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SFU Student Undergraduate
Science › Biological Sciences
Co-operative Education › Local Co-op, Study Abroad › Exchange

Program:
Experience Faculty
The experience of learning and participating in Danish culture for a semester has been a valuable addition to my SFU journey. This was a rare chance to immerse myself in a new country and gain perspective in another field of knowledge.
Experience Details
Semester
Fall
Year
2023
Introduction + Preparation
Financial Preparation

In terms of financial preparation, I had savings from the part-time jobs I held throughout my degree. My exchange was in Denmark, which has a high cost of living (but is also one of the happiest countries in the world). Thus, I required the help of my parents as well, because I was unable to obtain any outside funding. 

From the very beginning, I intended on cooking most of my meals rather than dining out. Therefore, my food budget was low to counter the high cost of rent. Additionally, it is fairly easy to travel around Europe, so I had to budget for my trips throughout the exchange semester too. 

The dorms were mostly bare; there were no linens, kitchen utensils, clothes hangers, etc. Therefore, those had to be purchased when I arrived. 

Furthermore, there were many fees associated with obtaining a study visa to Denmark. But it gave me access to travel freely within the Schengen Area, and qualified me for free entry into exhibits such as the Louvre Museum in Paris, as I was an "EU-resident".

A positive aspect to being in Denmark when it comes to finances, is how cheap the phone plans are compared to Canada. I paid roughly $4 CAD each month for 5GB of data with calling and texting. This included EU roaming for my travels! And generally, a lot of grocery items are less expensive than in Vancouver.

Packing

Due to the low cost of my flights, it meant that I had many layovers and could only bring a carry-on luggage with a personal item. It took me one whole day to pack and it was tough trying to decide what I could bring with me. My items mainly consisted of clothes, toiletries and skincare, laptop, only the basic essentials. Kitchen items, bed linens, and more clothing varieties would have to be bought when I arrived in Denmark.

An important thing to remember is check the weather! I had a fall/winter exchange, so everything waterproof, from head-to-toe, is a must! Either bring it, or buy it.

Travel and Transportation

The main issue is that there are no direct flights out of Vancouver to Copenhagen. It is quite expensive to fly to Europe, especially during the summertime. Therefore, I did my best to check flight paths during my free time to find the most cost-efficient way to get there. I was able to purchase my flights for under $800 CAD. I flew to Calgary, then Paris, then Amsterdam, and finally to Copenhagen. Once I arrived in Copenhagen, it was confusing getting my bearings at first, but their transit system is simple to navigate. They have a metro that connects directly to the airport and runs 24/7. It’s worth noting that the city of Copenhagen is well known to be a biking city. Therefore, the main mode of transportation is actually biking, even though the transportation systems here are designed well. I rented a bike from “Swapfiets” but I know plenty of others that bought a second-hand bike from Facebook Marketplace.

Preparation Tips for Future Students

Other than learning from the mistakes I made, I would say you simply have to be mentally prepared for diving into a new country and struggling for the first little portion. Make sure you have cash or a card you can use to pay for the initial expenses for when you arrive and don’t be afraid to ask for help from strangers. If you come during the rainy season in Denmark, make sure you have gear for the rain and waterproof items. Most importantly, learn how to bike beforehand if you don’t know how to already!

During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

The in-person orientation spanned across three days and consisted of Danish culture, biking rules, and general activities to create conversation between peers. There was introduction of some clubs at the university, as well as the student life on/off campus. The highlight from orientation were the friends I made during it. This group became the people I saw quite often throughout the semester.

Accommodation and Living

Similar to Vancouver, Copenhagen has high rent prices and the housing options aren’t that great. For the University of Copenhagen, they don’t do direct on-campus housing, but there is a system called the “Housing Foundation” that exchange students are automatically signed up for. Personally, I had a rough experience with them. Their webpage didn’t work on the day they said the accommodations would be released and I had to stay up a second night in order to browse through the options. There were so many people applying for these dorms, that the only options I had left when I gained access to the portal was the furthest and most expensive one. 

