This blog post is also available on my new podcast "Packing a Punch" - listen on your favorite podcast player!
My story is not ordinary. I feel pretty ordinary, on the inside. But when I tell people where I come from and how I got here, it usually stirs up a gasp or two. My official story simply states that I grew up in Denmark and now live in the Pacific Northwest, but there is much more to it than that. So I decided to tell it.
My childhood was spent divided on three different continents. Strangest of all, I was born in South America. Valdivia, Chile to be exact. My parents were missionaries, but soon after my arrival, they decided to move back to the US. I was 6 months old. Needless to say, I don't remember anything from Chile at all. I ended up with dual citizenship - but not a Chilean one, as you might think, but a Danish/American citizenship.
My parents met in New York. My mom, from a small town of Sejlflod in Jylland, Denmark. My Dad from the Pacific Northwest. So when they decided, with 6 months old me in their arms to move back to the US, they settled on Tacoma, WA. Kind of fortuitous that my journey should lead me back here - only about 10 blocks away from my first American home. But that's for a later chapter.
My parents divorced when I was three and my mother decided to move us, three girls, to Denmark. First Skanderborg, then what I now consider my hometown, Haslev. This is where I went to school, where I had friends, where I learned about life, and love and longing. This is where I grew up. If you can call yourself a "grown-up" at 17; that's when I moved away from home.
I then became what I would call a "Copenhagen nomade" moving almost 25 times in the 13 or so years I lived there, interrupted only by a 2-year stint in Barcelona - also a story for another chapter.
I finally up-rooted, if I ever had roots, and moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2010 when I was 31.
And that's the short, cliff notes version story. But that's not really how I want to tell it. I want to tell my story by delving into how that story made me, me. What it was like, being a part of two worlds, and what sometimes felt like not being a part of anything at all. Feeling like an outsider for all the wrong reasons, trying so hard to belong, but not feeling like I belonged at all.
As a child, I would spend the entire year going to school and living my life in Haslev and every other summer I would visit my Dad in Seattle. The alternating summers, he would visit us. I spoke (and still do speak) both languages fluently... mostly without an accent in either language. My dad would call every week long-distance to keep in touch with us girls. And in the '80s that was not cheap! My mom, even though she is 100% Dane, would make traditional Danish cooking right alongside fried chicken and cornbread. I felt the duality every day.
Consequently, it somehow made me feel divided. Instead of belonging everywhere, I felt like I didn't belong anywhere.
I suppose, with a different outlook on life, this duality could have made me feel abundant, like a citizen of the world, who had many homes. But my upbringing in so many ways nourished lack and dependence. And it made me feel stretched too thin. I was too American to be Danish and too Danish to be American. So I was, effectively, neither.
Every time I came back to Denmark I would miss the US terribly. But it was never actually true the other way around. This only occurred to me when I finally moved here, that the homesickness I would feel for the US when gone, never set in for Denmark. Yes, I missed my family, but not the culture, not the place itself.
In reality, moving to the US clarified a lot of things for me. I have always been more American than Danish, I know that now. I've been loud, brazen, and always had big dreams and big gestures. Not in any way the proper little girl my mother tried to raise me to be. I had a terrible temper, that felt uncontrollable at times and a big voice that was repeatedly told to not shine too brightly, not to make the other kids feel bad.
This may seem harsh, but anyone from Denmark would notice this as "Janteloven" or "The Law of Jante" - a culturally-induced oppression that the Danes all know too well. Again, this is a phenomenon I will explain in depth in another chapter. Suffice it to say, it's a classic "crabs in a bucket" syndrome. When one tries to climb out the others will pull it back down.
So I suppose I was not entirely caught in the middle. I sometimes describe myself as "half-and-half", with a chuckle. But that doesn't really describe me. In reality, I am more like 75/25. In the last ten years, I have learned to embrace my Danish roots, while also fully encompassing how American I really am. Immigrant heritage and all.
In truth, it probably doesn't matter what continent we are on. Denmark for me was a time in my life when I tried to hide who I truly was, in order to try and fit in. It was a time of listening to others over my own intuition, my inner voice. It was a time of not being and owning who I truly am and what my life's purpose is. The US for me has been the journey of fully growing into my true self. A journey of growth and self-exploration. Of owning all sides of me, even the ones I don't necessarily like. And most importantly listening to my own truth rather than what others say. It's not about Denmark and it's not about the US. It's about what each country represents to me and who I became during each timeframe I spent there.
I can now look at being "half-and-half" and feel grateful that I was blessed with so much diversity. And I can own my big voice and my larger than life attitude and put myself on a stage and feel right at home. But I can also remember where I came from, and what is truly important in life. Love of family, love of friends and most importantly, self-love.