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Denmark 2009

Page history last edited by Paige Elliott 11 years, 3 months ago




ABSTRACT REPORT: Abstract.docx



"To be, or not to be,--that is the question:--whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?"

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark


As the 2007-2008 Wake County Teacher of the Year and the 2008-2009 North Carolina North Central Region Teacher of the Year, I have had some amazing opportunities.  Last summer I traveled with The Center for International Understanding, University of North Carolina to Mexico.  We visited schools, from primary to university level, all over Mexico, including Mexico City, Guanajuato, Mineral de Pozoz, Delores Hildago, and Irapuato.  The experience was life-changing.


This year I have been given the fortunate opportunity (from private financial resources) to travel once again with The Center for International Understanding for a week with a group of educators to Copenhagen and Odense, Denmark during June.  In that time, we will be meeting educators and leaders while visiting schools (like the Danish University of Education), institutions (like Riso National Laboratory for Sustainable Energy), and historical sites (like the Viking Museum and passage graves that date back to 3500B.C.).  The final portion of my stay will be with a host family, Lene and Bent Christensen.  There is no doubt that my journey will be memorable!


Traveling to Mexico last summer was my first time out of The United States.  This trip to Denmark will mark my first time overseas.  As a small town girl from Fuquay-Varina, I am well aware of how extraordinary such travels really are!  I wish that I could take everyone with me.  Unfortunately, I cannot, but I am still so excited to share this experience with others so that we can ALL take a little something away from this momentous occasion, even if you cannot travel with me.  Currently, I plan to update this site throughout the week with a journal/blog (and perhaps pictures, either at the time or when I return).  Please enjoy -- and feel free to email me at pelliott@wcpss.net with questions and comments. 


Thursday, June 11, 2009


I'm finalizing my preparations for the trip.  The faculty had a graduation meeting today, and I must admit that it felt a little strange . . . for the first time in 12 years, I will not be directing marshals and seniors or even attending graduation.  My flight leaves during the ceremonies.  I will miss seeing the graduates on their special day, but I also know that they will be so excited that my absence will be barely noted.  So . . . Class of 2009 . . .  CONGRATULATIONS and BEST WISHES!!!  I'll be thinking of you while I'm flapping my wings across the Atlantic!


Friday, June 12, 2009


Today was a whirlwind, beginning with my last workday for the 08-09 school year at FVHS and followed by errands, errands, and more errands.  I'm looking over at my table piled high with my travel items (passport, host gift, camera, clothes, etc.), but I cannot shake the feeling that I'm forgetting something.  I guess it's always that way.  I am, however, getting to that mentality of, "Oh well, if I forgot it, I'll buy it or do without."  I am comforted in knowing that I'm traveling with a GREAT group of people.  I'm excited to see all of them tomorrow.  Not being much of a "world traveler," it's wonderful knowing that the folks I'm traveling with I can count on for anything.  I'll have to tell you a little more about them as the trip goes on.


Saturday, June 13, 2009


Arrive to RDU by 10:30AM, depart 12:45PM, layover in Newark, NY

So . . . the flight to Newark was supposed to leave by 12:55PM.  After meeting the group at 10:30 and waiting to board the plane, boarding the plane, we sat in the plane, on the tarmac, for over 2 hours.  Apparently weather conditions in Newark were preventing incoming flights from landing.  Finally we taxied . . .  right back to our original gate.  After unloading, we reloaded at about 5:00 and took off around 5:45 – only to land in Newark at 7:25 and the Copenhagen flight having left at 5:30.  After hours and hours at the Continental counter, I find myself in “The Best Western Palace” writing this. 


The two most interesting parts of my day:


#1 At the Continental check-in, I saw Eric McMillan and his family.  Eric and I went to high school together and haven’t seen each other for years!  We ended up sitting next to each other on the plane and sharing stories.  He has 4 beautiful children, a lovely wife, and a wonderful life working with young people.


#2 “The Best Western Palace” in Edison, New Jersey: I have NEVER seen a place quite like this.  Let's just say it gives the Taj Mahal a run for its money - but not in a good way.  I'm sorry if you or a loved one lives in, works, or owns The Best Western Palace.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Copenhagen Visit

Arrive 7:35AM (1:35AM at home)

Arrival Time was scheduled for today, but I found myself in Newark Airport hoping to make a 5:30 flight to Copenhagen; it left at 7:30


I had a very interesting flight.  As the group had to break up and fly out at different times, I was sitting next to a stranger, a nice young Danish gentleman, Kim, who had just visited the US for the first time.  We spent the entire flight playing cards, chatting, and getting to know each other.  I picked up some vital Danish words, like "sorry" and "thank you."  I admit that after all of the waiting, the 9 hour flight felt like 1 hour with such an interesting person to pass the time with. 


