Diana in Copenhagen: The Difference Between Danish and American Classes

September 25, 2014

While I’ve written a lot about the “abroad” aspect of studying abroad, I would now like to pay some attention to the “study” component. I’ve found that academics in Denmark, more specifically at Copenhagen Business School (CBS), are strikingly different from what I’m familiar with back in the States. CBS has over 20, 000 students attending the university, which is significantly more than the 3,000 undergraduate ones at Richmond.

Despite the large discrepancy in total enrollment, the class sizes are not grossly different from school to school. I’m currently taking three classes, all lectures, and will have a fourth starting halfway through the semester. Just one of these lectures is overwhelmingly large and fits my expectations for a school that’s roughly seven times the size of the one I’m used to. The other two are comparably sized to those I see in the Robins School, though, and professors engage students by asking questions and knowing the names of some class attendees.

This is my biggest class but it should give you an idea of what class sizes are like. I took this right after our teacher called our first break. We usually get 2-3 breaks every class because each lecture is about three hours long!

This is my biggest class but it should give you an idea of what class sizes are like. I took this right after our teacher called our first break. We usually get 2-3 breaks every class because each lecture is about three hours long!

 

All of my teachers teach from a PowerPoint and students take notes on their computers.

All of my teachers teach from a PowerPoint and students take notes on their computers.

The reason why class sizes seem so comparable, however, is because far fewer students actually attend lectures from week to week. Teachers say things like, “Now pull up the Excel spreadsheet to work on problems. If you don’t want to participate you can go take your break now” during class. No attendance is taken. No homework is checked. There are no quizzes, papers, or midterms, and one hundred percent of your final grade is your exam score. There is barely any accountability throughout the semester to keep up with your studies despite the looming thought of that four-hour long written examination at the end of the course. And even that is usually open book!

This system is completely different from ones I’ve experienced in attending small private schools all my life. I have never been granted the anonymity that accompanies large lecture halls with countless unfamiliar faces and I’ve always been expected to do work and participate. Since first grade, my class sizes have been small and I’ve had teachers who saw it as their job (well, because it was) to keep engagement high and ensure students learn the material at every step.

At Richmond, there are some professors who believe that their students are truly adults and therefore expect more independence from them. In my experience, however, this means that those professors don’t walk around and check homework, but instead use checkpoints throughout the course to keep their students accountable. They utilize tools like papers, quizzes, and midterms to ensure that the work is always being completed. The expectation of independence in Denmark is astounding compared to the standard I’ve seen back home.

In the Danish classroom, if a teacher asks a question that results in silence they will not cold call (randomly choosing a student to respond), but rather answer the question themselves. Yet again, this differs from what I’ve come to expect in America. I vividly remember my first class in the Business School, Microeconomics with the late Dr. Dean. I found him to be an amazing professor, one of the best I’ve had, because of his ability to make me want to excel and impress him. Yes, he had daily quizzes on required readings, but the greater incentive to do well for me was grounded in the fact that he called on his students randomly. You had to come prepared if you wanted to convey your intelligence and avoid the social awkwardness of saying something dumb in front of your peers. I also felt satisfied in answering these questions correctly—it felt as though I had been personally challenged and emerged victorious. I have yet to feel this kind of desire to prove myself and excel in Danish classrooms so far.

This is Solbjerg Plads where I have my Competitiveness and Operations Performance class. It also has a cafe that turns into a bar/nightclub on Thursdays (when is 815 going to start doing that?)

This is Solbjerg Plads where I have my Competitiveness and Operations Performance class. It also has a cafe that turns into a bar/nightclub on Thursdays (when is 8:15 at Boatwright going to start doing that?)

That being said, the Danes handle their structure well. To American students and those who have a similar educational system, the Danish structure seems like a free ride. No homework? No quizzes? No problem! I would analogize the feeling to the freedom that results in the infamous freshman fifteen. Danish class is like D-Hall to a naïve eighteen year old. They have finally escaped the paternal eye and wagging finger that used to stop them from eating froyo for dinner every night and now they answer to no one. Obviously this is not without its negative repercussions.
I like to think that I would better fit in this system if it weren’t so disparate from what I’m accustomed to. That is, if I didn’t experience that wave of freedom I just explained. That being said, I’ve identified three alternate incentives to work hard and do best in the Danish educational system.

