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Comment: The Danske Dream

As US presidents contest their `American dream´, Singapore student Emmanuel Paul Ng says he has found the Danish one

Of late, I’ve been considering moving to Denmark for good. Why in the world would a city boy, used to the rush and bustle of city living, move to a far-too-quiet and cold place like Copenhagen, you ask? Well, we all know about the American Dream – I’m going to share what I think, is the “Danske Dream”.

Most of us are too familiar with the rat race of life. We slave away at school to get a proper job so that we can live a comfortable life. At home in Singapore, I find myself bound by the nagging expectations of realistic concerns and sometimes, just sometimes, I feel like I lose a sense of desire and passion for the things I do.

Things are different here in Denmark. From what I’ve experienced, with my housemates in particular, I get a sense of liberation from this stifling chain of motivations. The Danish world seems a happier place to me. A place where people are free to be who they want to be, without being overwhelmingly bogged down by the concerns of the material.

In awe of housemates’ courage

One of my housemates, who is a brilliant student of architecture, decided to take a year off from pursuing his career as an architect to study in a business school. He wanted to explore what he was capable of being – even if that meant realizing halfway through his studies at the business school that he’d rather starve than be a businessman.

Another housemate, at the age of 19, travelled for almost half a year in Nepal for a ‘dannelserejse’ or a journey of learning, growth and personal exploration. To quote her directly: ‘Some people go on holidays during their break year, but I chose to go on a journey’. A dannelserejse apparently, is something quite common to Danish people, or at least my housemates. Almost every other housemate of mine has journeyed through Africa for reasons ranging from internships at human rights organizations to building homes for the poor.

I remembered sitting in awe at how courageous they were to just leave home and school and work and do what they knew they needed to do. I vividly remember how deciding to study in Copenhagen for half a year gave me several panic attacks – there was no way I could just pack my bags and leave my job, responsibilities and my beloved (and slightly crazy) dog! Take a year off from my studies to explore a completely different field of education? You must be insane. I’d be broke trying to pay off my student loans! Journey for half a year in Nepal? As it was I could barely take leave from work for a weekend staycation.

Right to live own life

And then it hit me. They didn’t live with the same fears that I did. They didn’t need to worry about student loans because education is free in Denmark. They didn’t need to be overly concerned about employment because tertiary students here get a monthly allowance from the state.

They were free to grow, pursue their desires and live the Danske Dream – courtesy of the Danish welfare system. It’s a remarkable system that never fails to puzzle, intrigue and inspire me.

Here, pragmatism is often sidestepped in favour of something Danish people would die defending – universal equality. This value, which is embedded in their welfare system, recognizes that all of us, despite our flaws and differences, are fundamentally human beings. So it doesn’t matter if you’re a prostitute or a gardener, a homosexual city girl or a conservative country boy – all Danes have the right to live life the way they want and reach for the dreams they want to dream.

Found myself

Dreamy altruism aside, I am thoroughly aware that the Danish world is not a perfect world. Yes, they may have topped the charts of the happiness index, but they also have some of the highest suicide rates. Taxes can reach a ridiculous 70 per cent of their income and Europe’s crumbling economy doesn’t bode well for Denmark to continue affording free education, unemployment benefits and free healthcare for all Danes.

But that said, Denmark and the Danes have held fast, despite all odds, to protect the Danske Dream with a fortitude that would make many pragmatics envious (and maybe even slightly nauseated).

As I write this during my own dannelserejse, I know first-hand the joys and growth that freedom brings. Sure, I may not have taken off with as much ease and confidence as my housemates when they made their dannelserejse, but I’ve learnt, and I’ve grown, and I’ve found so much of myself despite my panic attacks. And if that’s what the Danske Dream is about, then I surely wouldn’t mind being part of that.

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