Monday, June 15, 2009

Danish University of Education and High School Visit

I landed today at about 7:30AM Copenhagen time.  From the moment I got on the plane, to the taxi ride, to the hotel check-in, EVERYONE was so pleasant and helpful.  I have yet to meet a Dane who does not speak English.


(Sidebar: the Cab Inn Hotel's motto is "Sleep cheap in luxury."  I'm pretty sure that I'm not the only one who gets a chuckle out of this, especially after spending a few nights.)


While the bed was calling my name, I denied and carried on . . .  straight to the University of Education, then to Ingrid Jespersens Gymnasium, what we would consider a college-prep high school.  We were given a brief drive-by tour of "The Little Mermaid" statue, the queen's palace, and the opera house. Otto, the principal, and his faculty/students provided us with lunch and a presentation about the challenges they face in their education system.  Some interesting aspects of today's meeting:

  • The Danish students and teachers (all over the country) refer to each other by their first names.  They believe it helps foster the relationship between teacher and student.
  • The principal spends approximately 3 hours per YEAR dealing with discipline issues and parental concerns.
  • The classrooms are much more "democratic," where teachers and students work together to determine the curriculum and the way it will be covered (group, individual, etc.)
  • The young ladies/students assigned to us were so mature and polite - answering all of our questions about their experiences and giving us a tour of the campus.
  • Denmark education faces many of the same issues we face each day -- how to handle diversity, budget issues, materials/supplies, etc,


Following the visit, we decided to try to tour the city a bit and ride the canal boat.  Though we did see some interesting sites, like the US Embassy and national buildings, the canal boat was closed.  So far, Copenhagen is a BEAUTIFUL city with street-side cafes, kind people, historic buildings and statues, and a very authentic and genuine aura about it,  I can see why some consider Denmark the happiest people on earth!


As I write this blog at 10:45PM, it is still daylight outside (as if 8:00PM in NC).  The rest of the group just got in an hour ago.  I've slept approximately 4 hours since Saturday morning (8:00AM US), so the 56 hours with 4 hours of rest is catching up with me.  However, I'm not too tired to realize how fortunate and blessed I am to have this opportunity. 



Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale made famous:'"The Little Mermaid" statue on the canal.  The head has actually been stolen twice.  However, it has since been replaced and filled with concrete. 


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mama!

Renewable Energy Laboratories


So far, today has been great; I only wish that Mr. Senzig, our FVHS environmental teacher, could be with us.  He would have enjoyed today's events.  We began by visiting the Riso National Laboratory for Sustainable Energy and hearing 2 lectures.  It's interesting that Denmark produces 1/3 more energy than it needs, in 1984 refused to ever create or use nuclear energy, and almost most importantly -- the PEOPLE forced the government into making wiser choices for the nation's energy use (beginning with the 1970s energy crisis). 


It's also interesting to note that while Denmark is known for its wise energy choices, scientists also refer to US methods.  The US actually has more wind turbines that anywhere else in the world, but we also use more energy, so those turbines do very little to sustain even a small portion of our population.  In contrast, Denmark must only sustain 5.4 million people. 


We later visited the research facility for the wind turbines (windmills).  The size is UNBELIEVABLE.  When you see windmills, it's hard to imagine that it's far more than blades at the top of a skinny pole.  The blades are 40 meters EACH; the main part of the turbine is almost the size of an 18-wheeler, and the base is large enough for a door and room.  As you can see from the pictures -- everything is huge!  


We ended the "educational" portion of the day with a trip to Copenhagen Energy and Waterworks Place.  We didn't realize until we got there that this was an interactive place for children to ACTIVELY learn about water and energy.  The 2 and 1/2 hours we were there flew by!  Children from all over (even Switzerland) visit to learn.  The idea is that by SHOWING (not just telling), children learn about proper energy use and its importance. 


Lecture Notes on Energy Facts


Windmill; one with blades, one without blades



As you can see, even just one blade is GINORMOUS!!


Each blade is 40 meters in length



Before taking us on a tour, the speaker gave a brief lecture about energy.



The outdoor tour of the water system began with a waterfall created by the learning center.  The water flows into a creek bed.  All of this was dry when the tour began.  The center wants to "show" students, not just "tell" them.



The creek flows down to a lock system.  Children are given the opportunity to build boats and manipulate the lock system to see if they can successfully maneuver their boat through the system.



Here some of our group members, Bill Ferriter and Bernard Waugh, are pumping water up from the creek and into a model farm.  Children see what happens when water is let in.  They then build and dam and see that the dam strategy only works for a little while.  Soon students figure out how to route the water around the farm.  The leader said it's very interesting: boys build a stream along the side of the farm.  Girls make a trickling brook through the farm, plant little flowers, and even put grass in front of the little model cow.  



The creek flows into a portion of the center reserved to teach about water life systems.  All kinds of life are growing in and around this area.  (Which reminds me, I found it interesting that a Dane on my plane asked if we had snakes and spiders in NC -- that he'd never really seen any in Denmark!)


