This is more than just my first time in Denmark, but this is my first time in Europe. The first couple of days seemed unreal; it felt like I was in a never-ending fantasy. Before my arrival, I was given some impressions with the program, city, and the country and most of them seemed exactly what I expected. However, there was still so many things that continue to surprise me as I continue living in Copenhagen. First, I got introduced to the city. The buildings are much more colorful, and the roads are a lot narrower. One thing that is very different is the dependency of public transportation. Biking is HUGE and arguably the most used (and cheapest) method of travel. I went from biking just for leisure to biking with a purpose and I can finally understand why the Danes always top placers in the Olympics for biking. A personal goal I have for myself is to complete a ride in the time Google Maps tells me it will take because right now I always add an additional 5-10 minutes. Then, I met the people. I was told Danes were incredibly reserved and making relationships were going to be difficult. I was fortunately placed in housing that allows me to live and share a kitchen with 11 other Danes, so I was exposed to the “common Danish personality” early on. I agree that they are a lot more reserved, however, that doesn’t mean they are not friendly. They present themselves as people who will be there if you need anything, but they will not be your best friend and at first, I found that a little difficult to interact with. As someone who is extremely friendly, I did not really understand the idea of just a “acquaintance”. However, I learned that relationships here are just about effort and if you really try you can be anyone’s friend. Lastly the program. I find the program to be a little more independent than the courses that I have taken at A&M. One big difference is how our grades are distributed. In Denmark there is no homework or quizzes, and your grade is 100% contingent on your final exam (no pressure). Additionally, there are multiple types of exams (written, sit-in, oral). Another difference is how the courses are planned. School starts during the first week of September and their courses are on either a semester-based system or a quarter system (Sep – mid Oct. or mid. Oct – Jan). I’m excited to continue to learn more about Denmark and continue to challenge and immerse myself into this new experience. I look forward to what the next few months has in store for me.
The other day about 10 girls from my dorm gathered for a tapas night. We all made a dish and brought wine, and it turned into a wonderful night. As I was sitting there thinking about the last few months, I marveled at how far I’d come. Because I did NOT want to live in the dorm, and the only reason I ended up there is because I am plagued by pragmatism and thought university recommended housing would be the least complicated in a foreign country. And on my budget. The next thought that came to me made me laugh. 1) because it revealed just how much of a frameworks nerd I am and 2) it was absolutely right.
Acclimating to dorm life perfectly fit the stages of team formation model that I learned in the MBA program. A quick overview for those unfamiliar…new teams go through a predictable trajectory between formation and becoming high-functioning. Organizational behavior studies argue that recognizing and better navigating these stages will ultimately lead to peak team performance.
Forming – The team is formed. There are infinite reasons for grouping these particular individuals, but that does not mean the individuals will immediately find their connections to be salient.
Storming – Basically, stuff hits the fan. Clashing personalities, goals, habits, etc. prove to be a lot for the new team to handle, so they fight it out.
Norming – Expectations are more set at this point. The individuals know more about each other and themselves. A team culture (set of norms) is crystallizing.
Performing – As Taylor Swift would say, we’re out of the woods. There is now a team, and every individual knows the role they play in the broader success of the team.
Translated to dorm life this was…
Who are these people? Why are they all younger than me? Why won’t they just speak English? I am skeptical.
Didn’t these people learn how to wash dishes? Why is that music in the other building so loud? I am annoyed by the mere existence of 60 other people in “my house.”
Wow, she’s a pretty good cook! It’s nice to have people to bike to class with. Most people are pretty understanding if you bring a concern to them in a constructive manner. Plus, we’re all low on money and sleep so it’s in no one’s best interest to blast music into the wee morning hours.
Group dinners! Planning trips together. Lending bikes and performing bike repairs. Staying up late talking about our respective pasts, presents, and futures.
So there you have it! I went from having an apartment of my own to being a 28 year old sharing a bathroom, kitchen, and basically everything but my bedroom. And now that I’m squarely rooted in the performing phase of this motley crew, I can honestly say that living in the dorm has been a highlight of my exchange experience and a gateway to lifelong friendships.
Howdy Ags! I can’t believe it’s March already. Please accept this blog post as a little snippet of my life in Copenhagen during February, along with my sincere apologies for the delay. I think at the very least you should know life has been SO great that I hardly noticed the months change a couple weeks back. Even though student life creates some routine in my day-to-day, there is still never a dull moment between lectures, making new friends, adventures in the city, and excursions beyond Denmark’s borders. We’ll get to those things later. But first, I have to talk about an overarching theme for the month of February….
