Courses / University of Washington

Exploration Seminar: September 5-9

Written by Emily W., Eunice, Betz

September 5

Starting our day early, and fueled by jet lag and general exhaustion, we headed out from our hostel toward the train, minus Team Taxi (aka, those injured in our effort to survive Greenland: Emily Johnson, Eunice, and Katie) and John. Navigating the Copenhagen train/metro system proved difficult but manageable, and soon we were off to meet up with the missing part of our group at the dock of the first of the day’s events: a wind farm tour. Boarding the boat, there were many jokes (some more funny than others) about potential for sea sickness and how well the group would do on the current boat as compared to the last ones. On the water, we learned about how Denmark generates, stores, and uses energy, as well as the future of energy usage throughout the kingdom. Since Denmark is powered by 43% wind energy, this tour was particularly exciting, and since it was on the water, it was also particularly beautiful.

Middelgrunden wind farm outside of Copenhagen.






After the boat tour, we headed back for an hour or so of rest and refueling before heading to the National Museum of Denmark. There, our guide talked about the museum’s history and contents, addressing specifically the Inuit exhibits and how they got there. As we moved through the museum, a few of us noticed that some of the placards for the exhibits had “Eskimo” instead of “Inuit” on them; this being an issue because the Inuit people treat “Eskimo” as a slur, and the Eskimo people tend to treat “Inuit” as, at best, an insulting mischaracterization. Our guide addressed this: the museum contains many artifacts of foggy origin; we know that they come from the arctic regions, but we do not know to which people they belong. The exhibits’ labels are meant to provoke thought about the origin of the artifacts, and to show that “Eskimo” and “Inuit” are both important terms that mean different things, and should generally not be confused for each other. In other words, the exhibits are meant to make the observer upset with the museum. (They achieved that goal.)

Display at the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen.

As our group split to see the rest of the museum and other parts of the city, a few of us left in search of coffee. After eventually finding the coffee and taking some time to work with others on some of our assignments, we slowly trudged toward Riz Raz, where we were having a group dinner. The time in the city, after having been in Greenland, had given the group a bit of culture shock. We had been so used to frozen veggies and shelf stable milk, quiet nights that stay light until late, only talking to each other (with an occasional stranger thrown in), and hiking everywhere on stairs and trails. So being in a city, eating the fresh food that Riz Raz offered, being surrounded by buildings, and hearing the noise of other people was proving to be a bit much for our jetlagged group. (John: “it’s only 4 pm in Greenland right now.” But that didn’t even stop us when we were in Greenland, John.) After all the days’ events, we were relieved to crash and attempt to sleep at the hostel.

September 6

After eating breakfast at the hostel, we made our way to the Danish Energy Agency for guest lectures. As John led the route, team taxi (Michelle, Emily J, Katie, and myself) arrived early and awaited the others, hoping that they weren’t lost. Though my classmates insist that they had gotten lost several times, John says otherwise.

We were greeted by Bo Riisgaard Pedersen and Andreas P. Ahlstrom, and spent our morning learning about renewable energy in Denmark while enjoying the tea, coffee, and croissants that they provided. I was very impressed by Denmark’s renewable energy growth and future goals.

During our break after lecture, people scattered – some headed back to the hostel, some wandered to get lunch, and a group of us ventured to look for the mermaid statue. After break, we all met back at the hostel, and walked to the Danish Institute for Study Abroad for another guest lecture.

The LITTLE mermaid.

Our lecture was by Emmanuel Gentil, who provided some great insight on how Denmark is responding to the changing climate. I learned that Copenhagen has thorough projects that aim to increase resilience and adaptation to climate change. From underground car parks to skate parks, both have built-in infrastructure to prevent flooding. I was amazed by the innovative and proactive projects. In regards to these climate adaptation projects, we discussed public acceptance of climate adaptation. The projects have seemed to gained public acceptance by being functional, and avoid a political debate over climate change. I believe the US can learn from this and adopt climate adaptation projects that can serve multiple purposes, like underground car parks and skate parks. Perhaps by shifting the focus away from politics, and priming these projects through a social lens, such projects will be accepted and may even pave the path and space for a less politicized conversation regarding climate change.

We had a free evening after the lecture, which naturally meant that a large portion of our group rented bikes and biked around the city for a few hours. A few people stayed at or around the hostel and ate dinner. Later that evening, most of us met back up in one of the rooms and watched a documentary, sitting strategically in the small room as to not block each other’s view.

September 7

We had an early start to our day, meaning that some people chose to sleep rather than to eat breakfast. While eating breakfast, HC finally showed up and our group felt complete again. At around 8:15, we made our way back to the Danish Institute for Study Abroad. Our guest lecturer, Alexander Hviid, discussed Danish-Greenlandic relations and Arctic geopolitics.

After lecture, HC took a group of people to Torvehallerne, a large food hall, where they enjoy some coffee and relax while getting some work done. Meanwhile, Michelle, Katie and I attempted to figure out socialized health care in hopes of getting appointments to get knees and ankles checked out; fortunately, we got an appointment for later that day. Another group of us met the others at Torvehallerne. As they got lunch and coffee, Michelle, Katie and I made our way to the hospital. After a relatively short hospital visit and a delicious lunch, everyone met at the Centre for Ice and Climate for the ice-core freezer tour.

After an enlightening and entertaining lecture, we were taken down to the ice-core freezer where temperatures are roughly -25C. There, we were shown ice cores and some equipment.

Thanks to Trevor for the talk and tour, including some special ice from Greenland in the freezer.


