I’m back with another life update – 7 months into my life in Copenhagen. Time is really going like that, and I already feel like my time in Denmark is ticking down… But other than that, I don’t have much else to report. I’m isolating at home with my partner so we can see his family for Christmas. I’m lucky to have a Danish Christmas this year!
I’m also still absolutely loving the city, I’m still totally obsessed with my neighbourhood (Vesterbro), I’m still having a great time at work (despite working at home of course), I’m very happy with the steps I am taking to progress my career, and I’m happier than ever in my relationship. Of course there is a lockdown in place, but things could be much worse and I am privileged to feel safe and to have a comfortable place to be.
In this post I’ll share some photos of pre-lockdown memories from around the city during autumn, before the disappearance of the sun for wintertime…
It blows my mind that I’ve been here for a little over 5 months already. Where does the time go?! For those of you who have been following my move from the very beginning, you already know my previous updates have been a series of gushing, glowing praises for Denmark (but especially Copenhagen). I mean sometimes I feel like I have to tone down how openly obsessed I am with Copenhagen because it makes me sound very naive, ha.
The corona situation is not looking too great in Denmark at the moment, though we are not entering a full lockdown (yet?). I’ve had a close brush with Covid-19 too – I had to get tested recently (results were negative, thankfully) because someone in my wider social circle had it, and I worked from home while waiting for the results. I isolated with my partner so it felt like a bit of a staycation to be honest! 🙂 I feel lucky to be here during the pandemic, and especially to have a close partner through all these changes, and to also have some friends I can talk to. But it does make me realise how much I relied on group gatherings over the summer to hang out with new people. The fact that this isn’t really possible now (the recommendation is to ‘pick’ up to 10 people to be your social circle) highlights my own lack of a fixed friends group, and it definitely makes it challenge to get new close friends.
I’ve also just had my first cyclist collision and experience with Danish paramedics. I walked into a cycle path in the dark without seeing any cyclists coming my way, and before I knew it, I had landed face-first onto the pavement and busted my lip open (I definitely looked like a halloween zombie then, dripping blood onto my clothes). But other than a couple of swollen limbs and bruises, I was luckily not badly injured. The paramedics took my vitals to make sure I was fine and I was sent home. I’ve definitely learned my lesson about idly walking out of my lane in the dark!
Something I noticed is that it’s been very hard for me to gain any confidence to start practising speaking Danish. I’m taking lessons now and all, and realistically I think my pronunciation is really nothorrible, I would daresay comprehensible to a Dane with a willing ear, but the problem is that Danes are extremely good at English. It’s all too easy for a Dane to speak back to you in perfect English than to painstakingly conduct a conversation tolerating your bad Danish. On the one hand this is great because it’s less effort for the English speaker, but not so great if you are actually trying to learn and could do with a little bit of local encouragement and conversation!
I must say something that surprised me, also, is how much of a ‘bubble’ Denmark is. It’s sort of difficult to explain. I don’t consider myself particularly activist/political, but compared to the UK I’m finding it very easy here to avoid critical dialogue on many social issues. I know part of this is because I don’t speak Danish, and can’t follow all of the Danish news channels. And it’s not that there aren’t socially conscientious people – I’ve met plenty of young people who are. So I’m not exactly sure how to frame this anecdote – it’s simply a ‘feeling’ that I have here in comparison to the UK. I suppose on account of Denmark being overall a nice country, with good social services, it’s easy to take almost too much pride in that and take what is good for granted. When you hear bad news, it’s easy to adopt the logic of “But Denmark is fine” or “That kind of stuff happens elsewhere, not in Denmark” and brush various issues under the rug as if it doesn’t affect Denmark. I’ve seen this kind of attitude surface with Covid-19 measures, for instance. I haven’t ‘heard’ much about the US elections either, or current events elsewhere. The risk with privilege, and being in a supposedly socially forward-thinking country, is that it often comes with ignorance and complacency. As a relatively privileged, young, able-bodied immigrant-minority-woman, I’ve had my fair share of bureaucratic nightmares, paranoias about my legal status, brush with hostile environments, and existential struggles – as a ‘foreigner’ and otherwise. So as much as I want to ignore what’s bad in the world, the social issues that affect all of us today – yes, that applies to Denmark as well – are not problems that I have the luxury to pretend doesn’t exist. I’ll just leave it at that.
