exchange

Catch 1000

The Danish university system emphasizes different things than the Canadian one does. I am in five hours a week of classes for what would be twelve hours a week back home. Evaluation is also more lenient. Instead of a midterm/paper, a paper, and a final/paper we only have either a paper or an oral exam. That is it. I will write about fourteen pages this semester.

So I was thinking to myself what is the catch. Well, there is a catch. Reading, lots and lots of reading. I am expected to read 2000 pages in four months — each syllabus prescribes a certain number of pages that must be read for the number of credits given— which is how they balance out the limited amount of class time. It is an adjustment for sure and requires a lot of discipline to get done. For my one class this week I had to read an article and 120 pages of one of the textbooks — that is just one.

It’s not like back home there were no readings, they were often just considered to be optional. The key to being a good student was to figure out which readings needed to be done, and which ones didn’t. Perhaps that is the key here. We will see.

It is also nice to know that we are indeed covering a lot of material, just not in class.

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My exchange university vs. my home university

It was my first day of classes since arriving in Denmark. My class was at 10 am. Fortunately, I got there early. The social science campus was huge and I had no idea what the numbers corresponding to my class meant. After wandering aimlessly I figured out that they corresponded to building-floor-room. That was easy enough. I found a map and then wandered the halls to what seemed like the right building. I got to my classroom and no one was there. I checked the schedule posted outside and my class was not listed. This was not what I had been hoping for. More aimless wandering followed. Eventually I found the information desk and they informed me that my class had been rescheduled to 2 pm and moved to a different classroom. For some reason the university had decided not to notify me.

When thinking about my exchange one of the last things on my mind was the actual academic side of things. Yes, I’d jumped through the appropriate hoops to get my courses recognized (including being on hold for almost an hour multiple times and emailing the vice-dean). I had thought loosely about what I wanted to take but ultimately I hoped it would be a vacation from the insane standards of North American universities. I tended to be that girl who disappeared into the library for the last month of school and was ready to think about exploring rather than thesis statements. It turned out that some of the biggest cultural shocks had to do with my classes and the way the university was set up.

Classes start 15 minutes after the posted time

When I did manage to show up to my class at the right time I also showed up early. By Canadian standards this meant arriving ten minutes before the scheduled time at 1:50 pm. To my surprise I was the first person there, as I tended to be. As it got closer to the hour more students trickled in but the room wasn’t even half full. In my mind I would give the prof had 15 minutes to show up and if they didn’t I got to leave. That was how it worked back home.

As students arrived at quarter past I realized that the rules here were different. For some reason all classes started at quarter past even though the time was listed at the hour. I never really managed to kick my punctuality and was always one of the first people to arrive.

Coffee breaks

One of my favourite things about the Danish university system is their fondness for coffee breaks. Every lecture of my political science class had a slide reading “Coffee Break!” My prof would excitedly announce the break as we scurried downstairs to buy inexpensive coffee from the campus snack place. Often times my other professor would make tea and coffee, and bring us snacks.

Reduced work-load

It would be unfair to say that my classes weren’t demanding in some ways, however, they were a lot less demanding than my North American classes. In my last semester of fourth-year I wrote about 150 pages worth of assignments and papers. The expectation was that assignments should take up a lot of my time. My friends and I were perpetually behind on our work. There was always something else that needed to be completed or read or studied for.

Scandinavian attitudes were very different. I spent less time in class (5 hours a week for the equivalent of 12 back home) and wrote one ten page paper. To make up for fewer hours spent in the classroom we had lots and lots of readings. It amounted to about 60 or 70 pages a week, and we were expected to be able to discuss all of them at our oral exams.

Instead of feeling like I was being throttled all the time the expectation was that relaxing and socializing were an important part of an education. I liked the more laid back pace. Life was something to be enjoyed and lived. Students were no exception to this.

Rescheduling classes

In Canada your class is set at a specific time on a specific day and that is the only time a professor can expect you to be available. That is not the case in Copenhagen. My classes were rescheduled almost as often as they happened at the regular time. I would get an email ten minutes before class that it was cancelled or moved if there was any notice at all. Professors would be confused when you missed rescheduled classes because they were at inconvenient times. One week I forgot to go to my Thursday afternoon class because it had been so long since my class had actually been held on a Thursday afternoon.

I made one of my good friends on exchange because of this. We would both show up to class and when it turned out it was cancelled we would go hang out downtown instead.

No campus

After four years at a campus that was distinct and apart from the rest of my city it was weird not to have a campus in any meaningful way. Different faculties had buildings spread out throughout the city. You went to the ones that your classes were at and left when they were done.