Now I realize that anything is cold compared to College Station, but having lived in South Bend, Indiana during undergrad and in Denver, Colorado before starting the Mays MBA, I certainly am familiar with “real” winter. That being said, the Copenhagen cold took me by surprise! I now realize there were a couple of factors at play. Firstly, the winter weather here is chaotic. Just when you’ve bundled yourself up for the cold, rain starts pouring down. And once you’ve gotten your umbrella, the rain turns into snow. This coupled with cloudy short days makes dressing for the weather, and staying chipper in the midst of it, kind of hard. Second, I’ve never been a pedestrian/bicycle commuter in a very cold place. In the absence of a car, everyone really is forced to carry on through all of the elements. Have you ever ridden a bike as fast as you can against wind? Against rain?? Against snow??? For your sake, I hope you never have to. But it certainly builds character! Jokes aside, I think the winter weather helps explains how the Danish concept of Hygge (pronounced “hoo-guh”) has carved out such a critical place in social culture.
As an outsider, even I am still figuring out exactly what hygge is. However, if I had to put it simply, hygge is a combination of coziness, warmth, and intimacy created by nesting and retreating with your friends, family, or even alone. This takes on various forms depending on who you are, but it almost always includes candles, dim lighting, blankets and pillows, and whatever beverages and foods are your comfort. Even simpler put, hygge is getting out of the cold and into the warmth to find some simple personal contentment. When the alternative is being pelleted with unpredictable precipitation, I choose hygge too! Haha
My version of hygge
It wasn’t always so cold though. And when it wasn’t, my exchange friends and I took advantage. I’ve spent countless free days in Copenhagen’s museums and meandering along the waterways that cut through the city center. Also, pastries. Lots of Danish pastries. And as a student at CBS, I’ve also enjoyed just being a member of the university community. By attending on campus panels, playing pick-up soccer matches, and studying in the various cafes around campus, I’ve gotten to meet a variety of non-exchange CBS students. As in most cases, I’ve found the community to be smaller and less intimidating than it seems, with faces becoming more and more familiar. Most recently, a local Gymnasium (a Danish hybrid between high-school and associate’s degree) just north of the city requested an exchange student come speak with some students about cultural differences between Denmark and the outside world. I volunteered to speak with two Ordrup Gymnasium classes, and as it turns out, I actually benefited a lot from learning about their academic system and youth culture.
Ordrup Gymnasium talks
Ordrup Gymnasium talks
We talked about the perceived outgoing nature of Americans versus the more reserved Danes, Donald Trump, Taylor Swift vs. Drake, drinking culture (the legal purchasing age is 16 in Denmark!!), and everything in between. The students were curious and open, but most impressively, well informed. One of the key takeaways for me was that as a nation of 5.6 million, it is encouraged if not critical, that Danes know a lot about what is happening in the rest of the world. Much of what happens in America ripples (very quickly) into their lives. If I’m honest with myself, my worldview was nowhere near as perceptive at that age, so I left the school very impressed.
I’ll round things out by talking about one of the biggest perks of Europe – everything is relatively close. I’ve been able to get to France, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, and the UK on a student budget, and it’s been fun to compare those cultures not just to America, but to Denmark, which now feels a little like “home.” The gymnasium students I spoke with asked me what’s the biggest thing I’ve learned from all of my travels (both on this stint and other treks abroad). I told them this, which seems to ring louder and louder true – The more countries I visit and people I meet, the more I am convinced that more connects us as people than separates us. This is a core reason for my love of travel, and also one of the biggest benefits of being a traveler. It’s nice to feel that oceans away, things can still seem familiar and that people my age share similar ambitions and challenges, interests and passions. It creates a lot of optimism for what we as future professionals can accomplish back at home and across borders.
Copenhagen started feeling like home around the middle of October. That was when I truly understood the roads, the system of biking and walking and catching trains, shopping in small supermarkets, and overall I got the “hang of things.” It was also, October was the first time I ever truly saw the seasons change. In about two weeks Copenhagen burst into a gold wonderland of falling leaves, crisp air, and even pumpkins showed up everywhere. It was exciting to see the changes that so many associate with fall, yet we miss in South Texas. I grew up in San Antonio, and the leaves never really changed, not until they fell off in December. It was a kind of wonderland for me to see.
