As part of their positions, CGIS Advisors embark on site visits to visit students and ensure that our programs are the best they can be. Senior Intercultural Programs Advisor Callie Rouse recently traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark to visit students attending the DIS: Copenhagen program. She spoke with College of Literature, Science, and the Arts students Caitlyn Wessel (junior), Megha Bairwal (junior), and Lauren Broseker (junior).
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Callie Rouse: Okay, so my first question for you guys is why did you choose to study abroad on this program?
Lauren Broseker: Well, first of all, I was very interested in Copenhagen in general. I've never been anywhere in Scandinavia before. And I figured it'd be a really good opportunity to explore this area in depth because you're here for four odd months instead of just like a week for vacation. But also DIS worked well, specifically because I'm minoring in sustainability and for the minor you need some practical experience requirements and because of the sort of experiential learning aspects in the field studies in the study tours that carried over to that so it would allow me to finish my minor and graduate on time. So logistically it worked out well, but I also think it's just a really great way to better explore a city and I think it's a really good learning style, to have those experiential outings with your class. So I'm so glad that I did it.
Caitlyn Wessel: I was first drawn to Copenhagen because I'd heard really good things about the mental health support in Scandinavia, and that was something that I was looking forward to. Just a bit more laid back lifestyle and I think they have a really good work life balance. So I wanted that and then DIS coupled that perfectly because they had great travel opportunities and traveling within the city and within Europe, and I think they also have a great variety and classes. I fortunately was in a position where I could kind of take whatever I wanted here. So I wanted to take fun classes that were different from what I was taking at school. At the University of Michigan, Econ is much more math based. So I wanted to have more of that liberal arts—like an art class and a writing class—and classes I hadn't taken, so I think all those things came together and that DIS was a great program for me.
CR: What is something you took away from this experience or a story you'd like to share?
CW: So I think my favorite thing is the travel writing class that I'm in kind of forces you to talk to strangers in Copenhagen, and I enjoy talking to strangers. But I was able to talk to some really cool people in the city that opened up to me about things I think. It is, for example, like I talked to a mother and I think that the way they raise children here is super interesting. And I had a really cool conversation with her and we ended up having a lot of similarities. Like, she lived in Boston for a while and she knew the DIS Program. So it was cool to connect with her, someone that was a stranger. And that's like one of my favorite moments so far.
LB: I just feel like it's been very eye opening sort of coming to a new place, and seeing some of the very different aspects of their culture that we don't necessarily have in the state. So like, for example, sort of an obvious one is that they bike ride everywhere here. Almost everyone owns a bike. It's funny like in the morning when it's cold out, usually I'll take the bus, but at 8:30 During the sort of morning rush hour, it's like a fleet way to work, like the Tour de France sort of thing. But it's been really cool seeing that and I kind of wish that we could take some of those assets back in America. But that being said, also some of those like, different aspects. It's also been cool living with a local Danish resident in my Collegium. And like, just getting along so well with her, and finding really common similarities with her and just being like a fellow student. So it's been really cool to be able to just break down those differences in where you come from and just become friends with people.
Megha Bairwal: I think it's very similar for me to just immerse myself in the culture. I have a visiting host family, so that’s really cool because my host brother is 20. So it's really cool to see how he lives his life with my host mom and to eat with them and to talk to them is very exciting. A lot of our professors here are so much more chill, and they stress that ‘Oh, grades are not important. You people don't need grades, good grades to go to grad school,’ or stuff like that. And it's just these huge cultural differences that I wasn't expecting, but it's very cool to see a very different way of life.
CR: Can you talk about what a visiting host family is? Because I didn't even understand that we had that. And I feel like a lot of students are afraid to commit to living with a host family, but there's a kind of in between option.
MB: I didn't want to have a host family who I am the responsibility of, but a visiting host family is a family you can visit. I think either once every week or once every month. There's a bunch of options you can pick from and it's totally up to you and your host family how much you want to see each other. And DIS gives you a stipend to go visit them. So it's completely free to visit them and you can choose if you want a family with siblings or they kind of match you according to that. So my visiting host family is a mom and her two kids, but one of her kids is 24 and she lives in Fredericksburg, so not with her mom. And then I have a host brother who's 20 and lives in Summorum which is about like a 40 minute train ride from here and I try to visit them once every month and they're very supportive of that. Like how much I travel and everything. They've cooked dinners for me and they said they were planning to go to a beach together soon up north here. They have a beach house so yeah, I think they did a good job matching me with the family that I'm getting along with.
