I moved to Copenhagen! Yes, you heard me right.
Having spent four and a half years in South Korea, I have taken a leap of faith again and moved to a city I have never visited before. It has only been a month, and I must say that I am more than satisfied with the decision I made. I did not have a clear vision, I simply followed my curiosity like I did in 2016 when moving to South Korea. But doesn’t curiosity always win anyway?
My first encounter with the Danish culture was in 2018 through Ida, an exchange student from Denmark. We lived on the same floor at my Korea University and chatted about the different ways of life in Denmark and Korea.
By then, I had already lived in Korea for nearly two years and was naturally more accustomed to the fast-paced life in Korea than I was with my home country. So it was interesting for me to hear her impressions as a newcomer, and I was intrigued about Denmark as we talked more and more each time.
And Denmark has become one of the places I started my research about the following semester as I was envisioning where I wanted to move after my studies in Korea.
Like everyone else, perhaps, the first fact I found out about Denmark was that the Danes are among the happiest people in the world. I wondered why and soon after found out about the concept of hygge in Danish culture. There were no direct translations of this concept in English but it seemed to involve experiencing the simple joy of ‘being’ and coziness.
It seemed to me that it had a great deal to do with maintaining close bonds with one’s surroundings: a sense of community.
And having lived in the fast-paced Asian culture and living a rather rushed life, I was struggling to pause and enjoy my everyday life. Sometimes I felt lonely as I was having a tough time maintaining a social life because I was simply too caught up with schoolwork and part-time jobs.
In retrospect, I realize on top of my never-ending curiosity, I was in search of a way of life that allowed me to pause and enjoy my connections with friends and the simplicity of existence. And I strongly believe that life is much more than academic proficiency or a successful career. Life is much more than hassling and achieving and an endless To Do list. Life is about self-discovery by exploring what makes you happy.
It all boils down to that, happiness, with its very intersubjective definition. And for me, that is the moment I pause to acknowledge how lucky I am to be alive and healthy enough to experience life with people from many different paths of life in places I have never been.
It has only been a month and without hesitating, I can say that I am very much enjoying my life here in Denmark because, as an outsider, I find the ways Danes conduct their lives very easy going and I am trying to learn from that.
It does not mean my life has suddenly become less complicated.
In fact, my schedule is almost as busy, and I have struggled a great deal to find housing. I am also still running errands such as registering for a social security number or creating a bank account. However, I have a different perspective on life. I see no point in complaining about rushing on a bike to an 8am class.
Instead I choose to look forward to my hot cup of coffee when I arrive on campus, and the ideas that I will exchange with my peers during and after the lectures. I do not know if it has to do with the egalitarian structure of Danish society, but I do feel very supported here in Denmark.
Even though I am still not accustomed to the teaching style here, which is extremely free in comparison with both the Korean system as well as the Turkish, I do not fear the fact that I do not have enough knowledge of a certain topic because I can always ask for help. Both my peers and university instructors are there to guide me through the process.
And I am bonding with my colleagues as we go through the process together. I do not feel pressured to achieve more. I am simply enjoying the learning curve which is not only limited to academic life but also to my everyday routine such as commuting to school with a bike or cooking.
Back in South Korea, I lived on campus and used mainly public transportation; however, here I learned how to bike in traffic and go to places on a bike. It might be taken for granted by some, but for me even the simplest acts of riding a bicycle in traffic or integrating cooking into my daily life have been challenging.
And these small challenges have been and are still informing me about who I am. At times I feel like a newborn baby. An alien to my surroundings, I feel afraid or intimidated by life. But every little roadblock I overcome is making me realize the strength I possess within me, the strength that demands that I trust myself.
I believe we receive the most stimuli in the first couple of months we spend in a new place, and I know that I will become more accustomed to life in Denmark in a couple of months as I also start learning the language.
But I am looking forward to how it will shape my experience here. Understanding more Danish, making more friends, settling into a routine little by little as the days get shorter and darker.
I am writing this watching a beautiful sunset on a Saturday, which reminds me that I have been jokingly warned about the infamous dark winters in Denmark, and it might sound crazy to some, but I am looking forward to them as well because I know there will definitely be some hygge and something comforting about them.