Copenhagen, Expat life, Home, Personal

Life Update: 4 Months in Copenhagen

This week there is a little break on the Sunday Museum post, because it’s time for my monthly update on my life in Copenhagen 🙂

Wow, it sure feels like I’m so new to the city I’ve barely scratched the surface, but also like I’ve been here forever (in a good way). It’s wild – on the one hand, there’s a pandemic going on and it feels like the world is ending. And yet, if I can be permitted to make a selfish comment, I’ve never felt more aligned or secure in myself in my entire life. Maybe moving to a new place and going outside of my comfort zone has made me less jaded, more open-minded, and renewed my zest for life – something like that. I feel like I’ve engaged more with what life has to offer in these past few months than I have in the past 4-6 years. I mean couldn’t tell you what I’ve changed in myself or my life in the years of my PhD in the UK, except for friendships and relationships and things like that – typical ups and downs of life but no radical changes to how I identify with myself.

But now? I’ve been more social than ever in some ways – I seem to somehow freely meet and cross paths with people who are inspiring me in some way. My energy level has completely changed. I’ll go out when I’m tired just to meet new friends. I reach out to people a lot more, whether it’s online or in-person. I’m very open about my life. I feel like I can talk to anybody some days and like there are interesting people out there who add value to my life. I’ve really loved meeting new people here. I don’t think about ways to avoid social interaction.

I don’t know about you – maybe this stuff comes easy to some people – but it honestly wasn’t obvious to me in previous years that people aren’t just a big energy drain, or individuals who you risk trusting that you later on inevitably regret trusting. Maybe that sounds kind of miserable, but I guess although I seem to get away with pretending that I’m holding it together, I’ve really struggled to relate to people in my life, and my peers generally, with the exception of my dear and close friends. I wear my heart on my sleeve, I’ve always looked to people with so much hope, and always poured my energy into cultivating friendships, and been disappointed and betrayed in the worst case scenarios. I always wondered how others seemed to find people on the same wavelength as them, with seemingly little effort, whilst I would drain myself trying to be liked by people who were supposed to already care about me. Every year that passed I would trust people a little less, and close my heart in greater haste. But it doesn’t seem like the appropriate thing to do anymore at this stage in my life.

The biggest shock is that random people actually talk to me sometimes, and they will literally say that I had appeared approachable somehow, whereas before I felt like if I didn’t expend effort to initiate conversations with others I would be the unnoticed person in a group of people or at a party. So I’m really surprised – especially in Denmark where locals have the reputation of being difficult to make friends with or to get to know (but I guess I tend to befriend internationals anyway). Now I’m not even saying I suddenly have lots of great friends or know many new people particularly well. rather I’m fascinated by my shift in the way I see people and how that has seemed to affect how people see me too. I can only hope this leads in a good direction.

I’m also a lot more consistent generally than I have ever been – the fact that I’ve even maintained this blog since May with multiple posts a week, on top of my new job, relationship, whatever, is actually surprising to myself. I tend to be the kind of person that trails off when it comes to new hobbies – like if I’m not good at something I’ll just give up. I’m paradoxically so much of a perfectionist that my aspirational projects never get off the ground in the first place – like I’d have to have perfected the formula of blogging, or whatever else it is, in order for me to continue trying to execute that interest and feel that it was ‘worth’ the effort.

But now? What am I even maintaining this blog for? I don’t even know, it’s not like I have a large readership or people who rely on me to post regularly. And yet I’ve made it this far, and I think it’s part of a general trend that I’m noticing in myself – a change in the way I’m managing my own hobbies and interests. Less scatterbrain, more organisational; less flighty, more committed. And yet it’s all very organic somehow. I really don’t agonise about doing stuff or put pressure on myself, I just kind of figured out what I want to do with my time, and I’ll just do it when I feel like it. It just so happens that the ratio of all this has balanced itself. I don’t know what triggered those changes, it probably happened quite gradually, but I guess this blog is just one of the things I have to show for a kind of second nature commitment I’ve made to upkeep something that I can call mine. And of course I am going out and taking photos consistently. I guess there’s a lot of different things which previously my overtly perfectionist side would have prevented me from pursuing and enjoying to the full extent, which I now treat more as therapeutic (or just plain fun) activities to do or things I value. And I guess it helps that I actually have the time to do all of these things, thanks to a job that doesn’t force me to unofficially work overtime!

