"To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom....Since our office is with moments, let us husband them."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Nothing like a street protest/party to mess with a commute

Today was the official start of classes at DIS, which I guess means my program has now officially, officially begun. On Mondays/Thursdays I only have two classes, biomedical ethics and complexity of cancer. And even better, my first class doesn't start until 1:15 p.m., which means I get to sleep in.

Biomedical ethics is first on my list for the day, and it seem like it'll be a good course. The professor is Danish, but she spends her summers teaching at St. Olaf. This led to a fun discussion when we introduced ourselves and I said I went to Carleton, as we talked about Northfield and Blue Mondays. Anyways the course material is quite interesting, and she has it set up so that it will prepare us for practicing medicine and being able to quickly make critical ethical decisions in terms of patient care, as well as allowing us to be able to empathize with our patients when they ask questions like "what is the meaning of life?". I also found it interesting that she has the course set up much like a Carleton course, with the emphasis on the lectures and our discussions, as that was not totally what I was expecting.

In quite the opposite direction was my complexity of cancer course, which is taught by two Danish doctors that are both at their "residency" stage of training in clinical oncology (the training system is different here, but residency is the analogous position). They however, are not professors, and are not use to teaching/grading, especially with Americans, so their course is very Danish in a sense as they do not care if you show up to class, because in reality the lectures are only ancillary, and everything is based on the reading. This creates quite a different situation for me, and it will be interesting to say the least to see how it goes.

My complexity of cancer course takes place at the Panthum Institute which is Copenhagen's medical school, and it is also my last course of the day. Afterwards then, I took the bus back to the center of town where I had two different options to get back home. Since this was a new bus stop for me I spent the first 5 minutes getting oriented, figuring out which lines serviced the stops, and which line I needed to get home. Unfortunately, this orientation time led to trouble. Once I found the line I needed, I was standing out in the rain patiently waiting for the bus to arrive (it rained quite hard all afternoon). And waiting. And waiting. There was a timer at the stop, showing how many minutes until the bus arrived, and it was showing zero, but still no bus. So I waited...and waited some more. Finally, I look off and I see a bunch of flashing lights towards where the bus should be coming from. Then I notice there are multiple police vans parked at the station with police waiting in them. Then I started to hear the loudspeaker, and the people. There was some kind of parade or protest marching down the street. For what I am not sure, but they had a ton of people, pirate flags, and a moving stage, where someone was screaming things, throwing beach balls, and lighting flares. This little event severely messed with all the traffic including the buses. In the end it turned a 35 minute commute into a 90 minute commute, all in the rain. You have to love the Danes and their love for marching/dancing/chanting down the streets, no matter the occasion.

So when was the first time you had sex?

An interesting title for this post, right? You'll have to read through to see why I chose it. But first, just wanted to let you know that I've uploaded a handful of pictures of my room and my house/yard. It is really awesome. And the more I hear people complain about their commutes the happier I am with my location (there will be a post about this in the near future).

Part of the whole housing process with DIS involves writing a letter of introduction to your host family prior to your placement. In it, I talked about my interests and personality, etc, but also included my interest in soccer. Upon reading this, my family decided it would be a good idea (and it certainly was!) to treat me to the FC Copenhagen vs. Benefica Champions League Qualifying Match last night all as part of my introduction to Denmark. Unforutnately, Michael, my host dad, had to work and could not come, so it was Marc (my older host brother), myself, one of Michael's best friends, Bo, and one of Bo's friends, Carsten. We all met at a Thai restaurant for dinner prior to the match.

First off, this Thai restaurant was straight from a scene in one of the Rush Hour movies. The owner, a Dane, was walking around in his snazzy suit, and the whole place just smelled of dirty money. I was later informed by Marc that indeed, the owner had a past in Freetown on the island of Christiana, where a commune of people squat/live on government property, which is called a social experiment. In addition to that, it is also a place where the drugs flow freely, so there's not much doubt where the money for the restaurant comes from.

