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Alice Pinheiro

SFU Student Undergraduate
Study Abroad › Exchange at SFU

Experience Faculty
Going on this exchange allowed me to intertwine my learnings about sustainable community development into my experiences abroad. By living in Copenhagen, I learned so much more about social welfare, sustainability and community development while living in one of the most sustainable cities in the world.
Experience Details
Introduction + Preparation

My preparations included applying for the Diamond Family International Mobility Award (DFIMA), which awarded me $2,000. Not including additional student fees paid to SFU, my overall course cost approximately $800 for one semester at the University of Copenhagen (KU) after my award.

Previous Experience

I have previously visited Copenhagen as a tourist and had travelled internationally several times throughout my life. However, I have never lived alone or lived abroad.  

Preparation Tips for Future Students

I recommend packing as lightly as possible when arriving in your host country, as when you return home, you are likely to have extra baggage. I brought two medium-sized suitcases and a tote bag when I left Canada for my exchange. I returned to Canada with two additional small suitcases and a medium-sized backpack. Also, I recommend packing both prescribed medicine—as they can be hard to find—as well as any cold, flu and pain medicine as you may have difficulty getting standard over-the-counter medicine in Denmark unless you have a prescription.

Viewpoint overlooking the city of Copenhagen
Viewpoint overlooking the city of Copenhagen
Small city in southern Sweden with colourful houses
Small city in southern Sweden with colourful houses
Tivoli, a popular amusement park at night
Tivoli, a popular amusement park at night
During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

The format for the Faculty of Science Orientation was an all-day event featuring ice breakers, lectures, lunch and campus tours. The orientation also included several socials over a week at a Student cafe called Studenterhuset and tours at various campuses. Information included the Danish grading systems, culture, university history, etc. The highlight of the orientation was a campus tour/scavenger hunt that took place. This allowed everyone to bond and have fun together. Many of the people I met during this orientation became some of my core friends throughout the semester.  

Day to Day

In Copenhagen, the day-to-day included biking or taking their excellent transit system to and from class. After or before class, I would often head to a cafe or try out a new brunch spot. I enjoyed checking out the free activities throughout the city, such as free museum days and concerts. On Fridays, my friends and I would head to the University of Copenhagen's different faculty bars. I made sure to attend various Erasmus social events, including board game nights, soap-making classes and karaoke nights. 

Learning and Adaptation

I took two classes designed for exchange students. My classes were once a week and included optional out-of-class learning activities such as field trips and movie screenings. One field trip included taking a bus to Sweden. The class size was a maximum of 40 students. Attendance was optional and did not count towards the final grade. The class grade was based on one paper written at the end of the semester worth 100% of the individual's grade. Just like SFU, KU also uses Canvas for their classes. The Danish grading scale was different though as Denmark uses a 7-point grading scale.

Accomplishments and Challenges

For me, exchange was a whole new opportunity. I had never lived alone, and I had never lived in a foreign country. Some of my proudest moments included joining Actory, a sustainability lab at a Studenterhuset in Copenhagen where students can volunteer. I worked with a team of students from all over the world to create a community kitchen event for exchange students at the University of Copenhagen. It has always been my dream to live in Copenhagen, so having the opportunity to live abroad was an accomplishment. Some of my challenges included the visa application process, as there is no Danish Embassy on the western side of Canada, which makes students from the West coast of Canada have to apply through Visa Facilitation Services (VFS). 

Cultural and Environmental Observations

Denmark has a very similar culture to Canada in terms of values. Considering environmental observations, Denmark is a very sustainable country. They focus on active travel incentives such as bike and scooter sharing, a 24/7 metro system, and biking infrastructure. Additionally, Denmark is known for their social welfare, which allows education, healthcare and childcare to be more accessible and economically feasible for residents. Danes also learn English very early and pick up a third language in high school. 

Social and Extracurricular Activities

For social and extracurricular activities, I recommend looking into Erasmus. Erasmus is an exchange program network for European students. However, non-European students can get an Erasmus Student Network (ESN) card as well and join various social activities and trips at a discounted rate. I went on a trip to Lapland, Finland through ESN, where I went swimming in the Arctic Ocean, cross-country skiing and saw the northern lights while snowshoeing at night. Trips to Norway and Iceland were also available. ESN is helpful in saving you money as well as you can get discounts for things such as Flixbus, certain flight companies, and baggage allowance. Volunteering for ESN or attending their social events is another way that you can connect and it is how I met several of my best friends.

Wrap Up

Exchange was a great way to gain a new perspective on life, your academic major and meet new people. Exchanges allow individuals to grow, learn more about themselves and others, and gain knowledge and independence in ways they did not previously believe were possible.

Reflection & Tips

I learned so much about supporting myself and living alone for the first time as well as gaining a lot more confidence about travelling and living abroad. Studying abroad has gotten me interested in living in different countries in the future for work and school. Additionally, it has taught me about different work opportunities and master programs abroad. 

Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience

Exchange was an incredible way to network and meet new people. Over six months, I met several amazing people worldwide who go to SFU and live in Vancouver. I would not have met these people otherwise, and it allowed me to learn so much more about different countries and cultures. Students should partake in an exchange if they can, and funding should be available to assist students with learning and living opportunities abroad. The hardest part of the exchange was the visa and housing process, but everything fell into place once I arrived in Copenhagen. 

Connection to Academic Studies or Career Goals

As a Faculty of Environment student, living in a highly sustainable city with incredible welfare allowed me to learn more about sustainable and social initiatives I want to help create in Vancouver. For example, I believe Vancouver could have more social welfare opportunities to help decrease rates of homelessness and create more incentives to make mental health resources more accessible. Moreover, living in Copenhagen sparked my interest in exploring work and study opportunities throughout Scandinavia.  

Advice for Future Students

I recommend getting a monthly commuter card if you plan to use the metro regularly and check out Swapfiet for bike rental options. Transit in Denmark is top-quality and runs 24/7 but can be expensive, so a monthly commuter card, youth pass, or bike rentals are the best way to save money. Also, I suggest cooking more meals instead of eating out at restaurants since groceries are cheaper than in Vancouver, but eating out is more expensive. Everyone I have talked to in Denmark speaks fluent English, which helped me get around the city and ask locals for directions. 


Alice Pinheiro

SFU Student Undergraduate
Study Abroad › Exchange at SFU
visibility  349
Oct 6, 2023