Barbara H. Padnos International Center
130 Lake Ontario Hall
Q: What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of your study abroad experience?
A: My fabulous host family. If there is anything that I would highly recommend in terms of a study abroad experience it would be to live with a host family. Despite the fact that you are at the mercy of chance in terms of what type of family you will get and the dynamics within each family, it is one of the most immersing opportunities available, in my opinion. My host family, along with others that I heard about while I was abroad, allowed me to understand first hand cultural traditions in Denmark (traditional food, language, social interactions, miscellaneous nuances). They also provided me with an outlet to ask questions as to how to get by day-to-day in Denmark and what to expect in Danish society. More importantly they are people with whom I will maintain contact in the future so that I can visit!
Q: Why did you choose this destination?
A: I chose Denmark based on the program that I found in Copenhagen, the Danish Institute for Study Abroad. When I began my search for programs, I only knew that I wanted to be in Europe because of the ease of travel between various countries. Obviously there are great things to be seen and done in the typical places like France or Italy, but Denmark was different. Denmark is not a country most people know about and thus provided me with an opportunity to learn about a "hidden gem" of a culture. The program itself was fantastic and is known for being one of the best academic study abroad programs and most experiential. One of DIS' main mottoes is "Using Europe as your classroom" - this is so true.
Q: What are some things that surprised you about the campus, the classes, the culture, customs or traditions?
A: I think what surprised me most of all was that there is such a defined Danish culture. Not knowing much about Denmark I did not have much of an expectation as to what kind of cultural barriers I might be up against. If there is one piece of advice I would give to those studying abroad, it would be to not have huge expectations as to what to expect - that way everything will be a new experience and surprise without you having any preconceived notions.
My classes were right in the middle of Copenhagen in what is the oldest part of the city, the Latin Quarter, in buildings very different from what an American is used to in terms of a "typical American college campus". There really wasn't a "campus", but there were main hang-out areas in the various buildings where you could meet up with people. A majority of the professors were Danish and therefore English wasn't their first language, which made the lectures a bit difficult on occasion, but it was definitely NOT impossible - for the most part their English was impeccable.
Some of the biggest surprises came in social settings. The Danish culture is heavily built on community and family and therefore strangers aren't always welcomed easily. It is not common for someone to approach YOU and introduce themselves, but instead you must build up the courage to talk to them. If you happen to find yourself at Copenhagen Central Station not knowing which S-tog to take, don't stand there looking confused and expect someone to come up and help you; it is necessary to take the initiative and ask for help. But don't be afraid, once you ask for help you will be pleasantly surprised with their kindness and competence in English language.
Overall I wouldn't say that there were any aspects of the Danish lifestyle that outright surprised me and interrupted my time there. Like I said before, I went not really knowing what to expect and therefore did not think it would be more of one thing over another - I went in with a fresh perspective and was able to take in all of my experiences one at a time. This does not, however, mean adjusting and living in another culture is easy by any means.
Q: What are some things you would like students to know about studying abroad in this destination or the program provider you studied with?
A: 1. DIS is extremely well coordinated.
2. They have multiple housing options, each having their own pros and cons, but having lived with a host family I am definitely biased in saying that was the best option possible. Just be aware that by being with a host family you will most likely not be right in Copenhagen but will instead have to take a train into the city. At first the commute time is difficult but you come to love it (and once you are gone, you kind of miss it!). By living outside of the city though you are able to see the true Danish lifestyle and other aspects of Danish geography and culture.
3. Public Transportation is the way to go in Denmark - it is fantastic.
4. There isn't busy work assigned in the classes. Much of the class is based on readings provided by the professor (journal articles, news articles, books, etc) and it is up to you to read the assigned reading. Rarely will they have "pop quizzes" but will instead expect you to partake in discussions with knowledge gained from the texts. There is a lot of group work and collaboration involved with the classes. In the US, it is not typical to have group papers and projects, but is very very common in Denmark.
5. DIS has a motto: "Using Europe as the classroom". They truly make an effort to make your learning applicable outside of the traditional classroom. This is done through field studies (field trips) to various places that complement whatever topic is being discussed in class. For example, for the Danish Politics and Society class which I took I was able to take a tour of the Danish Parliament building and listen to one of the MPs speak about what it means to be in Parliament and current issues in the political sphere. That being said, your core class will also have field studies though these are termed "study tours" where you travel to other parts of Denmark and Europe and learn further about various aspects related to your core course. For example, my core course was Medical Practice and Policy which allowed me to travel to Stockholm, Sweden where we did things such as listen to a leading orthopedic surgeon and witness a live ACL replacement surgery and then onto Tallinn, Estonia where we toured one of the main hospitals in the country and got to talk with the hospital's Chief of Surgery.
6. Studying abroad typically has this connotation as a semester where you can put a lot of work off and spend all of your time playing around and partying. The nice thing about DIS is that it is recognized for its academic rigor but at the same time, the professors realize that you are there to study abroad and therefore don't make the work impossibly difficult or work-intensive.
7. Copenhagen is a very safe city, but as with any place - be smart.
Q: What advice would you offer?
A: 1. Don't be shy, but be polite.
2. Do not be afraid to ask for help if you find yourself lost.
3. Be open to new traditions and experiences.
4. Allow time to get from point A to point B - since you have to use public transportation, you are not able to simply jump in the car whenever you like. Get to know the train schedule and understand that there is always the possibility of the trains being delayed for one reason or another - don't fret! It happens and others understand.
5. At social events take the initiative to introduce yourself - it might be awkward at first, but once you take that first step (most of the time) the Danes will be happy to learn more about you and where you come from. Their English is very good, though they are very humble and claim that it is not.
6. Be modest and humble - the Danish culture is known for their modesty which can be traced back to something called the "Jante Law" (Google it!). The Jante Law is an exaggeration of modesty,but it is engrained in the Danish culture and will often be referenced.
7. Danish as a language is very very very very difficult to learn and therefore understand. You will probably never use it again once you are back in the US, but it is totally worth it to try to learn it. Not only do you start to understand small phrases here and there but you also come to understand announcements made at train stations or on the trains (otherwise just ask for help!). Plus, if you get good at it - you have an ability that only only 5.4 million other people have (the population of Denmark).
8. Even if you aren't a "nightlife" person - partake in it at least a LITTLE bit. It brings out more aspects of cultural nuances that you don't often see during the day - plus its fun and you meet people!
Q: What was your academic goal while studying abroad?
A: DIS allows you take classes in virtually any area. I chose this program initially for its academic opportunities especially in the sciences. Being a Biomedical Science major (pre-med), there are not a lot of study abroad opportunities where you can take classes that will enhance your science background. Although I didn't want to take "hard science" classes, I did want to be able to build on my scientific knowledge with an international perspective - in other words, I wanted to look at health care in different countries. This program allowed me to take a core course, Medical Practice and Policy, which was taught by Danish physicians (in English)in a Danish hospital. We were able to experience the ways of Danish health care (it is a socialized system - very different from the United States). I was also able to take a class called Health Beyond Borders which talked about international/global health, different diseases found around the world and the international efforts used to combat them.
My goal was to be able to look at the Danish culture and be able to see why it is special and what makes it different from the United States. I also hoped to gain a new perspective in health and medicine that I would be able to bring with me for the rest of my life. I can confidently say both of those goals were attained and if anything, I wish my semester would have been longer so I could learn more!
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