God Morgen Kossacks! As none of you may know ;-p, I just got back from studying abroad in Denmark. I thought I would share some of my experiences and "revelations". I chose to study in Denmark because I wanted to go to a country that wasn't as popular for studying abroad and I wanted to know what if felt like to live in a place with a strong social safety net and very low income equality.
First let me tell you about the Danes: tall, hot, nice, and quite reserved. I lived in a kollegium--danish universities do not have campuses with university housing, so instead they have these apartment-like communities. I lived with about 13 Danes. The thing about them (Danes in general) is that it is very hard to get to know them. They hate small talk. There is this thing called the Jante Law that is prevalent once you get to know the Danes. Basically, don't brag, be flashy or show off. It is best to be modest and never assume anything about anyone. Perhaps this is one of the contributors to why they have such little social inequality.
The ethnic makeup of Denmark is ~95% Scandinavian, although it often felt like it was 100%. The Swedish clothing store H & M is a huge deal, as are converse shoes. Many Danes around my age upwards to 30 would be wearing clothes from H & M with a pair of converse shoes. I had never seen so much homogeneity in my life. In fact, that is what I believe to be a negative about my experience there but it also helped me realize why it is very easy for them to have such ease when it comes to agreeing on things whether it is sports, what to wear on a night out, or politics.
My kollegium was in Amager, a bit south of the city centre. Since it was far, I had to use the Metro. The first couple of days, I was freaking out. I had no idea how to use public transport and the maps confused the heck outta me! Once I finally got used to it, taking the train was super easy. After the first week, I apparently looked so Danish that I was able to give directions to lost tourists with ease. I had white curtains in my room which didn't help because the sun was up 19 HOURS A DAY! I was also ill-prepared for the weather. In mid-May the weather was a nice 70 F for about 2 days, after that it was 50s-60s and/or rainy the whole time. I had to buy a coat "on sale" ~$70 on the big shopping street called Strøget. The conversion rate between USD and Danish Kroner sucked 1$=5.5 Kroner, so everything "felt expensive". Food for a week exceeded about 100 USD. I had a host family/mom--she was amazing. When I was with her I felt like I was able to integrate and understand what real life was like for them. She also helped me understand Danish customs and took me to places that I would have never seen as a tourist. Like when visiting a Danish home, take off your shoes! Also, the toast is essential. You should raise your glass, clink it with your company and say skål (pronounced scoal).
Biggest Kollegium in Copenhagen. (Did you know the tallest building in Denmark is a hospital? There are regulations on how tall buildings are, as well as the paint color.) Nearly 1000 Danish students live here. The Danes told me it costs about $300 USD to live here but they are subsized by the government. It's not super fancy, but it's functional.
Street Parade & Performance on Strøget
As noted in my diary, my rose-colored glasses are broken. This sentiment pertains to my studies of health care, human trafficking and prostitution. Boy did I learn a lot about myself.
Learning about the Danish Health Care Model was my primary focus of study but I think I may put that in another diary. I don't want this one to be any more Stream of Consciousness than it already is. In fact, I may start a Health Care/Medical School blog and once I figure out how to double post blogs from websites to Dkos.
I'm a prude. I never thought much about prostitution because I didn't think it mattered to me. I learned that when I walked through the Red Light District of Copenhagen and Amsterdam. We took a week long study tour to Amsterdam. Obviously I can't show you pictures of the RLD but if you've ever walked through it, day or night the women in the windows are all gorgeous. Many of them looked like women around my age, who would be my friends. We met with several NGOs and GOs such as CoMensha, the national victim information center which offers facilities for men, women, and children trafficked to The Netherlands and La Strada International which is an anti-trafficking network. We also spent time with a former sex worker and got to "stand in a window" just as any sex worker would. (I just noticed something else, I no longer refer to "them" as prostitutes but as sex workers) The woman who we were with enjoyed her work and left prostitution willingly. Unfortunately for many other women who she worked with, that wasn't the case. La Strada estimates between 8-80% of Dutch Sex Workers are victims of human trafficking. The top 5 countries for victims of trafficking (VOTs) are: The Netherlands, Nigeria, Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria. Conversely, in Denmark about 45% of VOTs are from African countries.
Canals near Red Light District
There is also something called the "Loverboy technique". A male entices a young girl usually under the age of 18 into a romantic liaison which then leads to him forcing her into sex work. According to CoMensha, this technique is being used more often and is being used in other sectors such as agriculture and horticulture.
I felt very safe walking through the RLD. In each window, a woman has a panic button and her room is connected to all other women in neighboring windows. She also has a shower and clean sheets. Holland has regulations about the size of room, bed, shower, etc but when it comes to customers, it is not necessary for a man to wear a condom. While negotiating the price at the window, the sex worker will charge extra if the customer wants to have unprotected sex. Women usually rent a window for 8 hours at a time, the cheapest place is facing a giant church which goes for about 150 Euro, the more exposed and desirable places can have rent for 500 Euro. According to the sex worker we met with, sex workers prefer to engage in longer sex acts for more money than having many multiple customers for short, quick sex acts. The window can only be opened from the inside, and the sex worker can accept or deny whomever she chooses. Brothels must be registered by the state and if you walk in one, the owner will proudly display their certificate.
At the beginning of this course, our professor asked us to rate on a scale 1-10 if we think prostitution should be legal or not. I was at a 6, completely unsure and did not have the knowledge that I did now about how certain countries dealt with it.
Now, I'm at a 5. Still unsure but I guess I lean more towards the legalization of prostitution just for the reason that sex workers would be entitled to the same public health and law enforcement services as any other worker. But does legalizing prostitution combat trafficking? I still don't know. Maybe it is a good to look at this topic as a grey area instead of a distinct black and white, yes or no. Every person who enters sex work has their own story and whether it is for pleasure or exploitation I don't know whether I want it to be legal and regulated or illegal and underground. As I stated before, the Netherlands is completely open about prostitution, yet they are seeing more VOTs. In Denmark, prostitution is legal but not as open and the number is also increasing. However, the methodology provides a technical challenge for researchers. In Denmark, there is no "national registry" yet the estimate for the numbers of prostitutes is 3200.
All in all, I am happy that I went. I had fun, lived like a local and made friends to last a lifetime. So what did I miss? Oh, BTW the Seamus "Dog on Roof" story has hit Europe. Danes are paying attention to our Presidential Race. A majority of them love (not just like) love love President Obama and want him to win. My host mom took me to a field where thousands of Danes gathered just to see President Obama's plane fly overhead as he arrived at the airport when he visited Copenhagen. The older Danish who I met with are disgusted with Mitt Romney. One woman remarked, "Why would you want a sociopath as President?" The Bain Capital/ buy companies, fire employees, make millions thing is already permanent in what they think about him. I watched Danish news every night and his business practices and extreme wealth were remarked upon every day.