Studying, Travels and Fun in Denmark!

a girl riding bike in copenhagen

We continue discussing the topic of studying abroad, as there is so much yet to say. Today our interviewee is Ally Flessel. She studies Biology and English at Bucknell University and went for a semester abroad to Denmark, Copenhagen.

Ally, you decided to apply for the DIS program. Why? What major benefits of studying abroad did you see for yourself?

Studying abroad is an amazing experience that I would not give up on for anything else in my college career. First, it taught me how to adapt to a new culture and new people. Such programs are filled with students from all over the US, so you need to learn how to step up and meet new people, even if they are American. Secondly, studying abroad motivated me to come back to college for my senior year with a level of energy many of my friends are missing. I was excited to be back at school and in a familiar environment with my friends I have not seen for over a year. I think it is also important for students to face real-world problems away from the comforts of friends and family. Independence is one of the things I gained the most of abroad. I feel confident in my ability to take care of myself no matter what challenges I may face.

By the way, Ally had a different situation with accommodation from the two previously interviewed students. She didn’t rent a flat or live with a host family. Instead, she was living in the largest DIS Residential Community with 110 other DIS students. Due to a roommate mix-up, she was living all by herself, so probably, she didn’t face that ‘annoying-roommate-makes-noise-and-I-can’t-concentrate-on-studying’ kind of problem.

Let’s move on straight to your studying. What courses did you take in Denmark?

I had Immunology (for my Biology major at Bucknell), Hans Christian Anderson Literature, Sociology of the Family, and Danish Language. I was also in the Medical Practices and Policies (MPP) Core.

studying biology

So you took a challenge to learn Danish? Did you have a chance to practice in live conversations with Danes?

Danish classes were great and absolutely enhanced my experience. However, everyone in Copenhagen speaks English! For example, when my classmates and I would try to practice our Danish and order coffee, the baristas would always respond in English. Danes are not accustomed to foreigners trying to learn their language so they are not very good at understanding accents and typically switch to English if they encounter this.

And you didn’t feel the language barrier?

There were only two times when not knowing Danish was burdensome. First, when I was with my Danish visiting family. I would not be able to follow along in conversations they were having; usually, they spoke English because I was around, but once in a while I had to follow stories based off of body language. And second, I was reading the signs. All of them are in Danish and asking someone to meet you at a location you cannot pronounce is pretty tricky.

What kind of writing assignments did you get? What were the most interesting topics?

I had an English course on Hans Christian Andersen, so I wrote a paper about his works. I also took a course called Sociology of the Family and wrote a paper about different family structures.

Have you noticed the difference between the US and Danish education systems?

Of course, there are some differences. In Denmark, taxes cover education costs, and once turning 18 students are actually paid to attend school. Teenagers attend “high school” until approximately age 19. Often students take a gap year (or two) before starting at University. The biggest difference I learned about was the specificity of education at the University. While I attend a liberal arts college and could have any major before applying to medical school, in Denmark students apply to university as medical students and begin studying to be a doctor right away. The students stressed that it is important to know what one wants to do prior to starting University because the education is very specific compared to the US norm. Another big difference is the language requirement. Students begin taking English in the 2nd grade and continue taking it throughout their “undergraduate” career. They also pick up either French or German around 7th grade.

And what about free time? How do Danish students spend it?

The Danish students I knew spent their time at school, in after-school activities, such as sports, and at jobs. They were all really busy during the week and did not have much free time. When they did, they usually hung out with their friends and went out to clubs or parties.

What about your free time? Did you lack it as well when studying in Denmark?

Very much the other way, a major challenge for me was having a lot of free time and not knowing how to use it. My housing was outside of the center of Copenhagen, so as I got more comfortable with the city, I began exploring my local area after classes. It is challenging to meet new people and ask them to explore with you when you first arrive in a new place.

happy in denmark

The most memorable moments of your Denmark life period

The most memorable moment of my time in Denmark was with my visiting family. The youngest son had turned 13, and I went to an amusement park with their family for the day to celebrate. After visiting the park, we went to their cousin’s house for dinner. There were three different families with children of all ages, so after dinner, we sat down and watched a movie on Netflix. I picked out White Chicks because no one had seen it and I thought the teenagers would enjoy it. What was most memorable was how we actually watched the movie:

A few minutes into the movie I realized that although the older children were all fluent in English, and the film had Danish subtitles, the youngest children did not yet know how to read, or at least read quickly enough to watch a movie via subtitles. The 16-year-old daughter read the subtitles out loud for the entire film so that her younger cousins could understand what was happening. I realized how lucky I am to have movies readily available to me and easily accessible to all English speakers. I was amazed at how complex watching a movie as a family could be.

Your advice for the students who want to study abroad

I would advise trying to immerse yourself into the culture as much as possible. I was nervous about doing a homestay and never really pursued meeting Danes my age. Taking Danish and meeting with my visiting family once a week completely made my experience, so I can only imagine how much more I would have gotten out of my experience had I dug slightly deeper into the culture.

Are you ready to follow the advice of our charming interviewee and consider studying abroad? Or maybe you have any questions to ask? Write comments and share your opinions here!

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