Meet Marcus: ‘I feel happier than I have been in a very long time’
21-year-old Marcus from North Carolina, U. S. shares the highs and lows of his life thus far, and fears he may have played the most expensive game of Uno ever.
Meet ’n’ Greet
This semester, a fresh intake of students from all over the world embarks on a 4-year journey towards qualifying as teachers at UC Syd Haderslev. Who are they, and what brought them to this corner of Denmark? In this series, ESN introduces you to some of the new international faces on campus.
People associate North Carolina with rednecks and cowboys, but I’m from a city called Charlotte which is like a metropolis in the middle of red-neck country — it is known as ‘the New York of the South’. You get people from all sorts of ethnic and cultural backgrounds there, and I love that diversity.
My mum is Danish. I have 25 family members here in Denmark, and only six in the States. Growing up, I spent most of my summers in Ribe. I didn’t learn the language in earnest, but I picked up little bits here and there, like ‘tak for mad’ (‘thanks for dinner’) and ‘skal vi ha’ is?’ (‘are we going to have ice cream?’).
I live in student housing with my friend Otto, who is on the teaching course with me. We’re both kind of shy and anxious and so, when we first met, we didn’t really know how to approach each other. But then the day before term started, Otto comes up to me and goes, ‘hey man, do you want to walk to school together tomorrow?’, and from that moment we just clicked. We’ve been within arm’s reach of each other pretty much since then. He goes off to ice hockey practice, and he’s like, ‘what are you going to do while I’m at practice?’, and I’m like, ‘wait for you to get back…?’
I had a rough childhood, got in with a bad crowd at an early age. There have been times in my life when I have struggled to smile, so now that I feel better, I try to make at least one person smile every day.
When I started high school, I didn’t really have any friends. In the States, your address determines which high school you go to, and my parents’ house was right on the boundary between two very different school districts. All my friends went to the school on the one side of the boundary, and I went to the other one. I quickly fell in with the wrong kind of kids, and at fourteen years old I was drinking and smoking cannabis. I went on to LSD, cocaine… at fifteen I was dealing drugs. At the time, I’d do anything to seem ‘cool’ in other people’s eyes.
My parents decided it was time for an intervention after I’d had a run-in with the police. They sent me off on a wilderness therapy programme. For two months, I hiked and camped out in the Utah desert with a group of young people who were all struggling in some way. Every day you do group therapy sessions and you are also assigned an individual therapist. The idea is that you separate yourself from the outside world in order to look inward and address your issues. Completing that programme, combined with another 6-month transitional programme, helped me get back on my feet and I was able to finish high school.
Working as a carer was what inspired me to pursue teaching. In 2018 I took on a job looking after a 16-year-old boy with muscular dystrophy in Ribe. It was a very humbling experience in the sense that it made me grateful for things I had taken for granted up until that point, like being able to go to the bathroom or take a shower by myself. I also really enjoyed being in school with him, where I experienced how classes were taught and the connection that the Danish teachers had with their students. It was very different from the style of teaching I was used to from the States. And it struck me that teaching — the Danish way — was something I wanted to do.
I’ve been dealing with anxiety and depression for most of my life. I’ve been on and off medication since I was twelve. In high school I came off medication for a while because I was doing ok and I didn’t want a ‘medicine brain’, but then, on my gap year it started setting in again, and I’ve been on a couple of prescription drugs since then — but I do want to cut back soon because right now I feel happier than I have been for a very long time.
Otto tells me I need to get in better shape, so we go for runs together most mornings. I hate it. I’m soar and I hate getting up at 6.30 am to run but if he’s going do it, I’m coming along. I really respect him for doing it, though. He says we are ‘rebranding’ me.
One of the things I love about Denmark is that people hold themselves accountable. Take the issue of global warming. Danes make an effort to use electricity conscientiously, to reduce food waste and so on, whereas the American attitude is, ‘well, there’s nothing I can do that will make a difference… So I may as well get a four-wheel truck and drive it everywhere, even when I only need to go round the corner from my house.’
These days it’s hard to tell people I’m from America because I’m not exactly proud of the state of things over there. In the 2016 U. S. election we had the lowest voter turnout in history. We were told our vote didn’t matter, and so we didn’t vote! It’s the opposite situation when I’m in the States because I’ll brag about being half-Danish. My friends back home ask me when I’m coming back, but I think my future is here in Denmark.
Otto and I get really intense over Uno. More than we should. We have a big list on our fridge about who’s won. We played around 250 games over the last month. And we are going to keep going until the end of the year. Whoever has the most points by the time the last party of the year comes around has to pay for drinks the entire night. I’m currently nine points behind and I feel like I really have to catch up because if someone’s getting free drinks I could probably pay for a deposit on a house with that kind of money. It’s going to go downhill really fast, like, we’ll probably end up staying out until 8 in the morning. It’s going to be bad.
Photo and words by Lisbeth Burich