More than halfway through the semester, my new life in Copenhagen is in full swing. With so many new things happening to me every day—eating new food, trying new types of transportation and activities, and new things to see—it does feel nice to have a set school routine with classes four days a week (and not to mention, classes that I am really enjoying). While I have loved my academic experience at Amherst so far, my academic experience in Copenhagen has been refreshing and exciting, as well as something more than I was expecting out of my time abroad.
I would admit that when I first considered studying abroad, I didn’t put too much thought into what my daily academic life would look like. In fact, I had no clue what type of program I wanted at all. Lucky for me, I went to the Global Education Office at Amherst and after asking me a few questions, they told me what kind of program they thought I would like. They mentioned the wide range of classes offered at DIS and I was enticed right away. Unlike a decent amount of study abroad programs, DIS is not a direct-enrollment option in which you enroll into an international university. Instead, DIS is a Danish-operated, non-profit educational foundation where Danish faculty teach courses at the DIS study center in the center of Copenhagen. This means the classes are all taught in English, and that the majority of students study in the States. The classes are, however, taught by some amazing Danish professors. This appealed to me because it felt comfortable. Not having really taken a language in college, I knew I needed to study somewhere that taught classes in English. DIS was also already an approved program by Amherst, so it was easy to apply directly. For some students, this model isn’t as appealing because it isn’t as immersive. I would say that it does, in some ways, feel very similar to going to class in the States in terms of my class makeup and the structure of the classes. However, personally, I think it’s great because I am experiencing so many new things on a daily basis. I knew that I wanted to feel as comfortable and engaged as possible in my academic life here and so far I really do.
The main reason I have a genuine interest in my classes here is because of the more specific focus they have. Compared to Amherst classes, I feel as though the classes offered at DIS have a deeply zoomed-in lens. I am an LJST major at home and whereas at Amherst I would take a more broadly-titled, but interesting, classes on things like Law and Culture, for example, here I am taking a class specifically on Humanitarian Law and Armed Conflict. My classes at Amherst gave me great background knowledge about the world of law in general, but being here has forced me to specify what types of law I am interested in and how I can further explore those topics. My core class here (similar to my major) is called Humanitarian Law and Armed Conflict. It has really opened me up to the world of human rights law and international law in general. Something cool that DIS does is study tours with your core class. I went with my class for a week to Bosnia to learn about the conflict there and that was extremely eye opening and such a cool way to delve deeper into a real world topic.
Another really amazing thing about the academic program here is the faculty. While they certainly seem like they are, most of the DIS professors are not full-time professors. They are researchers, psychologists, writers, coaches, business people, and more. This gives them a totally unique and expert view on what they are teaching about. You also know automatically that they are teaching international students because they love what they do and want to share it with the world.
I would also like to point out that I take five classes here, which does feel like significantly more than four classes at least work wise. I think this has a lot to do with cultural side to academics in Denmark, which includes a greater emphasis on group work and collaboration. I do a lot of group presentations and projects here and have even worked on some group papers, which was something that I have never experienced at Amherst. In my Danish class, we have talked about this collaboration mentality and where it comes from in Danish society. There is actually a written rule which is where this idea originated. It’s called the Jante Law and it is a 10-rule system originally created by the Dano-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose, in his satirical novel A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks (En flyktning krysser sitt spor, 1933). This cultural code of conduct essentially says “You are not better than anyone else.” All of the rules have to do with the idea of equality and not acting like you are unique in anyway. I found this extremely interesting because I would say that, in American colleges especially, we are taught an opposite attitude. I would say in the US, the mentality is that you should stand out or you won’t get ahead. Some might even say that Amherst students wouldn’t have been accepted into Amherst if we did not have an “I am better than everyone” type of mentality. Because of this, academics here have felt very different.
It’s hard to tell whether the lack of competitiveness in the classroom comes from just being abroad in general or if it is actually the Danish Jante Law working some of its magic. Either way, it is definitely refreshing to be around. Overall, I am looking forward to being back in an Amherst classroom, but the things I have received in my DIS classrooms, as well as outside the classrooms, have been valuable beyond what I could have even imagined.