There is a lot that college has to offer, but knowing how to take advantage of all there is can be difficult. With classes, work and a personal life happening alongside, you may have no idea where or how to get involved. As an active student in college life myself, I am here to tell you what I have found to be the most effective and beneficial ways to get active in college student life.
Being an international student in Denmark comes with a lot of advantages. However, the way things work in Denmark may look very different compared to the place you come from. Therefore, as a first step, it is important to familiarize yourself with the educational system.
Secondly, it is important to make an effort to get to know the local culture and step up of your comfort zone by joining a club or finding a part-time job - as you will get to find out, Denmark has a lot of these in store.
To make it easier for you, I broke down some of the aspects that you should keep in mind when starting your studies in Denmark:
1. Group Work
One of the most striking things about studying in Denmark is the emphasis on group work. Danes are recognized internationally for their group work culture.
Their approach to group work can be put down to the Law of Jante which has been used to explain the egalitarian nature of the Nordic countries and the reasons why “we” always comes before “I”.
The law states the idea that society can be referred to as a homogeneous unit:
You are not to think you're anyone special, or that you're better than us.
At the Danish universities, most of the class work is done in groups: students form groups of various sizes and most of the time, they work as a group for the entire semester. Semester-long group projects are also very common.
In my first week at DTU, I was a bit taken aback by the fact that I had to pick a group for all of my four classes at the time. Having come from an American university where all the school work is carried individually, I had to learn how to manage my time working as groups, as well as individually.
There was group work during the classes, weekly group meetings and individual assignments. Group projects depended upon individuals’ progress and therefore, it involved constant progress and a degree of trust in your team mates.
By the end of the first semester, I got to meet my team mates better and I learned how to rely on them and what is the best way to contribute to the team work. The biggest challenge for me was being able to manage keeping up good progress on group projects. However, by the time I started my second semester, I learned a lot about being able to handle social dynamics in group work and finding the most suitable partners.
When it comes to making the most of it, social dynamics is paramount. At the beginning, it can be daunting to try to find good group mates, especially if you are a newbie. Try to find people that you are comfortable working with.
Equally important is to know how to establish clear guidelines and learn to be flexible for your classmates. What is the goal of the semester? What grade do you aim for? How will you contribute to the project?
2. Take Advantage of the Lack of Formality: Ask, ask, ask
The Danish learning environment may not be as formal as you are used to. Professors can be called on a first-name basis and they are very approachable, being willing to help with class work and opportunities.
It is important that you take the initiative to contact them and not the other way around, due to the class size and the large number of students. It is sometimes thanks to professors that one finds out about opportunities such as special courses, internships and research opportunities. My experience taught me that it is just a matter of asking about these opportunities before someone can tell you about them.
Therefore, engage with them and ask them about different opportunities within their lab.
In my experience, it is a matter of asking the right questions to the professor. For example, I was able to design my own data analysis course, a course feature created specifically for an individual student or group of students offered at DTU.
The outcome of the course could not have been more rewarding - I was able to get credit and work on a project related to the impact that meditation apps may have on improving users’ sleep quality, which I really enjoyed.
3. Know Your Bachelor/Master’s Thesis Options
Do you plan to work after graduation? Or maybe you plan to stay in academia? Research your options. Most Danish universities allow students to do their thesis either with a professor or with a company.
In case you are interested in continuing your studies after graduation, it may be worth a shot finding a good academic advisor who can help you craft your thesis. It is not uncommon that PhD students have continued working with their master’s thesis academic advisor after completing their thesis.
How can you identify an academic mentor? Get in touch with the head of your studies, know how things work at your university, but most importantly, do your own research - find out which of the professors at your university have common interests and reach out to them. Take their classes, study well and get good grades, then continue to stay in touch with them.
If you are a more industry-oriented person, collaborating with a company for your thesis (if this is an option), may be your best bet! As usual, do your research beforehand and keep in mind that students must contact the partner of their choice and present or design the issue they want to address.
If your university does not advertise information about these opportunities, websites such as LinkedIn and university portals such as DTU JobBank (only for DTU students) make a good job at publicizing them.
