How one international student perceives life in Denmark
‘The world is your oyster’ was something the younger me occasionally heard. I registered it in passing and never truly thought about what it meant until some years later I came across the opportunity to study abroad.
I can still remember the random ‘Study in Denmark’ email popping up in my inbox. The instant I read it I knew that I would do it. If you'd ask me nowadays why, I couldn’t give you a definite answer. I guess it was one of those decisions brewing subconsciously, gathering momentum, and surfacing at the exact time the opportunity presented itself.
My mind was set: in five months I would be starting my studies in Denmark. I quickly researched anything I could find about Denmark and its education system. The more I read, the more confident I became that this was the right thing to do. I read about the international environment, the case study based learning style and most importantly, the open book exams.
My home country is Romania, where the education system is bureaucratic and hierarchical. In comparison to that, the Danish approach to education seemed like a cool breeze on a hot summer day. I found out soon how right I was - especially about the breeze.
The only thing left to do was to tell my parents. Looking back now, I remember them being very supportive. But then again, my decision was 90% made. I guess all they could do was nod…
The perks of a small town
The university portal Study in Denmark was my go to website while researching and choosing an institution and a course. My parents were concerned about my safety which is why I decided to study in a smaller town, thinking that small towns equals less crime. Kolding, with a population of nearly 60.000 was my final choice as it offered quite an array of study programs within business. I was set on studying marketing, so I chose the International Sales and Marketing Management program at the International Business Academy (IBA).
Although at heart I am a big city girl, the community I found at IBA made up for all the shortcomings of a small town.
The Academy has a buddy program, meaning you have somebody to help you transition into life as a student in Kolding, and showing you the best hangout places. My buddy was a second-year student and my future flatmate. Within a couple of days, I knew everything Kolding had to offer.
Finding accommodation can be tricky, especially these past few years, as the number of international students is steadily increasing. Students going to study in bigger cities like Aarhus and Copenhagen camped for weeks on the couches of some very generous souls. Meanwhile, I was all set in a two bedroom flat with two flatmates from day one.
If you’re planning to come to Denmark (or any other Scandinavian country), you should know that cycling is the best mode of transportation. Everyone bikes, everywhere, without concern for weather or season. It is also very convenient and fast, especially because in smaller towns there are fewer buses. There are Facebook groups dedicated to selling used bikes or one can try browsing through DBA.
Another aspect of small city life is that finding a student job is easier. Within weeks, I found a job through a friend working in a restaurant, which was great as I - at that time - wasn’t yet eligible for SU. The SU is the student grant of about 5000 DKK given by the Danish government to support those eligible during their studies.
Social life happens in Down Under
Welcoming and integrating the international students into the local environment is taken seriously. We had plenty of activities to choose from, like cooking for each other, watching handball games, and bowling.
Most of these events happened in Down Under. Not Australia, but the student bar, located literally under the academy. The bar was always open for us, and we could organize anything from birthday parties to yoga lessons.
If you want to make friends outside of school, I suggest enrolling to free Danish language classes. These happen within the LærDansk scheme and can be found in every bigger city. Studying Danish is recommended for those planning to stay in Denmark for more than one semester. I enrolled in my second year of studies. It made a huge difference in my daily life. Even though everyone speaks English, you still feel like being in a bubble until you’re able to chat at the cash register - even though I don’t recommend anyone doing that. In Denmark, it is considered a creepy thing to do.
Study life or being your own boss
The lifestyle in Denmark is very laid back, and that is also true for the study environment. No one will keep tabs on your study progress. It is up to you to read the curricula and attend the classes. Exams happen only at the end of a semester, and it is not rare that they are grouped into one big case study. I’ve even had a 24-hour exam, from home. I downloaded the questions at noon and had to upload my answers until noon the following day. Such an exam might feel quite odd, I certainly felt that it would be too long, but time flew by. I didn’t feel the usual pressure of a three-hour exam, even though my stomach was complaining because I forgot to eat.
You attend classes nearly every weekday if you’re in Denmark for a bachelor degree or approximately two times a week if you study in a master program. You will have your books containing the theory, but classes are case study based, so prepare for loads of teamwork and presentations.
Study time is travel time
Having an internship for a minimum of three months is mandatory in my program, and many students take the opportunity to do it in a third country. The chance to go to China presented itself, and I instantly knew that I would go. A couple of months later I set off to Shanghai for yet another great adventure. But that’s another story for another time. I came back to graduate and decided to stick around to study further.
Apart from my internship and going home for Christmas, that first one and a half year in Denmark went by so fast. My classmates and I organized many trips and visited most of the country. It was easy as Denmark is a small country. Bigger cities like Aarhus, Aalborg, Odense and Copenhagen are only a couple of hours away. I fell in love with Odense, the hometown of famous Danish fairytale writer H. C. Andersen. Going there for the Christmas market was like traveling back in time, because every year the shopkeepers from the old part of town dress up in 18th-century costumes.
The airport nearest to Kolding is Billund. From there we had plenty of opportunities for quick weekend getaways to London, Barcelona, or Budapest. This was great because the Danish weather is quite windy and rainy. A healthy dose of vitamin D was heavenly for those of us not accustomed to the Scandinavian climate.
Now, that I’ve lived here for some years, I don’t consider the weather to be an obstacle anymore. I often hear myself saying, ‘there is no bad weather, only the wrong attire.' Dressing with layers is the best option. You never know when the sun suddenly decides to make a surprise appearance. Additionally, always carry a backpack with a raincoat/umbrella in it.
Now I feel that I have prepared everyone for a venture into the Danish weather and education, and I can wrap things up. All I have left to say is that I feel like ‘The world is your oyster’ is not a random sentence anymore. If you dream of going to faraway places, you should act on it because opportunities are everywhere.