Hello! My name is Amelia Hawes, and I studied abroad in Aarhus, Denmark for fall 2022. My global theme was culture and politics. My global challenge was, how can criminal justice policy be used to benefit society?
I am interested in the American criminal justice system, and one of the reasons I chose to study in Denmark was that it is ranked as having one of the best, if not the best, criminal justice system in the world. The U.S. criminal justice system is discriminatory, corrupt, and ineffective, and I wanted to learn about the policy differences in a country with a globally acclaimed justice system.
During my time in Denmark, I learned about their criminal justice system, but I also learned about Danish history, culture, language, government, and more. I took a class on restorative justice, and my professor was a victim-offender mediator for the Danish police and a researcher on the South African truth and reconciliation process. Throughout the class, we learned about the relationship between restorative justice and punishment, how restorative justice is practiced in Denmark and other countries, and how to mediate conflicts using the restorative justice approach. It was an incredible privilege to learn from my professor, Christian (students in Denmark call professors by their first names), and gain hands-on experience practicing restorative justice. After taking this class I am more aware of the benefits and drawbacks of incorporating restorative justice into the formal criminal justice system, and I think it is a practice that the U.S. criminal justice system should incorporate.
I had so many amazing experiences throughout this semester, but a few stand out in particular. I was present in Denmark during a general election, and I got to accompany my Danish friends to the town hall when they submitted their ballots. It was a bit surreal to witness this election because it was so different from presidential elections in the U.S. The candidates in the Danish election are all advertised in the same way, so every candidate had a poster in the same format as the others, but with a different color scheme for the party they belonged to. It was refreshing to see this type of egalitarian advertising, as opposed to the smear campaigns and expensive television and social media advertisements in U.S. elections. Denmark is a multi-party system, so there were many different candidates in the running. While there are heated political debates and tensions between different parties, Danish people tend to be private about their political beliefs and voting choices, and the social atmosphere around the election was very civil–a completely different experience than I am used to as an American.
I also got to celebrate Christmas with my Danish friends, and I cooked a traditional American Thanksgiving feast for them in November. On Christmas, Danes eat a big feast with boiled potatoes, duck, sugar browned potatoes, cabbage, brown gravy, pickles, and sometimes rye bread and fish. There were vegetarians at our Christmas dinner, so we cooked a vegetarian rendition of this traditional feast. Around the holidays Danes love to drink glogg, which is a sweet mulled wine with spices. After Christmas dinner, Danes eat rice pudding with cranberry sauce called risalamande. There is a whole almond hidden somewhere in the risalamande, and everyone competes to find the almond. I was the one to find the almond, which was a fun surprise. Then, after dinner everyone sings songs and dances around the Christmas tree. We didn’t have a Christmas tree, but we all held hands and ran around our apartment complex while we sang a traditional Christmas song. It was a cozy evening that perfectly embodied the Danish idea of hygge, which basically means the practice of coziness and togetherness during the dark winter months.
This experience changed the way I view my own culture as an American. It made me realize how absurd it is that the U.S. has barely any public transportation, because in Denmark I could use a bus, a tram, a train, or a bike to get anywhere inside Denmark or even around Europe. Most Danes don’t own cars, and many don’t even have driver’s licenses. It was such a luxury to have a well-developed network of public transportation at my disposal. In Denmark healthcare is also free, as is university tuition; in fact, college students are paid by the government to go to school. They have to pay this money back over the course of their lifetime through high tax rates, but it means that no one has medical or student loan debt, which drastically improves their quality of life compared to Americans. Danish people find it absurd that getting sick can bankrupt someone, but in the U.S. that is a very real fear we have to live with, and I think that is deeply wrong.
I am so grateful for the memories I made in Denmark, the friends I met, and the perspective I gained on my own culture and identity. I hope to visit Denmark again someday, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in studying in Europe. The people are kind, there are so many fun things to do, and Danish culture and society are rich and interesting.