CR: Why should students participate in this program?
LB: I think it just makes things really easy for you. Sometimes it can be difficult coming to a new country and having to figure out some of the logistical things, like, where you're gonna live, how you're gonna get around like with a metrocard, or something like that. And DIS figures all of that out for you, which is really nice. So for example, you have some options for where you want to live, like apartment style or with a family in a Living Learning Community. And so I chose the more apartment style and got them in a really great location with a great roommate and other local residents. They set you up with either a bike or commuter car to take the local public transit, that's great. They give you a grocery stipend, and they also organize trips for you with your classes, which have been really fantastic. So a lot of these things are taken care of for you already so you can acclimate a little bit easier into the culture, meet new people and not have to focus on some of those more logistical things.
CW: I would also reiterate that I think DIS takes every stress out of like, applying and getting into a program or, like, I didn't have to really do anything to get my visa here. They have really great housing options. They also have really great classes. I think they also operate like a university back home. They have study areas and in the beginning, they have a lot of events where you can go into the city and they fund a lot of that. So I think in terms like the logistics standpoint, it's a great program. And I think Scandinavia is also a great place to be. I would also say everyone here is very helpful. If you ask for help, like any Dane is going to help you. I would also say they all speak English here, which is also really helpful. I do see the value in learning a new language but for such a niche language, having them know English is also very helpful. So I think I'm very happy here. And that's what I love about it. And DIS helps that but also I think the culture of Denmark in Copenhagen specifically also does that. I think it's a great place to live and visit other places rather than visiting Copenhagen. I think people come here for the way of life, not an attraction. They come here to live the Danish way and ride their bikes and have great public transit. It’s a very clean city and very safe, especially as a woman, I've never felt unsafe here. And I know that's not the case for other countries, even more developed countries like England and Scotland like I know girls there that don't feel that way. Yeah, so I would just say overall just an absolutely amazing city to live in and I'm actively looking for ways to live here.
CR: Considering different identities that might resonate with you, is there anything you'd like to share about your identity and how it's been impacted from your time abroad?
CW: I think for me, it's a gender thing; I feel like everyone's pretty equal here. And on social media I follow a couple women who are actually Americans that live in Copenhagen now and they talk a lot about how the societal pressures that you feel in the states are not nearly as strong as you feel here. Like, I think one thing that sticks out to me and obviously this doesn't impact me right now. But in Copenhagen, men and women are given maternity leave and paternity leave, or for men at least, like they're required to take the four months. So I think, you look at structural things like that, and women and men are put on very equal footings and I think that's interesting.
LB: Yeah, I feel very similar about the gender aspect of it. Like you were mentioning before, I feel very very safe walking around at night, like by my Collegium and Alma or really like anywhere. I usually feel that way as well in Ann Arbor, but I know I can't say the same for other cities. Like when I was traveling to Barcelona or Madrid, like I remember, I would feel a little more uneasy walking around at night, if I was alone or something. So that's really great. And I sort of agree about it, it just feels more balanced here. Structurally, it feels like they let women sort of, I don't know, take more control in their careers or anything like that. And then in terms of other aspects, I just think they make a good effort to sort of recognize as many identities as possible. So I remember during Passover—I'm Jewish and I didn't take part in this, but I remember seeing that they had like options to have a little Seder with other Jewish students. Which was really nice to see at least and I know that my roommate gets involved with students of color, like organizational events and all of that. So that's really great to see that they're offering those to students. MB: Yeah, I think Denmark as a country is very homogenous in terms of race especially. But DIS does have students of color groups and I think they have a bunch of groups that you can be a part of to have different communities but also it is a very, it feels very safe. There's not many times where I feel unsafe here or any times at all, and the public transit is great. It's safe to be out at night just overall as a woman or as a person of color. I feel very safe here.
