The Blue Chair in the Corner

How living in a Danish homestay shaped my study abroad experience

Thomas Mallick
May 2, 2019 · 5 min read

About 25 miles north of Copenhagen, tucked away in the corner of a house in the Danish village of Humlebaek, is a small, unassuming blue chair. The chair is both beautiful and unique, seemingly come to life from a 1950s design catalog. I might lie and tell you that I’m well-versed in the subtle grain patterns of mahogany and oak, but for now, I’ll say the chair is made of a dark, elegant, knotted wood. The cushion is an inviting shade of faded turquoise-blue.

Like one of the old fire lookouts sprinkled through the old-growth forests near my home in the Pacific Northwest, the chair is situated in the perfect location to observe the inner workings of the house in which it resides. From its vantage point, you are granted direct lines of sight to almost every corner of the main floor.

Watching from that chair, you would see a family of six moving through their day: lunches packed, meals shared, stories told and stories made. You would watch in a state of mild horror and severe salivation as copious amounts of coffee and cake were consumed before your eyes. You would undoubtedly see the family dog on the hunt with keen and persuasive eyes, searching for any spare piece of food from dinner.

You would also, however, notice one member of the family who isn’t quite like the others. He’s not as tall as the rest of them. He doesn’t speak any Danish. He doesn’t like licorice. He’s different from the others in more ways than you or I could probably count, but, for some unbeknownst reason, there he is sitting at the table.

When deciding to live in a homestay for my semester abroad, I was scared. I had all the typical worries that every college abroad student faces when asked to make this decision: what if I’m placed in a home 50 miles from the city and am completely isolated? What if my host parents are strict and want me home by a certain time every night? What if my host family just flat out doesn’t like me? The list goes on, and on, and on, and on.

These initial worries were only exacerbated by conversations I had with other students. Almost every time I mentioned that I was interested in living in a homestay, I would instantaneously receive the other person’s laundry list of reasons why not to do one. Everyone seemed to be afraid that their “abroad experience” — that picturesque, Instagram-propagated, idyllic semester — would be held back or stifled by the “burden” of a host family.

I’m not sure if it was my chronic blind optimism or the single shred of rebellious spirit still leftover from the throes of middle school, but I selected “Homestay” as my first choice housing option.

A day passed, nothing. A few weeks passed, nothing. A month passed.

*crickets*

In mid-December, an email careened into my inbox from a .dk email account. I opened it up, and BOOM, smiling ear-to-ear right back at me from an attached image was the family of five that I would be living with for the next five months.

Here’s a line from that email:

“…you’ll get another 3 danish siblings…and 1 big Bernese Mountain dog named Sazzi …Family eager to expand with a Golden Retriever …but not yet…”

My preconceived worries started fading away with every word I read from that email. I couldn’t stop thinking that I’d won the homestay lottery: three kids around my age, a Bernese, and a possible golden pup? We were going to get along just fine.

It’s been a couple months since reading that letter and arriving in Denmark and I could honestly write a novella on just how caring, thoughtful, and (because thesaurus.com failed me) awesome my host family is.

I live with an angel of a host mom who wakes up at the crack of dawn every weekday morning to make lunches for all the kids, including me. I live with an extremely hardworking, yet lighthearted host dad who checked up on me at least every hour when I had a fever this past week. I live with three younger host siblings who constantly make me wonder if I was nearly as funny or mature at their ages.

This sounds like the cheeziest sentence of all time but I find myself constantly wondering how I lucked out and was placed with such a perfect family.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still awkward occurrences within daily family life. My host siblings will sometimes bicker with each other or with their parents; alas, the throes of puberty even affect Danish teens. But in all honesty, I feel so, so lucky to have been placed into this family.

Maybe it was the birthday dinner my host mom organized for me, my friends, and our family at a restaurant in Copenhagen, maybe it’s the weekly Thursday-night dinners with the entire extended family at my host grandparents’ house, or maybe it’s our absolute diva of a Bernese Mountain Dog, who has a soft spot for bacon, just like me.

Whatever the reason, my experience thus far has been nothing short of amazing.

So here I am, about 25 miles north of Copenhagen, tucked away in the corner of a house in the Danish village of Humlebaek.

As I sit here, listening to the slow, rhythmic reverberations of Sazzi’s snores, I think about the little blue chair that inspired this essay. At its most base form, a chair’s function is support. Support while you write long blog posts that almost no one will make it to the end of, support while you observe the inner workings of a household thousands of miles away from your own.

Whether it be taking care of me when my temperature is 102 degrees or picking me up in the city when the trains stop running at 2 AM, my host family is my support.

If you choose to take the leap and live with a host family, I hope you find your own little, blue chair.

København a Good Time

Excerpts from a semester abroad

Thomas Mallick

Written by

🚀Computer Science and Political Science student @VanderbiltU interested in using technology for social good 🦖

København a Good Time

Excerpts from a semester abroad

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