So, that’s it from me – an honest look at the good, not-so-good, and different experiences I’ve encountered here. Stay tuned for more beautiful, photo-heavy posts (if there’s one thing I can’t complain about, it’s how great Copenhagen is for photography lovers! I think I’ll never run out of posts to line up…) and see you soon for a half-year life update 🙂
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…
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.
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.
So, in lieu of my Sunday Musings (abstract overthinking?) series this week, I’ve decided to do a little update on how things are going in my life given that it’s been exactly a month since I moved to Copenhagen.
Where to begin? Hard to believe it’s already a month since I arrived, though it actually feels like a lot longer. At this stage, I’ve just about opened up a Danish bank account, in good time for my much anticipated, much needed first paycheck. I haven’t minded dropping basically all my savings on this move to Denmark, but all the spending I’ve done in terms of upfront costs have barely been sustainable for the month (plus I’m trying to live that good life over here, ha). I did get extremely lucky to not have any “gaps” between pay checks, but I genuinely could not live in Copenhagen making what I was making on my old paycheck, that’s for sure. I’ve also only just got round to getting a Danish number, after having the same number in the UK for 10 years. I bought a bike, though I’m riding very precariously at the moment and embarrass myself on the daily with my clumsiness. I mean I haven’t really cycled in a good decade – and especially not when I was living in Bristol, which is full of the most hellish hills.
I’m already a few weeks into my job now. Even though in some ways I have a lot more to accomplish in this job, I don’t feel like I’m tripping over myself to do my job properly – I don’t feel like a headless chicken. The work culture actually does make me feel like I’m doing “enough” for once, or at least that being the most productive as humanly possible really just isn’t everything. I still probably work a bit more than what I’m supposed to (oh, the joys of academia), but an actual 40 hour workweek is a welcome change from the ungodly amount of unpaid extra hours I was putting in my previous job.
I’m interested to see how my latent imposters syndrome develops, if at all, in this new role. Ever since I started my PhD, I felt like I had no idea what was going on, that I was being policed by my peers about how much I work (PhD competition is real – I really don’t miss that), and that anything I did accomplish was a fluke I didn’t deserve. All those feelings stayed with my even when I finished my PhD. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty realistic about myself and I can definitely say all three of the aforementioned were and are true at points. It definitely feels like everyone else around me has done “more” than me, and I’m sure that feeling is not baseless. And it’s not like I suddenly “know” what I’m doing now, one year post-PhD (in fact, my new role involves research in a field that I did not specialise in). Moreover, there’s a very quiet but nagging voice in my head that tells me I objectively probably do not deserve the job I have now, even though I worked so hard to get it. But, well, who cares? I’m here, aren’t I? The difference now seems to be that it doesn’t feel like the end of the world even if it were true that I “could be better.” It’s just not a cause for despair anymore. My “incompetence” and “flaws” are part of a learning curve, which I get to experience in a tolerant and supportive environment, as far as I can tell. Talk about work-life balance and emotional well-being! I’m sure part of this newfound confidence is down to actually starting a new job and being really excited about it, but I’m definitely experiencing a trend towards having a little more faith and just trusting myself a bit more.
Collegiality seems to be a big thing in the working environment here, which is another positive. You don’t notice much of a hierarchy between the different “rankings” of academics. The difference between a PhD and a postdoc (that’s what I am) seems rather minimal, even in terms of pay grade, which is a good thing. In the UK I would say the difference between a PhD and a postdoc is basically a doubling of salary (with PhDs being underpaid, that is). That much should be explanatory of some of the differences in British and Danish academia. So yeah, when I got this job offer I already knew it was my dream job offer, but now that I’m living it, I can only confirm how happy to have this job, beyond all expectation.
The frustrating stuff about settling in? Not knowing the language. I mean it’s so easy to get away with only speaking English in Denmark, and sometimes you actually forget you’re in a non-English speaking country (well, bi-lingual at least). But for me personally, I’m not used to being in a situation where I cannot communicate or comprehend something perfectly. So when I go into a Danish supermarket or receive bank letters in Danish I’m reminded that I’m sort of helpless in that aspect, and that I need to be a lot more proactive about learning the basics. I mean, I’ve even avoided using my work desktop because it came with a Danish keyboard that I just could not get used to, ha.
Weirdly, though, I’ve been kind of enjoying the fact that most people I’ve met here assume I speak Danish (maybe because borders are still closed to most tourists) and will speak Danish to me first (before I respond in English, ha) rather than assume I am too foreign to speak the language. So all that’s left for me to do is to actually live up to those expectations and try to integrate a bit more.
I guess I’ll be back in another month with any progress 🙂