Here a bridge goes over the pond and a room is beneath.  Students can actually go to the downstairs room and view the pond life under the water.  They also learn skills of direction while a person above manipulates a net so that they can catch crawfish.



The center has set up a model of how water is pumped from under ground, through filters, to a water tower, and to the city and homes.


So after teaching about the water system, the center director asks students to climb down a toilet to learn about the water waste sewage system (a basement below) to learn about what is and is not appropriate to dispose of through a city water system.



When teaching about energy, the director uses these blocks: yellow represents the sun's energy in just one year; the black box represents the fossil fuels we have remaining on earth; the blue represents the energy that can be obtained through climate (wind and water) in just one year; the green box represents biomass in just one year; the red block represents all of the energy humankind needs to be sustained for one year.  The lesson: we have all of the energy we need; the question comes when we ask where and how we should get that energy.


Finally, the director has older children learn about converting energy into hydrogen and using it to run appliances.  Students are broken into teams (red and blue), given resources and a "house" (biodome looking thing) where they race to see who can get all of their appliances working first.


The director of the Energy and Waterworks Place, Jesper Steenberg, is extremely intelligent and passionate about education.  This entire center was his brainchild and he built most of the models himself. 


Some random thoughts and reflections about Denmark thus far:


  • Bikes!  Bikes!  Bikes.  Everyone bikes here.  The train station had hundreds of bikes piled in racks.  Bike racks are everywhere.  It's pretty common to see parents with children in a seat on the back of a bike.  When we visited the school yesterday, parents were picking their children up on bikes.  I even saw a pregnant woman (8 months?) biking.  Most everyone bikes without helmets.  In the city, cars may parallel park on the street, but not next to the curb: there is actually a bike lane adjacent to the sidewalk, so it's buildings, sidewalk, bike lane, car parking, street.



  • Everything is smaller.  My hotel room is smaller than an average dorm room.  The bed is smaller than a twin bed.  The bathroom is a combination shower, toilet, sink.  I have to be sure that the switch is flipped properly so it doesn't shower on my back when I go to brush my teeth, since both the shower and the faucet use the same controls.  Sodas are even in smaller bottles (less than 8 oz).  HOWEVER - the prices are not smaller!  It's about $3.50 US for a 20 oz. bottle of Coke --- and that's the cheapest I've seen it.  I've heard it said that Americans like things big - and it seems to hold true here.


  • Now I may be surprised later this week, but the food . . . I was expecting something "Danish," though I'm not exactly sure what that is.  On the main square there are many places to eat: Greek, Italian, Chinese, McDonald's, Burger King.  Food wise, I haven't seen too much of a difference.  Drink wise, yes.  Smaller, more mineral water, coffee, and tea.  I'm not a coffee drinker, but I've had a sip or two to get me through.


  • I can't believe how well everyone speaks English.  One of our speakers today was concerned that we may not understand him.  He spoke so well that if he was in the US, few would even notice a strong accent.  English is taught from childhood.  The Danes say that their language is too difficult to learn and that because there are only 5.4 million of them, they, out of necessity, MUST learn English (and other languages) to communicate outside of their country.


  • Speaking of out of the country . . .  it appears many, many Danes travel extensively, at least in Europe.  Priorities seem different, so the money we may spend on TVs, home decor,home improvement, gasoline, etc., they save for vacation -- excuse me, "holiday." 


  • Men even get paternity leave when a child is born.  They take 2 of the weeks while the mother is home.  The other 12 weeks must be taken when mom goes back to work.  The concept of stay-at-home mom also seems unusual here,as their society provides childcare, leave, etc., so women work.  


  • This is a nation with a "National Church" and required taxes to the church (unless proper paperwork is turned in, but then you can't use the church for weddings, Christenings, etc).  However, there is not a religious undertone; through reading and discussion, many Danes consider themselves atheists, and even our speaker today spoke very openly about The Big Bang, whereas in the US, we (especially teachers) sometimes dance around the subject and refer to it as a "theory."  When asked where all energy came from before the sun and earth, someone said, "God?"  The speaker jokingly said, "Perhaps in America, but in Denmark it came from the Big Bang."


  • Someone made an interesting statement today . . .  that often when Americans travel abroad, we are self-abasing, often putting ourselves down: we're spoiled, we have too much, we have too big, we don't live simply, we're greedy, we're arrogant, we're ego-centric.  And while some of these statements may have a ring of truth, we need to remember that DIFFERENT is DIFFERENT; not everything needs to be categorized as good or bad, better or worse, stronger or weaker.  That's not to say we can't learn from each other and improve our lives, but we also need to appreciate that we all have our own unique experiences, customs, practices, etc.  My grandfather was just diagnosed with cancer.  He said he didn't want to keep hearing about "this person" with cancer who died, or "that person" who survived, or "that other person" who was sick for months.  He said he's not "this person," "that person," or "the other person."  He is himself.  He said he and the doctors could learn from those people, but NONE will be exactly like him and his situation.  It's much the same way with our nations.  We can say, "The Danes" do this, or "The Germans" do that, but we are neither Danish nor German; we are Americans.  Let us learn from each other, but not attempt to become them.  Also, when we see such wonderful things going on somewhere else, we forget what great we do at home.  Whether you are a stay-at-home mom or a CEO, we often look to others and think of what we're not doing as well, but we forget what GREAT things we do everyday that others look to us for, much like other countries actually learning from our scientific advancements in energy efficiency.  We have a long way to go, but we also have 300 MILLION people to take there.  Remember, DIFFERENT is DIFFERENT; life does not always have to be black or white (or even grey).



Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Roskilde and Viking Museum


Today was just absolutely AMAZING!  First let me tell you, I awoke in a panic that I was late for the train I needed to catch at 8:15AM.  Sunlight was pouring into my window and woke me.  I gasped and looked at the clock . . . it read 4:30AM.   Now I'm writing this feeling like I have hours before bed.  It's almost 10:00PM and it's still daylight outside. 


I had cheese and bread for breakfast.  Don't ask me what kind; I have no idea.  After a short train ride to Roskilde, the first capital of Denmark, I trekked through town, past a cathedral, through a field, and down to the fjord (water way - much like our Chesapeake Bay).  As I crossed over the bridge to the Viking Ship Museum, there were scores of jellyfish swimming in the water. 


The streets and paths of Roskilde in the morning.

The walk to the Viking Ship Museum.  As you look at the field and see the water, can't you just imagine the Vikings coming in from their journeys?


The Viking Ship Museum:  what can I say?  It was so very, very humbling to be in the presence of a cornerstone of history.  Granted I've read about most of what I saw and I've seen pictures of what I saw, just being there in person was . . . indescribable.  That portion of the the Danes' history is a testament to their ability to persevere.


Here are the remains of Viking ships discovered in the 1960s and took 25 years to reassemble.  The bottom right is a close-up of the wood.  


This is a replica of a Viking ship built, manned, and sailed last year.  You can see once again how involved children are.  Here they are dressed up and carrying "supplies" to the ship, as the Vikings would have done.


I'm such a geek. . . this is what I LOVED . . .  the runes, the ancient writings of the Vikings, Celts, and Norse.  I teach it in my senior English class as part of the History of the English Language -- after all, these are groups that settled in England and contributed (or even created) its culture.



Viking Poetry


A few of us walked back through the fields, past sites of old churches (circa 900C.E.), to a beautiful cathedral.  We soon learned it was not just any cathedral; it was the Roskilde Cathedral - burial site of over 30 former kings and queens of Denmark.  Harald Blaatand (Bluetooth), the king who officially brought Christianity to Denmark, is even buried in one of the pillars at the altar.  There was even Duke Christoffer (1363) in a tomb/casket.  His tomb/casket couldn't have been longer than 4.5 feet.  Interesting.  There is even a pillar in the church where all of the rulers have been "measured," just like mom does for children on birthdays!  Again, it was a humbling experience to be in the presence of such history.


Sites on the way back up to the cathedral (some homes and a spring).



Various pictures of the cathedral


Bluetooth's Pillar Tomb and the Pillar used to measure kings


Chistopher's Tomb (I noticed it was spelled several different ways on paperwork and the tomb)


Artwork and more tombs


The town woke while we were in the cathedral.  As we walked back through town, street vendors piled along the streets, cafes set out chairs along the sidewalk, and the town came to life.  It was so interesting to see men meeting up with each other in the streets with baby strollers.  I mentioned earlier that men have maternity (I guess really paternity) leave that must be taken WHILE mom is back at work.  Now I know that American fathers are wonderful, but it is a little tough to imagine two guys meeting up with strollers to walk downtown Raleigh, have a beer, and talk . . . and keep in mind, many of these men are 20 and 30 somethings -- some with "trendy" clothes that look like models - others like bikers with tattoos, bald heads, and goth attire.  I didn't want to be rude and take a picture, but I sure do wish you could see what I'm talking about.  It gives a whole new perspective when I hear fathers say they have to "babysit" their own children. 


The streets of Roskilde


So . . .  I went to a bakery, got a roastbeef style sandwich (with some kind of gooooood sauce on it and something that could closely be described as canned fried onions that we put on greenbean casserole) and ate on the streets of Roskilde with 3 other ladies from my group. 


After taking the train back to Copenhagen, many participants chose to go to Sweden (by train), but I decided to stay in Copenhagen and explore alone.  I began with a canal tour, continued with a leisurely stroll through the streets, and ended it with stopping at a shop, getting a couple of Carlsberg (big deal here) apple ciders and some bruschette, and sat in a park to eat.  The experiences felt very "European."  I would have loved to sit at a cafe along the canal and had a simple meal, but everything is so expensive and I was alone. 


