You don’t know what you don’t know.
That basically sums up my experience in Europe. It was undoubtedly the trip of a lifetime and with each passing day here in the US, I am able to appreciate the adventure a little more. I was very skeptical before I left for the trip being as I had never been outside the United States before. What I experienced in Scandinavia was nothing short of incredible. The trip opened my eyes to numerous, fascinating cultures, many of which bear a striking resemblance to that of the US.
I particularly enjoyed Stockholm and Copenhagen. Both of these cities were beautiful and clean and boasted both modern and historical architecture and culture. They are such vibrant cities. People everywhere seem happy and friendly, much like here in the Midwest. The restaurants and bars were quite tasteful, although rather expensive. I must say that Copenhagen has the best hamburgers I have ever tasted. I visited a restaurant called Jagger and another named Grillen. Both were incredibly delicious and sported a youthful atmosphere. Although not cheap, they were the best burgers I have had to date.
The museums and history, particularly the National Museum of Denmark, were astounding. The sheer amount of historical artifacts housed in these buildings was nothing short of magnificent. I walked through rows and rows and room after room of statues, sculptures, paintings, and various other antiquities. The stories each piece held was awe striking. Helsinki also had incredible museums which were quite expansive. I also enjoyed Suomenlinna’s Sea Fortress, an island system cultivated to separate Russia from Sweden. The island had numerous museums and an authentic submarine which I was able to go inside and explore. The island also had a military museum which had information on just about everything war-related in Scandinavia. I also got to see a daycare facility in Amsterdam which doubled as an escape route for Jewish toddlers and children. In every one of the countries I visited, I saw swastikas. Everytime one appeared in a museum, they explained that the symbol predates Nazi Germany and signifies good luck. It is sad that distinction must be made if you think about it.
I wish I would have written journal entries for every day I was abroad. I got to experience so much, it is difficult to recall every little thing now.
Perhaps the most challenging piece was the pure cultural immersion. While all the countries I visited spoke English, they also spoke a native language. Given my physical appearance of tall, blonde hair, blue eyes, most natives thought I was also from the region. Thus, many would begin a conversation in Danish, Swedish, Finnish, etc. and expect me to respond. However, upon hearing even a few words from me, they knew I was American and switched to English immediately. In addition to the language barrier, there were other cultural pieces that were just different like dining etiquette, conversation volume level, apparel norms, and many others which helped me avoid appearing too much like a tourist. I was fortunate enough to visit a home in Denmark and have dinner one evening and learn about the culture from a very personal point of view. This was one of my favorite experiences from the entire trip as I was able to ask questions freely about the culture and learn things most tourists don’t get the opportunity to learn. I had a similar experience in Stockholm one evening when I ran into a Swede that worked for a European advertising agency. He gave me some insight on the Swedish culture and proceeded to discuss business, consumer behavior, AI (artificial intelligence), and other topics with me for about 2 hours. Again, a priceless experience that isn’t common for the average tourist.
I could go on and on about similarities and differences between Scandinavia and the United States. However, until you have experienced the local culture and lifestyle, you simply don’t know what it is truly like. You don’t know what you don’t know. It is a simple as that.
In conclusion, I very much enjoyed my time abroad and I hope to go back to Scandinavia one day soon. I would even consider employment there if the right opportunity presented itself. If I were to have my choice, I would choose either the city of Stockholm or Copenhagen. They were the most Americanized cities with ample opportunity. Although Oslo was beautiful, you have to have some serious money to live there. Every other car is either a Tesla or BMW and the price of everything is exorbitant in comparison to America. $56 for a burger and fries and $15 for a Carlsberg beer? My lanta. While the rest of Scandinavia was not cheap, it is livable if you possess the right employment or trust fund. Amsterdam was beautiful as well, however, it just didn’t strike me as a place I would want to live. The same goes for Iceland, although I do envy their whales and puffins. Those are my final thoughts.
I would like to thank all of those that helped facilitate and support this trip. It was incredible. Below is my full photo gallery from the adventure. Enjoy.