Teri Flanders studied International Business at DIS in the 1980s. During her year abroad, she stayed with the Mathiassens in a Homestay. Teri and the Mathiassens kept in touch after her time at DIS, and they are still great friends to this day! This past summer Teri visited her Homestay again with her daughter, who was studying at the Royal Danish Ballet for several weeks. Read more to learn about Teri’s time at DIS and her 35-year long friendship with her homestay.
DIS: When did you study with DIS? What course(s) did you take? Why did you choose DIS?
Teri F.: I studied with DIS during the 1984 – 1985 school year. My program was International Business, and we focused a lot on east-west business relations, as Eastern Europe was still a part of the Soviet Bloc, making this a very unique study topic for American students at that time.
My home campus was California State Polytechnic University at Pomona, and at that time they had three programs for international business: Mexico City, Taiwan, and Copenhagen. I had been to northern Belgium as a summer program student with YFU (Youth for Understanding) and knew that I wanted to come back to Europe, so Copenhagen was an easy decision. Also, two friends had participated in the DIS program, and they highly recommended it to me.
DIS: Why did you choose to live in a Homestay? Which town did you live in? How did you get from your Homestay to DIS every day?
TF: When I was a student in Belgium, my host family wanted me to help their children practice speaking English, and there was no formal language instruction in Flemish for me. That helped me to know that for my next experience in Europe, I wanted to really learn the local language. With DIS, I requested a host family with young children, who had not started studying English yet.
Bente and Ove were perfect for me. They had two young children: Louise who was just starting to study English (so we would be at the same level), and Christian, who had not officially started studying English. He was one of my best and toughest teachers. Children have a smaller vocabulary, so there isn’t so much nuanced vocabulary needed, and they don’t hesitate to correct you when you need correcting. Bente was also a dagplejemor (daycare provider) and the simple conversations that I would have with the little children were great practice.
Also living with the family, was Bente’s youngest sister, Inger. Originally, I had my own bedroom in the home, but after Louise had some health issues, Louise needed to move to the bedroom that I was in. DIS approached me about changing families because the Mathiassens could no longer offer me my own bedroom. However, I had already bonded with the family, and I asked if I could stay. The suggestion was made that I could share a room with 16-year-old Inger, and I accepted. Inger became another great Danish teacher: You cannot share a bedroom and a bunk bed with someone and not communicate.
Most full-year students changed families at the mid-year point, but I requested to stay with the Mathiassens, and luckily, they accepted. I also stayed with them a part of the summer of 1985, so they really did host me for nearly a full year.
My host family lived in Greve, so every day I took a bus from their home to the Hundige S-Train station, then took the A or the E train to København. For classes on Vestergade, I got off at Nørreport Station. If my classes were in Amager, I would take an additional bus from København H. I learned to knit while I was in Denmark, and spent a lot of time knitting or reading on the train/bus. My daily commute was about 45 minutes to one hour. This was all pre-Internet and pre-cell phone, so we had to bring our own entertainment. For someone from southern California, it was interesting to be without a car for a year.
DIS: What was a typical week like for you in your Homestay? What special activities did you do with your hosts?
TF: We almost always ate breakfast and dinner together. Mornings were also busy with babies and toddlers being dropped off for Bente’s dagpleje. Bente and Ove are a very loving couple (married 46 years), and their home was always busy with friends and relatives visiting. They both had a desire to explore the world through their guests and Homestay students; over the years they have hosted MANY students for DIS.
Weekends were almost always family related activities. Bente’s father owned a bakery in the countryside near Lammefjord: Kisserup Mølle. We would often go there to have gatherings with lots of Bente’s extended family. Or, there were gatherings at Bente and Ove’s house; they were excellent hosts.
I also made special friends with Bente’s other sister, Birgitte, whose nickname is Søster. Søster and I are almost the exact same age, so we did a lot of fun things together during my year in Denmark.
Always there was the possibility of Study Tours with DIS, or traveling with fellow students. At the time, the exchange rate was very favorable for Americans (going as high as 12 DKK to the US$), so we were able to do a LOT of traveling around Europe.
