By: Gabby Richardson
Hej! For the second semester of my 3rd year I decided to go to Copenhagen, Denmark. Here are a few details of my new ‘Copenhagen life’, based on the questions that have been most commonly asked by my family and friends.
Q: What’s the city like?
Copenhagen is one of my favourite cities in the world. It’s beautiful, diverse, and there is something for everyone! The shops, cafés, architecture, canals, landscape architecture, parks, gardens, bike riding, food… you name it, Copenhagen was made to be a comfortable city to live in (although you pay the prices for it). For me, it encompasses the traditional European vibe with elements of modernity.
One thing I love about this city is that it is very easy to get around. There are several buses, metro lines, s-trains, regional trains that can get you to your destination. But wait… how could I forget to mention bikes? Copenhagen is known for it’s bicycles – being named the most bike friendly city in the world. About half of the population cycles to their destination everyday (I am working on becoming one of them). Now that’s what I call eco-friendly!
On that note, Copenhagen has several fancy gardens, parks and playgrounds designed in very creative ways. About 96% of people in Copenhagen can walk to a green space in 15 minutes. Using green spaces across the city is popular for all ages, especially on a sunny day.
Since I have been here, I’ve noticed the city is quite high tech. Everywhere accepts visa or debit… even when paying cover to get into a bar. If you have a Dansk bank account, you get to use “Mobile Pay” at almost any location – a process which involves e-transfering money with a quick tap or code on your smartphone, keeping all receipts on file. Also, the rejsekort bus pass even has it’s own atm at several train and metro locations. Car rentals are even high tech, as “Green Mobility” allows you to reserve and unlock a car nearby by just using a smartphone app. Lastly, there are many automatic doors! No, seriously, doors that look ancient are even automatic, it’s quite funny.
Q: Where do you live in the city?
My residence is Bispebjerg Kollegiet (took me forever to learn the pronunciation of that). It’s just outside of Nørrebro and only a quick walk to the main street- Nørrebrogade. In sum, Nørrebro is an area north of the city centre known for it’s cultural diversity. When I tell Danish people I live here, they say “That’s a nice trendy area”. I agree. From what I have seen so far, there are many cafés in Nørrebro, shops, parks and cute streets to walk through. I’ll leave the rest to my future blog post about Nørrebro.
In terms of my residence, Bispebjerg Kollegiet is quite modern and new. I live in my own room with a small bathroom and kitchenette. This set up seems to be quite standard here.
One of the coolest things about living in residence has been our Monday night dinners. I have joined the residence group called ” Fællesspisning på Bispebjerg Kollegiet” which translates to “Communal eating at Bispebjerg residence” in English. Each Monday, we decide in our Facebook group chat what the meal will be, go out to the grocery store across the street (usually Netto) around 5pm to get the ingredients, and then cook it together… usually ready to serve for 6:30pm. This has been a great way to meet and socialize with people in the building, as each person having their own room can be isolating at times. Also, as eating out is not economically feasible for most students. Splitting the bill for Monday night dinners is usually equivalent to $3-$8 Canadian dollars. Now, that’s a good deal!
Q: So, how’s uni there?
I am currently an exchange student at the University of Copenhagen, in the social sciences department. I am taking the following courses: Anthropology of Migration, East Asian Cities: Urbanization and Big City Life in Japan, China and South Korea, a Danish Culture course and Medical Anthropology. That’s 4 courses for a total of 30 ECTS.
Most of my classes take place at the University of Copenhagen City Campus. It’s around a 15 minute bike ride from my residence. The building, Kommunehospitalet, was a hospital from 1863-1999. It has now been converted into classrooms and offices. It’s super cool and creepy at the same time. Also, one of my courses takes place at the Southern campus located in Amager, which is quite modern. It has some great architecture/ landscape architecture.
