In Denmark, it is common for Danish universities to have campuses without university housing. Instead, many local and international students live in a kollegium, such as myself. Kollegiums are co-ed residential buildings home to students from different institutions across Copenhagen. I live in an apartment-style kollegium just a few metro stops away from the main DIS campus. I live with two other American students and an international student from Norway! Although there are no Danish students in my apartment, there are many within my building. Kollegiums are a diverse melting pot of cultures and backgrounds with Americans, Danes, and Europeans! Living in a kollegium has also encouraged me to live independently. I have been cooking my own meals and navigating the city using public transportation. These are important life skills that I did not need to rely on as much while living on campus back at my home university.
I was under the impression that all Danes are extremely nice and kind from the literature I have read about their culture. While this is not completely false, I have found that not all Danes live up to this assumption. It’s a little bit complicated. They are not necessarily rude, but they are very direct. Danes on the street that you are not familiar with may seem cold and reserved. In fact, it is not common in their culture to say “excuse me” like it is in American culture. They will tell you what it is without sugar-coating the truth. It is not to intentionally offend you, their intent is to communicate directly and clearly. However, once you work up the courage to start a conversation with a Dane, they become much less intimidating! Many Danes enjoy a friendly conversation once you open up about yourself as well.
When you Google “Danish culture”, one of the most popular results is “hygge”. Hygge is a Danish word that does not have a direct English translation because it is not easily defined in American culture. It’s a concept, a mood, a feeling, an atmosphere. Hygge is about creating a warm atmosphere that embraces a sense of coziness. It can be relaxing with loved ones, enjoying a beer, or watching a movie. Hygge is not a specific definition, instead, it varies from person to person depending on how they prefer to relax. Hygge is deeply rooted in Danish cultures because it emphasizes the importance of well-being. Denmark has consistently ranked as among the world’s happiest countries and may believe that it is due to their “hyggeligt” lifestyle.
Many Danes think America is a mess. Denmark’s education and healthcare system are tax-funded by their citizens, unlike the United States. Danes think it is absurd that many Americans struggle with access to reliable healthcare and education because it is almost a right in Denmark. America’s significant political division is also a common pre-conception since Danes place a lot of trust in their government with little resistance. American culture tends to have a negative stigma due to the media coverage of our current events. I’ve been asked why Americans have big guns and big trucks, which is certainly not the case with many Americans. Although I agree with many of their opinions on America, it is also important to create my own narrative as a Vietnamese-American. My background varies greatly from many other Americans and it is important to me to share my experiences as a first-generation immigrant living in America.