WA Travels to Denmark

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WA Travels to Denmark

Sophia Brady '20

Sophia Brady '20

Sophia Brady '20

Nikola Duka, Arts & Entertainment Editor

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A one hour drive from Worcester Academy followed by a six hour flight to London and an hour and a half flight to Billund, the final leg an hour drive to Haderslev Katedralskole, Worcester Academy’s sister school in Denmark. On Thursday, November 15th 29 randomly picked current juniors and seniors and 4 chaperoning teachers departed Worcester Academy for Haderslev, a city in Southern Denmark where students stayed with host families for 9 days. I was one of the juniors lucky enough to be chosen to represent Worcester Academy and, I have to say that going to Denmark was by far one of the most enlightening and valuable opportunities Worcester Academy has to offer.

Traveling with a large group of classmates meant that I not only got to spend time and make new memories with my friends, but also become closer to those who I’d only spoken to in passing. Since every student lived with their host families and stuck with their Danish exchange students, we experienced a much higher degree of independence and responsibility, a facet of the trip which equipped us with greater life experience, travel skills, and global awareness. By staying with a host family instead of a hotel, we became immersed in the day to day life of a Danish family, an angle which would have been neglected had we been confined to individual rooms with people we were already familiar with. The idea of living in someone else’s home was far out of my comfort zone for me, yet when I arrived my host was very understanding and kind, and we developed a lasting bond over just a few days. I learned a plethora of facts about the role that school, family, and friends played in their daily life, how they balance homework and recreation, like playing board games with friends and watching some of the same shows and movies we do, and their feelings about politics.

In Haderslev, we shadowed the Danish students in their classes, sometimes participating and other times sitting in their common area and working on our presentations to the Danish students. We split ourselves up into several different groups, each presenting on a different theme of American society such as religion, higher education, sports, politics, and many more.

While crafting our presentations, we realized that there were many differences from America and Denmark, particularly between American schools and Haderslev Katedralskole. Although we are all high school students, studying and working to apply to college (which, by the way, is completely free for almost every Danish university), high school seemed like a more relaxed, friendly, and supportive environment where students are encouraged to learn to grow into well educated and aware citizens, not to improve their GPA. Their classes are longer than Worcester Academy but they have 20 minute breaks in between each class, something akin to our CCL; however, the purpose appears to be more inclined towards a chance to regroup and shift gears for the next class while socializing and discussing with classmates. Students did, despite the more composed environment which we saw, have several hours of homework per week, similar to what Worcester Academy does, yet students still had downtime to talk with friends and rewind after a long time, something that I oftentimes find myself lacking in time for.

In the Danish language there is actually an untranslatable word– hygge– which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “A quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture)” that the Danish often used as both an adjective, a noun, a verb– really any part of speech. This idea of comfort, happiness, and caring for one another is key in every aspect of every person’s life, from teachers and students, to even government policy and religion.

While in Haderslev and Copenhagen, we had the chance the meet with a social democratic member of parliament and the mayor and health director of Haderslev. We learned that citizens pay nearly a third of their salary in taxes, yet there is none of the political controversy or uproar that would surface in American should similar legislature be adopted. As a result of these taxes, wealth distribution is much more equal than in the United States and healthcare is completely complementary, with first class treatment available to anyone, regardless of their financial status. Public schools are even held to a high standard and few students attend private schools because the quality of education is nearly identical to public schools, in contrast to the United States where a greater disparity exists between public and private school education and college opportunities.

Even though the minimum age to buy alcohol in Denmark is 16 versus the 21 drinking minimum in the United States, it really only meant that people learned their limits and how to drink responsibly earlier and in a family environment, thereby erasing the stigma around alcohol that causes so many college students, the subjects of peer pressure, to abuse alcohol to a life-threatening point in the United States. In the United States, whichever political party has a majority vote gets political power, yet in Denmark, any party which gets any votes is represented (to vary degrees), a political difference which is partially responsible for the much higher voter turnout in Denmark than in the United States because the government feels the gravity of each individual’s vote.  

Christmas in Denmark is one of the most exciting and celebrated times of year, but it’s not because everyone is a deeply pious Christian; if anything, the complete opposite is true. Christmas is not considered a time for religious reflection and churchgoing: it is instead more an excuse to be grateful for the material and immaterial parts of life and jubilize the season of gift giving and holiday cheer– or rather: hygge. In the United States, there are countless different religions, and many people are even atheists which oftentimes sparks political controversy in America over what is considered correct and inoffensive, yet in Denmark everyone appears to remove the religious aspect affiliated with Christmas and use the name as simply a label designed to bring people together to hygge.

Although I cannot speak for everyone when I say this, the trip to Denmark broadened my perspective on what school, society, and politics could be like. I learned more about the government and lifestyle in Denmark from traveling and living with a Danish family than what any book or internet article could teach me. My own perspective on our American government and social climate has changed drastically, and I find myself much more adept at making connections in class to not only the ideals of the United States but also those present internationally. As a result of this trip, I feel like I have the tools and the information to intellectually question our society more and think about the ways in which it can be improved. Traveling to Denmark for just over a week, despite the stress and anxiety I felt about leaving the country, molded me into a more aware, mindful, and appreciative citizen, friend, and family member.