I could not have asked for a more beautiful day.  It was approximately 67 degrees and sunny all day.  People crowded along the canal and streets to enjoy the day.  I must admit that I was a little envious of some of their lifestyles: sitting in canal boats, drinking wine, eating fruits, cheeses, and bread -- all while soaking in the sun and watching silly tourists.  Though bicycles and cars zoom by, people seem only to be in a hurry to relax and enjoy themselves and the company of others.  I really enjoyed ending the day alone (and while I know some of my group members would have joined me - or I could have joined them in similar experiences in Sweden), today was the day that I would like to have had my closest friends and family lounging with me and lollygagging down the streets.



Canal Tour



The park where I ate "European Style" at the Glyptotek Gardens


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Independent Field Research: National Museum


Today was another lovely day in Copenhagen.  I was a little concerned when I looked out of my window and saw the wet streets and cloudy sky.  However, the sun soon came out and made the weather perfect. 


So today was the day our group split up for independent field research. About half of the group explored Copenhagen and  Sweden.  A couple went to a private school and a few more went to Hamlet's castle.  Now, most folks would expect that me being an English teacher (who actually teaches Shakespeare) would head for the castle.  Anyone who knows me knows that I get "jazzed" by "ancient" things, like Rome, Greece, and Celtic history.  So a few hundred years back just wasn't enough for me . . . I wanted REALLY old, and I got it!


My original plan was to explore the passage graves in the countryside.  I have read about them and know that some date back to 3,500B.C.E.  I was also interested in visiting "rune" stones.  Being on a tight budget, alone, and here for such a short time (along with my blown ACL) changed my decision.  I figured I'd spend half the day traveling and walking only to see a pile of dirt (which can be interesting, but c'mon, it's still dirt.  I wasn't exactly sure how much else there would be to see).  Apparently I made an EXCELLENT decision - archaeologists have brought all the goodies to Copenhagen National Museum!


I have goose bumps when I say that I saw the remains of the "bog people" that date back over 3,000 years!!  It was absolutely incredible!!!  And guess what? . . . .those rune stones -- there, too!! I spent several hours there and ended up having to glide past the displays for other cultures and times (from the Conquest of Mexico to Japan, from Renaissance to 1960s Danish life).  As the old saying goes, I could have spent days in there and not seen everything.


I was mere inches from the remains people who struggled to survive, who were buried in oak coffins, whose bodies were preserved, who teach us so much about where we come from!  Wow!  I can't put all of the pictures here, but here are some of the highlights:


Okay - so these are very interesting coffins from the mounds (mounds which remind me a lot of the Ocmulgee Native American Burial Mounds in Georgia, USA).  The coffins: an oak tree is cut down, split length-wise, and hollowed out.  The dead are placed within and the lid put back on, then they are buried.  You can even see the clothes of this man were preserved. (Sorry about the glare.  Difficult to get with glass in the way.)


How cool is this!?!?!?!?!?  I watch this stuff on National Geographic and Discovery Channels, but REAL LIFE!!!


So some believed that after death one was resurrected each morning with the rise of the sun.  They perhaps even ensured in death that the sun would rise, thus the chariot carrying the sun.  Sounds a lot like Apollo, but this is a different location and culture.  The helmets shown above were buried with bodies who were thought to be priests or priest-like elders of society.


These stones were used to mark not only graves, but also places.  Harald Bluetooth used some (not the ones above) to commemorate the lives of his parents and declare Denmark Christian.  There is a lot of mystery still with the rune alphabet. There are several different forms of the alphabet.  They are strikingly similar to the Latin alphabet.  While records indicate that Rome conquered other areas and not the Germanic and Scandinavian areas, between these and the sun chariot, it sounds like I need to do a little more research.  (I can just imagine some scholar reading this thinking, "I can't believe she doesn't know better!"  But, hey, I'm learning.)


So when I zoomed through the history of Denmark portion of the museum, I came across this 1960s pillow.  It seems to capture the spirit, so I couldn't resist a picture!


There is so much to take in in such a small amount of time.  In the book Fahrenheit 451 the main character is attempting to memorize an entire book before it must be destroyed.  He describes the situation as "The Sieve and the Sand;" his brain in the sieve trying to capture all of the information; the sand in the knowledge/information pouring through but only partially being captured.  I feel that way here.  What's most frustrating is knowing that it's happening.  I know that I'm taking in massive amounts of information (and I'm constantly thinking and reflecting), but very little of it is sticking.  I'm fortunate to have the technology to learn about things virtually and explore more, even after I get home.


