Monday, November 26, 2012


With just three weeks left in Copenhagen, I've been giving a lot of thought as to what I want to bring home as a souvenir. I've gotten some little things here and there but I kind of want to get one big thing to remember my time here. It has to be cool, cute and totally Danish. If I had it my way, I would probably bring home a Danish baby. But let's face it, 20 is way too young to be a mom. Not to mention that stealing children off the street is probably illegal too.

(Just creepin' on some nuggets at the bus stop)

I can't get enough of Danish children. They are ALL blonde with blue eyes and they have been dressed in full-body snowsuits (with boots and mittens of course) since October. They waddle around in their puffy coats and scoot down the streets on miniature bikes. I swear to god I melt every time I hear a bubbly little three-year-old say something completely unintelligible in Danish. As cute and innocent as they may appear, Danish children are much more independent than their American peers. I've taken the public bus with middle schoolers and waited at crosswalks with unattended first graders. This would never happen back home and if it did, it would probably make the nine o'clock news.

My Danish class has a cultural component to it and we've talked a lot about the Danish school system. Preschool and kindergarten here is much more focused on socializing. Preschool teachers have a different title than "regular" teachers and parents would be horrified if they actually taught their children anything. The point of the early years is to play, make friends, and learn to be social. This was amusing to my class but as we talked more about the progression of education, I came to realize what--in my mind--was really lacking in the classroom: competition.

There's actually a term for this phenomenon. It's called janteloven (or the Law of Jante in English) and it basically says that it's inappropriate to hold your success over another. It has ten key points which all basically say you are not any better than anyone else. It's a pretty radical idea by American standards but has been embraced on many levels by Danish culture. I was happy to learn about this philosophy because it finally gave a name to what frustrated me so much about Danish culture.

I was never that involved in sports so I've never really considered myself to be competitive; since I've been in Denmark, I've discovered that I am, in fact, extremely competitive in a different sense of the world. If you know me personally maybe this isn't all the that shocking to you (but hey, at least I'm learning to identify my flaws). I don't necessarily feel the need to win, but I do like to be right. I'm pretty convinced that the world would run more smoothly if I did the planning. I like to be in control, I'm opinionated and I'm stubborn to a fault. When I apply for things, I usually get them. I have no problem saying something or someone is better than another. Honestly, how can you go through life and not think that something or someone is the best? 

For Danes, everyone is equal and all ideas are welcome. While I appreciate being open minded (and this is actually a quality I like to think I have), I can't wrap my mind around nothing being "the best" or "better than" in the Danish sense. You know what? I'm good at writing. I know I am. And that's ok. I can also acknowledge that I suck at spelling, can't hit a tennis ball and will never be a scientist. That's ok! You're probably better at something than I am and I still value you as a person. That's ok too! Perhaps my insistence that my way is better than the Danish way only goes to prove their point but if nothing else, I'm learning way more about myself and American culture in general than I ever expected to learn in my Danish class.

I'll be coming back to the states with new a perspective on my own personality and that's perfectly ok with me. Self-discovery is an important part of studying abroad and so far I've discovered that I have a competitive streak that I never really noticed. I will also insist that my future children wear neon snow-suits if it ever drops below 50 degrees...but that's a lesson for another day. 


  1. You seek competition in the classroom, but as a danish teacher I would rather the students work together and learned from each other. Competition and striving to be #1 is fine but it is only extrinsic motivation and leads to lees interest in what is actually taught and learnt. Since people in Denmark are free to choose a job that they enjoy and not worry about healthcare, status or income(as much) they also learn for the sake of enjoyment = intrinsic motivation. See:

    1. Thanks for your viewpoint! I do understand where you're coming from. We actually discussed extrinsic/intrinsic in my Danish class as well. While I don't fully agree with the Danish system, I do see and understand the criticism against the competitive nature of education in the States. I don't think either way is perfect though. I do think students, in the US, Denmark or otherwise should be able to learn for the sake of enjoyment and should be to able choose a profession they enjoy. What I don't agree with is the sentiment that no one is better than anyone else. I hope that my doctors enjoy what they're doing but I also expect them to meet educational standards; just because someone wants to be a doctor doesn't mean they should be allowed to if they aren't intellectually qualified. They have to better than someone else along the line in order to be where they are. I realize that it is not that simple in real life and that I don't mean to say that professionals in Denmark aren't qualified. My point is that I simply can't accept that learning can't be competitive. I think there is some benefit pushing yourself to excel against others, though I fully agree that the States has taken this to a new extreme.

    2. To become a doctor in Denmark or any other profession with degree you need to achieve a certain grade point average to be accepted from Gymnasium (upper secondary school/high shcool)into a University, so we do have people striving for academic exelence, but no one is ever graded on a curve or ranked against each other. That is not to say that students aren't competitive towards each other - of cause they are, but the system doesn't promote it by publishing students results and grades.
      Most danes also belive that being an exelent childcare professionel, store manager or doctor affords the same respect and no special titels are (doctor/professor/detective) ever used - only first names.