CANNOT FATHOM how people oppose this. I was talking to someone this weekend during my trip to Aalborg (will post about this later), and he said something very striking to me. He said he hates how people without kids complain about spending all of this taxpayer money on schools, because you aren’t paying those taxes so that your kids can go to school, you are paying so that you don’t live in a society with stupid and uneducated people. My roommate said a similar thing to me before about homeless people, that he would rather pay a little extra in taxes to get people off the streets and feel safer walking around. I am a little embarrassed to say that this type of thinking has literally never occurred to me. I strongly support educating our children and reducing poverty, but I never looked at it as we are all paying to live in a society where these issues don’t exist. Rather I was thinking that everyone should have the same opportunities, so if I get a good education, so should Sally from Georgia, and it’s just not right to have people living on the streets. And really, this other mode of thinking makes about a thousand percent more sense. But as an American, this NEVER crossed my mind. And if you are an American reading this, I would bet there was a period of time where you didn’t have thoughts like this either (and maybe that period of time is ending right now?).

I kind of interrupted my previous thought, but basically there are so many issues that America still thinks are relevant that literally make me want to repeatedly ram my head into a wall. Because that would be more pleasant than having to believe that people want to have unrestricted access to guns and limit access to birth control and abortions. Or don’t want to raise the minimum wage, because, you know, keeping people in poverty is obviously better for the country. Or think that the economy is still struggling so much even though, IMO, there have been really great numbers recently re things like job growth. I need to stop listing things now because my room is small and there are too many walls close enough to ram my head into right now.

The most depressing part, however, is that I don’t give a shit what happens. Let the Republicans take over the Senate. It literally doesn’t matter, because you know what, nothing is going to change. We will barely make progress for the next two years until we have a new presidential term, and we get all excited that things will change, and then guess what? They won’t. And just to be a little more depressing, if we don’t do something about climate change RFN this will all barely matter in like 100 years. And if I were to bet, I would bet on us doing exactly nothing about it.

Still, I hope everyone votes today. Even though no one really seems to listen to what the constituents want (hello background check vote of early ’13), if we don’t express our opinion when we are finally asked, then literally nothing we think will matter! And on that cheery note, happy election results watching! I can finally watch with only indifference, knowing I will live out of the country for most of the time until the next election. 🙂

Rachel

My Week in Czech (& Other Things)

I have been back in Denmark for over a week, but I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had time to write about my trip to Czech yet! First, let me say how weird it was to land back in Denmark and feel like I was “home.” When I came up the steps from the metro at Nørreport, I breathed a sigh of relief, and smiled to be back in a place of comfort (with the typical wind, rain, and cold to greet me). I’ve only ever felt that way about Lancaster and Pittsburgh, so it is pretty weird to feel that way about a place where, just two months ago, I felt completely anxious to arrive in.

Now, for my trip. I decided to go to Czech so that I could visit my cousin Michelle and her family in Brno, since I hadn’t seen her in two years! I arrived on a Saturday night at the Prague airport. My plan from Stockholm (where I had a layover) was delayed by almost two hours. We taxied twice, but it turned out that the computer systems weren’t working so we had to get a new plane. Luckily, Michelle’s husband Wes had kindly volunteered to pick me up, and waited at the airport during my delay (thanks Wes!). We then drove a little over 2 hours back to Brno. The next morning, I went with them to their church, which was quite an interesting experience! A few of the members speak English, but it was mostly in Czech. Wes gave the sermon, which was partially in Czech and partially in English. I have gotten quite used to not knowing what is going on around me, so not understanding the Czech didn’t bother me much. I could generally follow what was going on (Wes had filled me in on how it all works the day before), and the words to songs and the Bible passages were projected on the wall. Even though I didn’t understand the meaning, I could follow the written words. Czech, unlike Danish, is pretty much pronounced exactly how it looks.

Later that day, we took a trip to the largest mall in Brno, not too far from their house, which looks just like any mall in America. They have this awesome playground, too, with a cute little train that goes all around the park area. This playground had so many things that would be a lawsuit waiting to happen in the U.S. A fun game to play (in Czech, in Denmark, really anywhere) is “How many of the things around me would be cause for a lawsuit in the U.S.?” For example, they have this sort of pyramid of bars that you can climb on (kind of like a “mesh” pyramid) that is maybe two stories high. If a kid fell, they could easily seriously hurt themselves. The train, though it moves slow, was just a bench that you straddle with nothing keeping you in on either side. I would’ve loved to have something as awesome as that playground as a kid.

