As many of you reading are surely aware, and even more of you are vaguely sure of something, I am on a full-year university exchange to Aarhus University in Aarhus, Denmark. I have been here now for a little over two weeks which have felt like a lifetime. Prior to this, I had never travelled outside North America, and my travelling within Canada has been limited — restricted mostly to within my home province of Ontario. This is my first time travelling alone, and my first time really living alone — no flatmates. All of this has meant that I am experiencing a whole host of new things at once. I’ve never been to a place where I do not speak the primary language, and I’ve never been anywhere I don’t know anyone.
I started a blog this Summer, and I will continue it while I am here for the next eight months and I assume that most of my posts will be travel/exchange related. That’s not to say, however, that I won't be discussing other topics — I have two blogs written and ready to be posted anytime now with nothing about my travel in them. Given that this is the first piece written from Aarhus (I am lounging in Dokk1 as I type this (and the Dome of Visions upon the first edit (etc.))), I am going to go over some of my experiences, thoughts and feelings from my first three tumultuous days. This is a recollection — not a literary one — it’s purpose is primarily to communicate to those who are curious what I’ve been up to.
One more aside before I begin, travel writing on the blog after this post is going to (I hope) be more focused on the art of the thing than upon word-vomiting my experiences. And also, I want to here, before I whinge about an awful couple of days, acknowledge that ‘a semester abroad’ (moreover, ‘two’), is purely the product of privilege, in no way does the following indicate that I am unhappy to be here, that I regret coming/going, or that I have run away, unchecked, and fail to understand what an absurdly affluent experience I am undertaking. I fully understand that this is amazing, I have no right to complain, and also that the following unpleasantries are entirely due to a mistake I made — or several. I am very very happy now, and thoroughly enjoying life.
The First Three Days
On Tuesday, August 22, my parents, sister, and partner drove me, to the Pearson Airport in Toronto. The beginning of day one, a-30-some-odd-hour-day, went extremely well. Tearful goodbyes to my loved ones who have and continue to be immensely supportive concluded with swift and easy movement through Canadian and later European customs. I flew out in the early afternoon to a brief layover in Reykjavik, Iceland in the middle-of-the-night. From there I tried to sleep as I flew into Copenhagen and mostly failed to do so. When I arrived at 6:00am I felt great — tired but ready.
Asking around, I learned how to use the kiosks to buy myself a train ticket from the airport to Copenhagen Central Station, and from there to Aarhus Central Station. With my ticket in hand, I descended the stairs to the train tracks. Once I reached the platform, the contents of my stomach felt as if it had turned to lead. I suddenly felt truly, overwhelmingly, unprepared.
It’s cold in Copenhagen in the morning and my 80lbs. (36ish kg) of sprawling luggage did not help me navigate the dimly lit concrete platform. Very few other people were down there, and when I found some train company employees, though they answered my questions, they were curt and not unlike the atmosphere. I boarded the train to Copenhagen Central Station, a place I projected my discomfort upon. When I arrived I was met with another sparse crowd of fairly moody morning commuters. The cannonball in my gut was not subsiding, and I had to bother a handful of Danes before a few accommodating and friendly people got me to my platform. And then I waited, and then my train arrived, and then I boarded.
The lady across from me on the train was helpful and slowly the cannonball dissolved. The train itself was beautiful; everything everyone told me about the magic of European trains was absolutely correct. It was comfortable and provided a stunning view of the Danish countryside. My ride was an excellent way to wake up and start the second morning of my first day (time-travel narrative). I felt ready again.
I arrived in Aarhus, grinning ear to ear and mentally making a home for myself in this beautiful city. I spent some time trying to figure out what bus to take to get from the train station to the university to check-in and get the keys to my flat. On the bus, I had a stressful time trying to figure out how to pay for my ride, I spoke up too late, missed my stop by two, held up a bus, and was partially told-off by a bus driver whose patience I was testing. Then, off the bus, I walked many blocks back to my stop and through a park to get to the university (thank you offline Google Maps). Check-In went well, and I was able to get most things in order. I picked everything up again, hiked to the other side of the campus and went hunting for the next bus stop to head to my new home for the first time.
Fee ready this time, I entered the crowded bus from the back (pro tip: if you are new to Aarhus, and are lugging around a tonne of luggage, stay off rush-hour buses and just wait until later — it’s not worth it). To pay on said bus, I needed to move to the middle of the jam-packed vehicle to an electronic kiosk, which I was able to do because some wonderful Danes didn’t shoulder-check me, and others volunteered to watch my bags. Sweaty, and overwhelmed, I watched the bus screen for a half hour until my stop appeared; I got off, one too early of course. I walked to my flat on ‘E’-for-empty and ‘D’-for-delirious. Then, with the help of a nearby sunbathing, bikini-top-clad Dane, I was let into my flat. I started to unpack and wanted to contact my family and friends back home to let them know I arrived safe, but when I went to add more funds to my Danish cell plan, I discovered, to my horror, that I was missing my wallet.