Finally, the biggest change for me has been in how excited I am to think about the future these days. Before, the future was just a source of constant anxiety and deportation-related nightmares (which I’m sure I’ll face again, but still), now it seems full of possibilities and reasons to be optimistic. Probably my relationship is a big reason for this optimism – I’m just realising now that I’ve never seriously considered a long-term trajectory with a person before. Now, at the grand old age of 28, it seems like the most natural thing to do. I often felt like I would never find someone I could be in a long-term relationship with unless I drastically lowered my standards for what should pass in a relationship, and I had seriously considered whether it would be wiser for me to settle for less or different to what I really want if I want to avoid dying alone (ha). When you want to avoid thinking about the future with a person, you tend to make up excuses to justify that avoidance – that you haven’t known each other long enough yet, that it’s just too early, and so on. Whatever happens in my current relationship, I discovered now at least how I should feel when I am with someone – and it really is nothing like settling for less, or looking for excuses to hold back, and everything like I’m exactly where I should be.

Apologies for the long text – now please enjoy some recent photos I took around the city, sun-up to sun-down 🙂 It’s mid-September and I’m already freezing indoors, I do miss the last of summer…

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Culture, Expat life, Personal

Summer in the city (3 Months in Denmark!)

This summer has been one of tears, goodbyes, joy, light, and love. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster. Yesterday I cried because I talked to some of my friends back in the UK and I missed the life I had there and all the wonderful people I still know there. I cried because I don’t know when I will be able to see my closest friends again in person. I cried because I’ve been through a lot of frustrations and obstacles to get to where I am now. I cried because I’ve had to say goodbyes. I cried for the bittersweet memories and the unresolved stories I left behind.

But I also smiled because my life in Denmark is better than I could ever have imagined. I’m meeting all the goals I’ve set for myself at work, I have great colleagues, I’m finally getting enough sleep (ish…), I’m in a relationship with someone I see a real future with (which is really saying something), I’m actually getting invited to parties, and I’m just making the most of the good life and not taking a single second of it for granted.

Since the start of my 20s, I’ve either spent my summers in Korea or the UK, or doing little trips around Europe. Talk about pre-pandemic privilege! With the exception of last summer, when I finished up my PhD and took up a temporary full-time office job while looking for my first academic post, I have always felt the desire to move around or explore someplace new. Some of that desire was genuine curiosity and a sense of spontaneity, but it was also a way for me to while away my dissatisfactions. I kept wanting a taste of change, a different environment, because I often felt like whatever I had or was doing just wasn’t it. Going ‘away’ inspired me, and allowed me to indulge the most cliched fantasies of possibility: I’d be a writer in NYC, a fashionista in Paris, a curator in London. I felt like a dreamer passing through an ocean of opportunities whenever I found myself exploring a new place or a big city.

Since finishing up my PhD in 2019, I knew I had to get serious about my future and do a little less of the physical travelling and a lot more of the spiritual, speculative kind of travelling. I couldn’t just jet off to a romantic city every now and again and pretend myself a chic, free, burden-less cosmopolitan citizen (and let’s be honest, you actually have to be quite privileged to sustain that kind of jet-setting mobility). I’ve had to ask myself where I want to be in a year’s time, 5 years time, 10 years time. I’ve had to ask myself what country I’d like to work in – and how far out in the world I am willing to go for the kind of career I want. I’ve had to reflect on what adventure, stability, and home mean to me, and what it is that I value most about life and all that can be experienced within it. I’ve had to think about the kinds of relationships I could and could not part with. And as I’ve discussed countless times on this blog, the answers to these questions were never set in stone or obvious to me. This is because my life and my identity has always been defined by being away from my country of birth. I never really felt like I had an existential constant, or anchor, that served as a foundation for the answer to my purpose.