Beyond that, however, it was a great atmosphere, with a ton of FC Copenhagen fans enjoying the buffet prior to the match. Carsten talked to me awhile about how great soccer is and the atmosphere at the stadium, even though I attempted multiple times to explain to him how knowledgeable I am. Eventually, I just let him run with it, as I quickly learned Carsten likes to talk, and likes to extrapolate to say the least. His first point was how wonderful a club FC Copenhagen is, primarily in regards to their financial situation, as he claimed it was one of the 5 richest clubs in the world. I let him run with this point (even though it is incorrect -- they aren't even in the top 20). I also tried to explain how in the English Premier League, where some Americans have recently bought teams, some view the situation as a positive due to the American owners' ability to make money off of their teams by running a business. Somehow, however, Carsten didn't agree with this point, but I'm still not quite sure why.

Before coming over I read a book on Danish culture and etiquette, which went over some stereotypes of Danes that the book made sure to say were stereotypes. Nonetheless, I found it amusing to see that Carsten fit many of them, including the belief that the Danes are the best at what they do (see above), as well as being very open about sexual relations. Case in point, as we were eating, and totally unrelated to any other parts of any conversation that was taking place Carsten just flat out asks, "So how old were you when you first had sex?". Keep in mind he asks this to the entire table. I wasn't too horribly shocked, as I had read about this, but was definitely thinking it was an awkward situation. Bo responded first with his answer, then stated that he really didn't want to hear the answer from his best friend's son. I quickly was lost in conversation with Bo, while I think Carsten still asked Marc in Danish. The question was then dropped, and I luckily did not have to respond at all.

The game itself was fun. The atmosphere was great and the quality of soccer high. Unfortunately, and unluckily, FC Copenhagen lost 1-0, and was knocked out of the qualifying for the group stage of the Champions League. It was still a great time, and the fans, while loud, were never obnoxious, and cheered on their team even when defeat was assured.

Marc and I were unable to take the bus back home afterwards due to the throngs of people ahead of us leaving the stadium (about 39,500 people attended the game). Marc's dad, Michael, had just gotten off of work, though, so Marc arranged a pick-up for us at the American Embassy. While we were waiting outside the embassy a group of 3 to 4 Danes, probably in their 20's, walk by and also stop in front of the embassy by the street. The night watchman, a Danish security guard, came up to them and told them to move. They gave him some lip and didn't really respond (keep in mind that it is around 11:30 p.m.). All of a sudden, a black American appears out of nowhere and asks, with some disdain in his voice, if he can help them. They then get into a "discussion" about what constitutes private vs. public property. Then, a car pulls up and another two people who looked like Danes get out. Turns out that the secret service, who I guess is in charge with embassy security (which I did not know, I figure it was the Marines), does not appreciate loiters late at night. While this was happening Marc and I continued to walk and watch from afar. We ended up stopping on what was probably still "American" soil and continue to wait there. About 10 minutes later, while still waiting, the secret service agent appears and asks quite gruffly if he can help us. I told him that we were waiting to be picked up, all with the intentions of chatting the guy up until Michael arrived. Luckily, Michael pulled up about 20 seconds later so I didn't get a chance to ask the guy's life ambitions -- maybe next time.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Biking Adventure (x2)

So today I thought I would be very Danish, and bike into DIS. I made sure I was thoroughly prepared with directions and the like, so as to make the trip as easy as possible. The other thing you need to understand is that the Danes love, love, their bikes. It makes sense as biking is the cheapest and fastest way to commute into Copenhagen. Anyways, I leave the house this morning and start on my way, feeling out how fast people go, and the little nuances of etiquette that I wasn't previously told. Then problems started to happen. First, in Denmark, the street signs aren't like they are in the states. They just use a small sign that is on the side of a building, which is absolutely fine, except when I'm zooming by on a bike, with other bikes completely surrounding me. Needless to say, I missed my turn. So I pulled over and stopped, and consulted my map, and didn't really gain any insight, because I wasn't really sure where I was. I just continued to go straight hoping that would lead me somewhere useful. I even stopped again, and looked at my map again, but still couldn't figure anything out. Right when I was getting fed up, and close to becoming late to my meeting, and planning on asking a random Dane, I saw a building I recognized. This gave me hope! And after two lucky turns I was at DIS.

