Hoyas win! Hoyas win! Hoyas win! (for those of you that don’t get the reference, watch this). What a game last night – a double overtime 79-78 victory over Big East rival UConn. It’s Georgetown’s 10th straight win, and they remain in first place in the Big East conference. Otto Porter is Mr. Clutch once again, scoring the go-ahead basket with less than 10 seconds to play. And all of this, of course, coming off his 33-point barrage at Syracuse last weekend. This picture is my new official screen-saver:
Despite living so far away, I power through the 6-hour time difference and remain dedicated to my Hoyas. Yes, I pay a price. I’m currently living on less than 4 hours of sleep and 1 cup of coffee, but it is absolutely worth it. (The Donald only sleeps 4 hours per day, so today I’m in good company.)
Meanwhile, the semester whizzes along like my morning bus, and I’ve been so busy over the past few days that they start blending into each other. I hate measuring time, but its sort of inevitable when you realize you only have 16 weeks here. Weeks have become my standard measurement. Not days or hours, but weeks.
This week was filled with seminars, guest lecturers, high school visits, and papers. I just finished working on a research project analyzing EU international security policy. White boards definitely come in handy:
When analyzing the evolution of European security policy post-WWII, we divided it into 3 periods, and tried to find the “defining events” from each period. For example, the Arab Spring in the 2000s, the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s, and the Suez Crisis in 1956.
I hope you’re not getting bored with all of these details, but I can’t help it because all of my courses absolutely fascinate me! In Humanitarian Law, we’re currently studying the legality of detaining noncombatants at Guantanamo, and the difference between an international and a non-international armed conflict. Sounds a little technical, but trust me – it’s awesome. For anyone interested in the Justice and Human Rights program, you can even check out my essay about the bin Laden raid here, just to get a taste of the kind of analysis we’re doing. Conclusion: although I support the undercover raid that took out Osama, the U.S. did violate international law (but that doesn’t mean anyone is going to do anything about it…after all, we are the United States of America).
So as you can see, the academics here are excellent. On a typical day, I’m not simply wandering around the city looking for things to do. Instead, I’ve got lots of things on the schedule: seminars about the Armenian Genocide in Turkey and the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska, guest lectures with Muslim women about wearing the hijab (head-scarf), visits to high schools to discuss stereotypes, American politics, and all sorts of weird topics with jittery teenagers.
My mind is spinning – and that’s certainly not a bad thing.
Sitting on the bus during one of my daily commutes to-and-from school (takes about 20 minutes), I figured there’s a better way to spend my time than staring outside the window or at the TV screen that lists the stops going by. I’m going old school – pen, notebook, and a mind full of interesting stories and ideas.
First, a bit about the buses themselves. There’s a lot of them, and lots of people too. Lots of stops. Lots of bus drivers – some that smile politely as they check your transportation card, some that look like they couldn’t care less if I was showing them a valid ID or a movie ticket. Some yell at passengers drinking beer on the bus, others would probably join along if they could (side note: did you know it’s actually legal to drink a beer while driving? No, seriously. You can crack open a Carlsberg behind the wheel, and as long as your alcohol level is not above a certain limit, you’re perfectly fine. Crazy weird laws here. Or is it our laws that are weird?)
Anyway, I had a busy, fun-filled week. Sunday was definitely a highlight. Though we might be several thousand miles and 7 time zones away from New Orleans, I still watched the entire Super Bowl! My eyes were fighting to close as the clock struck 5 am, but I planted myself in the front row of the Studenterhauset (a main student bar/cafe hangout) and watched the game until the final snap. To be honest, it was mostly DIS and other American students there. But it was nice being at a place where “football” actually means American football, and not soccer. Best. Sport. Ever.
But Sunday became awesome even before the game happened. I was invited to the birthday party of my visiting family’s aunt. Wow, the food was glorious. I was a little worried at first, because when I showed up at 3 pm we started eating desert. Did I miss something here? Don’t worry, it was phenomenal: home-baked layer cake with bananas and strawberries, apple-cinnamon cake, banana cake, these fluffy, slightly sweet bread rolls that were crisp on the outside and soft like pillows on the inside. I love food, and this was basically desert heaven (its made 10x better because everything is made with the most natural ingredients – no artificial preservatives, sugars…that’s why all of the bread loaves at the store taste so good but expire in 2 days).
Still, I was worried because I thought desert was the first and only birthday meal. I love the cake, but at heart I’m more of a meat and potatoes kind of guy. I was in luck, because after an hour-long desert, present-opening, and more hours of talking on the couch, we were treated to a wonderful dinner around 7 pm. Chicken, pasta, potatoes, lasagna, salad, more salad, more baked bread (this time with olive oil and salt), veggies. After about 45 minutes of feasting, my stomach bulged like a balloon, and I was more than stuffed. I seriously think I’ve gained some weight here. But it’s absolutely worth it! Thank you, Larsen family!
And did I forget the mention the company? These people are wonderful; opening their house to me and allowing me to share in the celebration. We talked about lots of things (in perfect English) – the upcoming Super Bowl, New York, Georgetown, the Danish legal system, the Muslim immigrant community, the weather, trip planning, and even the best bars/clubs in town. To all you prospective DIS students: if you ever have the opportunity, please please please sign up for a visiting family! You can’t go wrong with amazing people and food.