I think part of that lack of an anchor has to do with my perceived lack of an identity which for most people is greatly shaped by the cultural, legal, and in many ways moral membership to their country/nation/state. Let me put this in the form of a trivial example. In the Western world, the number 13 is considered unlucky if you are superstitious. Where I’m from originally, it is not so – but number 4 is considered unlucky. There’s little things, quirks of culture and belief, that never ‘added up’ from where I stood because I would have the ability to inhabit multiple worlds simultaneously. And those worlds were in constant tension: Does my intuition tell me that the number 13 is bad, or is it 4? How am I supposed to decide which belief systems I pledge my loyalties to? And why does any of it matter? Did my cosmopolitan attitude actually erode the stability of whatever ‘personal identity’ I have?

I’ve met so many people for whom purpose seems to come easy. To them, it’s like, I was meant to become a parent and start a family. I was meant to give back to my country. I want to settle in _____. And I’ve always had this sense that their ability to, literally and spiritually, locate themselves as a stable member of some spatio-temporal environment, was what allowed them to see their purpose.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that I don’t have my goals or principles. I want to be a good person. I want to better myself. I want to take care of my friends and family. I want to foster meaningful connections. I want all the universal things that I like to imagine everybody else wants in their life too. It’s just that I also have to ask: Ok, but which country to do you belong? Where are you going to settle to achieve all those things? Do ‘your people’ actually accept you? Where are you supposed to buy a permanent property? What happens if you have a cultural clash with the person you want to be with? Whatever objectives I had, they’ve always been complicated by questions regarding immigration, citizenship, integration, and belonging.

Like many others, I so desperately wanted to make 2020 ‘my’ year – a fresh start in a new decade. My first academic job contract was due to end in May 2020 and I had to find something to do next. But then the pandemic spread all across Europe and I had no idea where I could go given all the chaos. I could barely hold it together the first three months of 2020. It took blood, sweat and tears for me to figure out how not to get deported from the UK when my visa ran out mid-pandemic, to stay in Europe, not have to move back in with my parents all the way in Korea, and somehow land my dream job – all at the same time.

And what do you know, I somehow managed to figure it out in the nick of time, and now I’m here. The answer I was looking for all year was Denmark.

It’s now been 3 months since I relocated to Copenhagen, and I’m so grateful. The world has shown itself to be a scary place, full of tragedy, disappointment, resentment, violence, fear. And we can probably all agree that 2020 has been a dark and disastrous time, on many levels, for humanity on the whole. We’ve collectively and individually ached for the things, people, and ideals lost so early on in the new decade. But I take my experience of this year thus far as a true gift, in spite of the tears I’ve shed. I will forever count myself lucky to be able to say that I’ve thrived and endured in my own way, at this strange juncture in human history.

I’ve started to appreciate the beauty of staying put in one place, making do with what is, observing the interesting and beautiful things around me, caring more about those that mean the most to me, and learning to love the small and simple things. The work I put in all year to be right here has meant that my life doesn’t consist of fantasies and dreams anymore. Rain or sunshine, my wish is my life. I cherish it, and I’m content. I’ve been chilling, working, living, meeting new people, and enjoying the city at a very leisurely pace. This country is not perfect, nor is it ‘my’ country by any means, but it’s a beautiful stopover if nothing else. I look at these photos I’ve taken over the summer below and honestly think the city is a sight to behold at every single hour of the day. I’m here to embrace it and make the most of the experiences it has to offer me as a young and ambitious woman trying to live a good life, a beautiful life, a meaningful life. That’s all I can do to continually create my own realm and sense of belonging. And the beautiful memories I’ve made this summer make my heart sing. I hope I can look back on this time, Summer of 2020, and remember that life can be simple yet full of meaning. A life worth living.