After the day's events I was off to soccer practice. Since I biked in, I had to bike there; however, this was pretty straight-forward as I was following a DIS employee who also plays for the club. It was rather uneventful, minus the two bikes behind me with DIS students that crashed together when one didn't realize we were stopping.

It just happened that my host brother, Marc, also happened to be having soccer practice at relatively the same time as I did, so he hung around for a little bit, and we rode our bikes back to the house. He took the "shortcut", which I swear was anything but short. Irregardless, as we were heading back Marc found a group of his friends, and stopped to briefly talk to them, while he told me to go on ahead (straight-ahead). I did as I was told and continued down the street, which curved in a new direction. The only problem with this was that I was supposed to go "straight-ahead", which meant leaving the road, and going on a dirt path. This led to about 20 minutes of phone calls trying to figure out where each other was. I had managed to get myself very close to home, and could have made it back, but Marc insisted that I meet up with him. He didn't want to lose me, and I can't really blame him. So after all of this I won't be biking for a day at least (although that has more to do with receiving my books more than anything else).

The other interesting tidbit I heard on the ride home was Marc's views on immigrants. With my help every now and then with filling in words to actually understand what he was saying, he was expressing himself pretty well. His views are also very interesting, although not that shocking as I had read about the concept before in a book and Danish culture and etiquette. Pretty much he was arguing against the immigrants because of their lack of desire to integrate with the rest of the Danish population. Instead they live together, and do not work (living off of government benefits), and harass the Danes (as he told me multiple stories of having things thrown at him and being chased, from 12 year olds to 25 year olds. In reality his whole point was to warn me to avoid them if I'm ever alone after dark, but nonetheless, it was very interesting to hear his opinions. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the conversation was when he told me that one way the government is talking about dealing with this issue is to not allow immigrants to live together in communities, therefore almost forcing them to integrate, or so the thinking goes.

Now about the soccer itself, it went fine. I'm out of shape. Badly. And it was evident. I was one of the best DIS players for the first 30-45 minutes that we practiced, but after that my legs were gone, and I couldn't do anything. It was a lengthy practice, both in time on the field (2+ hours), and time in general (I left DIS around 4:40, and didn't get back to my house until 9:30+). Because of those two things, and the amount of effort it would take me to put into it, I'm totally undecided if I'll keep doing it or not. I think a large factor will be how much work I have to do for my classes, as that could limit my time. We'll see.

Monday, August 27, 2007

A smattering of thoughts

This post will just be a handful of my thoughts that have occurred today:

  • Someone asked where my homestay is loacted within Copenhagen. I live in a "neighborhood" that is on the island of Amager, which is where the airport is located. I have about a 30 minute commute to DIS, which is on the low end. E-mail me at londond@carleton.edu if you would like the actual address to look up my house on Google Earth, or some other satellite website.
  • I'm going to my first soccer practice in about 3 years tomorrow! There is a club affiliated with DIS that allows DIS students to play on one of their teams. Since they have 6 mens' teams, and I haven't played competitive soccer in over 3 years, I'll probably be on one of the lower teams, but who knows. And who knows if I'll continue to do it or not, but I'll at least attend the first practice. I have to admit I'm quite nervous about the whole ordeal, but we'll see.
  • I went on my "tourist" sightseeing of Copenhagen today. Overall, the tour left much to be desired, but it was fine. I've uploaded the pictures from it to my Webshots, which can be accessed by the link at the top right of my page, or by clicking here: http://community.webshots.com/user/dsocc2l1864
  • After interacting with a handful of students from schools across the country, mostly indirectly, all I can say is it did nothing to reaffirm how good a fit Carleton is for me.
  • Finally, I am already getting extremely frustrated with my lack of knowledge in terms of the Danish language. I know realize how rough life was for people in my program in Berlin last summer, who didn't know German. Not being able to read especially makes things quite difficult.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

"One night in Copenhagen, And ya know, The nadir's fluorescent"

