The best thing about life in Greenland

What is the best thing about life in Greenland?

In a picture, this:

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stop-the-glorification-of-busy

I bet you expected a picture of a breathtakingly beautiful fjord with a mirror-like sea and northern lights floating overhead, didn’t you? For that you can just take a scroll through the @ilovegreenland Instagram account. Ok, ok, here’s a picturesque shot to hold you over.

skaermbillede-2016-10-21-kl-18-39-00Photo by @danielkordan, regrammed by @ilovegreenland

While it would be an incredible understatement to call the inescapable natural beauty of Greenland just a ‘cherry on top’ of the experience, for me the best thing about life in Greenland is actually intangible and wholly impossible to capture through a lens.

The best thing about Greenland is that there is no societally-imposed glorification of busy. Instead there is a prioritization of one’s own happiness and never apologizing for that. So if that means keeping busy because you want to, great. If that means keeping an open schedule, also great.

Through four and a half years I have collected a lot of stories and impressions, but one red thread holds solid no matter the person, season, town, or situation: personal time is sacred. There is generally an 8-hour workday, and all other time is protected and reserved for whatever one wants to do. This manifests itself in so many different ways – being in the nature sailing, or reindeer hunting, or spending the weekend in a hut… preparing a delicious home-cooked meal to enjoy with friends or family… doing a hobby like painting or knitting or working out… or doing nothing at all!

Let me back up a few steps…

What is the glorification of busy?

It is the view that always doing something is a good thing, whether that be work-related with tasks, projects, and business travel, or related to private life, with extracurricular activities, dinner parties, and other goings-on.

It is the putting of plans or work on a pedestal.

Where did this come from?

I believe first world countries these days are to blame for this glorification trend. When places get nicknames like “the city that never sleeps,” clearly being uber busy, stretched thin, completely over-worked, over-jetset, and always having a full social calendar has become the norm, and people love it because ultimately it is a status symbol. It means one is important, trusted, sought after, powerful, connected, needed, wanted. It means success.

But is busy synonymous with successful?

Research on productivity  in the workplace shows that no, being busy is not necessarily synonymous with success, at least not in USA. USA is arguably the busiest country in the world, but with converse productivity levels. It is the No Vacation Nation, as Americans are proven to take hardly any holiday time, to answer mails while ’relaxing’ on a white sand beach, or to simply not be granted paid holiday at all. I think we all can relate to the feeling that nothing gets done well when one has too many balls in the air at the same time. Have you heard of the phrase “work hard, play hard”? It’s a phrase that came into my vocabulary on Day 2 of undergraduate at the University of Virginia and pretty much never left.

What’s wrong with being un-busy?

What I wonder more and more is why people feel guilty about not answering an email after work hours, why someone feels bad to turn down an invitation for weekend plans because they want to do something else instead, why someone apologizes for doing what makes them happy.

I hypothesize that the glorification of busy also equally comes out of a fear of appearing lazy, uncool, unwanted, forgotten, solitary, and unsuccessful – especially on a personal level. A stigma associated with not being busy perhaps starts all the way back in grade school, a period when fitting in and being accepted are of the utmost importance, and carries through to adult life.

Professional versus personal success

I also hypothesize that the societies that glorify being busy are the same societies that primarily define success via professional indicators – job title, number of subordinates, sky miles, and income, to name a few, which then lead to a domino effect of commodity-based indicators of success like house size, car ownership and style, clothing, and so on ad nauseam.

In contrast, there are societies that define success in other ways, namely via personal indicators – quality of relationships, good mental and physical health, access to nature, becoming a parent, and the big one, happiness.

Greenland absolutely falls into this category. I’ve actually heard it said many times that Greenlanders just aren’t driven by earning money the way other cultures are, so one must incentivize through other means. I don’t totally agree with that, but certainly Greenlanders know that money doesn’t buy happiness and have harnessed the ability to seek pleasure outside the workplace.