I ended the day with a leisurely meal with 6 others at Cafe Katz, outside on the canal.   The food was wonderful, but still nothing "exceptionally Danish."  What am I expecting?  I don't know?  The only thing that I've seen particularly Danish is perhaps breads, cheeses, and hotdogs with pickled cabbage.  Perhaps part of my problem (or my expectation) is that our world now is so globally connected.  While in Copenhagen, I have heard English, Danish, German, Spanish, French, Italian, and forms of Indian and Chinese.  I know at home I can hear many of those same languages and meet many of those people.  Perhaps the isolated societies that maintain a pure culture, especially in terms of food, rarely exist -- especially not in an international city like Copenhagen. 


Tomorrow I meet my host family.  I must admit, I'm a bit nervous.  I do not want to offend them or disrespect them in any way.  Also, not knowing my situation, I may not be able to post again until I return, though I will try.  I look forward to sharing my experiences with my host family!


Friday, June 19, 2009

Odense School Visit and Host Family


The last two days have been exciting and tiring!  We left Copenhagen at 7:30AM and arrived to Odense about 2 hours later.  The school we visited was very similar to our public schools.  We were first greeted most warmly by the principal, Lars and taken to the staff room, where we had coffee, tea, and bread.  I have never been a coffee or hot tea drinker before, but I've found myself drinking coffee and tea on this trip, as it seems to be the drinks offered.  I know some of my American friends would be hurting by now for a Coke or Mt. Dew (and I can't lie, I am, too).  Once we had nice conversation, 2 students, Emma and Viola, gave my group a tour of the school.  These two young ladies spoke very good English and were so mature, polite, and helpful.  I can see why their principal chose them.  The school looked so similar to ours in its last days, with CD players being collected by media specialists, rooms stripped of all student work, papers and trash waiting to be cleaned out of the rooms.  The carpentry class and cooking classrooms were fairly typical.  What I liked is that all boys and girls take both "lessons," as they call classes.  About this time, a terrible storm spilled down, with thunder, lightening, and downpour.


We continued through the school to the dentists' offices (3).  Since all dental is covered, students are simply called out of class and dental work is completed on site.  There's a part of me that thinks that this makes complete sense, especially as a teacher who has so many students pulled out of class for a half or full day to go to the dentist and other students who may never see the dentist.  The tour concluded with a 30 minute question-answer session with a 6th grade class.  They had very good manners and asked general questions (how many students in our classes, number of years teaching, etc.)


Dentist office in school and 6th grade class.


Lunch!  This may have been my most exciting Danish meal!  We were served various types of beer (yes, in school - and the Danes find it comical that North Carolina teachers find it so interesting).  So I guess this is their idea of teacher recruitment and retention strategies . . . humm . . . hint, hint . . .something to think about (just joking WCPSS and NCDPI Department of Recruitment and Retention).  Our meal consisted of what one of the food service/teacher prepared: pork with a sort of ham, raw pickled herring with red onions, a salmon cheese cream dippy spread thing, new potatoes, warm red cabbage, and for dessert - strawberries with cream (or soft frozen cream like ice cream).  Yum . . .  the cabbage was the only thing that I had a little trouble with.  Everything else was FANTASTIC!  I was excited because it was a traditional Danish meal.  It was also very special that these people went out of their way to provide such an experience for us. 


During lunch, the food service/teacher asked who was Gred?  When our participant Gred raised his hand, the teacher responded, "Gred, you sleep with me tonight!"  Though we all knew very well what he meant, we found the wording comical.  After lunch my host family picked me up.  The clouds were beginning to clear.  As I rounded the corner, I spotted them right away -- Bent and Lene Christensen. 


Aren't they cute!?

They immediately made me feel comfortable, with a handshake and kiss on the cheek, and willing to go with them.  I took only a small backpack and Bent was very surprised, as he expected a women, especially an American woman, to have more (and larger) bags.  I didn't immediately tell him that my "big bag" was in storage at the hotel!  I was anxious to see how we were going to get home; I knew that some people were walking to their host familiy's home, or perhaps biking.  We rounded the corner of the parking lot and there sat his Skoda - the closest thing I can compare it to is a Dodge Omni, Plymouth Horizon, or a Ford Escort.  It reminded me of the car my parents bought in 1981.  He popped open the hatchback, threw my bag in, and insisted that I sit in the front seat, with Lene in the back.  I protested, but not for too long; I did not want to be disrespectful - by either taking the front seat or not taking the front seat. I sat up front as we began driving through Odense.  Bent and Lene pointed out a church and asked if I wanted to go in; I said sure.  The next thing I know, we've spent over 2 hours walking through the church and the streets of Odense.  The church was pretty interesting - a former king, Knud, (1000s) was assassinated at the alter of the church next door.  His remains were on display (along with his brother's) and a few other bishops in caskets.  Bent told me that the king was a tyrant, but he still managed to become a saint (wonder how much that cost?).  We also saw the path of Hans Christen Andersen, his home, and where his mother was said to have gone to the water.  There were paper-cutout suns everywhere symbolizing H.C. Andersen.  I also noticed that several churches and businesses associated themselves wit H.C. Andersen.




