Studying and Living Abroad
As a final post, I look back to my study abroad experience in Copenhagen and focus on aspects often overlooked when choosing your study abroad location: academics and housing. The bulk of this post consists of my photography (again), so feel free to just skim. But you might get some good insight as well by reading the margins!
As an international student, I am studying abroad in Amherst very much for the classroom experience. But people in Amherst (who are used to this great classroom experience already…) generally do not study abroad for the classroom experience alone. Nonetheless, DIS Copenhagen offers some great academic courses, if you choose right. Here, I outline my experience to point to general advice.
I think there are three ways to make the most out of the “study” bit of study abroad. One is to focus on learning the language of the local society. Say, going to Korea to study Korean or going to Spain to study Spanish. Another is to focus less on the studies and more on the “abroad” bit of study abroad through immersive extra-curricular opportunities. This might be the case if you want to study abroad but still need to take, say, computer science or math for your Amherst major while there. In this scenario, the academics might be reduced to a constraint to the overall “abroad” experience. This is fine, if that’s the tradeoff you’re making, but this is more like studying “while” abroad, not studying abroad. You might, for example, want to explore options like volunteering, working with local organizations, or getting involved in a cool local startup while you’re there.
If you want your study abroad experience to be specific and tailored to what you actually want to learn, you want to study the particular “abroad” you chose, and critically at that. Examples include going to the tropics for biology, going to India to study religion, and going to Japan to study Japanese culture.
To this end, I think – and others may think differently – the short answer to “why study in Denmark?” is to see the light and shadow of a sophisticated welfare state. Every little detail of this society is tied to their nation-state, and this salience is something unfelt in the United States. Put differently, you go to Denmark to study the frontiers of a certain branch of thought in social science, what I would broadly call nation- and state-building. More specifically, if you want to study healthcare and its related industries, policymaking, urban planning, and the like, Copenhagen is a great destination.
The people in my core course were the most practical group of sociology students I have encountered. There is something to be said about the type of people who self-select to go to Denmark, of all places, from America, to study sociology. For related thoughts about this, see my other blog post.
Here is a list of the courses I took at DIS Copenhagen. My ‘core course’ was Cultural Diversity and Integration. It was taught by an anthropologist, and involved some field work in Copenhagen as well as a study tour to Thessaloniki, Greece. As an elective, I took International Refugee Law, taught by a former practitioner. I also took Identity Lab – it was basically social psychology, but with emphasis on applications. Yet another elective was Challenges to the Welfare State, a policy-oriented course studying the Danish system in more detail. Lastly, there was Danish Language and Culture (you can guess which part of this course I took away more of). I strongly recommend all of these courses. Architecture and design-related courses looked great, too, as did humanities classes about gender and religion.
I have been working as a residential community advisor at Amherst College since sophomore year. Thus I found it worthwhile for me to get out of dorm life for a semester and do a homestay, which was something I have always wanted to try. So, I lived with a Danish family for four months! And it was great.
I lived in a distant town in the far suburbs of Copenhagen, which meant I had a 75-minute commute one way on the train. Did I hate rushing to the station every morning in the cold to catch a train that only comes every 10 to 20 minutes? Sometimes. But I liked the train because you can tell a lot about the society from public transportation, and the trains were never crowded. I benefited from doing my readings or taking a power nap on the commute.
My advice would be to just choose the dorm if you want to replicate the convenience and absolute freedom of the Amherst dorm experience. Don’t worry, the dorms at DIS Copenhagen looked very decent compared to some stories we hear around here… The truth is that doing a homestay requires a certain amount of adaptability and conformism. I enjoy that; others suffer from politically incorrect people they may encounter, long commutes, and other constraints imposed by the host family. Some schools actually require their study abroad students to do a homestay. Amherst is right not to enforce that.
Homestay-ing as a college student, especially just for a semester, can be different from homestays at a younger age. Your host parents become your family, yes, but the common sense is that you are already independent. I was lucky because it was also the first time my host parents ever hosted a student, so no prior expectations on both sides. With my host family, I enjoyed watching the Danes win the handball world championship, going to nearby cities for sightseeing, doing the gardens, and riding the bike around the neighborhood.