The Latino Experience Studying Abroad in Denmark
Written by: Mark Aguilar 🇸🇻
Nyhavn Harbor in Copenhagen, Denmark on August 26, 2023. (Mark Aguilar)
A few years ago, I was at a point in my life where I didn't see myself going to university, but now I’m studying a semester abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark.
This whole journey started when I was accepted into the C.D. Mote, Jr. Incentive Awards Program here at UMD, where one of the benefits was getting an opportunity to study abroad. I jumped at the chance, as studying abroad wasn’t something I could ever financially do on my own. I was also able to talk to other students in the program who had also studied abroad, and it became something I really wanted to do.
As a first-generation college student, studying in Europe seemed far-fetched. However, I had support from so many people at UMD who helped me pursue this dream that’s become a reality.
There were some overwhelming feelings on my part when I arrived in Europe. Firstly, I felt so proud to be here with the support of my family.
This past summer, I was able to visit El Salvador and got to see my very large family for the first time in years. While over there, I was able to tell them all that I’d be studying in Denmark for four months, and they couldn’t believe it.
From their perspective, only a few of our family members had ever left the country, and that would have been to the U.S. After hearing that one of us was going to Europe, they were all incredibly supportive and excited… also a bit confused. Why Denmark? This would be the most common question I got when I told them, which makes sense considering Denmark isn’t the first country you think of as a Latino wanting to study abroad.
Mark Aguilar standing in front of a a small yellow house in Dragør havn on Sept.17, 2023.
I chose to come to Denmark because the school I am attending, Study Abroad in Scandinavia (DIS), has the most compelling classes for my Cinema and Media Studies major. I also wanted to go to a country where I didn’t know much about the language and culture, so I avoided English– or Spanish-speaking countries. It would have been boring to go somewhere where I already knew the language, I wanted to take myself out of my comfort zone.
I also knew I wanted to go to a country with a rich film history, and Denmark stood out to me among those in Europe. This stemmed from my interest in the Dogme 95 movement in film, which was started by two of the most well-known Danish filmmakers: Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg. The Danish film industry might be the best-kept secret in European film as I feel they aren’t talked about as much as the other powerhouse countries (France, Italy, UK, etc.) in film history.
After over a month of studying in Denmark, there are a few observations I’ve made from my cultural perspective. Firstly, there just aren’t many Latinos here. The country is almost entirely inhabited by ethnic Danes, making it significantly less diverse compared to the U.S. Although I’ve seen a few Mexican restaurants around the city, the Latin culture is almost nonexistent here. The only Spanish you'll hear here comes from the Spanish tourists who sometimes walk around the city.
Another thing I’ve noticed: everything here is expensive. Prices have been going up worldwide, but Copenhagen is one of the most expensive cities in Europe. I found this out when I could barely find a place for lunch that was less than $25. Also, everyone here speaks English. The Danish population is only 5.9 million (which is less than El Salvador despite being twice the size), and only Denmark speaks Danish, so they see it as a limitation to just speak their language. Since there aren’t so many Danish-speaking people in the world, they find learning that English from a very young age helps them communicate with others who aren’t Danish as it’s a common language spoken by non-English speakers.
Being in Denmark for the past month has only made me more proud of where I come from, as I see fewer Latinos here compared to the U.S., where we’re everywhere, especially in the DMV area. I’ve had the opportunity to talk to native Danes here about my culture, which seems so foreign to them. With a little over two and a half months left in my stay, there is still a lot more I want to learn and compare between the Danish, American, and Latino cultures.
I try and always stay connected with my culture over here. One way is by calling home as often as I can and talking with my parents. It’s fun telling them about the Danish culture, as well as listening to what’s been going on back in Maryland. It feels weird not having my Latin culture around me, but I love getting to talk about it with others.