  1. Group Projects: I have yet been assigned a group project, but they are quite common in the Danish school system. This activity encourages more work because you are faced with a responsibility to others. It is easy enough to forego reading to your own detriment, but most people respond to the social obligation of not bringing the whole team down with you. You work so you don’t let your classmates down, but end up benefiting yourself in the process too.
  2. Professional Connections: Professors at CBS are highly qualified and connected in their respective fields. Many students are focused and driven to excel professionally and recognize the value of building a relationship with the man or woman who stands at the front of the lecture hall. This means many students work hard to participate in class, speak with professors during breaks, and work diligently in the hopes of building a connection that could lead to a job or internship.
  3. Reduce Myopia: This one is simple in theory but challenging in practice. You can be less nearsighted in academics by looking at your circumstance from two different perspectives. The first is recognizing that even though there are fewer checkpoints along the way in Danish classes, the journey still culminates in an exam. To excel, you must constantly remember that end and disperse work over time to avoid a tsunami of cramming in the final weeks. You can extend your sights even further though and consider why you’re even enrolled in college in the first place. For most, the final goal is not simply to get a good grade in a class, although that is often integral to the process. The driving objective of these classes is to learn and to use your acquired knowledge to find success in life personally, financially, professionally, or otherwise. With long-term objectives like these, you won’t even need a teacher singling you out to keep you on track. Granted that is easier said than done.
    This is one academic building on campus called Kilen. I don't have class here but I think it's absolutely beautiful. The campus also has lots of outside areas like this to relax and you see students hanging out in them all the time.

    This is one academic building on campus called Kilen. I don’t have class here but I think it’s absolutely beautiful. The campus also has lots of outside areas like this to relax and you see students hanging out in them all the time.

    This is the inside of Kilen. I've been amazed at the architecture and design in all of the buildings at CBS and this is certainly one of my favorites.

    This is the inside of Kilen. I’ve been amazed at the architecture and design in all of the buildings at CBS and this is certainly one of my favorites.

The Danish and American higher educational systems have their differences, but each meets the needs of students differently. I have found that I much prefer having methods in place that make me accountable for information before the exam, as they make me work more diligently throughout the semester. With that being said, I can learn and grow in the Danish system and use its approach to improve myself in other ways. It is my hope that I find my own success at this Danish university. I hope to leave Denmark with tools, like self-discipline, that will help me wherever I go.


Diana in Copenhagen: Eating in Denmark

September 18, 2014

Greetings Travelogue-ers! Sorry it’s been so long since my last update. Classes are finally fully underway and it feels like I’m finally starting to get the hang of everything. I’ve also spent a lot of time planning trips around Europe, which has been really exciting (and expensive…) for me so far!

I was thinking of what to write about this time, and settled on the thing that has surprised me most about Copenhagen so far. Coincidentally, the topic is also one of my favorite things on the planet…food.

I have come to learn that Denmark is not a place you should visit for the food. It doesn’t boast world-renowned pasta like the Italy or delicious tapas like Spain. While Denmark is home to Noma, the restaurant frequently voted the best in the world, I have found that the average visitor or resident here is deprived of food that you would describe as traditionally Danish. I am sure this is due in part to how expensive the city is, as only very wealthy families go out to eat and those restaurants might be where most Scandinavian cuisine is hiding. Alas, this has meant that I have been cooking for myself quite frequently and getting takeout sometimes as well.

After already completing two years at Richmond, I have to say I was surprised I yet to feel the quintessential pressure to survive on Easy Mac and Ramen Noodles that so many associate with their college years. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always lived a convenient distance from D-Hall that I’ve always found myself eating fairly diverse and well-balanced meals in my time as a university student. Or maybe it’s because of my fondness for Lou’s salads, it’s hard to say. One thing that is clear though is that that trend has not followed me across the pond to Denmark nor have I had much chance to try much Danish food.

Instead of the streets of Copenhagen being lined with Danish food trucks or eateries serving up traditional dishes, they’re saturated with pizza places. They also have tons of shops selling to-go food like Thai, shawarma (an Armenian equivalent of a gyro), and burgers. I’ve also found myself cooking a lot in my time here, which so far has left little to the imagination. My small kitchenette hasn’t seen much variety thus far as I’ve found myself eating an astounding amount of pasta and grilled cheese. Pizza, pasta, grilled cheese, burgers…

I came to Denmark and am finally eating like a college student.

