By: Graeme Oliver
Travelling to a new country is a great privilege, regardless of how long you get to stay. Getting a glimpse into a country’s landscape, architecture, and people is exciting; depending on where you go, you can get an idea of how different or similar life is all over the globe.
With all that you can learn from travelling, it can’t compare to what you become aware of from actually living in a new country for an extended period of time. You go from watching what the locals do to doing what the locals do, and that’s an important turning point. During my stay in Copenhagen, my main mode of transportation was by and far the bicycle. I wasn’t alone in this either. Sure, the roads were still pretty filled with cars, but bikes filled the city in a way that really gave Copenhagen a unique sensation of movement beyond what I was used to.
The city of Copenhagen has made biking one of the most cost effective and convenient ways of getting around the city. It’s no surprise so many people bike; the infrastructure for it is awesome. Bike lanes are wide and cover just about everywhere in the city, with separate stop lights available for bikes and cars. After many years of sharing the road, cars have come to regard bikes as legitimate users of the road. Visiting Copenhagen, you get to appreciate the number of bikers on the road, but living there you start to wonder why it works there and not back home in Canada. The reason seems to be that the city – and this applies to cities across Denmark – has the strong support of the residents behind these initiatives. Copenhagen is known for having a commitment to being a green leader and I think biking is part of this – even if residents don’t bike for the environmental aspect of it. High tax rates allow for solid infrastructure to be laid down which feeds into the success of the projects put on by the city. The Danes I talked to are well aware they pay a lot of taxes but seem to be okay with it given that they get a lot in return. It seems by providing residents with quality projects undertaken by the city, Copenhagen is now able to be successful in its initiatives because residents are willing to get on board. Experiencing the bike culture in Copenhagen was one of many visible aspects of the Danish society that showed the positive relationship that Danes have with the environment. Clearly, they’re doing some things right as they were recognized as the 2014 EU green capital.
Biking is just one example of how a country unfolded its culture to me in ways that I wasn’t expecting. By pulling out my bike everyday and talking with locals, I was able to find out a good little bit about the city I was calling home for five months. When you get the opportunity to live in a new place its important that you don’t take the aspects of your new life for granted. Following an observation of difference, consider the possible reasons behind those differences. Finally, after some observing and some thinking, and maybe a conversation or two with the natives over a coffee, tea, beer, or low fat extra whip grande caramel macchiato from Starbucks (to each their own), you might begin to understand what it means to live in this new place.
Graeme is a fourth-year Honours Biology and Environmental Sciences student, in the Faculty of Science at McMaster University. He spent a term abroad studying at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.