For almost two weeks our athletic director, Kenny Owens, recently traveled to Denmark as part of World Learning's visitor exchange program.
In May, a group of Danish professionals traveled to various cities in the U.S., including Washington D.C., to work with U.S. professionals on ways to assimilate young immigrants into American society.
And Owens was part of the team that returned the favor, flying first to Copenhagen and then traveling to the Danish countryside to work with the Danish government in helping immigrants between 6 and 18 years of age from several countries assimilate to the Danish lifestyle.
I sat down with Kenny to discuss many aspects of his trip, from the work he was doing to the food he ate.
Me: Who were the main people you were trying to help?
Kenny: These were people from all over the world. Kids from Somalia. Kids from Iraq. Kids from India. Kids from Bosnia. So it was basically an immigrant population of kids from all over the world that were having problems. We were just trying to figure out ways and programs to help these kids feel like they're part of the culture.
Me: What was it like? You must have seen so many different cultures.
Kenny: It was really similar to a place like D.C. in the sense that you look at D.C. and people love to call D.C. a melting pot. But at the end of the day, the cultures or the ethnic backgrounds basically live together, associate together and don't really mix with other backgrounds and race. It's the same thing over there. What ends up happening is the Somalians stay in their group and live in their neighborhood. The Iraqis live in their neighborhood in their group.
Me: What were the schools there like compared to the ones you've worked in here?
Kenny: Super nice. Most of the schools were in new buildings, computer labs were amazing. It was interesting to see these schools are funded (well by the government), they're put together super well, they have good staff, and they really try to work to get these immigrants to learn the (Danish) language, which is an extremely difficult language, but they try to set them up.
Me: But are the schools pretty segregated?
Kenny: For the most part. I went to a few schools and went to one of their youth recreation centers, which was super interesting -- they had all different types of sports activities, it was a safe place for the kids to go, and it had a computer lab, and TV room and pool room; it was pretty neat and the staff was super together and supportive of the kids -- but at the same time, it's the same thing there (as in D.C.): It's all Indians and minorities hanging out together (and not assimilating).
Me: Did you see any sports over there?
Kenny: Handball's a big sport over there, and I did see some soccer. It's a totally different attitude over there. Teachers are looked at as a great profession, a prestigious profession. I also noticed that sports are extremely important and they're part of the curriculum, and the government mandates it that everybody is doing sports. A lot of the math teachers are sports instructors, and they go to college to learn math and sports. So it's an important part (of the curriculum) and everybody participates in it.
Me: After staying in a hotel in Copenhagen for the first week or so, you spent your final few days staying with a host family in Kolding. What was that like?
Kenny: It was cool. It was the first time I've done anything like that. They were interesting, super nice. I got to get a Danish meal. It definitely helped me get a better understanding of where they're coming from, because they live out in the country.
So just to get their perspective on immigration and what could be done, just realizing that there's so much that they don't know because of where they live (was interesting).
Me: What makes up a typical Danish meal?
Kenny: It was like a ball of meat and potatoes. It was like gravy. ... Potatoes are in every meal.
Me: You didn't really run into any language barriers there?
Kenny: Everybody spoke English. They teach English in schools. You've got to think, Denmark has like six million people and Danish is only spoken in Denmark. So when you leave Denmark, (you need to be able to speak another language).
Me: What were some of the coolest foreign words you heard?
Kenny: I only have one word that I learned while I was over there. The only reason I remember this is because it made no sense: So "hei hei" means "goodbye."
Me: What was the biggest thing that you took from the experience?
Kenny: Because I was traveling with eight, nine other people, one of the things that I took away is just being open to other people's views. Just being open and hearing people out and understanding that people have different points of views because they've had different experiences.
Me: What was the most fun thing you did?
Kenny: Hanging out with one of the guys who visited (D.C. in May as part of the program) and watching the UEFA Champions league on TV