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Bristol, Bristol, Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark, Home, Personal, Travel, Uncategorized

Life in Copenhagen: 2 Months in

Today is exactly 2 months since I arrived to Denmark. I’ve queued up this post because I’ll be travelling back to Copenhagen today from a weekend away celebrating my partner’s birthday 🙂

Though not much else has happened or changed since my last update, I guess I can now say I have met someone ‘special’ here. I won’t bore you with the details except to say it’s making a positive impact on my life overall 🙂 Besides that, the weather has taken a turn for the worse, if we can call that news (how English of me to talk about the weather so often). I mean it feels like it’s been raining non-stop for the entire month of July. No big deal, though – I’m already used to rainy summers thanks to being from Korea (we have the most humid monsoon seasons) and having lived in the UK previously.

Anyhow, this has meant a lot of indoor days and museum trips. I’ll share some snaps in upcoming posts. Many museums and attractions are half price during this summer period in particular, and some of them have days where you can visit for free anyway. So I’ve been trying to take advantage of that. Just the other day I went to a Korean-born Danish artist’s exhibition! It’s great to be “new” in a city over summertime because you really feel like you are on an extended vacation and don’t get bored or feel a need to travel elsewhere – at least I don’t really! And since we get so much nordic summer light here it’s really a blessing to get off work ‘on time’ – as in 5pm before everything closes – and to make the most of what’s left of the day. Honestly, it feels like you can have two complete days in one – the time you spend at work, and the leisurely activities you can enjoy around the city after work before it gets dark around 10-11pm.

Besides that, I don’t necessarily have exciting adventures to report. Everyone at work is basically on holiday here, as July tends to be the ‘holiday’ month for employees in Denmark. Personally, I’ve been pretty busy with work and will be for the foreseeable future so I don’t anticipate that I will take any time off. As I’ve mentioned in my previous update, though, the work/life balance is pretty good here so I don’t feel like I’m missing out.

The thing that’s mind-blowing to me right now is that last year July, right around this time, I graduated from my PhD. I know I keep going on about all these developments in my life but I really hadn’t the faintest idea what I would do with my career this time last year. I felt like a complete fraud putting on my fancy robes for what felt to me a ceremony to validate that I am overqualified, overeducated, and with no purpose in the real world (you have to remember, I was unemployed when I graduated).

If anyone had told me last year on my graduation day that in exactly a year’s time I would be 2 months into my second academic job (in Denmark of all places!), living in a French-style apartment in the middle of the coolest neighbourhood in Copenhagen, happier than I have ever been in my life, completely smitten with the first person I met here…well, I would have told them those kind of stories don’t get written for foreigners like me 😉 I mean you really have no idea…I used to fantasise about not getting deported, that was my threshold for a good life! I’ve always felt like a little nomad, an outsider, with no real home to speak of, trying to make it somewhere in a sea of obstacles. I’ve always felt like my life story was constantly changing course and being re-written. And I’d wondered if my story would ever ‘settle’. Maybe it never will. But what I have right now – a few years of stability – is good. It’s the best possible reprieve from my anxieties about the grand uncertain narrative that is my life (and I suppose, the universe).

It occurs to me that I haven’t really kept up with my Sunday musings posts, and I think the reasons for that are: first, that it feels a bit arrogant to assume strangers are actually interested in my passing thoughts, and second, I’ve been occupied with living my life. So, I’m not sure how frequent the text-only posts will be. I’ve always found that when I’m super content or happy with my life I don’t have much to say by way of writing out prose. In a weird way, dissatisfaction is often more inspiring than happiness, which is sort of more banal (not that this is an unwelcome thing!) But if you are in a generous mood, do feel free to give me ideas for things I could reflect about.

Have a nice day 🙂

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