One of the reasons I chose to come to Denmark was because DIS allowed me to create a class schedule unique to my particular academic interests. At the moment, I’m fascinated by old age and the struggles that it puts onto elderly individuals, especially in a culture where we tend to shuttle our old out of sight. One of my post-graduation goals is to develop a documentary film project focused on a cross-cultural exploration of old age in order to determine if there is any way to soften the difficulties associated with aging in our society. For my European Documentary Film class final project, I decided to do a sort of preliminary exploration into this topic. This work portrays my first experiences setting up interviews on my own, and looking back there is so much that I realize I could have done differently to improve the final product. That being said, I’m certainly proud of this piece and am excited to begin developing my next project. I would recommend watching it in 720p HD for the crispest image. Enjoy!
In this blog post, I would like to compare and contrast two experiences that occurred while I was travelling with my friend Nick Horst during our programs independent travel break. Family, hospitality, immigration and “genuine” travel seem to be the common themes that connect these two events. I believe the best strategy for framing this post is to dive right into the stories, then finish with my own critical thoughts and analyses.
The first story takes place on a rainy afternoon in Brussels. We had only scheduled a single afternoon in the city, and we were using the internet in our hostel at 3pm trying to figure out the best way to spend our limited time. So far, a visit to the grand market with a waffle and beer was the only thing we had planned. While looking at a map of the Brussels suburbs, I noticed a small waterpark called Oceade that was open until 9pm. Although Nick was hesitant at first, I knew that we had to go.
Unlike American waterparks, Oceade had almost no staff or regulations. Nick and I jumped into the slides at the same time, rolling around while trying to do tricks with our inner tubes. I hadn’t felt such childish fun in a long time. After a few hours of reckless sliding, we headed to the sauna center where we met three large bellied, mustachioed Romanians.
Although they were all married with kids and looked middle aged, the oldest was only 24. They invited us to dinner at a Romanian restaurant in the city, an offer that Nick and I would never refuse. After getting dressed and greasing up our hair, we packed into their car and drove into the city. While driving, one of them started a facebook live and told Nick and I to pretend that we were in Los Angeles with them for their friends; needless to say it was simultaneously strange and hilarious.
What struck me most about these three Romanians was their commitment to family, hospitality and structure. All were married with kids, highly religious, worked six days a week and spent their weekend going to the same sauna and eating at the same restaurant with each other. Nick and I were the first guests that had joined this weekly ritual of theirs; apparently they had once invited some Canadians who had refused. They repeatedly told me the lengths they would go if their family (or Nick and I, their new lifelong friends) would go to if they were ever needed. 5 years, 10 years, 20 years down the road, Nick and I would always have a place to stay in Romania where food and money would be available if we needed it. There is no doubt that this sort of commitment to family is lacking in many American families; would you leave work and drive 200 miles if your uncle’s car had suddenly broken down? Moreover, they were offering us, strangers, the same hospitality they would offer their family members.
The second part of this story takes place in Umbria and Le Marche, two countryside provinces in central Italy about an hour from Rome. We travelled there to visit my extended family, a branch of my family tree connected solely by my grandfather’s mother who immigrated to Colorado from Pergola and married my great-grandfather, a Welsh coal miner. Nick and I spent two days in this beautiful area in an incredible farmhouse, and the hospitality that we experienced was unbelievable. I ate some of the best meals and wines of my life and felt re-connected to a side of my family that had really only interacted with my grandfather. Few spoke good English, so to communicate we had to find a middle ground of English and Italian. As such, the amount of Italian that I learned in such a short time was unbelievable. One of my proudest moments was having a fully Italian conversation over a cigarette with the oldest man of the household during a big family lunch.
There is no doubt that my experiences in Brussels and Italy were very similar; these are two cultures that live and breathe hospitality. As soon as Nick and I were recognized to be a part of their circle, there was nothing that they would not do for us. However, there was one crucial difference between the two that has been nagging in my mind; whether I was family blood or not. It has become very clear that the only reason Nick and I were welcomed in Italy is because I was part of their family. Often the family’s loud conversation revolved around exactly who I was related to and how (he is Carlo’s grandson, who is Nonna’s son, who is your cousin, etc.). I remember one man in particular who had freckles, brown hair and a red beard like I do. After I called him “mi familia”, he said jokingly, “let’s hope so, or else I would have to go get the gun”.
