Matthes Kornmod Realskole
A German’s adventure in Denmark
Rain, rural areas and a weird language – these were my associations when I first heard about Denmark. Even though Germany and Denmark are neighbour countries, it seems to be that we do not know much about each other – or, at least, we Germans are not keen on keeping ourselves busy with a country that is so similar to ours. Stop. Is that true? Is Denmark really just a smaller version of Germany? Or do we wrong the little country by underestimating it?
With these questions in my pocket, I took one of the craziest decisions of my previous life: applying for an EVS (European Voluntary Service) in Silkeborg, Denmark. Nine months in a foreign country with a foreign language and completely on my own. Well, of course, not completely on my own. During the whole project period, I was supposed to live in a host family.
So far so good. Here, we already reached challenge number one: finding a host family. I remember having penetrated all my organisations with asking for progress in case of finding a host family for me, always with getting the same answer: “Sorry, we could not find one yet.” Time went by and I was already getting accustomed to the imagination of ending up on the street, when I finally (around three days before my departure) got the releasing message: “We found a host family for you.” Phew! Now the big adventure could start!
Since my host family was on holiday when I came to Denmark, I spent my first week living in Århus with another volunteer from Austria. Actually, it could not have been better! During the one week, we built up a friendship and during the following months, I often returned to Århus to spend a weekend and enjoying the city life with him and the two other volunteers who lived in a neighbouring apartment.
According to this, I was sad about leaving the group, when I was picked up after my first week in Denmark. However, a few seconds after the car left Århus, my thoughts were already occupied by something – or better someone – new: my host family. I had spent days thinking about how they would be like and how the chemistry would work. Would they be kind and open-minded? What will they think about having me in their family? However, my worries were unfounded – already after the first days, I knew that the chemistry worked, even though they are possibly a little bit offbeat! A hoof of an elk hanging outside of their carport was just one of the numerous peculiarities of the family. But instead of being shocked, I was fascinated by that and took all four of them immediately into my heart. Right from the start they made me feel home and wanted me to be a part of the family. During all the nine months that I lived at their place, we undertook a lot. Skiing in Sweden, practicing winter bathing in the lake, collecting amber at the North Sea or going on a sailing trip were just a few of the many highlights, we experienced together. Nevertheless, they did not only show me a bunch of amazing places, but they also gave me a sophisticated insight into the Danish culture. As my host mother works as a cook, I especially tasted various Danish food – if you did not yet try “hakket bøf” with “bearnaise sovs”, “fløde kartofler” or “tarteletter”, I can highly recommend you to catch up on this! Besides the food, they enabled me to participate in traditional birthday parties, a baptism and a confirmation. Last but not least, we also had many long talks about the Danish lifestyle and society while drinking one or two glasses of delicate red wine.
As life does not only consist of holidays, I was also working at Kornmod Realskole, a private primary school for students between five and sixteen years. My main task at the school was supporting the teachers by putting their plans for the lessons into practise. In doing so, I went with several teachers in several subjects, e.g. German, English, French, music, history, drama and cooking. My duties consisted of working in groups with the students in order to check their homework as well as answering their questions and helping them to solve their tasks. I also gave various presentations about myself and different aspects about the German culture as an addition to the general content of the curriculum. Especially during the second half of my EVS, I had the opportunity of getting more responsibility. In doing so, I completed the teacher’s agenda independently by particularly initiating and guiding discussions in the class and explaining different issues to the students. One of the highlights was arranging a musical evening for the complete eighth grade of the school. Within two weeks, five other teachers and I guided the students in different areas with the goal of performing the popular Danish musical “Midt om Natten”. However, I also developed and conducted my own projects, particularly with the aim of giving the students an insight into the German culture. For instance, I taught them how to dance a regional German dance or advised a common cooking event about German food. Furthermore, I also organised a long-term project dealing with a popular (or at least well-known) German music genre, called “Schlager”, where the students had to create a music video to songs out of this musical genre.
The big advantage of neither being a student, nor a teacher was that my homework was limited and I had a lot of spare time. Sounds good, but what are you doing in your spare time if you do not know anybody of your age? That was the point, where I became active and looked for offers for the youth in Silkeborg. Actually, there are a lot! I tried out different activities such as photography, cooking or kayaking, until I found the right one: the running team of a local school. I did not have much interest in running before – it was always too effortful – but after joining the group, I got more and more into it, following one big objective: the half marathon in Berlin! If someone would have told me that I would participate successfully in that event, I would have laughed at this person – but indeed, I did! However, I was not only active in my running group, but also involved in the formation phase of the Young Culture House in Silkeborg. In doing so, I organised events, such as an intercultural Shrovetide in collaboration with an organisation for refugee support.
Even though I did many activities, I still had some time left for travelling around in Denmark. Banding together with other volunteers, I met at the two compulsory EVS-trainings as well as international exchange students from my language course, I did both day trips and longer journeys throughout the whole country. Thereby, we visited other projects, cities and people and even made some spiritual experiences.
Speaking about a language course, there is just one question left: Do you really need to learn Danish to survive in Denmark? The answer is “yes and no”. Everybody learns English (and even German) in school and most of the young people already grow up with English all around them – for instance the vast majority of English movies and series that Danes have access to are not translated into Danish. Right, if you want to go on holiday in Denmark, you can definitely come along without speaking Danish. However, what if you live there over a longer period and if you want to integrate into the society? Then you should definitely put some effort in learning the language, even though it really sounds funny and is quite hard to pronounce. Some Danes, especially very young and very old people, do not speak any other language except Danish and even the young prefer communicating in their mother tongue. However, do not be afraid – by living in a host family, attending one of the numerous language courses and working with young students, it will almost come automatically. Moreover, if you come from Germany and/or you are motivated to learn the language, it will be even easier for you!
To sum up: Doing an EVS in Denmark was one of the best experiences that I made so far. I learned a lot about the country’s history, lifestyle, traditions, culture, food – and not least myself. Furthermore, I saw many beautiful places and met people that are even more beautiful. I have to admit that I probably underestimated Denmark and the Danish culture completely and that Germany could learn a thing or two from this small country in Northern Europe. Even though the prejudices about the unpredictable weather, rural areas and weird language are actually real, I highly recommend doing an EVS here in Denmark and making your own unforgettable experiences!
Matthes, 19 years, volunteer from Cottbus (Germany)
2018/2019 Solidarity in Denmark: Ref. Nr. KA123-047216