Copenhagen, Home, Uncategorized

Design and Homeware stores in Copenhagen

One of the first things I noticed walking around Copenhagen was the lovely array of design/home/concept stores. Of course I had to make some purchases (or ten) for my new abode here in Copenhagen. I won’t include Flying Tiger (or just Tiger as it is known in the UK), which is the most obvious and well known (and super affordable compared to other stores in Denmark) homewares/decor/everyday items store dotted all over Copenhagen.

Here’s some other places I checked out:

Notre Dame (Nørregade 7, 1165 København)
This is a really cute little shop tucked away close to Strøget, the main “downtown” shopping street. Expect lots of earthy tones, ceramics, flower pots and hanging plant baskets. I didn’t take photos from this shop but the cute little clay flowerpots featured in my banner image for this post are from Notre Dame!

Stilleben No. 22 (Frederiksborggade 22, 1360 København)
This shop is a stone’s throw from Torvehallerne market and Nørreport Station – a very obvious place to drop in if you’re walking about town. I was attracted in particular by the colourful ceramics.

African Touch (Frederiksborggade 20, 1360 København)
A couple doors down from Stilleben you have another eye-catching store, full of bright colours and prints, decorative figurines, accessories, and so on.

Søstrene Grene (Amagertorv 24, 1160 København K)
This place is super cute – has a lot of baby/children’s items, stationery, home decor, and some “fancy” food items (ok actually just fancy looking jams, candies, etc.). I bought a fleecy rug from this place along with some cacti (yeah, I’m basic). Compared to the others, it seems pretty affordable too.

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Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Culture, Expat life, Home, Travel

First impressions of Copenhagen: Then and Now

I confess when I visited Copenhagen for a short weekend trip a few years back with a friend, I didn’t think it was anything special. There was the usual warnings of “It’s an expensive place”, of course, but looking back I think my enjoyment of the city was affected by the dynamic between myself and my friend. I was under the impression we were going to visit this city to explore together and have lots of fun. She didn’t really want to do much, and she spent most evenings texting and talking on the phone with other friends (I mean it was pretty much 24/7 – funny what you learn about your friends when you spend full days with them, I even struggled to vie for her company while we waited around at the airport). To top it off, we had a random but pretty big argument during the trip that soured our moods. All I did on that trip was visit a couple of really touristy spots by myself because I had already bought the Copenhagen Card which gave you access to all the touristy stuff. I thought everything was nice, but also very run-of-the-mill (probably something to do with comparing every European city I visit to the loveliness of Vienna, where I used to live). I probably wouldn’t have visited again.

How things change – and how I’ve changed! I would not in a million years have guessed I’d end up back here, for a job no less, or that I’d be this ecstatic about it. I genuinely don’t remember ever being this happy. I guess regardless of me ending up here in particular, I also just didn’t think I would secure my second academic job less than a year out of my PhD and that everything in my life would be accelerating so fast. This entire situation really is a massive surprise to me and I don’t know that I’ll ever get used to it – or that I will ever not feel like the luckiest person in the world.

And well, my ‘first impression’ now is that I’m totally obsessed with Copenhagen. I’m sure some of that magic feeling will settle down eventually, but I feel very differently to how I felt when I first moved to Bristol for example (my previous city). Bristol was a very slow and gradual process of nurturing a kind of fondness – and it was probably around the fourth year that I started really enjoying Bristol. In Copenhagen, I feel a bit like someone who is falling in love for the first time. It’s exactly the kind of place I want to be at this particular stage in my life, that’s for sure. It’s bigger than Bristol, which was starting to feel way too small for me. It’s a European Capital, which fulfils one of my life goals – to live in a European Capital as an adult. But it doesn’t feel massive or overwhelming. It’s a pretty modest size. It’s a good life. It’s a beautiful life. And it’s flat! I’ll happily walk 30-60 minutes at a time to get places (I don’t have a bike yet) since it’s so damn easy to walk around and pretty straightforward to navigate. I’ve been told there are a couple of seedy areas, but that hasn’t been a hinderance on my impression of the city so far – I feel safe walking around. I got lucky with my apartment as well, which is in a central enough location, in close vicinity to shops, cafes, and restaurants. There’s lots of natural light coming in, which makes me feel very comfortable at home. Obviously the weather, my workplace, and how I’ve been welcomed in my job has a lot to do with how I feel in the city as well, but I’ll maybe save the job stuff for another post!

Copenhagen is a pretty amazing place to be in the summertime, and even better if you live and work here as the wages should match the cost of living. I’ve already been begging my friends to consider moving over here since there are certain skills that are needed in the country which should make it possible to find a job (here’s a “list” of job shortages in Denmark, by the way – I went the researcher track but again I can write about that in another post). But I’m getting way ahead of myself. For now, I’ll leave you with some of my first snaps of the city:

My route to and from work.
You can ride on these “swans” in The Lakes, just avoid the real ones as they’re not friendly 🙂
I’d probably get to work 5 minutes quicker if I didn’t take photos on the way, but can you blame me?
I took this photo in Ørstedsparken, which is pretty close to The Lakes (the route I take to go to work)
One more from Ørstedsparken – I really like this park.
A beautiful sunset at The Lakes. Pretty sure it was already past 9.30pm by this point.

As you can see, there’s a sense of serenity and tranquility even in the city (though I’m not sure if that’s because less people are out nowadays because of Covid-19). Even in my limited knowledge of the place, I’ve been able to find plenty of spots to enjoy a bit of nature and found it very easy to avoid big crowds and so on.

More to come in the following weeks – let me know if there is anything you want to see or are curious about! 🙂

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Expat life, Personal, Sunday Musings

What is Home?