My place on the busy-not busy scale

To be painfully honest with myself, I am on the busy side. When I zoom in a few levels and look at my day-to-day, I always have something whether it’s training, a brunch date, or a kaffemik. The week starts more or less open, but a free Saturday never stays so for very long.

Take this past weekend, for example. I’ve been out traveling for work for 6 weeks, and what do I do when I finally land in Nuuk? I drop my suitcases at the foyer and run back out to my friends’ house for the evening. Actually, it’s the family with whom I lived whenever I was in Nuuk for the past three years – my original host family, my family. And then on Sunday, I was on the go with training, brunch, an Art Walk around the city, grocery shopping, socializing with a friend, and picking up some new things I bought.

That being said, I don’t believe I necessarily glorify being busy because I also really love – and need – time to myself. While I suppose I can sustain extended periods of busy, I can also ‘crash’ really hard into periods of doing nothing. Believe it or not, I am an introvert, or so the Meyers-Briggs test has said several times since I was 15.

Hedonist, YOLO-head, dream-chaser

Busy bee or not, I have definitely internalized the Greenlandic mentality of prioritizing one’s own happiness.

As a highly independent individual from the start, going for what I wanted was never a weak spot, but I was always told I was a bit of a black sheep for it – the only one with such a strong will. Now imagine this personality being immersed in a culture that cultivates exactly this type of personal independence nearly to a fault and screams, “Do what’s best for you!” You can’t help but get an added jolt of chutzpah.

My decision to move to Greenland was the ultimate display of this. The reality is that I left all and everything and everyone in USA because I wanted to do what made me happy. I jumped off a cliff. I put myself first, and I don’t apologize for it.

Hedonist, YOLO (you only live once), and dream-chaser were the nicer insults some people gave me regarding my decision, but I also went up against “selfish”,  bat-shit crazy”, “abandoner”, and “mentally ill”. They said, sure, they might also like to jump up and move to Spain but obviously that was never going to happen because it wasn’t realistic. They said they didn’t agree with my decision and didn’t think I should go. And so on.

You know what criticisms people in Greenland gave me? None. I was met instead with congratulations from all and words of encouragement. Nobody I know from Greenland has ever made me feel bad about my decision, and that speaks volumes.

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A Greenlander At Home in New York City

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Today I came across a story about one Greenlander, Inuuteq Storch, who had an amazing experience in New York City which changed his life. I thought it was fitting to share it because I myself am in New York City at this very moment, and as I walked along 34th Street toward Broadway, I imagined what it must have been like for him to arrive here and suddenly feel at home amongst a few million people.

The following is my translation of an article originally published in Greenlandic and Danish only.

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A Magical Year in New York

“I felt at home in New York from Day 1. The city suits my mentality, and I felt comfortable in the big city’s international art scene. People showed a huge interest in my artwork and my story, so I was able to establish a network in the art community which I can take advantage of in my further developments as an artist,” said artistic photographer Inuuteq Storch, who, after a year at the International Center of Photography in New York, has now returned home to Sisimiut [Greenland].

The 27-year-old Storch’s artistic photography teacher at the Fotomorgana school in Copenhagen had recommended that he take this year at one of the world’s best art schools, where Storch, together with 70 other young artists, went through a Certificate Program in photography, artistic photography and photojournalism at the International Center of Photography in New York.

Standalone Artist

“I was recommended the school in New York because I am a standalone artist. I know I am unique because I have always gone my own way, both personally and artistically. All of my photo motifs are from Greenland, and my artistic expression stems from my Greenlandic roots. Artistic photography from Greenland is unseen in New York, so naturally there was interest for my photographs amongst the other artists I met through exhibits and showings there,” says Storch, who also stands out in a crowd due to his outward appearance with a manicured long moustache and nice eyes, as well as a large black hat that sits atop long black hair.

“For me, it is important to express positivity, probably because I get the negativity out of my head and into my pictures,” he says.

