Krakow had a little Christmas market just beyond the main square, already alive with Poles ambling through the stalls in the first week of November. Vats of meat pumped steam into the crisp air. I loaded meat and cheese pierogi onto my paper plate, handed over a few złoty and kept moving through the vendors. It was chilly, but not enough that we couldn’t sit on the curb while we ate. Our dinners, heavy meals of dumplings and potatoes and egg rolls, were an aggressive introduction to Polish cuisine; they forced our oil-stained paper plates to surrender not long after we finished. The food kept us warm as we watched middle-aged men bang away on trumpets and keyboards on a stage some yards away.
This is why we don’t exterminate culture. There are countless more scenes I could describe in detail from the past four months, from train rides through the Czech Republic to parades in London and pubs in Dublin, that are clear reminders to me of the world’s cultural diversity to be valued and celebrated. I’m sure you could tell me an equal amount of life’s celebrations from this fall at school, conversations in dorm rooms and fall break road trips and football games.
That same trip to Poland is where we got submerged in everything we’d ever wanted to know about the Holocaust. I saw portraits of people whose worlds were exterminated because of who they were culturally and religiously. I learned about their families, their summer vacations to the beach, their favorite subjects in school. It’s hard to comprehend how groups of people are deemed worthless, but I think it might start when we question the worth of people we don’t know.
Sometimes if I’m not careful, my Americana kicks in here: Only 5 million people live in Denmark, they have to learn English to stay internationally relevant, is this place too obscure yet? But when I read this story, I remembered why we don’t exterminate culture. It might not be efficient or easy to learn Danish, but a smorgasbord of cultures, with unique approaches to families, transportation, education, and every other aspect of life—these are important to me. I don’t want this country to become a copy of America, because so much of what I’ve learned here comes from the little ways Denmark is its own culturally.
I leave to go home on Sunday. I’ll miss the late-summer creak of the trampoline, my host siblings’ laughter wandering in through the back door. I’ll miss hearing the music of little Danish girls sounding out the words of picture books on the S-train, helped by silver-haired grandmothers. I’ll miss the Danish addiction to licorice and fumbling with the kroner I still don’t know how to use and never understanding what’s going on when my host family turns on the TV.
Of all the life that happened around me this semester, I understood what was spoken maybe 10% of the time. While sometimes frustrating, that’s where the beauty is. For all the times this semester I wanted to use a dollar instead of a krone, drive a car instead of take the train, or hunker down in a place like Rand in a country that doesn’t even have college campuses—that tension is good and means our cultures are different, that there is still much to be learned.
It is a privilege to get to do this, to live this world in the way of all five senses. I think just about every day that I’ve received the gift of a months-long trip to Europe, to learn from prostitutes and prison consultants and genocide scholars. I am so thankful. The Lord takes us to places where we’ll learn in His glorious world whether those are the streets of Copenhagen or the floor of a dorm room. It’s all good and real and worth it. Vi ses, København!