Moreover, although my experiences regarding my family were generally incredibly positive, there were moments of intense racism, sexism and homophobia. They are highly anti-immigrant and strongly believe that women should be below men. It seems clear to me that a lot of this sentiment stems from how closed off their community is. They have lived in the same small towns for generations and know almost everyone; of course they are not going to be welcoming to someone who looks different and does things differently. Like I mentioned above, the Romanians accepted Nick and I despite our foreign status. However, it is quite possible that they were so accepting because they were foreigners themselves; Romanians in Belgium separated from their homeland. Who knows how different our experience would have been if we were in their hometown sauna. Ultimately, these experiences reminded me just how inhospitable Americans and Danish people can be. There is so much that I can learn to do make my family, friends and strangers feel welcome while in my company.
I consider my first two posts crucial to introducing myself and this project, yet I have failed to discuss the significance of my blogs title. As such, I figure that it is finally time to discuss who Dwayne is and how he has become a part of my experience in Copenhagen. In doing so, the blog will be fully introduced and I can move on to more supplementary topics. To complete this analysis, it is crucial to understand who Dwayne was in the beginning and what he is now. I will conclude this post by discussing the possibilities of Dwayne’s future, although we must remember that his future is inherently unstable and unknown.
I first met Dwayne in Pemberton, Canada last summer in a camping chair eating mac n’ cheese with some friends. He was wearing a green and white rugby jersey with the sleeves cut off and an Indiana Jones hat with a GoPro glued to it. What I first noticed about Dwayne was his sense of humor. It seemed as though his jokes, if you could call them jokes, were designed to make him laugh and no one else. They were packed with obscure references from across the last two decades that few, if any, in a social gathering would understand. Dwayne’s jokes make him laugh like crazy, while everyone else laughs at the confusing nature of the moment. I also recognized Dwayne for his heightened states of social awareness, physical stamina, and musical prowess.
Ice Skating in Frederiksberg
In case I haven’t made it clear, Dwayne was not just some random traveler that I met in the Canadian wilderness. Dwayne was Devin, or at least a persona that Devin could shift into (like the cover of an Animorphs book). The catalysis of Dwayne’s creation is unknown, and I consider this a crucial aspect of his story as a character. He did not come about because of a single event. Instead, he arose naturally from the accumulation of my experiences. Last semester, I continued to notice Dwayne, although there was no doubt that his presence was beginning to dwindle. Part of me felt that this was a sad loss, because I enjoyed having another side of myself that I didn’t quite understand.
Pictured: Nick Horst, another Whitman student studying at DIS.
Prior to my departure from Copenhagen, I decided that I wanted to fully embrace my Dwayne persona. My plan was simple; I was going to introduce myself to everyone, even the teachers in my classes, as Dwayne. Studying abroad would offer me the perfect chance to try to craft an alter ego and live my life under another name for a short amount of time. In order to prepare myself for the transformation, I felt I needed a slight change to my physical appearance, so I grew out my ginger beard and dyed my hair silver. I stepped onto my flight from San Francisco to Copenhagen, ready to begin my life as Dwayne.
A Danish Birthday Party in Ballerup
Ultimately, the plan didn’t really work for two crucial reasons. The first reason is that I underestimated how deeply rooted our names are in our conscious and subconscious memories. When someone would ask what my name is, saying Dwayne nonchalantly was actually pretty difficult. I often stuttered or had to backtrack. Many times I would just say Devin without even thinking about it. The second is that even though I was introducing myself as a different name, I wasn’t acting any differently. Dwayne was no longer really a persona; it was just one of my names. I found myself pondering about Dwayne’s current nature and significance.
Over time, I came to realize what Dwayne has become to me while I’ve been in Denmark. He is no longer merely an eccentric persona. To me, he represents the characteristics of myself at this stage of my life that I am most proud of and find the most unique. I associate Dwayne with my budding interests in both medicine and filmmaking, because who else would have two passions that are so polar? Moreover, because I’m delving into these subjects so deeply while studying at DIS, it seems as though Dwayne is present within my academics and not just my social circles.
Semmelweis University Heart and Vascular Center in Budapest
I also credit Dwayne with my rekindled interests in fitness and rugby. Since last summer, my passion and interest in rugby and general fitness was starting to fade. In Copenhagen, my desire to push my body to it’s limits has returned. Thanks to the gym at my kollegium, the rugby team at Copenhagen Business School, and the boxing gym of an old British man underneath a French bistro, my body is once again on the path of improvement through hard work.
Boxing Gym underneath La Petanque bistro Szechenyi Bath in Budapest
However, these characteristics that Dwayne represents are not separated from my own identity. In fact, they are the most important parts of my identity at this moment. As such, Dwayne is no longer separated from Devin; the two have become conjoined and the line between them grows ever blurrier. You can follow Dwayne on instagram at d.r.dwayne