Abroad Arts and Culture

Abroad Blog: Nicole Labresh ’17; Denmark

Hej again from Copenhagen! I am now halfway through my semester abroad (!!!) which means it’s midterm season. It seems strange to be talking about midterms when here I am in Europe, in case I haven’t mentioned that yet. I’ve had a lot of experiences since I last wrote that have brought both historic and current events closer to home than I ever would have imagined.

A few weeks ago, I went to Vienna with my clinical psychology class. We spent the week attending lectures on the three schools of Viennese psychotherapy, seeing where Freud worked and lived, masquerading as people with class at the symphony, and other things I had only ever dreamed of. But perhaps one of the most intense experiences of the trip, and probably of my life, was our visit to Mauthausen Concentration Camp. For all of the times throughout my education I have been given books to read and documentaries to watch about the Holocaust, never before has it felt so real. To be where it happened, to walk the grounds where innocent people were slaughtered for being who they were, no experience quite brings it to life like that. It’s something I will certainly never forget.

What has also come to feel more real to me through my experiences here is the current refugee crisis. I had heard about refugee-related protests happening in Copenhagen, both for and against, but still didn’t feel very close to the issue. While in Vienna, we also visited an asylum coordination unit and learned about the process of applying for asylum and what is being done in particular to help unaccompanied minor refugees adjust. I also attended a lecture back in Copenhagen from the minds behind visAvis, a magazine by, for, and about refugees. Between these two talks, the knowledge that down the street from the hostel where we stayed in Vienna was a train station packed with refugees, and happening upon a protest in Vienna in support of refugees, I finally felt like I had a solid idea of what was going on and that it is happening right here.

This newfound awareness has led me to discover Denmark’s fatal flaw. Last time, I talked a lot about why Denmark is awesome. Here’s why it’s not. For all it’s got going for it, Denmark is a homogenous and insular nation. Despite being considered a socially conscious society, islamophobia is high. There is widespread fear that the influx of immigrants and refugees will collapse the precious welfare state. A lot of the discontent at least seems to be directed towards the system through which asylum is granted rather than refugees themselves. It can take about ten years to find out whether you have been granted asylum. That’s ten years living in a refugee camp, during which time you are not allowed to work. Get it together, Denmark.

This is not to say it’s all been these profound, depressing experiences, but still I find myself being frequently enlightened and constantly amazed by my surroundings and what I’m learning.