Copenhagen city parks come alive in the Fall!
October was also a mid semester break at CBS! For many students this means a week of traveling, catching up on reading, or simply exploring. However, this break was consumed by an exam at CBS. Academics at CBS are based heavily on final exams, meaning there are no mid semester exams, assignments, or quizzes, but each class ends with a final assessment. CBS also has a system of quarters and semesters, meaning some classes end in October and other begin in October, while many last through December. I am enrolled in one quarter class, which had an exam in October, the last day of the mid semester break.
This exam was an oral exam for my maritime economics class. The strucutre of an oral exam is actually quite nice, once you get over the fact that you could be asked a very few number of questions that could cover everything you learned in over 20 class sessions. I prepared for the exam simply by reviewing my notes and reading the summaries at the end of each chapter of the textbook. For oral exams, CBS has the course professor and one outside examiner, to make the grading more fair. It was great to finally take an exam (funny to say, but true). CBS has so few assessments in the courses, but they really are enjoyable classes that are taught in a different way than those at Texas A&M.
Another thing about this exam, and the courses at CBS in general, is the grading scale. Danish courses are graded on a 7 point scale, -2, 0, 2, 4 , 7, 9, and 12, where 2 is passing (however Texas A&M requires a 4). This is a pretty basic scale, but still strange when compared to A, B, C, D, and F.
It is now getting very cold in Northern Europe, as one would expect. Copenhagen had snow a week ago, but has since started to warm up! The best part of the snow was experiencing it with my parents, who visited from the U.S. at the beginning of November. If anyone can visit you on your study abroad, welcome them! It is so fun to show off your new home to parents, friends, and even siblings.
I have been in Europe for almost two months now and in Copenhagen close to a month and a half, and it is safe to say I am beginning to love it here. With all the anticipation and build up to this trip it is still hard to believe I am actually here living in Europe now and I cannot believe how quickly time is beginning to go by! I said my tearful goodbyes to my family on August 1st from Austin Airport. But I am incredibly blessed that my best friend, Madison Seidel is also going on a Reciprocal Exchange to Copenhagen Business School and is rooming with me this entire semester.
The flight to Europe was not nearly as bad as I had anticipated it to be which was great. A very nice aggie happened to be sitting behind us so that was very comforting as we were full of nervous energy and excitement! We bought our tickets through Lufthansa round trip (flying home December 20th) since they have a website called generationfly.com allowing you to change one of your tickets travel days if needed. This was very helpful since you don’t find out when your finals are until late September, we thought this may come in handy later to avoid an extra fee if we did ended up having to fly home later.
Once we landed in Copenhagen we stayed at a hotel, since we could not get into our dorm for another 2 weeks. We took our extra bags to a family friend who lives in Sweden (a short 15 minute train ride) for storage while we traveled around to Barcelona, Rome, Cinque Terre, Venice, and Florence before returning to Copenhagen on August 16th. If anyone is planning on traveling before classes start and don’t want to carry a semesters worth of luggage around Europe with you, another option is the International Office at CBS. The International Office is happy to store any luggage for you while you travel free of charge as long as you drop it off during office hours but since we arrived on a Saturday and were leaving for Barcelona on a Sunday this wasn’t an option for us!
The first four days of traveling is when I experienced the worst culture shock and homesickness. I am very independent and was traveling with my best friend so I was convinced before leaving there was no way I would be homesick but trust me it gets even the best of us! I called my parents crying and thought I was going to be miserable the entire semester but I after forcing myself to get out of bed and do things it all began to get better. I learned the importance of having a strong support system and the value of great friends and family through the experience!
We had a few ups and downs along this trip while learning how to use rail passes and adjusting to the culture in Europe but we made it through and had such an amazing experience filled with so many great memories! Granted we learned a few lessons the hard way like when Madison got a train ticket in Italy for filling out her rail pass wrong, or when we came within seconds of ending up stuck on a non-stop train to Pisa when trying to get to Monterosso, or having to sprint across crowded train stations with full backpacks to avoid missing trains we showed up late for. We just laughed it off and called it part of the experience!
As the two-week trip was coming to an end we were exhausted and ready to get to a place we could finally call home! Copenhagen Business School has an optional program (which you need to sign up for) that partners each student with a “buddy” who helps you find your new apartment and can just help in general with any questions you have about the new city. Unfortunately, my “buddy” was out of town on the day we were arriving but lucky Madison’s buddy was able to meet us at the airport with her roommate to show us to our new home!