It is more difficult to find third party housing as most places have a long waiting list or their websites were in Danish and were hard to navigate. I would say the living situation is based on luck and make sure to keep your expectations low. 

Learning and Adaptation

I took courses strictly in the Faculty of Humanities and the class sizes varied. One was a larger, lecture hall course while the other one was a smaller, classroom-sized course. Both of the lectures were taught on campus and happened once a week. There were field trips throughout the semester that sometimes took us outside of Copenhagen. Most notably, we got to go to Sweden on a bus! In terms of grading for these courses, they solely came from final papers. 

Accomplishments and Challenges

I was extremely overwhelmed when I first arrived in Denmark. I had to run all over Copenhagen trying to get everything sorted out. I didn’t have enough cash and I was hesitant in using my credit card due to the conversion fees. I barely knew how to cook for myself and I wasn’t exactly skilled when it came to knowing what to purchase at the grocery store. There was no one back home that could help me settle into this new country and I seriously debated on cancelling my exchange and booking a flight back home. 

However, the fact that you are reading this report, means that I have successfully completed my exchange semester. I was able to get my finances sorted out, learn some basic cooking skills, shop the sale items at the grocery store, and figure out how to easily get around the city.

One thing that isn't talked about enough, is that loneliness is a huge issue for exchange students. One of my proudest moment is picking up the courage to talk to strangers and make friends across the world. Of course, alongside learning how to live by myself away from family for the first time. 

Social and Extracurricular Activities

My dorm did not have many social events. However, the university itself has many opportunities for social and extracurricular activities. One highlight that I will mention, is the University of Copenhagen Japanese Café. This student run club is an extremely friendly group that is open to everyone. Every week, there is a room where students gather to hang out, have snacks, and potentially participate in activities related to the Japanese culture. Even if you are not Japanese, everyone in the group is open to conversation and boardgames that the club-runners provide. There is quite a diverse group of individuals meeting up each week. 

Reflection & Tips
Reflection

I thoroughly enjoyed my study abroad experience. I have grown immensely over the past couple of months and I wouldn’t trade this adventure for anything in this world. In the beginning, I held a lot of regret. I had decided on Denmark over Japan for my study abroad destination as a means to leave my comfort zone. The reason of my regret was how hard it was to be in this foreign country without any help. For Japan, I had visited previously, and my parents had lived in Japan before and they spoke Japanese. So, I was extremely stressed when I first arrived in Denmark and regretted choosing a country so vastly different than what I was used to. However, I truly love it here now and I would love to live here in the future. 

After I got settled in, I felt so safe and happy in Copenhagen. it truly became my home and I know I will think about this experience for the rest of my life. 

 
Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience

From the calmness of Copenhagen, to the ease of travelling around Europe, it’s not hard to see why the quality of life here is so high. I came here knowing nothing and was so scared/stressed. But over the past couple of months, I have learned essential life skills, and most importantly, I learned that I am strong enough to make a home for myself even if I was plopped on the other side of the world. 

Furthermore, I gained a new outlook and appreciation of life. The moment hit me when I saw the Northern Lights in Norway; I couldn't believe what I was seeing and how lucky I was to be alive and here. 

Advice for Future Students

While this is technically an exchange where you study at another university overseas, remember to relax a little and take the time to enjoy the new country you are in. There is a low probability that you will be this young and this free ever again in the future. It’s so easy to feel lonely and hide in your dorm all day, but go out to events and campus clubs even if you don’t feel like it. Additionally, finding a group of friends that you can do activities with elevates the experience. Don’t forget to call home regularly and keep up with your existing friends. Also, many things won’t go your way on the first try, but the important thing is to not give up before you try again. Lastly, if you are on an exchange in Europe, make sure to take advantage of how cheap it is to fly around!

 

Author

E C

SFU Student Undergraduate
Science › Biological Sciences
Co-operative Education › Local Co-op, Study Abroad › Exchange

 

 
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Nov 23, 2023