Being a DIS student

5 minute read

Copenhagen and the DIS program have quickly kept true to their word by providing an elating experience in such a short amount of time. These past few days have primarily focused on acclimating myself to my new home in Denmark—moving myself in, meeting my roommate and Kollegium housemates, touring a bit of the city, getting my books—but the Opening Ceremony was by far the most impactful experience thus far.

All students congregated at the Royal Danish Academy of Music to be introduced to their new semester/year with the DIS program. They discussed their legacy, exposed us to beautiful opera music, but for me, the most meaningful of the entire event was hearing from Director Malene Torp and Dr. Salmon Ahmad.

During her speech, Miss Torp expressed some jovial moments that demonstrated the Dane’s unique characteristics that perhaps contributes to their standing as the happiest country in the world. She brought up the Rio Olympics and teased about how “[Denmark] won less meals than Michael Phelps, but won more than Norway and Sweden—and that’s what counts!” Perhaps a mindless joke on her behalf to get us comfortable, but for me it really contrasted with what I am familiar with in the U.S. regarding their outlook on wins and losses. I appreciated their appreciation for their simple victories, and how their perspective focused on maximizing their happiness even if in the grand scheme of things there could still be more to gain.

However, she then also briefly mentioned the political fiasco that is the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, in which we are down to the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton vs. the demagogue Republican nominee, Donald Trump. She mentioned how even the Danes are fascinated by the events transpiring in the U.S., and to brace ourselves for political conversation as the Danes may inquire as to how on earth someone like Trump got to where he is. She also mentioned how to them it is “more important who the president of the U.S. is than the Prime Minister of Denmark.”

This was actually quite baffling for me, as one of the reasons I wanted to study in Copenhagen was to seek refuge from the chaos ensued by Trump’s candidacy. As a Mexican in the U.S., it is not easy having to perpetually defend my identity due to a man’s rhetoric which fuels a negative stereotype of my people to an entire community with a strong history of enmity towards those who are different. Then, however, Dr. Salmon Ahmad, professor of the Positive Psychology core course talked about what happens when we focus solely on each other’s differences.

Dr. Ahmad encouraged us to embrace Copenhagen as it is a great opportunity to learn when we cross cultures. He informed us that there will be many mannerisms and customs the Danes practice which will differ from our norm as Americans, providing a sense of challenge for us. For example, he told us how Danes are, at times, considered cold people because they do not acknowledge nor have an interest in our status as foreigners, as well as other practices we are accustomed to in the U.S. such as holding doors open for others. He challenged us however that while we may view that as inconsiderate in America, it can be argued that the Danes are not rude people but rather that consideration takes on a different form in Denmark.

He continued by saying that while we are different—in appearance and practice—the fundamental core value of our humanity is not. If we, however, crucified individuals because of these nuances, we establish a pain of exclusion as a result of our inability to go beyond the surface. He defended this claim by a study that described two groups, one that was denoted as Manchester United fans and the other simply as “people who love football”, and how these groups reacted to a person falling. They found that the first group was more likely to help someone if the person who fell wore a Manchester United vs. their rival shirt (Liverpool) or just a regular shirt. The second group, on the other hand, equally helped either a Manchester United or Liverpool fan shirt (but did not for the individual falling wearing a random shirt). He concluded that when we related ourselves in limited ways, we create exclusion, and when we establish exclusivity, we forge pain.

This spoke volumes to me as I have been relating myself to others in incredibly limited identities. Even my first post focused on my fear of relating to the students here because of who I am and where I come from, and who I am is a first-generation, low-income minority student—but the sad reality is that the majority of these students may not encompass most or any of these characteristics, and when I describe myself as such, I risk creating that exclusion onto myself. In fact, one of the first things I noticed was how little people of color are present at DIS. At first glance, it appears that perhaps about 3% of students are considered underrepresented minorities (at the ceremony I was actually counting the number of people who were of color and managed to find 7 before I left).

Initially, I did feel a little defeated, because it feels difficult to truly find a relatable companion in a sea of people who are not like me, but also my turmoil to not tokenize myself in this community simply to have a “good time.” Nevertheless, perhaps this pain is exacerbated by the limitations I impose on myself by how I am viewing my situation in DIS.

If the Danes can change their perspective to celebrate their victories, then perhaps so too can I: perhaps I should rejoice that there is at least one Mexican in this group vs. none at all; perhaps I should exult about being able to provide a foundation where DIS can celebrate its diversity more in the future and track its progress. And in the meantime, rather than narrowing who I am as an individual here, I should be considering myself a “DIS student” instead of reducing who I am if it is agonizing, because in that regard I become a more inclusive individual, and through that inclusivity I can engage in conversations of our differences and the role that plays, embracing Dane’s love for discussion of world politics and my desire to enjoy my time in Copenhagen without forgetting who I am.


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