The Year That Was

I remember clearly how I felt this time last year. I had just booked the tickets to travel to a foreign country for the first time in my life. Alone. I was excited, yes; also very happy that the long process of applying to colleges and waiting for replies was finally over. I had a wonderful prospect at hand and the future looked promising. I was also finally breaking free from the monotony of the nine-to-five, for a couple of years at the least. But, at the same time, I was petrified. With the tickets booked without any return date, it hit me hard that I was leaving, for better or for worse, and everything would change before I knew it. The feeling didn’t leave me for all of the next month while I was packing and saying my goodbyes to family and friends. And it was there in the pit of my stomach all through the long journey from home to New Delhi to catch the flight that would take me to a new destination. Thus, a terrified self-conscious young woman arrived in Copenhagen.
My first reaction on arriving in the city was noticing how beautiful it was. The skies were a pristine blue as the sun shone brilliantly, accentuating the green of the trees and grass along the city’s roads. The ride from the airport to my university took around thirty minutes and I couldn’t keep myself from peering out of the windows like an excited child. I have traveled extensively in India, bore witness to some of the most breathtaking views- but the idea of such an aesthetically pleasing city was new to me. Adding to my amazement also was the near absence of crowds and traffic on the streets. This was something that had often been told to me by people who had traveled overseas, but it was only when I witnessed it myself that it registered. By the end of that day, my nerves had calmed down considerably. The university campus was spectacularly huge, swanky and modern.  The administrative staff was welcoming and cordial. I was provided keys to my own fully furnished studio apartment. Anybody who has studied in a public Indian university would know how much of an impact the above might have had on me. It was like Christmas come early. :) 

Following in the cycle track :)

One of the lecture buildings at DTU

The first couple of months just flew-by in getting to know my surroundings better, meeting new people and keeping up with the coursework and the cumbersome housework. The language used in most public places was Danish and we had to quickly learn how to read and translate common words (most importantly in the supermarkets and on the public transport system). The university campus, on the other hand, was totally multi-cultural and one ended up meeting people from all over the world. I was once invited to a dinner party where we had to bring dishes from our home countries to the table and ended up sampling Greek, Italian, Spanish and German cuisine (I took shaahi paneer and naan). I look back on this as one of my most colorful learning phases- interacting with people of different cultures and nationalities provided me with a new perspective on the world and the oft-invoked term called ‘globalization’. I got to know some interesting viewpoints people held about my country and also got to break some of the stereotypes that i had subconsciously collected over the years. All in all, it was a big learning experience as I became aware of the differences across cultures and nationalities and also about the things that we all had in common- goals, concerns, and love for art, music and food.
Autumn gradually gave way to winter as the days started getting shorter and the nights chillier. I had come to Denmark prepared for brutal cold, complete with thick woolen socks and mitts. But I soon found out that it was not the cold that bothered me but the lack of sunlight. Come December and my days began with a pitch black sky that slowly gave way to only grey clouds before immersing into darkness again. It was difficult to adjust to this and I could feel my mood dampen. It didn't affect me for long though as, on consulting with friends, I was told that a bright and cheerful lamp in the bedroom could make all the difference. Another thing that worked to raise my spirits was experiencing my first snow. I remember scanning the weather forecast a week before to know the exact date when to expect the showers. I had read earlier that it did not snow much in Copenhagen and when it did, it got usually mixed up with hail or rain. But, did it snow that weekend! The entire city was covered in a thick, glistening layer of white. And I observed how the white also made the nights somewhat brighter, emitting a soft phantom-like glow. Being the good foreign resident that I am, I made my way to the nearest park and played with snowballs. 
Snow in the nearby park
The one drawback to the weather though was that it had become very difficult to cycle. Even though the tracks would be cleaned of the snow, the winds and dipping temperatures would turn my fingers gripping the bike handles to ice. Anyhow, soon there were more pressing things to fuss about other than mode of transport as with December also came the end of the semester and with it, you guessed it, examinations. I found myself spending hours in the library printing notes, going over assignments and frantically finishing up reports. The written exams themselves were all open-book, with the use of a computer allowed in some. But preparing for an all-aid exam was a task in itself as one had to be absolutely thorough with the methodologies used to tackle every problem. People tend to think that presence of aid would make the exam easier as there would be no cramming involved (like in our universities back home), but in my opinion they actually free the examiner to set up challenges for your analytical ability and not just test your memory. The Danish grading system is a tough one where one has to demonstrate understanding of at least fifty percent of the course to obtain a passing grade. This meant that to obtain a top score, the examinee has to have a thorough grip on at least ninety percent of the tasks asked for in the examination. Needless to say, I found this requirement extremely stimulating, especially after the format at my undergraduate university where scoring above eighty in a paper was a rarity. I would exit the exam hall thoroughly spent and exhausted, having exercised my mental abilities to the fullest.
The DTU library in festive mode

With the end of the exam week, the dormitory started emptying out. Christmas was one week away and my fellow students were looking forward to seeing their families. I, on the other hand, was excited about witnessing my first Christmas in a foreign country (and was also secretly praying for snow on the day). The city was adorned for the holiday season as lights and baubles went up on the streets. A Christmas market was also set up in the city center and I was very delighted to walk through it and immerse myself in the festive spirit. There were fireworks every night leading up to New Year’s Eve and the whole city life was as if suspended. I too found myself truly relaxing for the first time in four months- taking walks in Copenhagen’s famous gardens and enjoying the scenery, watching street artists perform in the marketplace and observing the evening sky light up with the shimmering fireworks. I had made it through the semester. I had successfully negotiated the differences between two countries, cultures and technical frameworks. I had made it through, presumably, for the better. :)

The city getting ready for Christmas


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