4. Upgrade Your LinkedIn
As you will get to know, Denmark has quite a big LinkedIn culture. As an international, a complete LinkedIn profile and a professional profile photo could lend you a job in the land of opportunities.
At the beginning, I was quite surprised by how fast people whom I sporadically met would accept LinkedIn invites, even on weekends. I got contacted several times by recruiters and found out about very interesting opportunities through LinkedIn. The community is quite helpful, especially if you are looking for a job.
Therefore, in order to make the most of your experience as a student in Denmark, you need to learn the value of networking. Put in the hours of upgrading your LinkedIn to showcase your skills and work experience and make it look professional.
Also, get your CV up-to-date and get it reviewed by your university counselors at the Career Center. If in lack of that, you can also reach out to your LinkedIn community to informally ask them on their feedback.
5. Doing an Internship / Working Part-Time
One of the perks of the Danish educational system is that students are encouraged to work part-time during their studies. Compared to other countries, the education system is designed such that it allows students to work part-time 10-20 hours a week.
In 2018, 73% of all the students in Denmark, according to the Danish Master's Association's (Dansk Magisterforenings) survey, had a student job. At the European level, Denmark surpassed all the other European countries with 42% of the 20-24-year-olds who studied and worked at the same time, according to an Eurostat survey from 2015.
It is very common to work student jobs during your undergraduate degree, from working in a restaurant to doing a teaching assistant job. On top of this, it comes with the advantage of having some experience to add to your CV and getting some extra money. In fact, having work experience on your CV can be more valuable to Danish employers than good grades.
Working a part-time job is part of the international student experience. Therefore, do not limit yourself to your degree and try to explore the student job market.
My advice is to start looking for a student job as close to the beginning of your studies as possible, in order to take advantage of the other benefits that come with it (ie. SU).
More resources on SU and finding student jobs in Denmark:
6. Join A Club
In order to make the most of your experience in Denmark, do not limit yourself to only academics and work. Find at least one extracurricular activity which you like and find out how you could pursue it.
Being part of a club or an international community is great, but it can feel isolating at times. That is why it is important to connect with the local community by joining a local club or learning more about the events in your community.
In fact, clubs are a vital part of the Danish society. Danes love getting together to play sports and hang out with friends, so you should take advantage of these opportunities to meet new people and learn a new skill. Facebook events are usually well advertised, even on expats’ forums.
Nevertheless, you can always ask about clubs or activities in your local city's facebook group for internationals. Here are a few examples for the largest cities in Denmark:
In case you want to also contribute to the local community, while making like-minded friends, consider volunteering. You can find volunteering opportunities all over Denmark on this page.
7. Cultural Experience
Either you are here for an exchange semester or a full degree, your experience in Denmark would not be complete without getting to know the Danish culture a little better. Give free rein to your adventure spirit by checking out the natural parks and the variety of landscapes of Denmark.
Places like Skagen, Møns Klint or Råbjerg Mile are among the most popular places to go on camping trips in nature. Moreover, do not hold yourself back from trying new things - invest in experiences such as looking for fossils at Møns Klint, climbing a mountain of sand or going bridgewalking. This article from VisitDenmark shares 22 unique experiences you can have in Denmark, so check it out if you need some inspiration.
At the same time, if you are an international student living in a dorm, part of the cultural experience of living there often involves cooking, interacting with people from different backgrounds and hopefully, making great friendships. Learn how to approach these situations with an open mind and make the best out of them – have you learned how to cook an international dish lately or have you improved your Danish-speaking skills by talking to your Danish neighbours?
In addition, it is important to take good care of yourself and remember that Danes appreciate having a good work-life balance. In fact, Denmark ranks at the top of global surveys on liveability and happiness.
Therefore, don’t come to Denmark to only get a degree - being a student comes with the perks of studying, working and meeting new people which naturally creates many opportunities around.
All in all, be open, do your research and do not be afraid to ask!
This article was written by Daria Zahaleanu. Thank you, Daria, for your contribution!
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