I made it! I am now in Copenhagen (KĂžbenhavn if you're a local)! The excitement with the flights started right away, as a coup occurred and one of my bags was not overweight, saving me $25. Once I reached the terminal I quickly found out that I am not the only DIS student with Northeastern Ohio ties, as there was 6 or 7 on the flight to Newark. That flight ended up being delayed for over an hour (sitting on the runway) due to traffic/weather issues in Newark. This wasn't much of a problem, as I had a 3.5 hour layover. After getting lunch there, I made my way to the gate, to figure out that DIS might as well have chartered the flight. Half of the people on the flight were DIS students. I'm sure the other travelers were ecstatic to see a large number of mostly highly excited college students. This flight was also delayed by an hour, this time due to a lengthy cleaning of the flight before we boarded. Once we took off everything went quite smoothly. The only problem was my inability to fall asleep (even with taking a Tylenol PM), which leaves me right now begging for bed. The highlight of the flight by far was the perfect timing shown by the flight personnel in turning on the lights in the cabin, as it allowed a gorgeous view of the rising sun towards the east, and the fading stars to the west!

Once we landed and set foot off the plane you immediately knew you were in Scandinavia as the flooring was made entirely of wood, and had that distinctive Scandinavian feel. After making it through the passport control line it was on to pick up my baggage. The baggage carousel was very cooly automated in that bags were only added to the circuit when there was an opening. However, this meant I waited for about 25 minutes for enough other bags to be removed so that my bags could be added.

We then took a 15 minute bus ride the University of Copenhagen, which is where the housing orientation took place. We had about 2.5 hours to get some food, and go over the masssive amounts of paperwork DIS had for us. I was able to meet up with a couple of my friends from Carleton at this point, and we caught up on each other's summer activities. All of the students staying in homestays or shared housing were then herded into the main lecture room for a brief, and not very useful, orientation on our housing choices. This was followed by the most nerve-wracking aspect of the morning -- waiting for your family to come in the room, call your name, and be on your way. It almost felt as if I was up for auction, and hoping someone would bid. Eventually someone did, and I joined the majority of family (Michael, Britta, and Viktor). We made small talk, grabbed my bags, and made the way to the car, and eventually back to the house.

The house is gorgeous. It has to be biggest house on the street by far, perhaps even twice as big as the next-door neighbors, especially regarding the yard size. Just like the airport, there were wooden floors throughout, as well as the latest technology (pictures will be up soon demonstrating all of this). My room itself is quite cozy, with my bed, a desk, a chair to read in, and my dresser. Of course I put off unpacking beyond my computer, and was happily greeted by the presence of a wireless connection. That's because Marcus (the other brother) has 3 computers (not 3 monitors as I thought, but 3 complete computers). I then managed to unpack about half my of my things before I was treated to my first Danish meal, a typical lunch (fish sandwiches on rye toast). I then proceeded to make my room actually mine, as well as go through all the papers that I was given earlier.

Of my two brothers, Marcus is clearly the more outgoing one of the two, although this isn't a surprise as he is older and has more experience with English, and is much more confident in talking with/to me. Viktor has been shy, but it is pretty evident that that won't last for too long. It was great to see both of their excitement when I gave them their Columbus Crew mini-balls (definitely a good purchase). In fact, Britta and Michael seemed pretty excited by their homemade Amish apple butter.

Dinner was then concluded by going over some of the odd, and sometimes awkward questions about daily life and practices within the house. Micahel and I then had a great discussion where I explained to him the finer points of American salary caps in professional athletics (NFL, NBA, MLB, and MLS), and he was quite amazed by all the differences and how subtle they are. Then I came here, completely out of energy, and definitely ready for bed. Tomorrow brings the start of actual orientation, which includes an opening ceremony in the morning, a tour of Copenhagen (expect pictures from this), and some orientation on athletics. Hopefully, I'll also manage to get a public transportation pass, and find a place that I can work out at.

Already today I've definitely had moments of up and down feelings, but I'm glad to say I'm now going to bed with a postive view on things, and I think that's all I could ask for.

P.S. Danish pillows only come in one size. Square.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

And I'm off (plus a full description of where I am off to)

Well not quite yet. But I will be leaving for Hopkins International Airport in a little less than 9 hours. So that means that I'm all packed, right? Again, not quite yet, but progress has been made, and I should be done in an hour or so, and relatively speaking, it was a rather painless ordeal, which is unusual for my major packing efforts.

