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Joshua Li

he/him
SFU Student Undergraduate
Applied Sciences › Computing Science › Software Systems
Co-operative Education

Program:
University
Location:
Here's a little report on my experiences during my short-term summer exchange in Aarhus, Denmark! I hope you can get a sense of how much I liked it there through this piece.
Experience Details
Semester
Summer
Year
2023
Introduction + Preparation
Previous Experience

The only other similar activity I had done was in high school for a program where I went to Ottawa for a week to meet other students across Canada. One lesson I took from that experience was to bring some Vancouver pins with me on this trip that I could then give to people I met abroad. It was great! They all were appreciative of the gesture and sometimes had trinkets of their own to trade me. You can get Vancouver pins for free at City Hall, I'm not sure what it's like in the other metro regions.

Packing

I tried to pack light for my trip because I had plans to do some travel around Europe after the exchange and didn't want to get bogged down by a bunch of suitcases. I borrowed a 50L hiking backpack from my friend and a satchel and was able to get everything I needed in there. It meant I could fly with just carry-on luggage and had a much easier time transferring trains and moving around. I would recommend travel cubes! I was able to get all my clothes into a single densely packed cube, and it made packing everything else in my bag much easier. I'd also recommend an eye mask - the sun stays up for a lot longer during those nordic summers.

Travel and Transportation

One of the few things I knew about Europe before arriving was that biking and taking the train is a much more viable way to travel, and I was excited to plan around that for my trip. I used the train to get to Aarhus after flying in from Copenhagen and for any day trips I had planned to other cities. I also started biking to prepare myself for all the biking infrastructure there and researched some short-term bike rentals in the city, which there were plenty.

Preparation Tips for Future Students
  • Everything is very digital in Denmark, from payments to bus tickets, it all can be done on your phone which can be convenient or annoying depending on how you look at it. I only used cash for the house laundry machine so you don't need to convert too much Danish Krone. Sort out your bank finances before you leave so you can use your credit card easily.
  • Food is expensive - make sure you have some simple recipes on hand for things you can cook yourself because eating out will quickly drain your wallet. There is also the university canteen which is a bit cheaper but still around $10-15 CAD per meal depending on what you get.
  • Rent a bike! The biking infrastructure is way better in Aarhus compared to Vancouver with separated bike lanes and bike parking spots everywhere. I was able to rent a bike for about $36 for my entire stay and used it every day for getting groceries, commuting to school, or getting to social events. Compared to the buses, which can be $4 for each ride and are not as frequent as Vancouver's, biking everywhere was faster and more economical.
Me posing in front of the bike rental shop with my bike
Me with all my luggage and my trusty rental bike!
During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

There wasn't a formal orientation session at the university, I just received a binder full of information and a couple of emails when I picked up my room key. The binder outlined some of the housing rules like how to sort garbage, clean the different rooms, and get around the city. The housing period was one week before classes started so I had a week to settle down. I was the first person to arrive at my housing so I was all alone for two days, but on day three there was a welcome day picnic where I met a lot of other exchange students. There I was quickly able to meet people who were taking the same class as me and I started feeling a lot more comfortable being with people who were in the same situation as me.

Accommodation and Living

I had signed up for housing through the university and had the choice between a dorm, shared housing, or a private room. I wanted the full experience of meeting new people so I selected the shared housing, which was 5 people living in one house with 1 kitchen and 2 bathrooms. For one month it was about $800 CAD which was reasonable compared to some of the other options in Aarhus. My housemates were all great! We all worked together to keep everything clean and even had a couple of house dinner nights where we all came together to make a big meal for everyone. They were all super interesting to talk to and gave me lots of living advice since most of them came from parts of Europe.

It was definitely the experience I wanted out of living in shared housing!

 

Group photo on a picnic table
Group photo of my housemates during Taco Night!

 

Day to Day

My class ran from 9:00am to 12:30pm Monday through Friday and then the university would have a social event planned every day in the evening. Because it was a short-term summer program, it was a very easygoing schedule which meant that after the morning lectures were done I had plenty of time to hang out with friends, finish up my homework, or attend social events. I made the effort to attend every event they offered and had a great time at all of them. I spend a couple of hours each day doing readings or finishing up my assignments but it was a very manageable workload.