I also went to Inger and Louise’s horseback riding events, or Christian’s badminton events, or we played games at home. I especially remember Christian and I playing Monopoly…he would make me practice counting in Danish. Once I had mastered normal counting, then he would make me count by fives or by tens, just to test me. The whole family also enjoyed slapper af (relaxing) and watching TV together. We would watch shows in English and I would read the subtitles; this was a great way for me to learn conversational Danish.
DIS: What is the most memorable experience with your Homestay?
TF: There were so many that it is hard to define just one. Sometimes it was just the most ordinary things: sitting around their dinner table, sharing a meal, and sharing our thoughts. Det var så hyggeligt (it was so cozy)! Bente, Ove, and I enjoyed discussing cultural differences and helping each other understand those differences.
DIS: What were the biggest differences between American and Danish culture that you noticed when studying abroad? How have those differences changed?
TF: One thing that I noticed on this trip (it has been 14 years since I was last in Denmark), was that it is getting harder to pick out the Americans from the Danes. It used to be REALLY easy to pick out the American tourists. I guess that is a function of the Internet, social media, and globalization. Everyone is starting to look more alike.
I was sad to see such an increase in graffiti in Denmark. I notice fewer people seem to be eating rugbrød (dark, rye bread), switching to softer, fluffier breads. There seems to be an increase in Danes eating out at restaurants, compared to 34 years ago. Also, my host family’s diet was really meat and potatoes based in 1984 – 1985, featuring lots of very traditional Danish foods, but now they have added more fruits and vegetables.
It was fun to ride the new Metro. The combined S-Tog, Metro, and bus system is very efficient!
DIS: After DIS you stayed great friends with your Homestay hosts. How did you maintain this friendship? How has your relationship with them changed over the years? What has it meant to you to always have a home in Denmark with host parents and host siblings?
TF: Originally we stayed in touch via actual letters. This changed to email when email became more common. I would write in English, and they would often respond in Danish, helping me to keep a little of the language. Now, we are all connected via social media, which has made it much easier to keep in touch. Also, when I was younger, I made several different trips back to Denmark. Some for short visits, some for longer visits. Also, Birgitte came to California to visit me in 1988.
In the summer of 1990, I spent two months studying in Rouen, France, and Bente and Ove drove to France for their vacation and brought me back to Denmark to stay for several weeks.
In 1992, Birgitte and her fiancé, Jan, asked me to be one of the godmothers to their son Mathias, so I made a short trip to their combination wedding/baptism.
In 1995, with the help of Danish friends, I spent three months in Denmark as a guest lecturer and substitute teacher.
In 2003, I brought my two-year-old daughter to visit Denmark.
I think that there were other trips, but I’m not sure of the dates…
How has our relationship changed over time? We have added children and grandchildren to the mix. There have been marriages, baptisms, and deaths. All the things that happen with the passage of 34 years… We joke that we are all a bit older and grayer, but that we still enjoy each other’s company.
The combined effect of my three study abroad experiences (summer in Belgium, 1981, year in Denmark, 1984-1985, summer in France, 1990) are a huge part of who I am. So much that I picked a French name for my daughter’s first name and a Danish name for her middle name: Gabriella Annalise. My host family and my American family are linked through many visits in both directions – we are already making plans for their next trip to the U.S.
DIS: How did it feel to introduce your hosts to your daughter?
TF: I knew that my Danish family would welcome my daughter; they already knew her from the visit in 2003, and from social media. When I told my Danish family that Gabby would be studying with the Royal Danish Ballet for part of the summer, they were so excited to help make our trip possible. All of my Danish family has been taking turns hosting us, allowing us to split our time between the city and the Danish countryside.
Something I had not thought about: My daughter was surprised to see and hear me speaking Danish. It was not something that she had expected, and it surprised her to see another side of her mother.
After nine days in Denmark, we moved to London for another ballet program. After we finished in London, I returned to the U.S., but Gabby went back to Denmark for another week with the Royal Danish Ballet, and then some vacation time in Denmark. All total, she will have spent just over a month in Denmark, and I am so grateful to my host family. They have given her a wonderful opportunity, and I have watched as my daughter has fallen in love with Denmark. I think that this summer has given my daughter some insight into one of the major events of my life, helping her to understand why her mom is just a little different from some other Americans…
As we parted, I didn’t say goodbye to my host family…I just said vi ses (See you!).