The university classroom environment I have experienced while in Copenhagen differs a lot from the university classes I have taken back home in Canada at the University of Guelph. For starters, I find the professors are more inclined to actively engage with the class. They are seriously there to teach you and work with you. Group discussion and group work is common. The classroom is seen as a welcoming, inclusive learning environment. In my classes here, I have to do group presentations that aren’t necessarily marked but used to start dialogue about an interesting topic area to do with the course. However, Canadian university classes (unless it’s a seminar) involve a lecture, with minimal class participation. The Canadian university lifestyle experience is usually full of stress, studying for midterms, handing in papers, assignments, projects – all graded. Safe to say, university life in Copenhagen is much more relaxed in my opinion, manageable and fair while also providing an effective education.
Q: How are the Danes?
Oh man, I love when people ask me this. Overall, the Danish people I have met in Copenhagen have all been friendly, somewhat polite, but for the most part very reserved. It’s a common understanding amongst exchange students that you likely will not make a Danish friend. Don’t believe me? Even The Ministry of Higher Education has recognized this. Though from my experiences this stereotype has been true, I have been getting some smiles and good conversation out of Danes as times goes on. They are tough shells to crack, as one may say, but nice and helpful once you get to know them.
I have always been impressed by the emphasis on language skills in Europe, and this is evident in Copenhagen. Most things are written and said in Danish across the city, but if you reply to someone’s Danish question with “what did you say?” they are very quick to switch over to English. Also, the Danish fashion over here is quite stylish. Now in season: trench coats. I have also noticed funky or “statement” pants are in style, along with nice short boot shoes. The classic “Fjällräven Kånken” backpacks are also popular here, and I did decide to spurge on one. Most Danes walking around the city, or should I say BIKING around the city, have a fashion sense that could be on the cover of Zara or H&M (actually H&M is popular here… makes sense). And no, I have not seen a Dane wear Blundstone’s. Although I have the trench coat covered, I am not prepared to stop wearing my trusted Aussie boots.
Q: So, how would you describe Denmark so far? What things/ practices are ‘Danish’?
Denmark is known as being one of the happiest places in the world (recently overtaken by Norway and Finland). It’s a welfare state, everyone is highly taxed, but citizens receive government benefits that give the population access to health care, education, welfare, vacation time, maternity and paternity leave, to name a few. Due to this, there is generally a good work/life balance. A full time work week here is usually 37 hours.
While living in Copenhagen, I have noticed Danes are quite patriotic. Danish flags cover grocery stores, and are on many things. I’ve also noticed Danes use their flag when wishing someone happy birthday. Hmm…it’s cool, can’t say I use the Canadian flag in my birthday messages.
Popular food items include: rye bread, oatmeal, cheese, pastries, liquorice, smoked salmon, remoulade… just to name a few. Some specific Danish foods I have encountered include open face sandwiches (smørrebrød), the Tibirkes pastry and Danish hot dogs.
There are some other things I have noticed/learned while living here. For instance, at the grocery store never forget to put the divider across the belt…it’s something everyone does. Also, tipping is not necessary at restaurants. And oh, it is legal to drink alcohol on the streets. On the weekend, you’ll often see people heading to the bar with a brew in hand.
Cafés are definitely very common here, and they help to create “hygge”. This characteristic of Danish culture refers to cosiness, comfort, contentment and well-being. You’ll see “hygge” when Danes are outside on the patio with a blanket in 12*C, enjoying a drink in the sun with friends/ family.
Q: Planning on taking advantage of cheaper European travel while you are on exchange in Copenhagen?
I have been doing that already. My first trip was to Malmö, Sweden for the day. It was only about a 40 minute train ride from Copenhagen central station! My friends and I had a lot of fun, saw some of the main sights while also taking advantage of the slightly better exchange rate.
Last weekend, I was in Hamburg, Germany. That was loads of fun… and there will definitely be a blog post about it! On March 8th, I head to Aarhus, Denmark for the weekend. Other than that, Adrianna and I are are starting to plan our European backpacking trip, set to take place in June.
If you have any other questions or comments about my exchange experience, leave them below or contact us! 🙂