Oral exams

When this was first brought up my class collectively tensed up. We had never done oral exams before. It seemed scary and a lot of pressure. Our entire mark would come down to a fifteen-minute conversation with the professor. It almost made me miss the three papers system. If you messed one up there was another one to average it out. What if we had a cold, or got asked a really hard question?

Overall it was fine. I probably over-studied. We were expected to know all 1200 pages of assigned readings well enough to discuss them. The fifteen minutes went by before I knew it. I was asked to wait outside and five minutes later I was told my mark. That was it.

Excursions

Excursions, or as Ms. Frizzle would say field trip!, were commonplace in my classes. My political science class went on two separate field trips to the Danish parliament and my Danish religion class was invited to my professor’s church. My friends in the Danish architecture class went to visit several buildings instead of just talking about them. This kind of hands on learning was not a part of my Canadian university experience in any way.

All in all the differences between my exchange and the rest of my education were easy to adjust to. I liked the calmer pace, especially since it was assumed that none of us were there to spend all of our time writing papers. Most of what I learned was from living in an unfamiliar place where I didn’t speak the language or know how things worked.

Joe and the Juice

After arriving in Copenhagen Joe and the Juice quickly became one of my favourite places to eat. This is largely because they make the best sandwich in the world — avocado, mozzarella, tomato and pesto. There is also a dress code where at least one staff member must be wearing a backwards baseball cap at all times.

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Netto

The Netto was both great and terrible depending on the location. On the night I arrived in Denmark I remember seeing that distinctive sign and wondering what it was for.

Of the three grocery stores that were within a two minute walk of my house it was probably my least favourite, but it was also the farthest. They had a good deal on the candy that I liked.

I had friends who lived by a smaller Netto that we liked to call the ghetto Netto—so clever. And then there were those nights when the Netto parking lot served as a makeshift hangout.

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Somersby

This is probably one of the things that I will miss the most about Denmark. It is something that I will always want to order but probably won’t be able to get, which is a real shame. It’s not about a particular place or time, but about something that is so delicious. It was something that you brought to dinner, parties, whatever. It was one of the quintessential tastes of being an exchange student.

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Emmerys

I lived near Christianshavn, a nice short bike ride from the middle of no where, sorry Orestad. Emmerys proved to be one of my favourite hang outs, mostly because it was the only independent coffee shop I found in Copenhagen that actually had wifi — how am I supposed to study (messing around online) without wifi? They had good food that wasn’t insanely priced and Christianshavn is such a lovely area.
There were so many good bakeries in Copenhagen — the proliferation of these was one of my favourite things about Copenhagen in general. Note: North America how have you not caught onto bakeries yet? Seriously? I am only including two in this list, partially because they were my favourites and partially because I thought it would get a bit old if I just did a bunch of paintings of coffee shops and bakeries.

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Christmas hearts

Being in Copenhagen during Christmas was a lovely experience. Danes go all out, and one of the upsides of being a Lutheran culture is that they were okay with Christmas. They actually said merry Christmas to one another and all those things without any fuss. No happy winter break stuff.
These hearts were a really fun craft project and were everywhere.

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Bunting

Okay so this one is a less about Copenhagen and more about something that I love in general, in all places, at all times. For those of you that have yet to be converting bunting is triangles (made of fabric or paper or something of the sort) on string (or twine or something of the sort). It is gorgeous and is an essential item of home decor. True story.

I made some to put in my room out of free KU Copenhagen maps with twine as string and then they had some at Studenterhuset. It also contributed to the hygge in my life.

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Decorative canals

In Orestad it seemed like there were a lot of canals, and that for the most part many of them seemed to serve no real purpose. I don’t think they were natural bodies of water or really served a water drainage function (though I could be wrong about that) instead to me they were just there for aesthetics, they were purely decorative canals. Put there because they looked pretty and made Danes happy in a weird suburban way. And if you ever need to get rid of a bike in a hurry they are a convenient place to dispose of it. (I did not dump my bike in a canal but I sure thought about it.)

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I do not like rye bread

Rye bread is a big thing here. Everyone tells you you have to eat it, it’s the Danish thing to do. I fell for it. I bought into the trap of trying out Danish cultural things. I have an entire loaf of rye bread in my kitchen and I have made an informed decision that it does not taste good. Sure it has lots of nutritional value but it also tastes like it has lots of nutritional value. It tastes like eating seeds, and not in a good way. I regret not just going for the delicious (and potentially far less nutritious) white bread that I am so fond of. Perhaps rye bread is like wine you hate it at first and then if you drink enough it becomes tolerable and then if you drink more you might actually grow to like it — it is presumed that this processes occurs over a period of time longer than one night. Maybe. Probably not. I will let you know in about fourteen slices if I feel any better about rye bread. I know one thing for sure, it will not be on the list of things I miss about Denmark.