A photo of my kitchenette and one of my grilled cheese masterpieces

A photo of my kitchenette and one of my grilled cheese masterpieces

This being said, I have tried to actively seek out Danish meals to help broaden my understanding of the culture here. My first experience was when my CBS buddy invited me to his apartment to cook some authentic Danish food. We started out by walking downstairs from his apartment to the grocery store, and I mean “downstairs” very literally. The closest supermarket was just steps from the door of his apartment. That’s another thing about Copenhagen—there are grocery stores everywhere. While each is much smaller than the ones we have in the States, they are much more abundant here in Denmark. I can’t say which I prefer yet to be honest, but it is remarkably convenient to have four stores within seven minutes walking from my dorm.

We picked up some potatoes, flour, beets, and butter at the grocery store and then set on making stegt flæsk med persillesovs, which directly translates as “roast pork with parsley sauce.”

Even though my buddy Kristoffer and his apartment-mates wouldn’t let me help, I sat back and took mental notes on how they were preparing the food should I ever want to be adventurous and give it a go myself. They started by boiling the potatoes, which I am fully confident in my ability to do, and making the parsley sauce (basically a gravy). The sauce itself probably made me gain ten pounds as it was comprised exclusively of some parsley and lots of butter, flour, and milk. Parts of each were added in increments while constantly stirring the mixture at a light boil. The parsley was added at the end, which not only added flavor but also made the sauce speckled green in a pretty way.

The meat out of the oven and ready to be flipped

The meat out of the oven and ready to be flipped

Then came the meat to prepare, and I learned I was foolish to think the gravy was to be the thing to make my pants tighter. The meat was described to me as more thickly cut bacon (imagine my excitement), and they cooked it in the oven on moderate heat and flipped it to brown both sides. They made sure to cook some pieces more thoroughly than others since people have different preferences on how well-done they like the slices. I think I preferred the crispier pieces but I’m not opposed to giving the others a second audition.

We sat down to eat, drowned the meat and potatoes in gravy and served it with a side of beets, a food that I’ve always surprised myself by loving. It was a great meal and I thank those guys not only for welcoming me into their apartment but also for sharing some of their culture with me. Frederik, one of Kristoffer’s apartment-mates, also gave me some insight on my aforementioned observation of the lack of traditional Danish food.

The final product! One of the most traditional Danish dishes called stegt flæsk med persillesovs.

The final product! One of the most traditional Danish dishes called stegt flæsk med persillesovs.

It was clear the meal before us was hearty and, while delicious, full of fat. He explained that dishes like these were what Danes typically ate back when Denmark was an agricultural country and the farmers needed a hefty supply of fuel to work in the fields all day. Since the country has evolved away from this physically strenuous agriculture, the people could no longer consume the same food and lead a healthy lifestyle. I found this description fascinating because of how a simple shift in the occupational norm could affect food, something integral to a nation’s culture, with such magnitude. Hopefully I will be successful in tracking down some more Danish dishes, but until then I might venture to cook some more elaborate things myself.

I make no promises.


Diana in Copenhagen: Beer Culture

September 2, 2014

To many American students studying abroad there is one cultural difference that is most apparent: the drinking age. Acknowledging that this could be an inappropriate topic or one that someone reading a cultural blog has little interest in hearing about, I’ll tread lightly and keep this as post as sociological as possible. We all know the drinking age in the United States is 21 and over, and that that makes us somewhat of a global minority, since most other countries have drinking ages that are 18 or even younger. This has been interesting to observe from my new perspective at a university where the entire student body is of legal drinking age and how that affects the way students view the use of alcohol.

The Danes love their beer, and I have a few reasons for how I came to this conclusion. I mentioned in an earlier post that I’m attending Copenhagen Business School this semester and they have corporate partners just like any other university. In company with Danske Bank and Deloitte, one of CBS’ seven major partners is none other than the Carlsberg Group, the makers of the most popular beer in Denmark. I’ll get back to them later.

Last week, exchange students were invited to purchase a social program consisting of activities to help us bond and get to know each other. At the meet and mingle night (glorified speed dating) they set up a bar in the classroom building. The social booklet also informed us that we could bring out own beverages to Danish folk dancing night. We had a student organization, the equivalent of Student Activities at Richmond, give a presentation at orientation about the social culture here. As you might have guessed by the progression of this post, the girls’ presentation was oddly centered around where you can drink at CBS, what it means to them culturally, and how at the welcome party we will find their very own university president handing out Carlsberg’s. The welcome party is a whole other story in that they clear out the CBS academic building Solbjerg Plads on Thursdays and transform the place into the largest bar in the city of Copenhagen. Mind you, this is a building many students will return to hours later to partake in their Friday classes.

