One of the primary goals of the "højskole experience" is to give students the opportunity to develop their aptitude in particular physical disciplines, as well as to encourage their personal growth and teach them valuable social skills. Therefore the "social aspect" of Gerlev is pretty important to the way that things work at the school and the time at school spent outside of classes is not seen as simply "free time". Most evenings have one social event planned, sometimes more, and these can include movie showings, dodge-ball games, choir practices, evening parkour jams, football matches (to play or watch), or various other "højskole events".
The task of planning these events is divided up between the students, who are put into one of seven "family groups" when they arrive at school. These families meet weekly and function as small social units, discussing issues at school, eating cake (baked by the students), and planning two separate weeks of social events over the course of the semester. This planning includes leading the morning assemblies, organizing evening activities, and helping out with preparations for weekend events. Each family is also responsible for a number of daily cleaning tasks throughout the school, which are divided up between the members and performed in the free block before lunch.
|Enjoying the sunshine with my family group. Photo courtesy of Rafaela Cappai.|
|Within less than 24 hours of being at Gerlev- already dressed up for something. Photo courtesy of the Gerlev Facebook page.|
|Ready for the "Zombie Run". Photo courtesy of Louise Burmeister.|
|Dodge-ball is way more fun when there are 100+ people playing in crazy costumes. Photo courtesy of Lotte Møller.|
|After-class activities are not limited to the gym or parkour park. Photo courtesy of the Gerlev Facebook page .|
Weekends at Gerlev come in 3 different shapes and sizes. The first are Home-going Weekends where students are allowed and encouraged to go home to visit friends and family, and foreign students either accompany them or hang out on campus. There have only been a few of these over the past semester and they were very enjoyable, whether they were spent hanging out on campus or visiting new-found friends around Copenhagen.
Before continuing I should mention that Gerlev is a "dry campus" (consumption of alcohol is forbidden on Gerlev grounds) with the exception of Saturday night, when the student-run bar sells beer, wine, cider, and champagne during dinner and for the party. This took me by surprise upon my arrival, especially since Danish youth have one of the highest alcohol consumption rates in Europe, I've come to agree with the administration that it is beneficial for the overall atmosphere at the school. While at first glance it may seem a bit draconian to forbid the students to drink during the week, the result is a much more active and engaging atmosphere during the week, and hangovers can't be used as an excuse for early-morning workouts. The flip-side of this is that Saturday nights can get pretty crazy as the party ends up being one of the main highlights of the week!
|Working at the student-run bar during one of the parties. Photo courtesy of Dennis Madsen.|
The second type of weekend is the Student Weekend. These are organized by the students, who form a committee to plan and run the events of the weekend, with a staff "adviser" that is on hand to help out if needed and to offer their insights and expertise. Most students stay on campus for these weekends, although they are allowed to go home with a valid reason. The themes for these weekends would best be described as eclectic, some of them from the past semester included:
|Grease/50's theme. Photo by Julie Runge.|
|The "Night & Day" weekend where nighttime and daytime activities were flipped for the entire weekend (7am became 7pm). Photo courtesy of Bea Valand.|
|The morning (ie 4pm) after... Photo courtesy of Elín Pórsdóttir.|
|The "Barbershop" at the pre-game session for the "RnB Weekend". Photo taken by Dennis Madsen.|
|Re-working Rachacuca's look for the party. Photo by Dennis Madsen.|
|Admiring my handiwork. Photo by Dennis Madsen.|
|Some of you may have thought that you knew the "real Bruno".... Photo by Dennis Madsen.|
|Getting into the mindset for the night. Photo by Dennis Madsen.|
*Note: Gerlev students love just about any excuse to get dressed up. This can be a bit annoying at times, especially when you don't want to have to dress up as a pirate just to go schmucking about in the rain on a Thursday evening, but it always seems to be worth the effort once things are in full swing (and it makes for some pretty amusing party outfits.)
