If you hear a foreign language on campus, there is a good chance that it is Scandinavian. Vikings, IKEA, and the guy who plays Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones all may come to mind when you think of Scandinavia, but there is a sprawling culture behind your classmates and their homelands that may be worth a visit.
Denmark is widely considered to be one of the happiest places in the world. When visiting the small coastal country, which sits right above Germany, neighboring Sweden and Norway, lots of deep questions rattled in my jet-lagged head. Why are the Danes so happy? What is so different from the United States? Are Americans consuming too many Big Macs and Red Bulls to just relax for a bit and smell the metaphorical cup of coffee in the morning?
I was sipping a real-life cappuccino at one of the quaint coffeehouses in Copenhagen when I found my answer. Maybe it was just the caffeine rush, but the city around me was very much alive and well. There is a word in Danish that does not have a real English definition other than “a feeling of coziness, well-being, or contentment” called hygge that sums up how I felt. The populace of Denmark and other parts of Scandinavia are reserved in a positive way. They generally don’t feel like they are better than anyone else. This attitude (along with bushels of attractive people, but we won’t get into that) creates a feeling of well being. It was this feeling that exuded a sense of happiness.
Of course, there were many less abstract things to experience in Denmark. Copenhagen is the larg¬est city and capital where, centuries ago, fishermen established a major trade outpost. In modern times, Copenhagen has a mix of sleek minimalist architecture and Dutch Baroque styled brick buildings with pastel colors. You can take a tour around the city and see Alalienborg Palace at the city center, the huge dome of Frederik’s Church, Christiansborg Palace on the island of Slotsholmen, or the National Museum. If you can book a bed and breakfast arrangement or stay with a host family like I did, make sure to have a home cooked meal. The Danes enjoy local flavors such as frikadeller (pork meatballs) and open faced sandwiches called Smørrebrød. For breakfast, the Danes typically eat a healthy bowl of muesli (oats often served with milk or yogurt) and fruit.
You may want to strap on your training wheels and get ready for some biking to try out the Danish lifestyle. The Danes are very eco-friendly, utilizing alternative energy for their electricity, especially in Copenhagen, where wind turbines graze the horizon and a large part of the workforce takes a bike to work instead of a car. People who enjoy the outdoors will delight in the Tivoli Gardens, an amusement park that opened in the mid-19th century. Built in 1843, Tivoli is the second oldest amusement park in the world influencing the likes of Walt Disney. Street festivals are common in the summer months while the nearby town of Roskilde is home to the renowned Roskilde Festival held in June or July. The festival has run since the 1970’s and has had guests such as Pearl Jam, Band of Horses, Kanye West, and Coldplay. If you fill up your days with the many activities in the city of Copenhagen and the near vicinity, you may find yourself feeling as content, or hygge, as the Danes would say. I highly recommend a visit to the city of Copenhagen, the country of Denmark and the Scandinavian region!