In July 2020, Ryan, Sarah, Isabel, Charles, Beatrice, and Catherine Hamilton flew over 4,000 miles to their new home for a year, a small town near Copenhagen, Denmark, called Jystrup. Had it not been for an old toy shop in Lakeside, the move to another country never would have been possible.
Some Lakesiders may remember the shop, Kids on Third Street, which ran in Lakeside from 2003 to 2010. Ryan and Sarah Hamilton owned the shop. In the summers, Ryan and Sarah sold toys at Kids on Third Street, and in the winters, they turned to e-commerce and distributed imported toys from different countries. Ryan said the idea behind this came when he and Sarah lived in Slovakia before having children.
“We taught English in Slovakia, and we saw a bunch of cool toys and said, ‘let’s bring some of those cool toys back here and import and distribute them to other stores.'”
Gradually, the importing and distributing part of their business grew larger than Kids on Third Street, and, in 2010, the shop closed. Two years later, Ryan found Plus-Plus, the toy company he now works for, and started distributing their products. This distribution led him to get a job with Plus-Pus, where he now leads Plus-Plus USA and designs products for the global company based in Denmark. Even though Kids on Third Street no longer exists, Ryan says Denmark would never have been possible without it.
“It’s a direct tie. We would not be in Denmark without the toy store from Lakeside.”
The Hamiltons first visited Denmark in 2019 to see if the country fit their family, and it did.
“We went for the first time in August 2019 to see if we liked it. I mean, if we all hated it, we would not have gone. So, we visited the schools we would go to and the area we would live in, and we all loved it,” said oldest daughter, Isabel.
From there, the family began taking the necessary steps to prepare for their move. The plan was in motion, but the Hamiltons had to navigate certain unforeseen circumstances before touching down in Jystrup. For one, a global pandemic raged. Secondly, Isabel, Charles, Beatrice, and Catherine did not have renewed passports. Ryan said the family submitted the kids’ passports for renewal in March, but they still did not have them in July.
“We were waiting every day, talking to the Marblehead Post Office, and finally, they showed up four days before we left, on our front porch in Lakeside.”
With passports in hand, the Hamiltons headed to Denmark. A place miles away, yet full of striking similarities to another location the Hamiltons call home.
Lakeside has been in the Hamilton family for generations. Sarah’s great grandfather, a Methodist minister, first arrived here in the early 1900s and built a cottage on Cedar. The cottage is recognizable as it is the only cottage on Cedar with a putting green in the front yard. Sarah’s grandfather grew up coming to Lakeside, and her dad grew up coming to Lakeside. Sarah herself grew up coming to Lakeside, and all of her kids have never missed a Lakeside summer since they were born.
Ryan and Sarah both love Lakeside now, but when Ryan first started coming, he admitted he was a bit confused.
“At first, I thought it was pretty weird. When you come here as a single guy without any kids, you know the first time I came in here, I was like, first off, you have to pay to get in, and it just seemed a little too Mayberry-ish. I had never been to Ohio in my life, and I said, ‘Why in the world would you vacation in Ohio?’ I had to get over a lot of prejudices, anti- Ohio prejudices, but then, of course, once we had kids, it made sense; I fell in love with it quickly.”
Will the Hamilton kids have to marry a fellow Lakeside lover? According to Sarah, yes, they will.
“You’ve got to marry a person who buys into Lakeside. Do they love Jesus, love you, and love Lakeside? It is in the top five for sure!” she added humorously.
Over the years, the Hamiltons have traveled worldwide to places like France, Italy, Spain, and Mexico, but Lakeside is always the answer when asked where home is to them. When they moved to Denmark last July, the family saw how similar their new home was to Lakeside.
Just like Lakeside, Denmark is a bicycle culture. On a typical day in Denmark, three to four thousand bicycles can be found at a train station in Copenhagen because that is how Danes get around. Isabel said that at school, there is more bicycle parking than car parking. Another similarity between Denmark and Lakeside is the trust the community has with each other. The sight of kids biking around by themselves, going swimming, and shopping at stores, is typical in Lakeside. The same dynamic is present in Denmark, as it is normal to see kids alone on the train or walking into the city to buy candy during their lunch period. Danish homes and the average Lakeside cottage are similar in size. Ice cream is also just as important to Danes as it is to Lakesiders!
