Benjamin Shaw on his time in Denmark

There’s a clock tower at Herlufsholm that, for the entirety of my time there, rang the hour two minutes late. I don’t know how long Herluf’s clock has been late, nor do I know how long it will continue to be late. I do know that it stood, ringing crooked time, as a pseudo monument to life passing and time yet to come.

The clock tower stood tall for many of my defining moments in Denmark. What strikes me most about exchange and coming back from it is that people usually ask the wrong question. Everybody wants to know what was the most exciting thing you did or the coolest thing you saw. And while I saw and experienced incredible things abroad, it’s not those days that color my experience. It was the everyday that made exchange more than a trip; the routine of the mundane was what really created a life.

It was the clock tower that stood attached to the centuries old church where we’d hold school meetings every morning. Announcements would come reliably in Danish, leaving the foreign students to string together words and phrases to find a piecemeal agenda for the day.

It was the clock tower that rang the time, unhelpfully, when we were already late for class, rushing through cracked stone hallways and up tilting staircases to make it to class before the teacher noticed we were missing.

It was the clock tower that counted the days until a teacher strike that may or may not have come, but that left every student itching for school to be cancelled.

It was the clock tower that welcomed students back at 8:02 the following morning after the announcement that teachers would not, in fact, go on strike (much to the disappointment of students and teachers alike).

My host mom would tell me that five weeks was a turning point in living in a new place. During those first five weeks you settle in, learn the lay of the land, explore the world around you. After that time you start making the space your own, asking for favors, inviting people to the house with you. Exchange felt like putting that time in a pressure cooker. It was exciting, and fast paced, and everything was new. It made me want to relive everything twice. But at the same time, exchange can be a wildly different life than what we have here, one open to exploration discovery of new places, new people, new foods, and a new self.

Time itself seemed present in many of the things I did. There were little moments, of timing each other across zip lines during a tree-top climbing excursion, or counting down the final seconds in a soccer match in PE. There were bigger moments, following a costumed guide through ancient castles, or trekking across the city of Odense (and getting a little lost) to find the house that Hans Christian Anderson might have, maybe, possibly lived in once hundreds of years ago. And there were the worst moments of all, when time made itself known slipping past us. Sitting in the garden with matching cups of coffee, silent but hearing time together pass away. Waiting for a weekend that for my friends would be a relief from school, but for me held only a plane ride home. Hearing the clock tower sing, mocking, two minutes too late, a reminder that some things couldn’t be said, or done.

There’s not a lot I wouldn’t give to be back on exchange. The longer it’s been since my time there, the more I miss it. I know that some things will fade, and some things won’t, but most of all I know that all the things I learned there will stay with me as a testament to a time spent making myself known in a world apart from ours. I see, as time moves on, parallels drawn between here and there: school starting again, graduation rituals, friends growing. But the more time moves, the more I wish I could stay wrapped in a bubble of time the length of my exchange, living it all again, the clock tower no longer a reminder of time going by, but of time well spent and well loved.