By Kurda Yar,

One thing that we human beings naturally do, when we are in a new environment, is to adapt and adjust in accordance to the new surroundings. So, observing, learning, and acquainting myself with new things were inevitable tasks in my newly arrived home country. The risky smuggling journey, seeking asylum, and the alteration from an Eastern to a Western society were colossal experiences. Nonetheless, despite their magnitude and my enthusiasm for adaptation, the problem was, being an asylum seeker meant that I was very limited in how, when and where to start.

I had books on me to read and I started sketching passengers on my tiny notebook stickers on the long boring trips (2000)

I knew for sure that I had to start setting up an expedition to explore the outside territories of the jungle where my residence camp was situated. As a language lover, I knew learning the language was the golden key for opening the doors of opportunities; therefore, I wanted to get as much teaching as possible. I discovered various free Danish classes in Copenhagen, so I decided to set my expedition towards this capital city with more regular visits. Additionally, Copenhagen was undoubtedly more vibrant, with more potential to meet new people, and it was time to get a sense of what Denmark looked like as a society.

The journey by bus and train including waiting times between the transport links varied from 1.5 to 3-4 hours depending on the time and the day of the year. It required an all-zone day ticket to visit the capitol, which was of course too expensive to do regularly. I volunteered as much as I could in the camp to get enough transport vouchers to make these regular visits.

While decisively I prepared myself to learn that awkward language, which I already detected was a very problematic one, I got more anxious by realising that anecdotally even the Danes themselves think their language is difficult and often don’t understand each other. This explains the common sentence they often repeat while talking: “undskyld, hvad siger du?” In English: “Sorry, what are you saying?” Another joke the Danes have about their language is that talking Danish is like having hot potatoes in your mouth! Great, I thought, let me strengthen my vocal muscles with practising eating some hot potatoes.

I remember once, during my early days in the camp, on my way back “home” on a bus from the nearest city Roskilde, I overheard some teenagers chatting away and I tried to find even a single word that was slightest recognisable to my brain cells. I couldn’t capture anything…. literally nothing. I got very frustrated and worried this meant I would be learning a new language completely from scratch. Studying again was inevitable, because I knew Iraqi degrees were not recognised in Western countries. How long would it take me to learn Danish before starting the university? I was clueless.

Sketching Passengers on my notebook stickers, 2pm 08.08.2000

I was determined to look forward by imagining the possibility of having a future in my potential new country, and unquestionably I had to embark on learning the language as fast as possible; conversely though, something else was deepest inside me pulling me back, questioning ‘Was it worth it?’. Was it worth the time and effort to master eating hot potatoes without burning my mouth?’ Why should I put energy into such a bizarre thing even without being sure I would be allowed to stay in the country?

The uncertainty battered me again – What if my asylum claim was refused and like many other refused asylum seekers, I was threatened with being sent back home? Would I still be enthusiastic to learn a language spoken by 5.5 million people which can’t be used anywhere else in the world but inside its borders? What if I spend all my energy in learning Danish hoping for a future and like many others end up waiting for unknown years in the camps? By then alas, even though I might be eloquent and have sharpened hot potato eating skills, what is the use of it, if you are still patrolling on the margins of its spoken society?

I was very conscious of time which made me restless. I had to kill the time before it killed me. Waiting with an unknown future in the country of arrival makes you feel useless, unwelcomed and rejected. How can I pass my time in a way that best protects me while I am kept on hold?

Sketching Passengers on my notebook stickers (2000)

To get rid of these dilemmas, I needed to make a final resolution with myself. After calculating the pros and cons, the hypothesis for my concluding theory were:

A) Time is passing inevitably; my case is with the authorities and I have to wait for my destiny. The best approach to endure the lingering time was learning Danish effectively for the following reasons:

First, embarking on learning Danish effectively would get the ball of ‘positive thinking’ rolling, hence envisaging a successful asylum case and hoping for a future which automatically meant gaining some good doses of my daily dopamine. Dopamine, known as the feel-good neurotransmitter—a chemical released by the brain – ships information between neurons. Thinking positively and feeling good is crucial for increasing dopamine, which in turn boosts the psychic immune system and thus makes it easier to survive crises.

Second, if I am lucky enough to get my asylum, I would be much better off, I haven’t wasted my time, and apparently I would have progressed in Danish and would start at a higher level and thus more quickly start university, so it is worth the effort.

Sketching Passengers waiting at the bus stop on my notebook stickers (2000)

B) By contrast, if I do not make the effort to learn Danish:

First, what else I can do to pass my days while at the same time being engaged enthusiastically in the future? Second, being unproductive without imaging a future leads to ‘negative thinking’, depression and high levels of stress, which according to scientific research results in a drastic decrease in dopamine levels. Also, a shortage of dopamine most probably puts you in a vicious cycle of bad energy, with more likelihood for causing other various ailments. 

Another important effect of not learning Danish would be not being able to understand what is going on around me: the news, the people and the definite bullying and racism I would encounter. This would add further stress to the already stressful ‘waiting for asylum’ situation.  So, I needed some language acquisition to strengthen my defence mechanism. Lastly, if I were lucky enough to get asylum without learning Danish, I would start language school at much lower level thus much longer time to start university. 

So, I reckoned it was better to get my water bottle and packed lunch ready for the language classes for the sake of keeping my neuro- transmitter ship ‘Dopamine’ sailing.