life as a student abroad

I’ve been writing a lot about adjusting to life abroad since I’ve been here, but getting an international perspective on education is actually the main reason that I am here. Of course, there are several other reasons why I chose to study abroad, but the only way that’s possible is because I’m still gaining college credit towards my degree. It may not seem like it based on my past posts, but I do actually have class each week consisting of heavy amounts of reading and homework. So, I thought I’d take some time to write about life on campus, my dorm, and my classes at Aarhus University.

I started class on February 3, and thankfully, they are all in English. My classmates are from all over the world: South Africa, New Zealand, Lithuania, Canada and so many others. Of course, some are Danish as well. Many of them speak English as their third or fourth language which can be slightly intimidating because I only know a bit of Spanish. But knowing English is something that we all have in common so it’s a good place to start.

I’m mainly focusing on obtaining credits for my international studies degree while I’m here, and my classes correspond well with that major. I’m taking a class on religion and the minds of gods, one on atrocity stories and human rights, and one more on Danish perspectives where we learn about the history and culture of Denmark.

I have classes only two days a week, which is the main reason why I can spend so much time traveling to other countries and exploring other areas of Denmark. However, each of the classes is between three and five hours long. On Mondays, I have two of my classes which means I’m in class all day from 8:00 to 4:00, or sometimes 5:00 depending on what we are learning that day. On Wednesdays I have class from 9:00 to 12:00. I’ve been able to establish a routine that seems to work pretty well so far. I spend the majority of Tuesday and Wednesday after class preparing for the next week of class, and completing readings and papers assigned to me. Usually, I am able to complete any necessary work then, but I can use other days of the week to make sure I have everything completed. I plan my trips around my classes to make sure I’m not missing anything important, which leaves Wednesday night through Sunday night for traveling. Usually, it’s easiest to plan trips from Thursday morning to Sunday afternoon or evening to make sure I have enough time to pack and get ready, and then to unpack and get prepared for class. Emma, Marissa and I also try to plan trips with Airbnb’s that have wifi so we can bring our laptops and do homework while traveling as well.

Classes in Denmark are pretty similar to the US in terms of difficulty level and content. However, it does take some time to get used to a four-hour class, so there is definitely a transition period where I had to become familiar with everything.

All of my classes are pretty small as well, with no more than 40 people in each which helps in creating discussion groups and being able to easily participate in class.

I’ve really liked having an international perspective when talking about global issues or moments in history. I’m not learning information from the viewpoint of a student in the US, instead I am learning information as a Danish student would, which allows me to understand things a little differently. We talk about the US often, but in a more critical way than we probably would at a US institution. For example, in my human rights class we are currently learning about the details and controversy surrounding Guantanamo Bay and while I had an idea of what happened during that time, I learned that I actually knew a lot less than I originally thought because I had never been taught in the US about what actually happened then. In my opinion, having this perspective is really important because it helps you gain a well-rounded view on things you may have only seen one side of before, so in that aspect it’s really interesting to hear from international students with several different backgrounds on their thoughts and opinions on different topics.

My classes usually consist of some lecturing, discussion, and group work with a few small breaks in between so there are a variety of things we do and the time seems to go by pretty fast, but at the end of the day I’m exhausted from all of the hands-on learning.

I have about a 10-minute walk to all of the campus buildings from my dorm, which is significantly shorter than a lot of other international students on campus. Student housing ranges from university dorms to your own apartment and are spread out all over Aarhus. Many students have more than a half hour walk to campus, so they opt to take public transportation or bike to class. Aarhus is an incredibly bike-friendly city. Almost every student on campus has a bike and uses it daily to get around. I got lucky and am able to walk almost everywhere I need.

In my dorm building, I have my own room where I was provided with some furniture when I arrived. I have a simple room with a bed, a desk, a dresser, a place to hang up some clothes and a sink. It’s not the homiest of places and I don’t have any decorations but for me, it’s a home away from home and a place I can come back to at the end of the day. Lastly, I share a kitchen and bathroom with the rest of the people on my floor.

After I moved in, I quickly learned that I was the only international student on my floor, and everyone else was Danish. This was, and still sometimes is, pretty intimidating at times because everything was very new to me. Everyone normally speaks Danish, so when they speak English I know they are doing it so I can be part of the conversation which I appreciate a lot but was still something I had to get used to. Everyone on my floor has been so helpful and welcoming to me and I hope to continue getting to know everyone better. Each Thursday, we have a common dinner, where everyone takes turns cooking meals for our floor and each week two people are assigned kitchen duty to make sure everything stays clean and organized. I had kitchen duty last week, which I was honestly a little nervous for, but everyone helped with any questions I had, and I even got to know people a little better too. I’m still working on becoming more comfortable in my dorm and how social everything is. It’s definitely out of my comfort zone, but it’s a necessary part of life here and I’m beginning to get used to it.

There are a few places to spend my free time on campus. The royal library less than a minute away on the other side of my dorm building. It has a buffet-style café and quite a few places to find a spot to study. I’m hoping to go there more in the future, as I’ve only been there a few times so far but have really liked it each time.

There’s also the Student House (Studenterhus in Danish) about a five-minute walk from my dorm. This is where most student events on campus take place. They even have an international night for students every Tuesday. In the Student House there is also a small coffee shop on the top floor and a basement bar with cheap drink deals and a cozy atmosphere. I’ve spent some time studying in the coffee shop and it’s a great place to sit on a (rarely) sunny day because there are lots of windows for natural light.

Lastly, a concept unique to Aarhus University: Friday Bars. Every Friday during the school year, the university transforms several rooms in each of the campus buildings into bars where students can find drink specials, dance, play games and socialize with friends. I still find it strange that the exact place where I study and learn becomes hot party spots on Friday nights. There are Friday bars all over campus so it’s easy to hop from one to another.

There are a few more places on campus I’m hoping to get to soon, like the botanical garden domes and a few other libraries.

Like everything else, this campus was intimidating when I first arrived, and I had to use google maps to get everywhere, no matter how close or far it was from my dorm. Since moving here, I’ve warmed up to things considerably. I’ve made a few friends from other countries and I’m beginning to learn my way around the city.

It really is a transformation process and it does take a while to get used to things. I still have a lot of questions and find myself confused more than not, but it’s a feeling I’m now familiar with.

I’m beginning to appreciate the city I chose to study abroad in and all of the amazing opportunities that it has given me so far.