Denmark Exchange Experience
What was your first expression of Denmark?
I had my first student exchange experience at University of Copenhagen in Denmark. Denmark is one of the Scandinavian countries that is not as popular among regular tourists as, say Italy, and this is exactly why I chose there. Besides that, Denmark is also a country with very well-planned welfare policies, the Danes speak excellent English, people are civilized, and they always greet strangers with a smile. However, Copenhagen also happened to be one of the top three cities, which are most expensive to live in. This fact can be quite shocking for students from Hong Kong, where we get everything cheap and easy.
Were there any surprises? How would you compare your experience to a U.S. academic environment?
The Danish students are actively involved in class discussions. Even the lecturers make it clear that questions are always welcomed, even criticisms. One thing I did notice is that students there like to criticize what the professors say, just like what students in Hong Kong do 9but behind their professors' back!). Danish students are quick to point out what they think should be the right answer. Constrictive criticism is one of the important things inside a classroom. The professors encourage students to give presentations in every lecture in front the class, even if all grades are counted by exams at the end of the semester. Learning by initiatives is one the emphasis at university.
What courses did you enroll in and how did they compare to your expectations?
I enrolled in the pre-semester language course and one psychology course. I conceded the pre-semester language course to be too challenging and demanding, not because the Danish language is not very nice language to hear; but because of the amount of workload for the course. Learning a new language should be fun but it wasn't. I was expecting learning Danish from the very basic elements of sounds and alphabet, but the teacher taught us useful Danish phrases and sentences instead. I found this no better than self-learning from Danish-English phrase book and this course was not of any use when communicating with local Danes, because conversation between people are not a pre-written script which one can memorize and utter.
The psychology course failed to live up to my expectations. I was told the psychology is extremely popular in Denmark and hence the students who can get in and study psychology are the most competitive ones. I was expecting a very organized course with heavy workload and clear instructions on how to work. It turned out the whole course was divided into 10 to 11 themes, and theme was taught by a guest lecturer. As a result, the structure and cohesiveness of the course was very loose and each topic was not relevant to the other one. Moreover, I was deeply disappointed with the answers of the course coordinator when I enquired about the format of the exam paper. The exam paper was the final paper of the whole course and the final grade depended on it; yet she was not able to tell me about the practical aspects of paper such as how many pages it should be or the formatting. What's more, the course was instructed in English, but in some PowerPoint slides there was a graph or chart written in Danish, while the professor apologized for lack of English translation of the said material; the host of international students like me were disappointed.
What was your personal experience of locals and other students?
I am very pleased and grateful to have a mentor assigned to me before I arrived there, she is very nice personal; who picked me up from the airport and we had great fun hanging out and cooking something from our home culinary menus. The local Danish students are friendly, even though if they don't talk to you at first; but if you ask them anything, the would be very polite and helpful. I shared my flat with a few other international students from UK, Germany, Taiwan, and Singapore. We had dinner nearly every night together, talked about politics, sports, climate, and everything in between; we even had barbeque in the backyard. It was great to live with people from different cultures. Sometimes there would be culture shock, but it was overall a nice experience because it made me more tolerant of other people from different cultures.
During my travels to Italy, I met two Danish ladies who kindly invited me to their house for typical Danish dinner. I cooked something Chinese in return for them and we had a cultural exchange during dinner and it was an eye-opening experience to both parties. As an international student in any other place, it is very difficult to get to know local residents who are not students. I am really glad I met them and they showed me what a typical Danish house is like.
The local Danes are very patient and are in generally relaxed and happy people. It was surprising to find people waiting in long lines in the supermarket and not one of them yelling at the cashier to be quicker. The Danes are also very polite and are willing to help; in fact they always give you in their answers more than you've expected It took a while to slow down my own pace to adapt to the pace of the locals. What is worth mentioning is that drinking alcohol and partying is a very typical scene every day in Denmark not just in the winters. Bumping into drunkards on streets is not a very pleasant scene and clubbing is not for everyone. I found it hard to adapt to the partying culture; however, I tried my best to attend other social gathering.
How did you find university accommodations and residents in Copenhagen?
As mentioned before, Copenhagen is an extremely expensive city, I spent the largest sum of money on renting a flat. It was not cheap by Asian standard, but the quality of the accommodation was not that nice. The building showed the signs of wear and tear, it shook when there are heavy vehicles were passing by, facilities are old and lacking, but it didn't stop people living in it from having fun and creating precious memories.
What was your experience in participating in ECA or non-academicactivities?
During my stay, I engaged in lots of cross-country travelling with friends. One of the reasons of choosing Europe to be the exchange destination is to experience the European way of life. Travelling not only open the eyes, but the mind. I had the most memorable journeys when I travelled abroad, meeting strangers, trying new cuisines, living like a local even if I am traveling. I would encourage any other students to utilize the chance to have a taste of not just your destination country, but other countries as well.
I had a little regret of not being able to participate in the ECA at my host institution due to time constraints. However, I am certain that through participating in ECA at the university would have allowed me to make more new friends.
Do you have any personal insights and anecdotes about your exchange experience that you want to share with others?
Whether one can benefit from the exchange experience depends a lot on the attitude one brings to the destination. If one brings open mind and an appreciative attitude, it is certain that one will be able to see things differently and appreciate them while at the same time not accepting them. The culture we used to live in affects us a lot more than we think. To experience a new culture, one must adopt a new mindset and possess and inquisitive mind, by do so, one can make the most out of the exchange experience.
In what ways has this exchange experience enhanced your personal development?
Before the exchange experience, I never needed or learned to cook in Hong Kong. I will not say I am good at cooking now, but I have definitely become more independent and able to plan things ahead. Things my parents always think for me, now I have to think for myself.
Getting in touch with people from different walks of life makes me reflect on my way of thinking and dealing with other people. Through the incessant conversations with lots of people, I realized that Europeans are truly the global citizens. They care a lot about environmental conservation, quality of life, relationships with families and relatives, and personal integrity. These are the areas which I think people from Hong Kong or Asia in general should pay more attention to. Although Hong Kong is small, but it has almost the highest population density in the world and if everyone starts taking their own steps to make a change, the world would be a better place.
After encountering people from different culture, I now learned to be slow on stereotyping them and I will try to repay them with the warmth and sincerity which I had been given by others during my exchange time.
Any last comment or recommendation on improving the exchange program?
The list of destination countries we can choose includes a lot of places; but one country I think that should not be missed out is Greece. Though I understand that there may be practical reasons why some countries are not included, I recommend Greece due to its richness of culture and philosophy, not to mention the great hospitality of the Greeks.