Isabel remembered the countless times she or one of her family members would look at something in Denmark, and it would remind them of Lakeside.
“I can’t count the number of times we were somewhere in Denmark and thought, ‘Wow, this feels so much like Lakeside.’ Like almost everywhere we went, there was always something like, ‘Oh, that café looks so much like Coffee and Cream!’ The similarities were surprising.”
Despite the many similarities, Denmark and Lakeside differ from one another in some respects. Unlike Lakeside, the main difference between the two places is that Danes are not outwardly friendly. Sarah clarified that this does not mean Danes are unkind; they trust and respect each other but mostly keep to themselves.
Charles pointed out that customer service in America differs from customer service in Denmark because of Danish personalities.
“In the US, they are just falling head over heels to help you out in any way possible, but in Denmark, they are like, ‘you can deal with it or if they are out of stock of something, ‘Eh, come back later.'”
For Isabel, she said that communicating with people back in the US has taken her time.
“I think all of us have had to retrain our brains like, ‘Oh, people want you to talk to them and want you to ask how their day is going.’ They are not unkind. It is just a different way of communicating.”
For schooling in Denmark, the Hamilton kids attended international programs in their respective schools, composed of kids worldwide. Some of the friends Beatrice made in school this past year came from Turkey, Japan, India, Brazil, and South Africa.
Teachers give students in Danish schools two different grades. There is a school grade and an effort grade. This type of grading encourages students to focus more on learning and understanding their schoolwork rather than cramming information into their minds to pass a test worth most of their grade.
At the school Isabel and Charles attended, teachers gave only three number-grades to students the entire year. Isabel said not worrying about number grades after every assignment helped her in her schooling.
“I could focus a lot more on doing the best I possibly could without worrying about that number. By the end of the year, I found myself much less anxious about the number. Even if the grade itself was not what I wanted it to be, I know that I pushed myself to my limit and did the best that I could.”
Sarah noted the difference in what teachers focus on when teaching children in kindergarten through second grade in Denmark.
“Because the society depends on people caring for one another, kindergarten through second grade, it’s not about reading and writing. It is about learning how to be a human. How to have empathy, grit, purpose, how to look out for your neighbor, and how to notice.”
The Hamiltons enjoyed their time in Denmark but did miss some things about America, especially certain kitchen appliances. The disposal, large fridges, and traditional toasters all seem like luxuries to the family after going one year without them. The biggest thing missed, however, was family.
“I would also say that because we were there during a global pandemic, we expected our family to come to visit, and I do not think any of us have ever gone that long without seeing family. So just coming back and seeing family has been such a gift,” said Sarah.
Living a year in a new country taught each member of the Hamilton family more about themselves and the world around them.
Beatrice learned more about human impact on the environment and the steps to take to protect the earth. Charles grew in his use of situational awareness after biking through cities multiple times.
“When you are biking through a city, you have to be looking every way and making sure you are doing the right thing as there are not only cars going every which way but also bicycles and pedestrians.”
Ryan said that since Danes are very punctual, arriving on time was something that he and his family worked on improving.
“For a Dane, five minutes early is late, so they are very punctual, and that is something we have adjusted to.”
Sarah learned the lesson of simplicity.
“I would say just the simplicity. Everything is smaller, and you do not need so much.”
She noted how there are thirty-six different types of Ketchup available at a Walmart in America, while in Denmark, there are three. For Isabel, living in Denmark taught her confidence.
“I went in expecting to conform to being as Danish as possible because I did not want to stand out. But then, after being there, I found out more about who I was. It is a good place to be yourself because people are very accepting.”
And for Katherine, she learned that fast food could look like it does in the pictures.
“McDonalds is expensive, but it looks like the pictures. It is good. They are telling you the truth. You see it, and then you get it.”
Through the ups and downs of living a year away from home, the experiences had, and lessons learned will stay with the Hamiltons for years to come. The family came back from Denmark at the beginning of July and will leave in August for one more year. With only one month to spend in the states, the Hamiltons chose to spend their time in the place they all love and call home – a place where the smell of Patio Donuts wafts through the air on Saturday mornings and the sound of children singing and laughing at God Squad can be heard from blocks away. In their one month back in the states, the Hamiltons chose to spend their time in Lakeside.