September 16, 2013
Hej! Did you know Denmark was recently named the happiest country in the world? In talking to Danes, I’ve concluded that the main explanation for the superlative is that Denmark takes good care of its people—there is free healthcare (which I get while I’m here!), support for the unemployed, 12 months of maternity leave for new mothers and free education. In fact, students are paid approximately $1,000 per month to support themselves while at university, though I haven’t been able to enjoy this benefit as a study abroad student. If your goals for study abroad are more than just to be among happy people, then here are some additional reasons I chose Denmark.
First, everyone here can speak English in addition to Danish. There are still a lot of cultural differences to get used to (I’ll get into those later), but the prevalence of English speakers just means that you can always ask someone for help. I had to. The first time I went grocery shopping, I could not read the Danish label to tell if I was about to buy milk or cream, but another patron was able to assist me.
The second reason I chose Denmark is because of the program: the Danish Institute of Study Abroad (DIS). When I was deciding where to go, DIS was the only program where I actually saw classes that interested me. (It is “study” abroad after all and not just “travel” abroad.) I’m a math major with minors in psychology and anthropology, and I wanted to focus on the latter two areas while studying abroad. (Though at the moment, the math nerd side of me misses studying in CJ!) I’m currently taking Positive Psychology, Holocaust and Genocide, Gender and Sexuality in Scandinavia, Danish Language and Culture and Photojournalism. My professors are all very engaging and classes are all discussion-based, with 20-30 people in them. All my classes also include an element of cross-cultural comparison. In addition, DIS incorporates travel into their courses. For example, I get to go to Hamburg for a weekend in October with my Holocaust and Genocide class. Moreover, we only have classes on Monday/Thursdays or Tuesday/Fridays, so Wednesdays are reserved for class field trips. There are also many different “adventure trips” that you can sign up for in your free time. A couple weeks ago, I went on a canoeing and hiking trip in Sweden for the weekend where I actually got to rappel down a cliff. The program gives us three travel weeks and during the first one I’ve signed up for a trip to Portugal to learn how to surf—wish me luck! I’ll be traveling to London with my psych class for my second ‘travel week’ and my plans during the third week are still undecided (maybe Budapest and Vienna?)
Last week, I traveled through Denmark with my Psych class. The theme of the week was Happiness in Denmark, and we analyzed different explanations for the delight of Danes. We also got to visit an open prison. For those of you who haven’t heard of it (and I hadn’t before now), an open prison is an incarceration site where there are no fences keeping the prisoners inside so they are expected to stay there out of their own volition (though they also get punished if they don’t follow the rules). Inmates who behave well relocate to this prison 1-5 years before their release date, and the transition helps prepare them to be members of society again. In addition to the academic side of the trip, we got to spend a night in Aarhus and go to a festival there.
One of the many things I love about living here is my housing situation. I’m living in an international kollegium, which is a cross between a college residence hall and an apartment complex. It houses Danish students, DIS students and other international students. I have my own room with my own bathroom and kitchenette (stocked with everything from cheese graters to frying pans!) There are common rooms where people come to do work, cook with friends, pregame, or just hangout. In addition, every few weeks the kollegium hosts a party for everyone living here which is a ton of fun. Everyone can also host their own parties so, for example, a friend organized a game of light-up Frisbee, in which glow sticks were used to signify the different teams.
While the adjustment to living here has been very easy, there have been a few things that take some getting used to. First off, biking. Everyone here bikes and there are actually separate lanes specifically for bikers. Multiple times I have forgotten “to look both ways before crossing the bike lane” and almost gotten hit. On a related note, no one here jaywalks. Another difference is that when you go grocery shopping you have to bring your own bag (or pay for them to give you one). Trust is another noticeable theme in Denmark. No one regularly checks tickets when you take the train or the metro and people are trusted to follow the rules, and they do! Mothers or fathers will even leave their sleeping infant in a stroller outside a cafe when they go to buy coffee! The one difference that I find frustrating is that water is not free—if you are at a cafe and want a glass of water, more often than not you will have to pay for it.
As much as I love Copenhagen, I do feel obligated to warn any future study abroad students that if you study abroad, life will go on at Hamilton without you. The hardest moment I’ve had so far was the day all my friends moved back to campus without me. Luckily, I get to come back in January. See you all then!