NRI Voice: A Danish Adventure
Janani Venkatesh enjoys her dorm life in Copenhagen and finds striking similarities between Indian and Danish desserts.
Janani Venkatesh moved to Denmark to pursue a master’s degree in Climate Change at the University of Copenhagen in 2017. The 24-year-old Chennai girl tells Little India about her love for nature and her experiences in the European country.
Inclination Towards Nature
As a child, I always felt closely connected to nature. I knew early on that I had to pursue something that contributed to the planet, and protect the environment that fosters us, or I’d never be content with what I was doing. During my Bachelor’s degree, I would get disturbed by the impact of chemical plants on the environment, while others would see their prospects. Later, I had an opportunity to intern at the ice core processing campaign of an ice core from Antarctica. That was it! I knew that was what I wanted to study — the Earth itself; its environment, climate, and how it’s all tied together with living organisms.
Life in Copenhagen
I live in a student dorm –- kollegium as they are called. In a kollegium, a student has his or her own room, but shares certain living spaces such as a lounge or a common kitchen. Most of my neighbors are Danes and I quite love living here.
We often have common dinners, movie nights and recently finished all the extended edition of Lord of the Rings, and also organize many such events at the dorm. It is a very convenient, homely set-up or, as the Danes would say, it’s very “hygge.”
Misconceptions about Denmark
Danes are often stereotyped as being reserved. People often say it’s difficult to get into their inner circle as a foreigner. To this, I would like to say both yes and no, to a certain extent. I’ve found that language can be one of the reasons why they are interpreted as reserved. They are slightly restrained in the beginning, but aren’t we all so with any new person we meet, regardless of their ethnicity. I think that they are genuinely curious to know more about other cultures and countries – two of my neighbors have actually been to India and love talking about the country. We do Indian movie nights and they love all the Indian food that I occasionally prepare.
I was afraid of racial discrimination, but soon I realized that they’re only shy to talk to new people who don’t speak their language. I can relate to them as I am quite similar. The more time I spend here, the more I find the Danes I know – at the dorm, university, and even people I meet in shops — to be some of the nicest people I have met.
Biking Capital of the World
Denmark is synonymous with bikes. Copenhagen is known as the biking capital of the world, after all. Come the rain or snow, you will find the Danes out on their bikes. There are biking lanes on every road and frankly, it really is the easiest and fastest way to get anywhere, and it helps that the terrain is mostly flat.
Having ample time for oneself, spending time with family and leading a stress-free life is extremely important here and the system facilitates it. During our international orientation week at the university, one of the speakers actually said that in Denmark, the probability of passing your course is directly proportional to your amount of social drinking! I have become quite spoilt with the long weekends here. It is very nice because the program is designed in such a way that it is flexible enough to make time for student jobs — I’ve recently started one and still get time off.
Lessons from Denmark
One of my favorite things here is the emphasis on waste segregation. At the dorm, we segregate waste into organic or bio waste, plastics, paper, cardboard, metal, glass, e-waste, and hard plastics. Only when something doesn’t fit into any of these categories, does it go into general waste. It may sound like too much effort but it honestly isn’t. Once you start doing it, it becomes habitual, and it’s much cleaner, stench-free, and environment-friendly. This is something I really wish was adopted everywhere, especially in India.
Another thing I love is the concept of flea markets. There’s at least one every other week. And you can often find exactly what you need – and more – for much cheaper prices. It’s all about reduce, reuse, recycle. Despite most Danes being some of the best dressed people I know, they have no qualms about shopping at flea markets.
Also, there are organizations that work towards reducing waste. For example, Food Sharing collects surplus or close-to-expiration food from supermarkets, bazaars, etc. and distributes them for free twice a week.
Since I am a vegetarian, I have been unable to try most traditional Danish dishes since the cuisine is highly meat-based. However, I have tried desserts and, quite a few surprises there! I made a traditional sweet – ksheeranam– during Diwali and I gave it to my neighbors to try. Turns out they make the exact same thing– it’s called risengrød. Top it with a cherry compote, and that’s risalamande, a traditional Danish Christmas dessert (if you find the hidden almond, you get a prize!).
Perhaps the most surprising of all was æbleskiver. I’m told it’s a traditional Danish Christmas dessert, but it’s pancake batter served as kuzhi paniyaaram as we say in Tamil. Imagine my surprise when I saw it and their surprise when I told them even the mold was “traditionally South Indian” and not exclusively “traditionally Danish” as they had presumed.
The food and my books; I miss them dearly. But I don’t miss anything so much that I cannot live without it for months at a time. Most of the credit for that goes to the wonderful people here, and the efficient system.