In other news, this week is a “core course week” for DIS students. Basically the whole week is devoted to my Justice and Human Rights program. Today we visited a giant UNICEF facility (takes care of impoverished children) north of the city, and conducted an interview with DIGNITY, an NGO that works with victims of torture (according to our contact, America has got some work to do!). On Thursday we’re heading for western Denmark, where we’ll be doing some law-related field studies, and some non-related ones as well. Our professors are young and energetic, our student leader is super peppy, and our hostel for Thursday night looks like its in the middle of the woods. Translation: we’re in for a good time!
Other random notes:
- I played (real) handball for the first time last Wednesday; I think I can keep up with the Danes
- Still no bike
- Getting really creative with food; made some Danish meatballs with a few eggs over top and rice – sounds weird but its good
- Went to the gym to work out for the first time in over 3 weeks…feels so good
- Feeling like I’m getting fatter every day; probably a combination of amazing bread that I can’t stop eating, worrying that I won’t eat enough (I am), really delicious beer, desire to huddle up in the cold with a cup of tea and these amazing tea cookies from Netto (may be addicted to them)
- Due to point 5, need point 4 really badly (gym membership coming soon!)
- writing on paper takes a long time
- I stayed up until 5:30 am watching the Super Bowl
- Did I mention I love football?
- Waiting for soccer season to start so I can start cheering for FC Copenhagen
- Danish language is super hard
Tomorrow is off, but lots more to do later this week. Hej hej!
Apparently the Danes love their handball, and I arrived in Europe just at the right time to witness the craziness that is the World Handball Championship. Although soccer (I’m starting to call it futball – with extra emphasis on the “u” part) is the official sport of Denmark, all of the attention is on handball now. For starters, the Danes are actually really good at the sport. They’ve won gold at the last two Euro Championships, and usually are a top contender at the Olympics as well.
This past weekend they had two huge games: the semifinals against Croatia on Friday, and the finals against Spain tonight. Sitting in the common room with a mix of Danish and American friends, I watched with agony as they got trounced 19-35. Not fair! I pouted on the couch as Mads, my residence hall supervisor, stared at the TV screen in disbelief.
Still, it was cool to be part of something so uniquely Danish. Who would have thought that there is such as thing as a professional handball league? That a whole country can unite around a sport that’s so peculiar? I played the sport a few times in high school gym class, but we were mostly just fooling around and I never thought it could be taken so seriously. It looks something like a basketball-soccer-lacrosse mix, and it’s really exciting to watch – especially considering the circumstances! Take a look at some clips from the semifinal match vs. Croatia:
These guys are incredible! They fly around the court, dogging defenders, leaping in the air, spinning the ball through defenders legs and past the goalie. Go to minute 02:20 to see my favorite shot of the night. How in the world did he do that?
Last time the Danes won the championship, the team climbed up to the balcony of the City Hall, as thousands of fans piled into the streets to welcome them home. Rumor has it that they also got treated to a traditional pancake breakfast. Although it didn’t happen this year, they’ve inspired me enough to try out the sport for myself – time to find a gym and become a Danish handball whiz! Maybe that’s a bit too ambitious, but still – I’m getting my game face on.
It’s all about the people. If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far in my very short 20 years of life, this is it. No matter where you go to school, what cities you visit, or how many drinks you buy, there’s one simple fact: it’s all a letdown without the right people. I love Georgetown so much because of all my close friends and fellow students that I spend time with every day. The same goes for my high school, my hometown, my family, my country.
And the same goes for Denmark.
Please throw away the stereotypes (if you’ve read up on Denmark) that Danes are hard to befriend, introverted, private, non-talkative people. With the exception of the public buses (which immediately become 100x louder every time a group of Americans (us) storm the doors) – the Danes have been downright wonderful and trustworthy in all the right moments.
Today is a perfect example. I did something today that probably would have been very stupid if I was in downtown NY or DC. Searching for a bike, I stumbled upon a burly, imposing handyman who fixed and resold used bicycles. Arriving at his door in a shadowy apartment complex, he invited me inside, and proceeded to lead me through several doorways through his basement. Had this not been Denmark, I would have half-expected some robber to jump out of the corner and steal my wallet. But nothing happened. No finagling, no back-handed deals, no gimmicks. Just a smiling, gentle giant with dozens of bikes looking for an honest deal. He even suggested that I drink some tea to warm my frozen fingers.
Then there was my visiting family, whom I met for the first time on Saturday. Maria and Michael, along with their son Simon, spent the entire day with me. They took me grocery shopping, showed me how to translate certain food items, sampled different kinds of cheese, and emphasized the wonders of coarse, black bread (I think my digestive tract is still getting used to it!). We listened to Bruce Springsteen – one of the father’s favorite singers – and sat around the table eating a home-cooked meal. We walked their dog Buster and watched some college basketball on TV, as I carefully explained to them some of the more complicated rules of the game.
There’s plenty of other people who have had an impact on me so far. Matilde, my kollegium’s RA, who helped me with my cleaning duty; Thomas, a volleyball coach, who was more than excited to welcome me onto his team when I walked into the gym (was it my height?); all of the unassuming bystanders who help me with directions; that strange guy on the train who keep joking and talking at me as I just nodded my head (do I look like I know Danish?); all of the bakers and cashier’s who smile as I smell their fresh bread.
And how could I forget last night, when we met a older gentleman (who’s name is very Danish and difficult to remember) at the bar next door right down the street from our kollegium. Although we originally intended only to watch the 49ers game, we ended chatting with this awesome guy for a few hours:
He whupped us both times, and even messed up the math on purpose so that it would be a closer game. We’ll definitely be back for redemption!
The bottom line: the Danes are not what I expected them to be. It’s crude to classify people as introverts or non-social. Only one week in, all I had to do is give them a chance.