CR: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
CW: I mean, I honestly just want to plug Copenhagen. I get the appeal of Barcelona and Madrid, like a very typical US student abroad experience. But I feel like you can get a lot of good things like there's such good food here that no one talks about, like amazing Michelin star restaurants, but every restaurant here, it's really good and unique in its own sense. And there are fun places to explore. Like, you can get your typical abroad experience here, but you can also get something more niche that other people aren't going to get. And they just have a very unique and laid back society. Like I don't know if you've seen it, but like, they leave their babies out. Like, there's all these things that you're never ever going to see in America, or in other European countries, and I really think you can't beat that.
CR: I was excited. I have literally been looking for babies outside. I know it's the same here but I'm like ‘Where are the babies?’
What do you recommend to students who may be nervous about how dark it is? And if they have a seasonal affective disorder and they're concerned about it. What did you guys do on those days when the sun set really, really early when you started? How did you keep yourself engaged and not just like hole up in your housing?
CW: So I didn't know this but I would say it quickly gets lighter. I had a friend that studied abroad here in the first semester, and she said it was pretty brutal having it get darker, but it does get lighter. Like, right now the sunsets around eight o'clock, not like it sets late now. So I would say it does get better it does get lighter out like I would also tell you the very Danish thing of like you're never cold you're just not wearing the right things. So do not take that for the faint of heart. It's windy here. It rains. Make sure you're bringing the right clothes here. Yeah, like your friends are gonna bring shorts to Madrid but do not be that person. I would also say to try to connect with your roommates. I have a very good relationship with the two Americans I live with and the two Danish people I live with and like they made it very fun. And we would go to dinners and stuff like that. So I think making yourself get out there especially those first couple of weeks. There are so many things to do in the city that are really cool and there's tons of parks and coffee shops to explore and restaurants to go to. Don't be afraid to do things by yourself. On Tuesdays my friends have class and those are my times for myself and like that's when I take time to explore and stuff like that. So I'm a huge proponent for solo travel with the right safety precautions, like in Copenhagen, you're fine but I did do a solo train trip. But take time to be by yourself because I think it's very healing in a way to have moments to yourself and because it can be overstimulating to be with a lot of people.
LB: I would wholeheartedly agree it can be a little bit brutal when you first get here when the sun is setting really early. It's very cold, rainy, and windy. But again, like you were saying, if you bring proper clothes, it's okay and also they have a culture hygge here, which is just like a feeling of coziness being with friends, doing things you enjoy. And they really make efforts to sort of implement that into every part of their lifestyle. Everyday it does get lighter and it gets lighter pretty quickly. So it's really been nice towards the end of the semester. And the sun is like out for most of the day. It's getting a little bit warmer. I also would commit to just being in the city center for the whole day and I wouldn't go home until nighttime. So then I could at least explore different cafes or I would try to go to museums on Wednesdays when the museums are free, or just like exploring different things.
MB: I mean, I agree that pretty much everything for the first part is going to be dark, but it goes by very quickly. You're meeting a lot of new people. It just went by so quickly, trying to get to know everyone, do things together and get out there and hang out. I think study abroad always just feels really short. So the two months in the beginning especially just flew by.
CW: I would also add like, I know, someone told me this and now I'm just realizing now why, like, do take time to like stay in your city on the weekends. I'm happy that I'm here for the next three weekends and I'm happy that I chose the back end because it's warmer now. But there's a lot of things that happen on the weekends that don't happen on the weekdays and it can also be a good mental reset to not feel rushed to get to the airport or train station, whatever it is. And I also prioritize going to other parts of Denmark and really exploring like your own country in your own city and the surrounding towns too. I think that's a lot of value.
CR: So speaking of any funding and things like that, did you receive any scholarships or funding to help support your time and are you willing to share what funding opportunities you got?
MB: I got a study abroad scholarship through LSA and we got a diversity scholarship through cool and I think I also got a scholarship I applied to a lot of them. Yeah, all of them. Definitely do that.
LB: I did not get any scholarships. I also did not apply.
Questions about semester study abroad in DIS: Copenhagen? Contact Caitlyn, Megha, and Lauren at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and email@example.com.