Friday, August 24, 2012


Maybe I'm just a huge dork, but the first few weeks of new classes each semester always make me really excited. There's just something fun about a new routine, new professors and new classmates. Needless to say, my first few days of DIS courses have not failed to disappoint. My two sustainability classes are about development and business--a refreshing change from the science based ones I've taken at Georgetown. The two art history courses I'm taking are focused on feminist art and Danish design respectively: two narrow topics that aren't offered back home.

(Even the science handouts are beautifully designed)

My professors (whom we address by first name) are incredibly interesting, passionate and diverse, hailing from Denmark, Germany and even Mexico. As excited as I am be starting classes, I finally had my first truly uncomfortable study abroad moment. Remember when I said I wanted to make a concentrated effort to learn Danish? Well, yesterday I had my first Danish language class.
"Hej! Jeg hedder Hillary. Jeg kommer fra Denver. Jeg bor pä Vestebro. Jeg læser kunshistorie."
This translates to "Hi! My name is Hillary. I'm from Denver. I live in Vestebro. I study art history." It looks self explanatory right? Wrong. Danish sounds nothing like how it is written (or how you think it should sound based on how it's written) It's actually pronounced something like:
"Hi! Ya hilthda Hillary. Ya cohme frah Denver. Ya boar puh Vestehbo. Ya laaseer koontisory"
To be perfectly honest, I don't even know if my attempts to type it out phonetically are even all that close to the actual pronunciation because in Danish, you only pronounce about half of the letters and you swallow the vowels. As my class went around repeating the phrases, the teacher eventually got to me. It was only a three word sentence, the final word being my name. All I needed to repeat was "jeg hedder Hillary" but I could feel my hands tingling and my throat closing up. I'm not good at Danish and I generally don't like things I'm not good at.

I'm always up to try something new but I have a hard time sticking with things that don't come naturally. This is probably why I gave up on things like bowling, tennis and diving as a kid: I just wasn't immediately good at them and thus moved right along to the next activity. Even though I know no one else in my class has taken Danish before, I can't help but feel incredibly self conscious butchering the words in front of 20 other people who, to my ears, sound like they know what they're doing.

At the end of class, I hung around to talk to the teacher and explained to her that I'm usually a visual learner and felt like I wasn't saying anything right. She calmly acknowledged that I looked uncomfortable (my ears turn bright red when I'm nervous) but she also reminded me that everyone was in the same boat and that she would happily work with me more if I sought out the help. It was encouraging to get such a candid and honest response and I'm going to consider it my first step in tackling something that doesn't come easily to me. I've queued up a list of Danish podcasts and movies to listen to and watch in hopes of becoming more familiar with the sounds. Hopefully I'll too be swallowing my vowels, or at least happily trying to.

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