Ben Shaw on Exchange at Herlufsholm in Denmark

Underneath Kronborg Castle, there’s a statue of a knight. Known for his incredible heroics, Holger Danske was set in plaster and later concrete and is a reminder of the strength Denmark once had. Legend has it that when the country is in need, Holger Danske will rise from his seat and lead his armies into battle one last time.

Denmark seems to be full of places like this, ordinary landscapes undermined with history. The school we’re going to has a museum older than American independence and rumoured underground tunnels connecting all the buildings. There’s a tank in a field near my host family’s house that’s been left abandoned since WWII, but still keeps watch with a rusty barrel over acres of farmland.

The country has a sense of worn comfort to it, but of self-importance, too. It’s almost as if, as a collective, Danish people know exactly where they are and what they need to do. Maybe it’s the growing trend of hygge, or comfiness, or maybe it’s just the settling in process, but people seem calmer here than they are back home. More aware of things around them. Maybe too, of course, this is all just me projecting what I want onto the experience.

Herlufsholm feels like it’s losing a game of hide and seek with the students. Buildings are nestled in a forest, huge brick things with too many stairs and empty classrooms. Classes change location every day, and the schedule makes less sense than our own. After school activities are at random times on different days of the week, and classes get cancelled at the last minute. But despite all this, or maybe because of it, the school feels more whole, more like something new every day. It’s confusing, and I seem to get lost a lot, but that isn’t a problem. It’s more like every wrong turn is a new day, and every day has more to find. Thinking of it that way makes it feel less like a countdown, a countdown to the end of the school day, to the end of the week, how long I’ve been away, how long until I have to go back. It’s all there in one place, a jumble of locked rooms and tardy slips holding up an exchange.

Barren was the first word I thought of when I got to Copenhagen, with its icy streets and grey weather color scheme. But the longer I stay here, the more pockets open up, and like Holger Danske show a Denmark that is warm, and new, and a little bit scary but comfortable. Two weeks in, and time zones have never been less of a concern.