As I laced up my walking shoes to meet my grandma, mom, aunt, and adopted aunt, I heard the news – Shots fired at a cafe in Copenhagen.

My heart stopped.

Not only are terrorist attacks horrific on many levels – this one felt different. This one happened in a place I used to call “home.”

The Danes have played a big role in shaping me into the person, writer, and professional that I’ve become. The way this terrorist attack went down hit even deeper. It happened at an event held to discuss art and freedom of expression – two things that I hold very near and dear to my heart.

The Backstory

For my story to make sense, it’s important that you know a little bit about my family.

My grandma was born as a Dane. She immigrated through Ellis Island when she was five years old. My grandpa also had strong Danish roots even though he was born on American soil. Both my grandma and grandpa had friends and family that lived in Denmark and I grew up meeting these people when they came to visit my “wild, wild west” home town of Tucson.

That “adopted aunt” I mentioned I was meeting yesterday morning? I’ve grown up with her. She’s also Danish. This woman used to drive me to Kindergarten and help me make woven Danish heart ornaments. I grew up incredibly close to her. She is family.

At a local cultural festival, I used to be tasked with making aebleskiver (small, round pancakes that taste like heaven) when I was very young.

It’s safe to say that the Danish culture has always had a strong influence on my life, which is probably why I knew I had to live in this enchanting city for at least a small portion of my life… and that’s just what I did at the end of my college career.

Finding My Home in Copenhagen

When I was a sophomore at the University of Arizona, my grandparent’s housed a few guests from Denmark. Because these Danish visitors were my age, I volunteered to give them a tour of our University’s campus. When they left, we kept in touch.

The next summer, I did an internship in London. Because of my strong ties to Denmark, and because I kept in contact with the Danes who had come to visit only a few months earlier, I knew I had to make a weekend trip to Copenhagen.

That trip was life changing.

It was on this trip that I met my future “Danish parents.” I fell in love with them and the city of Copenhagen. It had the same fairytale look and feel that I always imagined it would. There was something special about this place.

When I returned to London, the wheels were set in motion for me to uproot my life and move to this incredible country.

I had to find a way to return to Copenhagen and live there…and I did.

One of my Danish friends that I met through my grandparents found me a spot at the Copenhagen Business School. I qualified for it, which meant that tuition was free. His parents had been looking to host a foreign exchange student. After meeting me they thankfully agreed that I wasn’t too bad of a person and I’d be an alright roommate for a few months.

I returned to Tucson for my last year of college at the University of Arizona. The year was a blur.

It started with the sobering news that there was a terrorist attack in London. This time, the attack felt a little more personal since London had been my home for two and a half months. Still, I pressed forward, knocked out the necessary classes and finalized all the necessary paperwork to make my move to Copenhagen possible.

At first, my plan was to stay in Copenhagen for six months. Then, I fell in love. I fell in love with the city, the people, the culture, the lifestyle, and a boy.

To get more time in the city and with the people I’d quickly grown to love, I actively pursued a second semester at Copenhagen Business School. This way, I could buy myself some time and get a job that’d let me stay in the country. The pursuit was a success. I was hired as an International Marketing Assistant by a software company. The job required an American with a marketing degree so I was the perfect fit.

As soon as I graduated from college, I found myself face-to-face with the Danish immigration department.

If you’ve ever tried to immigrate to another country, you know the stress it can cause. If you haven’t been in that position, it’s hard to grasp the multitude of emotions you experience. I grew up in a border town and I never knew. It’s one of the most challenging experiences a person will ever face. I was tugged in so many different directions.  I felt pulled back to my roots by the familiarity and ease of living. At the same time, I felt determined to make my home in Denmark. For months, the government wouldn’t let me work. They wouldn’t let me leave. For almost a year I was stuck without knowing what my future held. It was torture and throughout the experience I changed significantly.

Over the year and a half that followed, I got kicked out of the country (stamp in passport and all), appeared on the National news, appeared in the Danish version of the Wall Street Journal, met the minister of foreign affairs, sat with several lawyers, and all the while, tried to keep a normal life and a down-to-earth disposition. It didn’t always work. I was a complete basket case at the end of it all. I was exhausted – relieved to have finally been approved, but exhausted.

I had to go through it all only one year later when it came time to renew my visa and start from scratch. Could I do it? I didn’t think I could.

Throughout the year leading up to the renewal of my working visa, I had personal concerns that drew me back to my hometown in the United States. I couldn’t do it anymore.

With only a few months left on my working-visa before having to reapply, I moved back to Tucson.

It was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.

The Danish Influence

Since returning to the United States, I have changed jobs, got married, and started my own marketing writing business. This business is founded on the concept that businesses and PEOPLE can speak their minds and spread the messages they believe in.

It was this exact concept that was attacked in the Valentine’s Day terrorist attack.

I learned a lot during my time in Denmark. The Danish people are strong. These people helped me stay positive, focused, and determined while I was there AND after I left. They taught me to push through the bullshit red tape and have confidence in my worth.

One moment I’ll never forget during my time in Denmark had nothing to do with me – it had to do with Lars Vilks, the cartoonist who gained fame for his drawings of the prophet Muhammad.

I lived in Copenhagen when the cartoons were published. Watching the way the Danish people responded to the controversy was impressive, to say the least. Danes are strong and resilient.

My entire experience in Denmark – from speaking a foreign language on national news and fighting the government, to watching how the people of Denmark stood up for their beliefs – gave me confidence. It was because of the Danish influence that I was able to find my voice and have the courage to break out on my own.

I owe a lot to my experiences in that amazing country.

So where is this all going?

It’s going here – to a story about strength and resolve.

My time in Copenhagen gave me tremendous strength. I never thought I’d have the courage to speak my mind and tell my side of the story on National news or in the papers. The strength of the Danes I met helped me find that courage.

Now, that same freedom of speech is under attack.

Have you ever had the opportunity to speak up for what you believe in without fear of prosecution?

Your WORDS MATTER.

They’re how you express yourself, share your story, and connect human-to-human.

My journey is unique but the lessons I learned from it are not. One day, you could be sitting comfortably in your office chair putting together reports and chatting about the latest office gossip. The next, you could be faced with an experience that shakes you to your core and forces you to speak out.

Life isn’t always going to feel comfortable. People and events will shake your world. It’s how you react to these events that make you who you are and strengthen your character. Silencing your voice in the fear of terror isn’t the answer. Ignoring the problems in front of us because of fear of retaliation isn’t the answer.

Why Share This With You?

It took me 31 years to start feeling confident enough to hit “publish” on my writing and openly share my thoughts and opinions. Truth be told, it’s still a struggle at times. But it’s a struggle that I feel enormously blessed to have the right to pursue.

I share this with you to say thank you.

Thank you for making me uncomfortable sometimes. Thank you for disagreeing with me. Thank you for speaking your mind, sharing your thoughts, and kicking my ass once in awhile. And more importantly, thank you for giving me the platform to have a voice. So many people live without that ability. We can’t let terrorists continue to try to steal that away from us.

As my grandma, mom, aunt, and adopted aunt walked away, we didn’t talk about the terrorist attacks on Copenhagen. We talked about the Danish culture, the events in our personal lives that matter, and the many, many, MANY ways we’re each so fortunate. We laughed, we admired each other’s strengths and we talked openlyfreely about the challenges we faced.

The entire time, we felt incredibly blessed to have that right. You are too.

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