By Theresa Nguyen, Freelance Journalist. The article was originally published in DANES 2, 2019.
In 2008, Céline Raffel turned 18. This meant that she had become an adult and, as such, she could no longer participate in the yearly Summer School organised by Danes Worldwide. Having spent seven consecutive summers with the programme, the final farewell triggered a plethora of emotions.
“I attended the Danish Summer School seven times until I wasn’t allowed anymore, until I became too old so to speak, because once you’ve turned 18, you’re not allowed to be in the program, and that was downright tough as 2008 was the final year for many of us. We cried so much – even the boys cried,” Céline Raffel recalls 11 years later.
Since 1981, the Danish Summer School has welcomed thousands and thousands of Danish children who are living abroad with their families. The summer programme is a compact learning opportunity for international youths who wish to improve their Danish language skills and acquire knowledge about cultural practices and traditions in Denmark. The intensity of the 16-day programme provides a solid platform for building friendships according to Céline Raffel.
“The Summer School gave us something special. There’s a different kind of bond when you get to experience Denmark with a bunch of kids who are in the same boat as you, being Danes who live abroad, but who are still closely connected to Denmark. Spending every summer together was just fantastic, and that’s why we promised each other that we’d stay in contact forever.”
Sharing blood from East to West
The original group of five kids who met in 2002 has expanded to include more than 20 people today. Some only attended the Summer School once, while others attended on and off, and one member was invited into the group after their final summer together because his best friend was one of the originals.
“Even though many of us in the group haven’t been there from the beginning, every member is valued equally. Once you’ve been to the Summer School, you’re one of us. In a way, it’s like we’re sharing blood,” Céline Raffel explains.
Back in the early 2000s, the group kept in contact through email. After the rise of social media, the members created a Facebook group, which is still their primary platform for arranging events or sharing daily updates with each other.
“With the help of the internet, we’ve managed to stay in contact rather easily. Most of us have returned to Denmark now – to Copenhagen primarily. I moved here in 2010, but before then we were spread all over the world from Luxembourg to Cyprus, Japan, China, France, the UK and the US.”
Danes communicating in English
Although everybody in the group today speaks Danish – at varied levels of proficiency – their shared language of communication has remained English.
“That’s how we built the group, because many couldn’t speak Danish back then. Two of my closest friends and I all speak Danish fluently, but when we’re together we still communicate in English. That’s how it has always been, so it would feel strange to suddenly switch to Danish,” says Céline Raffel.
Developing Danish proficiency is something that all members of the group have worked tirelessly to achieve. Still, they have all battled with the challenge of not speaking like native Danes, particularly during their first years of living in Denmark.
“None of us speaks perfect Danish. In the beginning, our vocabulary was limited, we weren’t familiar with the Danish sayings and we were shy about speaking the language. This gave us a feeling of being included [among native Danes], yet not entirely because we grew up abroad.”
This article is part 1 of 2. You can read part 2 here.