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To Denmark with Erasmus

Thyholm was almost unreal in its curtains of snow and gusty winds. Knowing I would stay here for a week filled me with both excitement, to explore land and language as one, and apprehension, was there going to be an obscure cultural difference or a national favourite that I despised? The warm, albeit slightly awkward, greeting soothed my nerves and, before I knew it, I was watching handball finals with my host family and preparing for my first day.

 

The first day was dedicated to well-meaning icebreakers meant to open us up to the other erasmus+ students, with the whole group consisting of a handful each of Danish, Dutch, British, Turkish and Italian students. We concluded our first day at school by assembling a poster on the protection and enforcement of children’s rights across the globe.

 

By the next day, we were tackling more than just group activities and were actively unpicking our essays and discussing the importance of children’s rights. To follow this up, we attended a two-function boarding school called Struer Skolehjem which provides aid to children facing neglect, abuse or mistreatment from their parents and were given the opportunity to interview a few of the social workers intertwined with the organisation.

 

 On Wednesday, we visited the Moesgaard Museum, a regional museum in Aarhus dedicated to the Stone Age, Iron Age, Bronze Age and Viking Age in Denmark and Scandinavia specifically. Taken through an interactive workshop of the strategy behind war in the Iron Age and the religious underpinning to the actions of villages, we learnt a lot more about Scandinavian life and value during the Iron Age. Hours later, we found ourselves experiencing Danish street food and tasting the food the country prided itself on. To say the least, it surpassed any of our previous expectations. Right after a satisfying, and paid for, lunch we visited the ARoS art museum, one of Europe’s largest and most innovative museum with the concept drawing from Dante’s Divine Comedy, a trilogy of literature classics that take Dante through Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise. This museum contained a range of pieces such as Ron Mueck’s 4.5m high sculpture Boy, whose range of emotions are caught in a startlingly lifelike spectrum from terror to pensive thoughtfulness. As one of the highlights of the trip for me, not only were many photos taken but a significant period of reflection was provoked from pieces such as Boy and Doug Aitken’s House exhibition, featuring the non-verbal conversation between two aged people as the physical structure of their house comes crumbling down. Ambiguous, and thus left to the personal interpretation of the viewer, the House exhibition was a rare piece of art - one highly personal and similar to none.

 

The next day brought us to a boarding school, thus the opportunity to see the differences in the education system as some students chose to attend a boarding school in their 9th and 10th grade before deciding if they want to attend university or not. The boarding school we attended specialised in sport and, as a result, entertained us by giving us free reign on the gymnastics area, allowing our group to perform all sorts of acrobatics or simple pencil jumps into pits of foam. Later on, we explored the remnants of a WWII German bunker situated on Jutland. Considered one of the most peaceful areas to be situated during the World War, our guide proceeded to discuss how Danish government, by the end of the war in 1945, had to sacrifice its resources and minorities in order to be largely left alone by the German forces, especially when compared to the state of Poland and France. It was insightful to see to effects of war alongside the actual experiences of young adults fighting for their lives, even away from the Western Front. One of our guides described the realisation for the German soldiers that relocation away from this peaceful continental portion meant almost surefire death.

 

Friday was a bittersweet day for many of us, bringing joy in bearing the fruit of our work and the celebration and commemoration of the valuable friendships we made as a result of this. On the other hand, it brought unhappiness and many tears - realising that this could be the last time we were seeing our precious friends for a long time. We began the day with each countries’ presentations on the importance of the UDHR and the CRC before we edited and presented the questions we posed to workers of Struer Skolehjem. Hours later, the whole of our erasmus+ group as well as many from the 9th and 10th grade in Thyholm Skole attended the disco party, and then farewell ceremony held that night. It was a night filled with joy and tears are we realised we would part from the irreplaceable friends we had made in this fast-paced and invaluable week. This trip only highlighted the importance of unity globally and how things like language barriers and cultural differences could be bypassed when there is one overarching common goal; friendship. The ability to appreciate and commend each other’s differences, instead of using it to ostracise and undermine others, is a lifelong lesson that can shape a person so much more so than a textbook or a definition. Erasmus+ was not only an opportunity of a lifetime for a person wishing to explore more of this vast world, but also an opportunity to learn about how differences can be a rallying point rather than a division in the march towards a common goal.

Posted on 20th March 2019