Diversity and Democracy

Two Months in Denmark

During the summer of 2015, I spent two months as the only American studying at a folk højskole (high school) on the southern border of Denmark. This højskole is one of many government-funded campuses that offers students the experience of living and studying in an intellectual environment with people from around the world, gaining exposure to subjects, from construction to linguistics, that expand upon, or depart from, those typically covered in traditional classrooms.

When I proposed this GO Your Own Way program, I emphasized that engaging with a wide range of subjects, all taught by European faculty living with the students, might help me better appreciate diverse attitudes toward learning. Upon arriving, however, I quickly realized that classes were the least significant part of school life. The school encourages growth through an emphasis on hygge, a uniquely Danish word describing the feeling of contentment that comes from sitting down with friends, normally around a campfire, and recognizing that life is good when you’re with good people.

With this focus on the value of growth through closeness and cross-cultural communication, daily life is a lesson in social and cultural engagement. The school hosts a mix of Danish and international students of different ages and backgrounds. At the højskole, I lived with, and learned to understand the cultures of, students from Syria, Somalia, Cyprus, Japan, Cameroon, Germany, and many other countries while orienting myself within the Danish culture and navigating language barriers.

In conversations quickly translated between Arabic, Danish, and English, we asked each other to consider the value of our culturally informed beliefs, often questioning conceptions of freedom, patriotism, terrorism, and national responsibility. There were nights when I was asked to defend American health and judicial systems and found, in the discomfort of these conversations, a greater understanding of my own political and cultural stance.

I came out of the experience with a new eye for my own culture, one that is both more critical and more inquisitive. I now more readily think about my world as a pliable place, where country borders are only physical and ideological differences can be understood with enough time and respect. I have found camaraderie with other students who have returned from their own experiences feeling similarly, and the changes in my perspective are supported by a university program that recognizes the value in finding new footing by exploring displacement.

Editor's note: To learn more about Susquehanna University's Global Opportunities and GO Your Own Way programs, read Scott Manning's article in this issue of Diversity & Democracy.

Regan Breeden is a 2016 graduate of Susquehanna University.

Previous Issues