Storch first had to get together more than 250000 Danish Kroner [37000 USD / 34000 EUR] to be able to take the year in New York. He had actually applied and gotten accepted to the school two times previously, but it was only in 2015 that he finally had all the funding together to be able to fulfill his dream.

“When it finally worked out, it was a magical year,” says the charismatic young man.

Big Development

Storch has been interested in photography since his youth, so he no doubt underwent big developments during his time at the International Center of Photography from September 2015 to the end of August 2016.

“I went through a big development as an artistic photographer during my time in New York – especially technique- and identity-wise. My eyes were also opened to expressing myself through photo books, where previously I had focused on exhibits. I also learned a lot about myself as an artist, and now I know that I am a special artist within the realm of artistic photography, specifically because I root myself in my Greenlandic background and because I use Greenlandic motifs in my work.”

Storch says that he has good opportunities to further develop his art in New York.

“If I could have extended my stay in New York, I would have had the opportunity to be apprentice to a photographer who I got to know through several exhibits and showings I participated in while in New York. But, I went home instead because I missed my girlfriend, family, and the Greenlandic nature.”

Projects

Inuuteq Storch has for several years now worked on a project about a young hunter’s life in Sisimiut. In addition, he has started working on a book with photos from his year in New York. When artistic photography is not that lucrative in Greenland, it is necessary for the young artist to earn money another way.

“Together with two other peers from the art school in New York, I am working on preparing a photo exhibit that will be shown at Taseralik Culture House in Sisimiut in summer 2017. I hope it can also be shown in Nuuk.”

Storch himself saved a large amount of the money needed for his stay in New York. He also took a loan from the bank as well as received money via crowd funding and sponsors such as Royal Greenland A/S.

Story written by: Inga Egede ineg@royalgreenland.com

Visit Inuuteq Storch’s website at http://www.inuuteqstorch.com.

Has travel transformed you?

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Transformational travel. Learn these words. Live these words. It is more than the latest trend; it is a new movement in life.

I believe this style of travel is a fated yet fortunate natural progression here in the anthropocene. It could only really take hold now, after sustaining this quite device-obsessed, time-crunched, attention span-less, and dare I say a bit depraved, age.

I believe transformational travel will save humanity if enough people get on board.

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The Journey

It’s said that humans are subconsciously called to travel to wake themselves up when they start sleep walking through life, or when they stop being themselves at home.

“Listen — are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?”

– Mary Oliver

Then they go on their trip and have high adventures, talk with people, pick up seeds of the new place(s) and plant them in the backs of their minds, and undetectably rework their perspective on themselves and home. All of this is fuel for something bigger brewing later.

When they return home, everything gets synthesised and internalised to some degree, and a transformation starts. For some it is a matter of a changed thought process and being more mindful. For others it is more behavioural – adding (or deleting) something to/from the daily routine. And for a few, it catapults them into, more or less, a whole new life.

What is Transformational Travel?

I’m still pretty new to this concept, so hopefully my friends over at The Transformational Travel Collaborative will cut me some slack if I formulate this incorrectly…

Transformational travel is a style of traveling in which one embarks on a trip to drive a needed change in his or her life.

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My Most Transformational Trip

For me, the obvious life-changing travel experience was spending four months in Greenland in 2012. 

At a superficial level, it made me painfully aware of behaviours, habits and customs that are ‘so American’.

At a meaningful level, it made me question whether those same American behaviours, habits and customs – which I no doubt had and probably still have to some degree, much to my chagrin – jived with my nature and who I wanted to be.

Upon returning to USA, the transformation began in which I deliberately decided that I preferred the different way of life to which my eyes were opened. After multiple trips back to Greenland, I started identifying much more with my Greenlandic life than my American life, and it all culminated with the decision to move permanently to Greenland.

I am still trying to figure out why Greenland of all places was the spark, but until then, I am just happy it was. 

What trip or place has changed you?