The streets of Odense were beautiful -- a little smaller and more "quaint" than Copenhagen.  Rather than stopping at an outdoor cafe (because of the cool wind), we went to a bookstore cafe - VERY much like our Barnes and Noble cafe.  Lene shared with me that she enjoys coming to the cafe and "people watching" on the street below.  I found it difficult to concentrate on our conversation, since I kept watching people myself.  I could only imagine what they were thinking as the Danes are speaking English.  Not everyone pegs me for American though; some have thought that I was British (for anyone who knows me and my southern accent, this may be a little funny).  Because of the expense for Americans and because England is so close, it is not unreasonable to come to that conclusion.


On the topic of traveling . . . the Danes seem to travel all over Europe and many to America.  When I expressed how ignorant I felt about not traveling, I received a similar response as I did with the gentleman I sat with on the airplane:  The US is so big and has so much to see.  The world travels to it.  Denmark is so small; to learn of the world, Danes must travel.  It is not necessary for Americans to travel to learn of the world.  I agree to some degree, but I also feel that just by virtue of traveling - of being in a nation where the language is not your native tongue -- the customs unfamiliar, is very enriching, an enrichment that cannot be found -- no matter how many people from the world travel to where I live. 


Bent and Lene drove me to the countryside.  As I said I was concerned about wanting to do the "right thing" and not disrespect anyone, Bent said (both about Copenhagen and Odense), "It is not an examination that you will receive a mark."  We continued driving through the countryside.  We stopped at a stone monument dedicated to 2 American pilots who crashed during World War II, survived, and with Jews, escaped to Sweden.  The fields were filled with red poppy flowers; the trees green with life; the sun was shining.


We rounded the corner into an older subdivision that looked much like military housing that I've seen in the US.  All of the homes appeared to be 1 story brick homes on stone slabs.  Bent mentioned that someone was flying a flag, then he pulled in that driveway.  He said that the flag being flown at home is for special occasions and that he had 2: first that his son-in-law passed his oral examinations for his master's in law, the other that I was visiting.  (How kind!)


As I stepped in their home, I immediately felt at home.  It was a home similar to what most people had in the US in the 1970s; 1 story, kitchen, dining, living, bedrooms, bath -- even the dark wooden doors.  Bent and Lene must have taken very good care of their furniture over the years; it was almost like a museum showing a home of that time period. 


We spent hours talking and sharing pictures, ideas, thoughts, beliefs, customs, and family-life.  I was rather impressed that Bent and Lene took extra time to research information about North Carolina, so that there would be a frame of reference and something for us to discuss.  Though there were times when our language was a slight barrier, we worked through it just fine.  Bent said that there is always a way to be understood (he said when he went to Czech, he spoke with a man whose home he rented through sign language and charades).  I noticed that Bent and Lene spoke with a slightly British accent and some of the words they used were British (like pram, instead of baby carriage).  I cannot even begin to tell you all the things we discussed, from economics to food to religion to water heaters! 


We continued the discussion through dinner -- a dinner that began with a "starter" of lettuce taken from a neighbor's garden, tomatoes, a cheese that is very close to feta, and balsamic vinaigarette - along with delicious homemade bread.  Yummy!  Rather than rushing the starter away, we say and talked for a bit and then moved on to dinner: pork tenderloin wrapped in fried ham, new potatoes, carrots, broccoli, and the best mushroom gravy sauce ever!  We sat a bit longer, talked, planned our day for Saturday, and then came dessert: rhubarb cobbler (except that's not what they called it.  I'm not sure of its official name).  At 11:00, after a long enjoyable day and dinner, I headed off to bed!


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Host Family and Copenhagen, Debriefing


I'm glad I set my alarm this morning, or else I would have slept in until noon!  I took a Eurpoean-style shower (where you hold the nozzle and it does not hang above your head), dressed, and went in for breakfast -- where I was fed once again with a wonderful, typical Danish meal: breads, cheeses, special salted butter (sea salt?), marmelades (2 kinds; one a blackberry type and the other a very strong one with orange peels, grapefruit, etc.), honey (not like our honey, but looked more like a sugar cream icing, but tasted about the same), pastries, and fruit!  Bent and Lene told me it was the typical breakfast.


This entire time we continued talking and sharing (I'm sure that Bent and Lene were thankful for the break from thinking and speaking in English when I left, but I so enjoyed it!). After visiting the local grocery store and picking up sandwiches for lunch later in the city, we then drove through the country, where I saw their golf course and surrounding area.  It reminded me so much of the back roads in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, with an unmarked paved road twisting through shade trees and open space.  The major difference would be the huge windmills towering above fields every so often.  It was so beautiful!


Lene made sure I was able to get to the city to Museum Kopi, where jewelry is copied from archealogical finds of actual jewelry.  I purchased a copy of a  Roman-bronze age style ring dated 163 A.D. as a keepsake.  And though this was rather inexpensive compared to other jewelry, it has been and will be my only purchase, as everything is so expensive.  I hope that my friends and family will for give and understand why I am not bringing everyone back a little something (I'm sure they will).  Remember, a soft drink (small) is about $4.00!