Learning and Adaptation

The course I took is called Learn Software Design Using C++ from the Inventor of C++, which explored the design and recent developments of the C++ programming language. There were 3 hour lectures every day and assignments due every other day. I had some past experience with C++ so the assignments were technically not too difficult for me but I did challenge myself to use all the new features that were shown in the class which resulted in me taking longer to finish some of them. The class was pass/fail and so were the assignments which made it significantly less stressful for me. Plus, the TAs allowed us to resubmit if our submission had any errors so it was a course that was very much focused on the learning aspect. This class was one of the bigger ones at the university with around 60 people.

Accomplishments and Challenges

First settling into my new environment was the hardest part of the exchange since I was fully on my own. I was still getting accustomed to all the new rules, like how you have to get on the buses from the back and exit from the front, and was nervous I was breaking some sort of social norm wherever I went. I was also super worried about asking random people questions because I didn't know any Danish. In retrospect, it was a bit silly and I was a little too worried there, after I started talking to other students and started asking more questions I got a better sense of what things were like in Denmark. After all, I was a new person in the country so it would be totally reasonable if I made some mistakes. After enough time, I was able to adapt to my environment and get bold enough to ask random people questions if I needed help because indeed most Danes do know English as well.

Cultural and Environmental Observations

Aarhus is what they call a "big small city" which was a total change of pace for me who had lived in Vancouver all my life. I loved how compact everything was and how you could get from one side of the city to the other in a 20 minute bike ride. I could be more spontaneous with my day and just decide to go grocery shopping, visit the museum, or study at the library because it was so quick to get everywhere. There was also more focus on public services and social well being which was nice to see. Even in the fanciest, newest part of the city there is space reserved for low income housing and they have a huge building called Dokk1 that functions as a library, childcare space, government office, and cultural center.

Social and Extracurricular Activities

The university offered plenty of social activities each day so that we could experience everything Aarhus had to offer. There were city walking tours, pub crawls, museum visits, canoe trips, and so much more. I met a lot of my friends that way after I kept seeing them at these types of events. It was a great way for me to go to places I would have otherwise never planned on going to and made every day unique. Plus, after the official event was over, we would go grab food or attend another event in the city as a groupso there was a huge variety of activities I took part in.

A group of deer lying in grass
Meeting deer at Marselisborg Deer Park
Bird's eye view of people canoing
Canoeing down the Aarhus river, credit to my friend @fay_baba_ on Instagram
An anthropology museum exhibition
An exhibit at the Moesgaard Museum, a beautiful anthropology museum

 

Reflection & Tips
Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience

From this experience I have gained a lot of confidence in myself to traverse the world. This was my first time ever travelling to a new continent alone and before going I was very worried about being able to adapt to this new environment. But after getting settled down, I was able to quickly adapt to Denmark and really thrive in this new environment. I went places and did things I would have never imagined myself doing even one year ago and made new friends that helped me along the way. It was proof for me that I can overcome challenges and can gain a lot from taking the chance to try out new things. I look forward to carrying that mentality back home.

Connection to Academic Studies or Career Goals

As a Software Systems student, having a class focused entirely on C++ was incredibly useful since its a language that I'll be using a lot in some of my upper division courses. It was a good overview of some of the new features of the language and through the assignments, I learned to use tools that I would have never learned otherwise. I was also able to have a long conversation with one of the class's TAs who was doing his PhD at Aarhus and he gave me some insights on what that is like and the reasons he decided to do it. Through that conversation, I had a better idea of what the post-graduate options are  like and if they would be a good fit for me.

Advice for Future Students

I would recommend that you take every single opportunity that is presented to you so that you can make the most out of the time you have. Especially with a short-term summer program, the couple of weeks you will have there will go by super quick but in that time you can fit in a lot of wonderful experiences. Sign up for social events and get connected with your fellow students because they will introduce you to plenty of cool opportunities as well. It's ok to plan out everything beforehand, but make sure you can be flexible in case something new comes up!

Also, it's super easy to get around by train in Europe so don't feel restrained to just one city. From Aarhus you can get to Odense, Copenhagen, or even Malmo in Sweden super easily for a quick day or multi-day trip. The plane ticket to get to Europe can be a lot so you might as well make the most of it. But also, don't worry if you just want to relax and sit around in your housing all day, you don't want to burn yourself out.

Me posing in front of the Legoland Billund sign
It only takes about 90 minutes to get from Aarhus to Legoland!

 

Author

Joshua Li

he/him
SFU Student Undergraduate
Applied Sciences › Computing Science › Software Systems
Co-operative Education
visibility  234
Aug 24, 2023