What is home? On the surface, this seems like a simple enough question with a simple enough answer. Aphorisms like “Home is where the heart is” indicate to us this much: home is warmth, home is love, home is belonging. Home is the place you go back to after a long day. Home is always there.

Once issues about nationality, citizenship, race, and migration are added to the mix, however, home becomes a contentious concept. If you’ve ever been a “foreigner” or a “minority” it doesn’t take much imagination to interpret comments like “Go home” as a “We don’t want you here“. The meaning of “home” in this context can be fraught with hostility and resentment. The assumption underlying such comments are that because you look and sound like you’re from somewhere else, somewhere else is where you must go back. It’s where you belong. You aren’t invited into the club of people who are meant to be here.

It’s impossible to avoid comments like these sometimes, even from the most well-meaning people. When I was desperately looking for a job to continue my stay in the UK (before I took this Denmark gig), many were puzzled. “Why don’t you just find a job back home? In Korea?”

The answer is complicated.

For a lot of people, “home” is just the place of their permanent residence. Of course, permanent residence is often the place in which they also happen to have full citizenship. In other cases, “home” confers a personal identity: many friends I’ve talked to will reference “home” as the place that makes them identify as “Spanish” or “Vietnamese” (despite, for instance, having citizenship elsewhere). Whatever the case, there is “home”, and for many people these links between place, identity, and legality are never in conflict. Home is not questioned.

I’m not sure how I would tie down the concept of “home” in my case, as it’s not quite as easy for me to match “home” with any of the aforementioned. In the UK, I didn’t technically have “strong ties”: no ancestors or family members living there, no spouse, no big investments, etc. Yet I lived there continuously and law-abidingly for almost 10 years, speak the language at native level proficiency (sorry, I refuse to accept that I am merely “good for a foreigner”), been educated extensively at the tertiary level there, became a Doctor (PhD) there, worked my first jobs there, and have most of my friends based there. All this, and I didn’t yet qualify for permanent residency in the UK. I most certainly didn’t qualify for citizenship. So what is “home”? The place I was born (South Korea), but don’t really remember growing up in? The place I did grow up in as a child (Austria) and would have qualified for citizenship if my parents had applied for it on my behalf? Yes, that’s right – in an alternate universe, I may well be a European citizen by now. Or does home have to do with the places I’ve resided the longest (in that case, “Europe” is the clear winner – I’ve been in Europe close to 20 years)? Is home the place in which I am currently making my livelihood (Denmark)? Is it where the people I truly love and care about are (in that case, the entire world may as well be home – many of my close friends are just as nomadic and ‘International’ as me if not more so)? If home is about what I “feel” I am, or what I identify as, I can’t say I feel particularly British, or Austrian, or Korean. And needless to say, having only just arrived in Denmark, it’s not even a question that I don’t “identify” with the Danish way of being – and I wouldn’t even know what that is (yet).

So none of it seems satisfactory, if only because my situation does not meet the substantive concept of “home” (which I’ve assumed is residence, citizenship, and identity – at least in this context of migration). Of course, if “home” was a more thin concept, like places I’ve lived or something, then all of the places I mentioned above could become plausible candidates for “home”. But this is clearly not what people mean when they talk about “home” in the substantive sense or ask me what I consider my home to be – the point of home is that it’s somehow constant, special, and unique. It’s not merely about the house you live in or the people you know.

Sure, I could have just “gone back home” to find a job. It’s clear that people think I should go back to the place I look like I’m from, as if opportunities for me will be more abundant just by virtue of that connection. It’s just that I’m not sure I did want to “go back home”, or to frame my next steps in life by reference to “home”, which as you’ve just seen is a pretty complicated concept for me. I was more interested, I suppose, in moving to the next workable adventure that made most sense to me. I would have been willing to go anywhere that would give me what I want out of life. I have, after all, been trained in my field abroad, I’ve had an upbringing in a culture away from my place of birth and citizenship, and I’ve only ever attended international schools. Perhaps not so shockingly, I identify more with cosmopolitan attitudes than country-specific ones.

Much of what it took for me to be me, then, is crucially bound up with an absence of a strong concept of “home”. As such, “home” is a demand I struggle to meet. I like where I’ve ended up. I cherish the experiences I’ve had in all the places I’ve lived. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without all that I’ve experienced. And isn’t that enough? Do I really have to designate a home?

One might still protest that there is a practical consideration I am underplaying here: the reason to “go home” is not so much an existential question as it is a legal one. But here, too, I resist the idea that there is a default place I’m supposed to be simply because I was conferred a legal citizenship at birth. It might seem like the obvious thing to do, but I don’t think it’s that obvious. People move “abroad” for all sorts of reasons, all the time. No matter how valid my reasons for wanting to stay in Europe, I suspect my status as an outsider (and a racialized one at that) would always have worked against me in terms of people’s attitudes towards my wanting to settle here. This is despite me being more advantaged than many other nationals due to being South Korean, thanks to the relationship South Korea has with countries like the UK for example. So I believe there is a strong intuition (prejudice?) that is masked by a language of legality – the intuition some people have that it makes most sense for “foreigners” to “go back to where they came from”, if no obvious reason for their being “away from home” emerges.

I am of course very much aware that I’m lucky to move abroad for “nice” reasons, like studying abroad and working abroad (many people have told me I’m ‘spoiled’ because of this) – not reasons that have to do with civil instability and persecution and so on. The advantages I had in that respect are very similar to advantages that UK citizens have to move to other parts of the world. But you know what, no matter what reasons people have to migrate, resettle, vie for dual citizenship, etc., the very obvious thing that is being overlooked is that “home” can become ambiguous to an individual just by virtue of going through the experience of moving around. My official immigration status is besides the point. Something as common sense as “home”, then, can be a huge question mark for people like me who are still trying to figure out how to connect the dots between the where, the why, and the who I am.

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