We ate in the garden of the king when he went Odense to visit his mistress.  The building was dated in the early 1800s and looked very similar to buildings I've seen in Williamsburg, Virginia (which makes sense considering the time period).  We took a quick peek inside the adjacent cathedral and then drove down to the harbor before the bus station. 


When Bent and Lene dropped me off, it was all I could do to hold back the tears, as I hugged and kissed them (many times).  It is so special that complete strangers would open their door to me and welcome me into their home, especially someone who is from another country.  Lene continued to remind me through out the visit that she did this so that she could grow and learn, too.  They waited for the bus to pull away and waved the entire time.  Lene told me, "We take thousands of pictures, but we always remember the picture we did not take."  I will always remember Bent and Lene standing outside the bus, waving as that bus pulled away.  I did not take a picture. 


The drive back to Copenhagen was not filled with sleep as I expected, but with everyone sharing their stories from and their reflections of their home visit.  Our reflections continued with a debriefing at the hotel before dinner at the Pilegarden - a basement bar with buffet just for us with much of the same foods we've seen through the week. 


When we debriefed and discussed at the hotel, I said nothing.  I need time to digest everything from this week.  I have learned so much and this has been an experience of a life time, as I expected.  I sit typing this in my hotel room (knowing I must be up in 5 hours), wanting to soak in the last moments with the window open, hearing the screams of amusement park riders at Tivoli Gardens and hearing the big band music of Frank Sinatra.  I will never be able to capture this moment again.  It has helped me to grow not only as an educator, but also a person.  It's an experience this "Quay-town" girl never dreamed of having.


The view from my hotel room at 10:30PM.


Thank you:


The people of Denmark for allowing us to visit your country and its wonderful people, especially those who opened their schools and businesses to us.


Angie Bolin for arranging the trip, making sure we were well taken care of, and being with us in spirit.  My thoughts will be with you and your husband.


Lindsey Moulsky for being a great leader (again).  You are so patient and flexible.  I hope our friendship will continue.


Bill Ferriter for slowing down his trailblazer nature to be a pioneer and make sure we all got there with him.


Sys in Odense for arranging our homestays and opening her mind to the world.


Bent and Lene Christensen for opening their home and welcoming me so willingly.  You will always be remembered.


Danny Holloman for working with the center and planting this seed.


The participants for supporting me and offering insightful discussion, ideas, and perspectives.


My TOY  Team for begin just that - a TEAM.  We have created friendships that will not be forgotten, even with those unable to join us (Janice and Frieda , we care so much for you!)


The Center for International Understanding for creating and facilitating an amazing program that affects not only the immediate participants, but also all of the individuals with whom they come in contact, both professionally and personally.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people who will be affected by this one experience.


My FVHS family for your understanding and support when I had to miss graduation and your excitement for me for this opportunity.


My family and friends who showed such genuine interest in something that meant so much to me, even when you get a little tired of hearing about it! THAT caring and understanding is what is so special and meaningful to me.  Though I may not tell you always, I recognize it and appreciate it so much.


Everyone who reads my blog.  I hope that you can take something away from my experience that will positively affect you and others. 


My husband, Danny, from the last minute run for a travel clock to paying the bills for my trip and supplies to giving me that kiss on the cheek and telling me have fun . . . you're the best!  I love you.



Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day, Daddy!

Depart for U.S.

Depart 6:00AM (12:00AM U.S. EST)

Arrive to RDU 4:35PM (U.S. EST)


The flights went well.  The final leg of my journey was spent sitting next to a young Dane woman who is a pilot in the US.  She talked about how wonderful the US is and how she has no plans of returning home, as she would be unable to be a pilot in Denmark.  The flight with her back to the US was a serrendipitous full-circle, as I flew next to a Dane on the way to Denmark. 


I was able to keep my eyes open just a while longer as I spent a little time with my husband unpacking and chatting about my trip -- but then I was off to bed.





I slept for over 12 hours and awoke to the sound of a neighbor's lawnmower and my dogs begging for love and attention.  I did not wake with that "Where am I?  What day is it?" feeling, but woke more like as if from a dream.  All I could think was, "I really went to Denmark. I really met those people, went those places, did those things."  Perhaps I should put a question mark at the end of that statement as it seemed more like a dream, like I imagined it all.  And while my heart overlfowed with appreciation and gratitude for the opportunity, I am left with an emptiness at this early morning hour as I write.  What will become of my dream?  Once a dream becomes reality, does it return to a dream?


"To sleep: perchance to dream:—ay, there’s the rub"

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark





Paige G. Elliott, M.Ed., NBCT


Contact Information:



Fuquay-Varina High School

201 Bengal Boulevard

Fuquay-Varina, NC 27526 


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