|Welcome to Gerlev.|
The third type of weekend at Gerlev is the Højskole Weekend and these are essentially the "no-holds-barred-go-all-in" type of weekend here. Students are expected to stay on campus and to participate in the activities, which usually start after classes on Friday afternoon and continue through Saturday night or Sunday morning. These weekends are led by two teachers who are assigned their "dates" at the beginning of the semester. The teachers take the preparations for these weekends pretty seriously and really get into making them as memorable as possible with the help of a small committee of students that helps out with setting up and running the weekend. The important thing about these weekends is that the activities aren't limited to the party Saturday night, but usually last all weekend and can involve anything from planning a circus act within a family group to participating in a capoeira workshop.
|The set-up for the circus performance by students at the first party. Photo courtesy of Julie Runge.|
|Students performing at the circus event. Photo courtesy of Julie Runge.|
|Tine and Mikkel (Brazilian weekend organizers) with 2 of the 3 Brazilians on campus. Photo courtesy of Lucas Lima.|
|Tine teaching "forró" dancing at a weekend workshop. Photo courtesy of Rafaela Cappai.|
|More of the dance workshop. Photo courtesy of Rafaela Cappai.|
|3 Brazilians, 2 danish girls, 1 unknown. Photo courtesy of Rafaela Cappai.|
|A powerhouse set of DJ's at one of the parties (they have day jobs as teachers at Gerlev). Photo courtesy of Rafaela Cappai.|
|Any school with a headmaster that can successfully pull off this look has to be a bit special. Photo courtesy of Dennis Madsen.|
One of the great things that I've noticed about the social life at Gerlev is that the teachers often get as excited for the weekends as the students. Having been on campus for these events in past years, they know the atmosphere that takes over, and they seem to take a really genuine interest in helping students make the best possible event (I also suspect that there is also some good-natured rivalry to make the "best party of the semester"). Many of the teachers have themes for weekends that they are particularly well known for (many have some pretty fantastic outfits for them) but they are always up to try out new ideas and themes to keep things fresh.
|Despite being at the top of their respective fields/disciplines, the teachers at Gerlev know how and when to have fun- this is not their regular attire. Photo courtesy of Dennis Madsen.|
Sundays at Gerlev are special for a number of reasons. The first is that there is Sunday brunch, the one meal of the week that students look forward to more than any other. This is partly because it is a chance to see who will be doing the "walk of shame/victory" into the dining hall and to discuss the previous night's events, but also because after a long hard night of dancing and partying the night before, the scrambled eggs, bacon, pancakes, fruit, and cinnamon bread that come out only for Sunday brunch are enough to get most people out of bed way before they would dream of otherwise.
The agenda for the rest of the day is usually pretty weather dependent (and influenced by how crazy the party was the night before) but usually involves various group activities. "Hygge-time" is a pretty popular choice for those that are sleep deprived, hung over, or just want to chill out. "Hygge" is a Scandinavian term for something that I haven't really witnessed elsewhere in my travels. If pressured, I'd probably describe it in English as a "cozy-chill-comfortable-physical-group-social-cuddle", and it can be performed anywhere, watching movies, outside in the sun, in the lounge, on a bus, in a dining hall... While at first glance it may look like a bunch of people cuddling together in a big group, but I've found that it's actually pretty important to the way that many of the students get to know and trust each other here. At first I found it a bit intense for my American (I guess we still have some Puritan traces in our culture) background but now I feel like I understand it much better.
For the students that have more energy on Sunday afternoons hanging out in the sun, training in the parkour park, messing around on the beach volley courts, or playing Frisbee golf are always pretty popular options. Regardless, this is a day for hanging out, getting to know the other students, and enjoying the atmosphere at school. Compared to the Sunday afternoons that I experienced in college (15-18 mile runs followed by lots of homework that had been postponed from earlier in the weekend), Sundays at Gerlev have been a really nice change and seem to help me (and many other students) recharge for the action-packed week ahead.
|Catching some early-spring sunshine while watching the school football team. Photo courtesy of Sisse Rasmussen.|
|Tree climbing challenges with the MEAT Squad on a Sunday afternoon. Photo courtesy of Lotte Møller.|
|Hygge and sunshine. Photo courtesy of Lotte Møller.|
|Photo courtesy of Lotte Møller.|
|Sunday afternoon "informal jam" at the parkour park. Photo courtesy of Dennis Madsen.|