By Beth Browse-Blogger
Yeah so I’m actually not in Denmark yet, but I wanted to get started on my first post for what I’m thinking should be a great year. It’s really strange knowing that there’s only 5 days to go – I’ve been planning this exchange for ages, and all of a sudden it feels “real” and I have to start actually packing soon… I still can’t believe I’m going to be away for a year – I’m a little bit scared but SO excited
I went to an info session on exchange within the first few weeks of starting uni and decided it was definitely something I’d love to do, especially as it’s “strongly recommended” as part of an International Studies degree. I don’t know when it happened exactly, but I decided on Denmark pretty early on (I’m still not really sure why, but everyone asks so I’m thinking my next post will be going into this in some more detail…) Anyway, so I’ve basically spent a lot of time researching pretty much everything I could about Denmark – other exchange student blogs, expat blogs, researching customs, trying to learn Danish, looking up Danish brands, reading up on subjects at Aarhus University, going through Aarhus on street-view, reading guidebooks, etc. (most of it was procrastinating lol). For all that time, though, it was always something that was ages away, and so I haven’t quite “switched over” into thinking that this time next week I’ll be there.
I haven’t really decided what this blog is supposed to “be” just yet – I’m guessing that most people reading it will either be planning their own exchange, looking for an “outsider’s” perspective on Denmark or Aarhus, or my family and friends back home (hi guys! haha) but one of my major reasons for writing is I want to be able to look back over this later and remember it again. I haven’t been to loads of countries, but I *love* traveling, and the last time I went overseas (to New York with my mum at the end of high school) I kept a little book that I stuck tickets and things in, and wrote about the little “moments” that happened. I found it when I was looking for something else one day, and reading back over it was just such a good feeling, so I decided I would definitely make the effort to do something similar again. Having it in blog form just means that hopefully someone else will get some benefit out of it as well, because I know for me, reading other blogs got me so much more excited, and will probably help me side-step a lot of potential problems when I do get there. So it’s a win-win. (I’m sure I’m going to have my own problems and things too though, throughout the year, so “stay tuned” lol).
That question again…!
So pretty much everyone who found out I’m going on exchange has asked “why Denmark?” Sometimes it was with genuine curiosity, but actually a lot of the time it came across as kind of disapproving. I know it wasn’t a totally predictable decision – especially since I studied French in high school and Spanish and Chinese at uni, so it’s actually pretty understandable that people want to know why I’m not going there instead.
To be totally honest, I don’t actually know why I chose Denmark. I knew I wanted to go to Europe, and I’d been considering a lot of countries but when I thought of Denmark and started having a bit of a look at what it might be like, the idea kind of stuck. This time last year all I knew about it was Princess Mary, H.C. Andersen and that Copenhagen was the capital, and also that it was a Scandinavian country near Germany. I think that’s all most people really know, and so I get the impression sometimes that people are expecting one big reason that I’m going there - like because I have family there or got a scholarship or something.
Even though I don’t have anything like that, and that I decided on Denmark mostly because “the idea stuck”, since then I have found a lot of really good reasons to study and live in Denmark, including the following:
(I haven’t actually been there yet, so this is just what I’ve learnt from reading guidebooks, blogs, etc. and my experiences preparing for exchange talking to different organizations… it’ll be interesting to come back to this a couple of months later and see if it’s what I thought it was going to be, haha)
- Student friendly. Although international students don’t enjoy all the welfare benefits Danish students do, we can still enjoy the subsidized rent, healthcare (although I’m not sure on these details), and exchange students from some universities (including mine ) are eligible to apply for a travel grant for 1000 euros if you provide receipts for costs up to that. Obviously exchange is going to cost more than that and Denmark is a very expensive country anyway (apparently – although from looking at supermarket catalogues it seems pretty comparable with Australia, and alcohol is much cheaper ) but it’s nice anyway.
- Part of Aarhus being so student friendly, I think, is how easy (I get the impression) cycling is as a primary means of transport. I drive in Australia, and I know how much easier life is in my town with a car (buses are slow and mostly late, don’t come when they’re supposed to – like +/- 20 mins either way sometimes – and stop kind of far from my house, and come only a few times a day.) This works well with being a poor student without a Danish licence or car.
- Buses are supposed to be quite good, too, and from Google maps you can see there are stops on nearly every corner.
- Location. I was really interested in Scandinavia, and also really keen to visit Germany so Denmark is in an excellent spot to explore these regions further, as well as the rest of Europe (I found a flight from Aarhus to London on ryanair.com for about $40 AUD, which got me pretty excited)
- Relatively safe, compared to most parts of the world.
- They speak English! Huge motivating factor for me, even though I’m trying my best to learn Danish, because I hated the thought of having an emergency in France or Spain or whatever and not being able to find anyone to help. Also studying in English means my average won’t plummet (my home uni records grades on exchange.)
- Free Danish lessons for up to 3 years. Although I think it would be amazing to study in an English-speaking country too, I think learning a new language is something that everyone can benefit from. Granted, Danish is the hardest new language I’ve attempted (except maybe Chinese) but challenges are good for the soul, or something like that. Just because it’s probably a once in a lifetime experience – to live for a year in another country – I felt like getting skills in another language was a big factor in the decision.
- Good systems, probably due to high taxes. Efficient post office, good systems for public transport, and an apparent love of paperwork and queues. It just makes things easy. Even with the Danish Consulate in Australia, I was really impressed with how easy getting my residence permit was. The lady was so helpful and polite, and thorough. I’ve read irritated blogs from expats complaining about the immigration system, but I’ve also heard that if you’re polite and just understand they’re busy then it’s fine.
- It’s interesting, and unique, and you can’t really know what to expect. Not that other countries aren’t interesting and unique or predictable, it’s just when do you ever even hear about Denmark, really? It’ll be a good story for the rest of your life, if nothing else.
So hopefully that’s sounding like a pretty good list, and if other exchange students I’ve spoken to are anything to go by, you get that question (Why Denmark?) a lot after arriving, so I might be a bit more prepared with a better answer than “I just wanted to” this time
I’m an Australian girl studying in Aarhus for all of 2013, as part of my bachelor degree in International Studies. I’ve been planning it for a while, so I’m really keen to see what Denmark (and the Danes) are actually like – and whether or not 3 pairs of thermals and 11 scarves will be enough to stay warm in Scandinavia. I don’t know anyone and I don’t know what to expect, but I’m hoping to at least learn a lot this year.