So, I haven't given a full explanation yet as to what all this Denmark talk is about, so there is probably a decent number of people that have no idea what I'm talking about. I'll try to shed some light onto what is going on, especially as it allows me to procrastinate with finishing packing.

Tomorrow morning (actually later this morning) I will be departing for Copenhagen, Denmark, which will be my new home for the next four months, as I am studying abroad for this trimester, although it is a semester program (yes, that means I am giving up the sometimes too long 6-week Carleton winter break for a much abbreviated 12 day vacation). The program that I am enrolled in is called the Danish Institute for Study Abroad. This is a kind of umbrella program that within it has about 500 students each semester enrolled in a variety of different subprograms. My subprogram is called Medical Practice & Policy. The subprogram defines for each student there one core course, which for me is called Human Health & Disease, which in turn influences two study trips taken. For me these trips will be to (at least to the best of my knowledge) Western Denmark and Berlin and Poznan. The Human Health & Disease course has a focus on practical/clinical medical situations. It is taught by current Danish M.D.'s with topics including prevalent and common human disease, as well as basic patient care things such as history taking, blood pressure, etc.

In addition to my core course, I am enrolled into 4 other courses. One of these is called the Complexity of Cancer, which is taught Danish oncologists and looks at the biology and treatment of cancer. My second course is called Healthcare in Scandinavia, and is an economics course investigating socialized medicine in the Scandinavia nations. My third course is The Impact of Epidemic Disease, and is a history course looking at, well, the impact of epidemic disease on Western Europe. My fourth course is a philosophy course entitled biomedical ethics, which is rather self-explanatory.

Another highlight of this adventure that I am set to go off on include the chance to travel around Europe. In addition to the study trips, I am planning on taking a 5 day trip to the Czech Republic, which will include a stop at Thereinstadt, Prague, and the Czech country side where I will be able to hike, rock climb, and explore caves. I also have another week off that I plan to use to explore some other aspect of Europe, although in reality, I haven't given the "where" much thought.

Now during the time that I am actually in Copenhagen I will be staying with my host family slightly south of the city. I have been in e-mail contact with them for about a week now, and am incredibly excited to finally meet them. I'm sure lots of my entries later on will be about the going ons in the house, so I'll wait till then to give you the details about them.

Well, this should answer all the general questions anyone may have, but if not, leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail (londond@carleton.edu) asking things you'd like me to answer. Now, it's time to finish packing.

Monday, August 20, 2007

A Clean Room...Finally

Obviously, going to live in Denmark for 4 months means that packing is a pretty key component in getting ready to depart. However, I've been a couple steps behind in that regards...I still had to unpack. From Carleton. So what if I left the land of cows, colleges, and contentment during the first week in June, I was in no hurry.

In reality the delay can be blamed on spending my summer in Ann Arbor doing research at the University of Michigan. I was home in Ohio for a grand total of 1 day in between, so naturally I took all of my junk from Carleton with me to my apartment in Michigan. Then when I moved back home a couple weeks ago it just started to pile up higher and higher and higher. My room was definitely the worst I had ever seen. Not even the mess left from my huge lincoln log, lego, and soldier wars back in elementary school could compare. The whole situation was exacerbated by the fact that my family left for a quick vacation a week after I was home.

Nevertheless, I have finally conquered my room. The floor can be seen, and walked upon. The second bed could actually function as a bed. And all my books, folders, binder, notebooks, and pieces of paper have all been taken care of.

So what does this all mean? I'm set to pack. But no rush in doing that. I've still got 4 days left!

Friday, August 17, 2007

T-Minus 8 days

It's almost time for me to go. In less than 8 days I will be going from Cleveland, Ohio (on the left) across the Atlantic to arrive in Copenhagen, Denmark (on the right). That flight will officially begin my study abroad experience! And this blog will be the home for information on how it is going. If you're interested in photos, there is a link on the right-hand side of the page labeled "Webshots" that will take you to my Webshots page, where all of my pictures are. I'm hoping to make relatively frequent posts here sharing my adventures and such. In addition, some of my musings on life, news, and sports, will also be expounded here. So if at all interested, check back often and see how things are coming along.