It was two weeks into my semester abroad and I was doing my usual, get-lost-running-in-the-forest thing, when I heard the drumbeats. I assumed they were a part of whatever Madonna jam I happened to be listening to at that point, but they persisted and so I naturally ran towards them to investigate. What I saw was absolutely terrifying, a group of giant men, wearing animal pelts, carrying weapons, and chanting over an open fire. This was undoubtedly my greatest, “get me the hell out of this country” moment in Denmark. It was two weeks into my journey, and I was about to be skewered by a bunch of neo-Vikings living in the forest. Natrually I hit the floor and prayed to the Nordic gods to spare me a while longer. I laid as silently as I could in the dirt for about five minutes before I heard a rustling noise behind me. Turns out it was a zombie (cue heart attack number two) who explained to me that this forest was used for role-playing games (Danes are weird), and that I was in no danger of becoming Viking supper. Apparently Vikings, Zombies, Swedes, and all sorts of other bloodthirsty creatures routinely do fake battle in the forest next to my house, and my host family had decided this was not important intel for me to know. So while “technically” I wasn’t attacked by Vikings, this basically counts.
It was only when I returned home from my emotional roller coaster of a run to take a much-needed shower, that I realized I finally was starting to understand the forest. There are no Google maps for the woodlands, nothing has an address, everything is constantly changing, and anything can be anywhere. We fear what we don’t understand, and the forest is the great unknown. The forest represents a place outside of society, without rules, customs, or traditions. Anything can happen in the forest, so naturally protagonists meet their greatest foes and challenges in the trees. The forest gives writers a blank slate where the world and its inhabitants, are only limited by the writer’s own creative ability, a sort of tabula rasa for one’s imagination.
People assume that being here is all about experiencing the big differences from home, new language, socialist country, actual winter, city life, and so on. These things are huge, but more often, it’s the little things that hit me the hardest. Denmark has challenged my assumptions about things like the social etiquette of trains, the best way to hold utensils, eggs being breakfast only, and of course, the role of forests in literature.
I guess the point I am trying to make is that sometimes we forget that our homeland viewpoint is not the only way to look at the world. I love the American mindset, but I cannot even begin to explain how cool it is to learn the little things from a different perspective. It really does take living in another culture to understand the nuances and trivial things that make people unique. For example, I could learn all about things like Danish design in books, but understanding the obsession and significance of chairs in Denmark has to be experienced to really be understood. At the risk of sounding preachy and cliché to everyone at home, I say just pick a place and go. Whether it is Amman, Paris, Lima, or even New Orleans, go experience the little things. Take a moment and explore the unknown – it’s as easy as getting lost in the forest.
NOTE: This was written for my home university CMC (best place ever) school paper. They haven’t exactly published it yet, so I said screw it and put it here.