The largest collection of unopened beer bottles in the world

The largest collection of unopened beer bottles in the world

I worry that by writing this post I will seem like another uncultured 20 year-old American student fixated on alcohol consumption, but I truly have found this topic intriguing. It’s a common thought in the US that our issues surrounding drinking (i.e. binge drinking, drinking and driving) come as a direct result of our higher legal age. We laude places in Europe for being way “classier” in their drinking because to young people, it is simply part of their national culture. Since young people drink with their families and have casual drinks with dinner they become immune to the perils we have in the States. Does this sound familiar? I certainly said it, and it’s true to an extent. While I wouldn’t fantasize it as much as I had from afar, it’s true that alcohol here, namely beer, is extremely engrained in Danish culture.

The aforementioned examples should illustrate how important beer is to Danes, but another place I saw this was on a trip I took to the Carlsberg Factory. We took a guided tour around the factory that was used for Carlsberg production up until 2008 and heard the surprisingly dramatic tale of the Jacobsen family that started the empire. They experienced their share of family issues (I would recommend reading the story if you have time), but the men did remarkably well for themselves and created a site full of beautiful, expensive, artistic, and elaborate buildings that exemplify how they perceived their importance as brewers.

One of the gates within the Carlsberg Factory depicting members of the Jacobsen family

One of the gates within the Carlsberg Factory depicting members of the Jacobsen family

Carlsberg is now the fourth largest brewery in the world, outdone only by Heineken, SABMiller, and Anheuser-Busch. Brewing has recently moved from this location and their plans for what to do with the factory demonstrates how beer is such a cultural staple. They are going to make a Carlsberg city.

This factory was used for brewing Carlsberg beer up until 2008

This factory was used for brewing Carlsberg beer up until 2008

Our tour guide promised that if we were to return to the Carlsberg factory in 16 years we would find it filled with apartments, houses, universities, preschools, grocery stores, and anything else you would imagine being in a small city. This news rendered me speechless, but it shows the cultural influence this corporate behemoth has in Denmark. Time will tell if this endeavor will be successful, but the belief in the cause is enough to show that beer here has an importance that far surpasses that which we have in America. Denmark is literally building a city on the foundation of its favorite starchy drink, and that’s certainly a cultural difference from America in my eyes.


Diana in Copenhagen: My First Week

August 29, 2014

Hello from Copenhagen!

 

After I had less than 48 hours to get ready and pack, I somehow made my way to Logan airport in time for my big European sendoff. I waddled around the airport equipped with a backpack “carry on” that was about the size I am, a tote bag “purse” heavier than most children I’ve seen, and a suitcase that tested the airline luggage worker’s strictness on weight limits. I was ready to begin my journey.

Me at the gate at Logan

Me at the gate at Logan Airport

To be fair, the said journey had a rocky start when I found that I was the lucky one placed at a middle seat with a broken screen on the seven-hour flight to Germany and, of course, the air conditioning on the flight was broken. Alas, things started to look up once a flight attendant restarted my screen and the AC finally started working.

 

The flight from Germany was short though, and before I knew it I was touching down in my new home. The Copenhagen weather welcomed me with rain, which I’ve learned is not surprising. Rare is a day here where there’s not a single shower—something I have yet gotten used to. On a brighter note, I walked into the lobby area of the airport to a smiling Dane waiting there to greet me.

 

This semester I’ll be attending Copenhagen Business School (CBS) and they have a program that matches its exchange students with a Danish student to show us the ropes. I greeted my buddy Kristoffer with a hug and spent the entire metro ride to my dorm asking him all of my questions about Denmark. Topics of conversation ranged from what Danish food is (apparently lots of heavy foods), Danish clothing (all black everything), and Danish people (extremely happy but not often outwardly friendly).

 

Time went quickly and soon we were walking into my dorm Kathrine Kollegiet in a municipality called Frederiksberg. The dorm room is for exchange students only and my hall has students ranging from Connecticut to China, so I’m even expecting dorm living to be a multicultural experience. My single here is huge too! I’ve got a kitchenette, two big windows that open to a playground area, and my own bathroom. The kitchenette with two burners, a small sink, and a microwave is…quaint. It’s served me well to make pasta, grilled cheese, and eggs so far but we’ll see how far I can survive on those meals. I’m hoping to write a food entry later once I get more creative!