Here is what I think must have happened: when I picked up my student card at the University, I took my day-wallet out from my bag to insert the student card into it, and thinking myself clever (a red flag), then put my day-wallet in the pocket of my jeans alongside my travel-wallet. This meant that when I was overwhelmed and physically exhausted, and therefore not paying attention, walking the extra distance from the bus stop to my flat, my day-wallet slid out of my pocket onto the ground due to the movement of walking.
Realizing this, I quickly retraced my steps to the bus stop but found nothing. I talked to the driver of the next bus, who told me how to contact the bus company in case I lost it on the bus.
When I returned, to my flat, I freaked out. One could call this a breakdown and it signalled the first of several. I re-searched my room, and bags, and once again and found nothing. In my state, I was incapable of locating the outlet for the router in my room, my phone didn’t have enough money on it to use data or make calls and thus I couldn’t contact home for help. Desperately, I interpreted the same sunbather from before and asked to use her phone to text my mother. She was very nice and let me use her phone although the texts wouldn’t go through. She said that if worst-comes-to-worst or if I need more help with anything I could go to her flat, an offer of sheer kindness which I am immensely grateful for. More freaking out in my apartment, followed by a sudden, and in retrospect obvious idea: that I could use the sunbather’s wifi to make a wifi call to my mother and get everything sorted out.
Because of my inability to think properly in this stressful time, I had forgotten the name and apartment number of the sunbather. I did, however, find another neighbour outside, I explained my situation and asked to use his wifi to make the call. He was friendly and most accommodating. If there is a lesson to be gleaned from these experiences, it is that more often than not, you can, in fact, trust and depend on strangers. After some unprepared-for brainstorming on my family’s end, they figured out how to wire me cash which I was able to attain that Friday — this process is not an uncommon one, but we didn’t expect to have to do it, so it took some research.
Thursday was a day where things happened, but I don’t remember what exactly they were. I can tell you that I cancelled my credit and debit cards and ordered new ones to be sent to me in Denmark. I had multiple stress-induced breakdowns, and that I bought some groceries that I thought I could survive cheaply on until we could figure out the money situation. I can tell you that I cried several times and that I said in my head “I want to go home”, many times. I can tell you that I went to the bus station and the police station, neither of which had seen my wallet. That I stumbled across an Indian grocery store and picked up some naan and garam masala because the money was coming soon and I needed something delicious and exciting to eat. I remember being elated downtown because of how much I loved absolutely everything and then being crushed again when I returned to my flat.
Another unexpected result of the stress was that I seemed to have forgotten how to cook, which was a problem because I needed to eat cheaply and fast food in Denmark is priced appropriately for what it does to your body and how it’s made (expensive). So I put an entire jar of garam masala mix (never do this) into a pan with some chicken and made an inedible mess which I tried to choke-down, wept upon, and nearly threw up.
While trying to put that awful meal together, and while failing to eat it, all the while emotionally imploding, my partner was coaching me through and talking to me. She is very seriously the only reason I made it through that mental clusterfuck (should I censor myself on the blog? — no idea). She made me an itinerary for the following day and was the only reason (next to my mother’s help) why I was able to begin to get things done. For hours she calmed me down over a Duo conversation and sorted my life out. And she also told me what to buy to fix my curry.
The following day, as per my partner’s itinerary, I went downtown to get the wired money, I treated myself to some café fare, I bought meal staples from the grocery store, I bought most of the things I needed for my flat from an Ikea bigger than the town I grew up in, and I found my mailbox.
Within said mailbox, which has my name on it, I found my wallet, deposited there by some kind stranger who found it. After the worst three days of my life, within the course of a couple hours, I was more than excited to take on the world and new adventures again, just like that.
Graciously and thoroughly edited by Danielle “DJ” Maki (my partner).
Bonus (because you made it this far):
DJ’s Title Ideas ---
“Plane - Plane - Train - Train - Bus - Bus - Walk - Home”
“Spectacles, Testicles, Wallet and Wallet?”
“The Kindness of Strangers”
“XXX Topless Sunbathers: the Locksmith ed. XXX
EDIT 2018/03/13 Added spaces where I missed them and removed the ones in the middle of the word "cannonball."