My full name is Maria Lykke Salling (fun fact - Lykke means happiness in Danish). I'm half Swedish, born in Norway and have grown up in Denmark - so I guess I have hygge and those deeply rooted Scandinavian socialist views running through my blood in large measures.
As I work two days a week, and study the rest of them I enjoy kicking back with good books in my spare time. I also greatly enjoy keeping up with Danish TV series, I work in television though so I do usually keep on top of what's a cracking in the Scandi TV scene, especially SKAM - a Norwegian series that is highly recommendable! Oh, and I've recently gotten into slam poetry again, especially the political kind.
The thing I love the most about Manchester is the diversity, the friendliness and the urban creative vibe you get wherever you go in this city. I love many places in this city, but I think my favourite place is the Northern Quarter (even though that place drains my account quicker than I can recite my coffee order) because all the cafes there remind me of home. Takk is on my ultimate shortlist of places to go to soak in the hygge. Besides that, I enjoy all the parks and the Peak District - like the completely over privileged Scandinavian I am, I grew up by the sea and next to a lovely forest so now I crave to be near nature on a regular basis.
I don't know what I wish someone had told me before University, maybe that I probably shouldn't fill two suitcases with books and only bring two sets of clothes for the first couple of months. But I wouldn't have listened anyways, couldn't leave my best books behind!
I think every student gets it - if your home is two towns over, or an 18-hour flight away, I think we can all get the horrible pang of feeling out of place and missing the well-known.
Sure, the first two or three months are exciting, exhilarating even. Everything is new and you’re just too busy experiencing everything, dancing on tables and basking in the feeling of independence. But when uni life becomes routine, and you’ve spent your last pound on some cup noodles that need to last you two weeks, you start getting the blues. You want to be home where someone else is the grown up, where you can see all your loved ones in the flesh and not just follow their lives from afar. Not to mention the language barrier! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to say something or have partaken in political discussions and ended up not being able to use the right words to explain your views. I promise - I’m smart in Danish!
As a half-Swedish, born in Norway and grown up in Denmark girl, I have a few tricks up my sleeve to cope with the grey clouds. Danes were named the happiest nation of the world after all!
First things first, start with calling your friends and family at home. You might think that hearing their voices will only make you miss them more - and you’re right. It will. At first.
But after you’ve gotten over the first few times and pangs of ‘this is not like seeing your face, and I just want a hug’ (the first couple of times I called home, I ended up sobbing my heartache down the phone) - it does get better. Eventually you’ll feel better when you hear from your loved ones and know they’re happy. Another thing that seriously helped me was taking my phone on walks. A couple of times a week I called one of my best friends from home, and we take walks while chatting. Walking and talking seriously helps - the walking distracts from the fact that you can’t reach out and touch them. Simply putting them on speaker or in headphones while you get on with chores is a good thing too, sometimes just knowing they are on the other end of the line prioritising their time to be with you is all you need.
Sit down, and have a good long think about what you miss most about home, maybe even make a list. Is it the buzzing nightlife, the cosy atmosphere of your favourite café, the nature or your mothers home cooking maybe? Whatever it is – Manchester has endless possibilities and I’m sure you can recreate it somehow. Personally, as a true Nordic through and through, I’ve been incredibly privileged growing up in close proximity to nature in all its forms. I miss the forests and especially the sea, and as soon as I return home I have to go to the beach and let the water wash any troubles away. So, I have fallen in love with Peak District, and long walks surrounded by fresh air and nature can cure any exam stress you might fell. I recommend bringing good shoes and a friend, and then even a rainy walk will be a good one.
A common Danish saying is that ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, only people not dressed for rain!’ If the cold gets the better of you, there are pubs scattered around the area where you can cuddle up and enjoy a cuppa or a beer to warm your insides. If it’s the fancy pillows, pictures, paintings and the cupboard filled with a million different kinds of tea, then fill your room with stuff like that. Buy pillows galore in Primark or B&M, print out family pictures and search Google for high-resolution posters, thrift for old frames and always buy the special teas on offer in your local supermarket. If it’s a café or park – Manchester has a vast array of both and I ensure you there will be something for you.
I’m Danish, and no one does hygge better than the Danes. As I come from a teeny tiny nation, I become incredibly patriotic when going abroad and the fact that this very Danish concept has travelled fills me with unhealthy amounts of pride and joy. I could sit here and list all the Danish things I’m most proud of (obviously Hamlet) all day.
Hygge is many things, and different people have different definitions. To me hygge is coming home to a house full of family and smiles after playing in the snow all day and gather around the fireplace to drink tea or hot chocolate. However, Manchester sees hardly any snow (how do you have Christmas when you can’t build snow lanterns?!), so I have had to create another kind of hygge.
Light a million candles, make the biggest pot of tea possible, surround yourself with fairy lights, wrap yourself in blankets, switch your phone off and watch a feel-good film or read a book. This is also a good 24-hour breakup cure. When it comes to hygge, the more the merrier – just swap the books or films with board games. You’ll create new memories and the more memories you make, the more this new place will feel like home.
Find scrap pieces of paper and start painting and drawing, start writing that thing you’ve been thinking about for ages and ages, maybe you’ve always wanted to learn how to dance or play an instrument, so go and do it. It will help your homesickness tremendously to pour all your energy into something new. Maybe even jump on the new millennial trend and create your own urban garden in your tiny room. There are numerous options for you in Manchester - I’ve even been to a few slam poetry gatherings and some dance classes. This also gives you material to discuss with your friends on your ‘walks’, it will make them so happy to know that you are happy and are pursuing new things.
Okay, so you don’t necessarily need to put on the backpack and hike across the world to explore new things, but start biking or walking places instead of using public transport. You will see more of the city and perhaps find new places to go for your post-class drinks or your pre-lecture coffee. My best advice is to find a place that makes you feel home. There will definitely be somewhere that does food from your country, even Danish food is represented in the Manchester jungle and my go to places are KRObar and Takk. KRObar for its Danish dishes, the only place I have found so far that sells real rye bread, smørrebrød (open faced sandwiches) and a heavenly flæskesteg and shooting star.
Takk, a place in Northern Quarter, is a place I stumbled upon on my way to work and had to check it out – Tak means thank you in Danish. The decoration of the place falls in line with every Scandinavian tradition, and on their website they say it’s ‘a big fat love letter to Iceland’ – an island the Vikings once occupied so the style there and in Scandinavia is pretty much the same. It feels like home and my god, do they serve good coffee. If you have yet to find hygge, then this place provides it in large measures.
I hope these tips have helped, if just a little. Happiness comes when you feel comfortable and valued. So create your friend circle, and make tons of memories. Make your room your safe place and fill your circle of friends with people ready to catch you if you fall. Appreciate the moments you’re in and if you feel down then allow yourself to feel down for 24 hours, and then distract yourself.
Fake it till you make it. Now go enjoy your time in this crazy, lovely city.