Our dorm, Kathrine Kollegiet, is on the opposite side of Copenhagen as the airport so it took about 25 minutes to get to it on the metro and by the time we arrived at the front door the anticipation was killing us since we had very little idea of what the room would actually look like. The room is in a U-shape and it gives us the ability to both have somewhat of our own private areas, which is fantastic. The room is on the first floor, which in America would technically be considered the second floor. Our room is one of the few that was completely re-done with new everything (paint, flooring, updated kitchen area, and furniture)! We are so lucky with the room we were assigned and we absolutely love it!
Since classes did not start until September we did not have anything required of us during our first two weeks here but we had signed up for some optional two social week programs, which gave us a fantastic opportunity to meet so new many people! These programs were hosted through Copenhagen Business School and included a combination of day and evening events ranging from international dinners, to mardi gras parties, to sight-seeing canal tours, to renting out a clubs from 10pm-3am with drink specials! These events were an amazing way to meet so many new people so fast from all over the world. These first two weeks in Copenhagen were incredible and were what really made me fall in love with the city. Copenhagen is so incredibly beautiful everywhere you look! The main method of transportation here is bike so it is also much more peaceful than other large cities, and the people here are very concerned about the environment so it is very clean. Many people ask me about the language barrier with the people here speaking Danish but almost every person in Denmark speaks perfect English and as soon as you start speaking they will switch over and talk to you in it.
Some of the things I can tell you now about Copenhagen is that everyone in Copenhagen loves the color black so if you want to fit in with the crowd bring every black-colored clothing item you own! I would invest in a nice raincoat with a hood because that will become a staple of your wardrobe; personally I would recommend a black one. No one here wears wedges out so no need to even pack them, but you should bring a nice pair of Nikes because people here love wearing nice running shoes with everything (dresses and jeans alike). Pack lots of the medicine you typically take because they don’t sell the normal brands you buy at home here and it is all very different here any you will get sick (everyone’s allergies here are terrible)!
When the first day of school came both Madison and I were a little nervous but luckily we have ¾ of our classes together! I am taking Events and Festival Management, Language of Negotiation, Web Interaction and Design and Communication – New Forms of Interaction, Knowledge Sharing and Collaboration, and Organizational Behavior. The class structure here is set up a bit different than what we are used to at A&M. Instead of having classes twice or three times a week for a shorter time we have class once a week for two hours and thirty-five minutes (we get 2 breaks for 5-10 minutes during class). Also, there is no required attendance, your class schedule is allowed to overlap, and no grades other than the final. All my classes are in taught English and for the most part the teachers are not from Denmark but from other parts of Europe and don’t have too strong of an accent.
As to my finals, a majority of them consist of theoretical essay topics given anywhere from 72 hours before they are due, to one week before they are due. Depending on the class the essays are required to be anywhere from 6 pages to 14 pages long. Some of my finals also have an oral portion. For example, my events and festivals management class, has a 20 minute one-on-one session with the professor (with an expert in the field observing to make sure the grading is fair) building upon the theoretical essay you turned in where he can ask you anything he would like then you are graded immediately following this discussion. Another class has a group presentation for 15-20 minutes prior to the written essay, which stands as a basis for the essay.
The hardest part about classes is trying to force myself to read the textbooks, as there is very little incentive. I know I have no upcoming test I just have to keep reminding myself if I don’t read them than the finals will be impossible! Classes here are also very teacher-student interactive which is a little intimating at times, the students are encouraged to speak up during lectures and challenge views as well as comment thoughts and view points which is extremely different then the large lecture style I have been used to.
While I value the importance of class while I am studying abroad I also find that there is so much to be learned outside of the classroom while I am here in Europe through the people and places around me so we have made it a point to travel as much as possible. We have done a day trip to Malmo, Sweden. We took a trip to London, UK for three days and from there went to Dublin, Ireland for two days. We just got back from an amazing trip to Prague, Czech Republic for two days traveling by train to Munich, Germany for three days to attend Oktoberfest. We have met so many wonderful people while traveling and seen so many amazing things on these trips!
I cannot wait to see what the next for weeks has in store for us with fall break coming up we have a pretty big trip planned and my family is coming in just over 20 days to visit! So far I have had such an amazing experience and have learned so much about the world around me and myself and I cannot wait to learn even more.