Art history student Maggie S from Western Washington University spent a semester studying abroad in Aalborg, Denmark. She takes a minute to share her favorite bits about Aalborg University, Denmark and ISEP.
Aalborg is a city in the midst of redefining itself: evolving from an industrial center to a cultural center. It’s a particularly interesting environment to be in while going through this growing experience of living abroad (in my case, for the first time) because it mirrors you in a way. Sometimes it feels like life moves along at very leisurely pace in Aalborg. At times, that can feel a little dull, but mostly it just means that the people there don’t mind taking a few extra minutes to be extra helpful when you need a hand or that you walk slower to examine the details of the city more closely.
Aalborg University is very open to international students and offers many programs in English. This means that student life there is filled with people from all sorts of countries. This presents a huge opportunity to learn about a wide variety of other cultures, governments and languages. Plus, you have a great part of yourself in common with every other international resident because you’ve all left your homeland in order to explore something else, and that makes it easy to connect with all sorts of people.
While the main campus was pretty far from the city center, there are also various university buildings peppered throughout the rest of the city. I was lucky enough to join a program based out of a building right in the center and on the waterfront! Walking past the fjord every morning on my way to class was such a bright spot in my daily activities.
Aalborg University embraces a teaching style called Problem Based Learning which means that there are regular lectures for the first half of semester, and the second half is spent working with a group to create an extensive semester project of your choosing. Collaborating with international students taught me so much, and having that degree of control over what I learned meant I was very invested in creating something really outstanding.
My favorite aspect of Danish culture is this singular mentality they have about supporting each other. They’re all very helpful, and they all do their best to contribute positively to whatever they take part in because they recognize that solidarity means a better quality of life for everyone. In a way, living in Denmark is sort of like living in a prototype of utopia: people’s basic needs are taken care of, the streets are clean and everyone dresses alike. It’s actually kind of frowned upon to stand out, generally speaking, which is maybe the most difficult element of the culture for an American to get their head around. However, whatever offenses one might take to Danish culture are entirely made up for by the Danes’ touching passion for hygge. This word roughly translates to cozy, but refers more to an intimacy of sharing a drink or meal or pleasant evening with friends or loved ones.
The Danes are quite friendly, though generally fairly reserved before their fourth or fifth pint of Carlsberg. Once you get them really talking, the conversation is typically lively, intelligent, cynical and humorous. I found volunteering at the Student House (a bar, cafe and all around meeting place) gave me an in to a community that was a happy mix of Danes and internationals alike.
My favorite thing about the ISEP Exchange process was the degree of uncontrollability that comes with not being able to specifically choose a specific site. For me, the idea of studying abroad had always been about challenging myself, keeping an open mind and learning to adapt to new situations. Even though Denmark piqued my interest during the application process, if you’d asked a year before, I’d always imagined I’d study in France and I didn’t know a thing about Denmark.
For me, it turned out to be a great way to approach the experience because I couldn’t have very specific expectations, and I was in a mindset to embrace anything and everything that would happen to me.
Thanks, Maggie! Learn how you can study abroad in Denmark with ISEP.
An earlier version of this post was originally shared August 28, 2013.
*Note about the exchange process: exchange means that when you leave your home campus, another student from a different ISEP university comes to fill your spot. Because of this, the university at which you’d like to study abroad has to have enough space (that is, enough students leaving to study abroad elsewhere) for you to take the available spot. This is why ISEP Exchange students can get any one of their selected choices (ISEP staff always consider all of your requested universities and course requirements).
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