The next day, Michelle took me into Brno. It was a very quick and cheap train ride from their town into the city. Brno isn’t too interesting in terms of architecture or attractions, but I think it is a more authentic picture of Czech life than Prague was. Though the most authentic experience was definitely being at their house, since everyone around is Czech, and pretty much the only things in the town are a church, a soccer field, and a pub. In Brno, we saw the Cathedral, the main square, and walked around and went in some really cute shops. We stopped to get a latte macchiatto and apple strudel (for less than $3) and also went to an awesome Indian buffet that was only $5.

Brno was interesting – everyone walked around expressionless. I am sort of used to this because it is pretty similar in Denmark, but it felt fundamentally different. I may have been a little tainted since Michelle had already mentioned that many Czechs are unhappy, but you could almost feel it. Walking around in Denmark, you wouldn’t think it’s the “happiest country in the world” from looking at the people (blank faces + all black clothes = happiness? yeah okay…), but after going to Czech, I definitely think the mood is different here than it is in Czech. Czech is very beautiful (Moravia is a gorgeous area), but something about it definitely felt a little depressing – something I don’t feel in Denmark, even on the dark and rainy days. Prague didn’t have this as much, but I was mostly around tourists.

On Wednesday, we visited Mikulov, an adorable little village, right near the border with Austria. I think that was about as authentic Czech as it gets, though I think there may have been some information in English and/or German at the castle there. It was cool to walk around and see the beautiful architecture, have a pastry, and enjoy the view. Definitely not a place I would go without a guide who speaks Czech! On my last day, I got to go to Michelle’s son’s soccer game, which was also really interesting. It was an away game, so we had to drive (his soccer field in their town is within walking distance). I think my favorite thing about this was the bar at the soccer field. Can you imagine parents in the U.S. drinking at their 6-year-old’s soccer game? I’m laughing out loud just thinking about it. I also found it interesting how quiet the parents were while watching. They certainly cheered and called out to their kids, but nothing like in the U.S. Again, it was that more muted and sort of depressed feel (though it may have been the weather).

Friday morning, I took the train into Prague. All of my pictures from that are on Facebook – I am now too tired to write about it. It wasn’t terribly eventful. I saw the main sights and made it through all of the things I wanted to see, so I consider it to be successful! I stayed at my friend Marie’s friend’s apartment on Friday night, and got my flight out Saturday night. One thing I found funny which I will share, is that the Prague airport has a terminal for flights to “Schengen countries” (which is how they announce it on the bus). Apparently, a lot of people don’t know what this means. The whole bus except me and two other people got off at the first terminal stop (the last stop is the Schengen terminal), but at least 3 other people from the bus were on my flight. Made me laugh – nice to know that sometimes I know more than other people.

A few more updates from Denmark:

1) My kitchen is being remodeled! Sounds great, right? Well, the way I found out was when I was about to go to class on my first day back from break and some guy tells me I need to take my food out of the kitchen because they’re demolishing it. They were literally already in my kitchen, taking everything out of the cabinets. Not one of us in the house was informed ahead of time. I found out later that it is law in Denmark that they must tell you 8 weeks in advance if they are going to come into the apartment like that. Luckily we got it all squared away (a decrease in the month’s rent helped) and should have our new kitchen on November 5th. Until then, our living room is now also our kitchen and guest room, and our stove and refrigerator are in the hallway.

2) My bike got stolen 😦 I went to the mall yesterday to buy groceries, and I didn’t lock it. At first, I always locked it – on campus, at my house, and everywhere I went. But I kept noticing that no one else locked their bike, and my bike was kind of ugly and not super valuable, so I figured it was fine. (And Denmark is supposed to be really safe!) Well my friends, I was wrong. I won’t be making that mistake again! I wasn’t in the mall for more than 45 minutes, and when I came out, no bike! I will be looking for a new bike in the coming weeks, and will certainly always keep it locked! Bikes are pretty much the only unsafe thing in Denmark. It’s weird. Luckily I don’t need a bike on a daily basis, so I can afford to wait until I find one I really like.

I think that’s all for now!

Hej hej

Rachel