An Unexpected Turkey Day – A Dose of Denmark

Turns out celebrating Thanksgiving early with AmCham Denmark has a few perks, like full draws, pokemon cards, and unexpected reunions

Thanksgiving with Amcham Denmark

A few weeks before Thanksgiving, DIS asked me if I wanted to go to AmCham’s annual Thanksgiving dinner and give a 5-minute speech about celebrating Thanksgiving while studying abroad. I had several follow-up questions to this unexpected email. I learned later that every year the American Chamber of Commerce in Denmark holds a Thanksgiving celebration before the actual holiday. They meet, have a full-fledged American Thanksgiving meal, and then have fun during and after dinner. This usually includes a speech given by a DIS student.

I was reluctant (scared) to accept the invitation, but in the end I was very glad I went. The meal was excellent – even on par with some Thanksgivings spent with family – and I had the privilege of dining with some very nice people, including the head of the AmCham Denmark board and the US ambassador in Denmark. Now, I’m not going to say that having a nice meal with candy and Pokemon cards on the way out was the highlight of the evening, but I’m definitely saving those Pokemon cards.

Thanksgiving can be a morally and emotionally difficult holiday to deal with for a myriad of reasons both at home and abroad, but I’ve always enjoyed using it as a time to focus on giving thanks, so I thought I would share my speech from the event to show you all how I dealt with gratitude while in Denmark.

Turkey Day Speech
me giving my speech – photo courtesy of AmCham Denmark

It can be difficult to succinctly describe what it is like to study abroad. It is a global experience that I continue to live and process. It was both scary and empowering. And while it’s been full of excitement, I’m still studying, so there have also been moments of heartwarming monotony. In short, it is always me who lives.

I’m the same person I’ve always been, but with new places and opportunities for growth. And part of my life in Denmark is finding new ways to celebrate the traditions that have always been part of my life.

Like many other Americans, Thanksgiving was a day for family, good food, and gratitude when I was growing up. Every year, before my extended family and I dug into our impressive broadcast, we would all go around and say something we were grateful for. I almost always said I was grateful to my family and friends – and I was usually the 4th or 5th person to say so – but for once, originality didn’t matter to me. It was hard to imagine being grateful for anything else while surrounded by my loved ones.

As I make plans for Thanksgiving this year, I need to cover good food, family, and gratitude. You’ve all been generous in providing me with spectacular food, and with siblings in four different time zones, my family is getting pretty good at holiday zoom calls.

It leaves gratitude. It was overwhelming at first. There are so many things I’m grateful for, both in Minnesota and here in Copenhagen, but in the traditional pre-meal line, you couldn’t spend half an hour listing everything for he was grateful. People would have become very impatient – ​​and even hungrier.

The answer to my dilemma of how to articulate exactly what I am grateful for came from a classroom field study last Monday. I went with my drawing class to Mindelunden. Mindlunden was used by the Germans as an execution site and burial place for Danish resistance fighters during the WWII occupation and is now a memorial park for the resistance fighters who were killed there and for other Danes who lost their lives in the war.

a sketch of a Mindlunden tomb

I wasn’t quite sure how to feel walking with my class in the park. Our teacher took us to different graves and told us stories about the Danish heroes buried or honored there who had fought for freedom. I wanted to be proud, but I was afraid that it was not for me to be proud or comforted by the actions of people from a country other than my own. I didn’t want to claim a part of the story that I wasn’t entitled to.

Towards the end of our visit to the park, we passed a plaque that stood out as it was the only one on the wall that was in English. It belonged to a British woman and included a line from an anthem I had grown up singing. Suddenly, my body occupied the space of the park differently. I no longer felt like an outside observer, but someone actively participating in the space.

a collage of the park that I made for the class

During my studies abroad, I was surprised by the lack of differences I noticed from place to place. There are certainly differences, but the shifts in culture, style and tradition are easy to spot and appreciate. But it’s easy to see and feel that I’m not that different from the people I meet around the world.

I am not Danish and I cannot claim to belong to the Danish tradition with all its heroes and history. But walking through Mindelunden reminded me of the shared human history I have with the people honored there and with the people I had the privilege of surrounding myself with on coming to Denmark. We have a mutual humanity that has never been more evident to me than when I struggle to find my way in a foreign country whose language I neither understand nor speak.

So, in this new thanksgiving in a new country, I feel grateful for the shared humanity and experience that makes me feel at home wherever I go.

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