My single in Kathrine Kollegiet

My single in Kathrine Kollegiet

The bathroom really surprised me though, because in Denmark they don’t differentiate the shower from the rest of the bathroom. The “shower” is really just a curtained off corner of the room. Just a curtain—yep. Getting used to this has been interesting, but I guess the system has its perks? I never need to worry about tripping on the little lip on the ground when getting in and out of the shower and I can put my foot on the toilet to shave my legs with ease. The whole room gets soaked though; I can only defend the system so much. Outside of this odd cultural design difference, I’ve truly enjoyed playing house so far and I know it will grow my independence tenfold.

The shower area

The shower area

I arrived in Denmark a week earlier than most to take something called a “Danish Crash Course” consisting of classes to help familiarize us with the Danish language. While I’m still quite the novice (this is a nice way of telling you I can say hello, thank you, and goodbye), this course was an easy way to get to know people. Now comes the real orientation week where we have the opportunity to meet even more students and hear about life at CBS. I’ve loved my time in Denmark so far and can’t wait to have more adventures.

 

Thanks for reading!


Diana in Copenhagen: The Preparation (or lack thereof)

August 18, 2014

Hello all! My name is Diana and I’m excited to have the opportunity to share my experiences with you all through this blog. I’m a Business Administration major concentrating in Marketing and looking to pursue a minor in Rhetoric and Communications, although I haven’t declared it yet. As the title of this post suggests, I’m going to study abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark this fall and am experiencing a whirlwind of emotions because of it. I’m beside myself with excitement, eager to begin my journey, curious about what the experience will bring me, and anxious about not being the least bit ready.

A year ago if you’d asked me to imagine what I would look like one week before studying in Denmark for four months I would conjure up an image of chaos. Flashes of lists would overwhelm me: ones of what to pack and buy while others would detail planned adventures to explore the continent. In this vision my room would be littered with piles of clothes and adapters and I would be engulfed in the packing nightmare every twenty-something endures before an extended trip with limited packing space.

Instead, I am sitting in the administration building at my job at a YMCA residential summer camp in Wakefield, RI (one of the two places on the property with full electricity and WiFi) at 11 pm waiting to return to a cabin full of sleeping adolescents. Not a bag is packed, no lists are made, and I’ve had minimal available brainpower to even realize how close I am to having the experience abroad that I hope will change my life. This is my thirteenth year at Camp Fuller and my fourth working at the place marked by rustic buildings, cabins with no walls or electricity, and amazing people from all over the world.

My cabin

Where I’ve lived for the past twelve weeks. There are only half walls so the sides open up as flaps.

The dock

Where I spend my mornings docking up after driving the water skiing boat for a few hours

I’ve made countless memories at this place and most can be attributed to the people who have found there way here from places like Australia, New Zealand, Poland, England, Ireland, Spain, and South Africa. Each year, people from every corner of the world somehow find their way to this run-down camp in the smallest state the United States and experience the culture here—my culture. I’ve grown used to being the host to these world travelers. I feel confident explaining how things work and am comfortable being the host and facilitator of their experiences in my country. As the summer is slowly drawing to a close though, I am becoming very aware of the clock ticking towards the moment when the tables turn.

diana and sara

Here I am with Sara, a counselor from Denmark I’ve known for the past two years. I can’t wait to have her show me around her home country now. We’ve already planned to meet up and cook authentic Danish food!

To be honest, I feel like I’m going into this experience blind, and that only intensifies my anxiety and excitement. This will be my first time having a single room in a dorm for example. Will I get lonely? Will I be able to go back to having a roommate after experiencing this freedom? Copenhagen is notoriously expensive. Will I be able to budget myself? Will I have enough means to do everything I want to do? I’ve never lived in a city before and am so attached to my GPS I’d consider naming my first child Garmin. How many times will I get lost? Will I end up loving the city and dread my return home to suburbia?

My questions are endless but I know in a mere number of days I will start getting answers. It’s crazy to imagine myself trading in my staff shirts and one-piece bathing suits for a passport that will take me across Europe, but those are just the facts. I’m ready to kiss my comfort zone goodbye and immerse myself in a new place just as I have helped so many others do before me. It’s my turn to learn, to grow, to explore, and to be the one enlightened by a new people and culture and I can’t wait to have that chance.

Stay tuned!


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