After the ice-core freezer tour, HC showed a group of us around Nørrebro, a lively and bustling town where many shops, restaurants, bars, and cafes are located. It was refreshing to see a different side of Copenhagen, especially one that is different from the area we had been staying at. We had dinner at GAO, a dumpling place, and enjoyed some good food.

Out to dinner! (left: Jake, Emily J, Joe, HC. Right: Eunice, Karl, Irene, Ben, Katie)

The charms of Nørrebro intrigued us all, and showed how wonderfully diverse and rich in culture Copenhagen is. Decompressing after a long day, we enjoyed each other’s company and found what Nørrebro had to offer.

September 8

After all of the lectures on climate change, conversations about what ‘sustainability’ means, and what we can individually do to live more responsibly (especially in regards to our carbon footprint), we finally had the opportunity to put our words into actions at the Copenhagen Climate March. This was both an opportunity to make our loud American voices heard, and to have a nice walking tour of some beautiful parts of downtown Copenhagen.

Our mornings were relatively quiet, and everyone slept in before assembling at noon for the March. We quickly realized, however, that the rally began at 12, and the March itself started closer to 1. As none of us present spoke Danish, we decided to skip the rally and come back for the fun part – marching in circles being very grumpy about climate change.

The Copenhagen Climate March was one of several worldwide, protesting the lack of tangible action from politicians and policy-makers on climate change. We had fun both being part of the protest, and watching the Danes around us protest too. Apparently Danish people can’t yell because of the way they swallow their vowels, so it was a very quiet protest compared to an American one (Emily W says that Denmark is probably one of the happiest countries because they physically can’t yell at each other, which seems fairly plausible to me). Towards the end of our march, a group behind us was chanting into their megaphone, and when they heard us speaking English, they started a chant in English. We chimed in and it was very loud.

Later that evening we took a canal tour with the whole crew (minus HC – again). The guide was very interesting and energetic, if a bit… eccentric. Within the first five minutes, Michelle’s eyes had that familiar “what have I gotten us into?” look, but we survived the guide’s sometimes tasteless jokes told in three different languages with good humor and lots of laughter. For the most part it was a beautiful ride through the city, though the skies did open up about halfway through and all of the passengers got soaked. Our group, being Seattleites, were well prepared for the rain with our raincoats, with the exception of Joe, Ben, Alden, and Alex (who joined us for the tour), all of whom refused the bright red plastic ponchos from the canal guide out of both pride and principles against single-use plastics.

We attempted to visit the Tivoli theme park in Copenhagen, but we quickly realized that we were too cheap to pay $65 for three hours in a theme park, so we quickly changed plans to accommodate our budgets. For some, this meant a bottle of Rose or rose lemonade and a bad movie, while for others this meant board games, bar-hopping, and meeting new friends.

This was also the night that Anna found the bed bug. He was captured, placed into a peanut butter jar, and touted about the hostel in minor panic as we tried to figure out what to do about the infestation. We honestly couldn’t think of anything, so we told Michelle and decided to deal with it in the morning.

September 9

Our last day in Copenhagen dawned much earlier for some than for others. A group left the hostel at 8am to take a train north to visit the Kronborg Castle and Maritime Museum, while another group left at 10am to visit the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. A third group stayed behind and continued to explore the city of Copenhagen, both by foot and on bikes with HC (who finally decided to grace us with his presence again).

A piece at the Louisiana Museum.

The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art is a must-see, with stunning grounds boasting a view of the ocean, and an eclectic selection of modern artwork ranging from sculptures of thumbs to art pieces depicting war or ‘challenging’ ideas of masculinity (by showing a number of works that almost exclusively depicted men doing ‘manly’ things, or prominently featured erect penises. The apparent efforts of the exhibit to ‘challenge’ masculinity were completely disregarded by the female audiences who were less than impressed and rather puzzled on how this did anything beyond enforce the status-quo).

Kronborg Castle, a quick train ride and lovely stroll away from the Louisiana, was yet another Danish architectural wonder. As students on a budget, we were too cheap to buy tickets into the actual castle. Luckily, the grounds are open to the public, so we were able to wander about and experience all three of the moats and the outer areas of the fortress. Apparently this is known as “Hamlet’s Castle”, and attractions include a window frame and bronze skull to take pictures with, though we did not see any ghosts, which was a disappointment. After exploring the tunnels, dunes, and sights of Sweden’s coastline (just across the water), we once again took the train headed back to Copenhagen.

Kronborg Castle

Dinner was at the Portland-esque food stall island known as Reffen, where everyone had a final farewell dinner together with live music and fun conversation. Everyone, that is, except for Michelle and Betz, who in her excitement about socialized healthcare, could not resist visiting a Copenhagen hospital.

After returning from Reffen, we all congregated at Michelle’s new airbnb (bed bug free). We shared beers and Mintu-spiked hot chocolate (and a few icing events) before settling down to watch the Thank You/Goodbye mocumentary Sarah put together for our fearless leaders Michelle, John, and HC. All together for one last time, we laughed and cried at the funny stories and favorite memories each of us had of our wonderful professors, ending the night with bittersweet goodbyes and promises for reunion get-togethers in the future.

Being together in Greenland was such a remarkable, life-changing experience, but it was now time for us to go our own ways. Among us were the businessmen, policy makers, and scientists of tomorrow, and only time will tell how this remarkable chance to interact with climate change in a hands-on way in Greenland and Copenhagen will influence where we go next with our lives. If we are the movers and shakers of tomorrow, the people who will choose to be on the front lines of combating climate change, it gives me hope that maybe we’ll make it.