Abigail in Copenhagen

Abigail, a senior double majoring in human rights, and public relations and strategic communications, is spending the fall semester in Copenhagen, Denmark participating in the Danish Institute for Study Abroad Justice and Human Rights program.

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A Week in the Life of a DIS Student

If you are like I was before studying abroad, you have no concrete idea of what studying abroad actually looks like. You’ve scrolled through study abroad Instagram posts, read blogs, watched videos, done country research and thought about potential weekend excursions. But, if you are like me, you need details.

Some of you are thinking, “Gee, Abigail, you’ve written some nice posts about your travels and a little bit about Danish culture, but what do you actually do week in and week out in Copenhagen? How do you travel so much? Do you even study?”

Firstly, yes I study. In fact, I’m currently sitting in Starbucks procrastinating a paper by writing this blog… But that’s beside the point.

Secondly, for all those wondering what I actually do day-in and day-out while studying abroad, I thought I’d walk you through what a typical week at DIS looks like! Of course, no week studying abroad is “typical” and everyone’s experiences differ, but here are mine!

Monday:

5:30 a.m.: I like to wake up nice and early to start my day by drinking a cup of coffee and spending time reading my Bible/journaling like I normally would at home. This is one of the only times as a homestay student that I get entirely to myself, so it’s nice to have some reflection time to prepare myself for the day/week ahead. After a little bit of breakfast which usually involves cereal and yoghurt (Oooo now she’s telling us about her breakfast, how exciting!!!!! Detail-oriented folks, this is for you), I pack my rugbrød sandwich for lunch and get ready for the day.

7:40 a.m.: Just before 8:00 a.m., I hop on my bike and bike to the Vanløse metro station, which is just about 10 minutes away. I used to dread biking every morning, and trust me, some mornings are more strenuous than others, but my daily bike ride is now just part of the routine. As it’s gotten cooler in Copenhagen, I’ve actually begun enjoying my bike rides more and more. Nothing like some fresh air to wake you up! The metro takes me directly to the center of the city near DIS facilities in just about 15 minutes, and then it’s another 15-minute walk to DIS from there. All-in-all, it takes me about 45 minutes to get to DIS. Not bad at all!

8:30 a.m.: I have morning classes every day of the week, which I chose purposefully because I tend to be more productive and focused early in the day. My first class on Monday is Humanitarian Law and Armed Conflict, my core course, and I have really enjoyed it. As a Human Rights student at SMU, I’ve had the opportunity to take many courses about the history, sociology, etc. of human rights abuses, but I’ve never been able to study human rights abuses from a legal perspective. This is also my first opportunity to study conflict environments in-depth. Humanitarian Law makes 8:00 a.m. fun.

10:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.: Mondays are typically “work days” for me, so I usually head to a nearby coffee shop to get a fair amount of work done since I only have one class. I also use this time to Skype my mother dearest, which always sets my week on the right track.

1:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m.: I like to use the early afternoon for personal time–afternoon naps, jogs around the lake, etc. Then maybe I’ll get some more homework done and get ready for dinner.

My evening jog view

My evening jog view

6:00 p.m.: Every night I share a meal with my host family, and this is one of my favorite parts of the day. Danes don’t necessarily pride themselves on small talk, and while we all love spending time catching up on each other’s lives at meals, dinner conversation usually evolves into in-depth conversation about any number of cultural and political topics. I’ve learned so much about Danish culture just through dinner time alone, and I love sharing new information about America with my host family.

7:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m.: After dinner I either go for an evening jog, stretch, read, or work on some homework. It’s nice to unwind after a long day.

9:00 p.m.: My host family and I always end our days with tea time! This is a great time to decompress together, chat about plans for the upcoming week and watch Danish television together. Now that I am picking up on more and more Danish, it’s fun to watch Danish news and see if I can understand what’s being reported. If I’ve got a lot of work, my roommates and I may even spend tea time studying for Danish together with our host family acting as private tutors. Sometimes my host mom will even make sweet treats like apple cobbler or flødeboller! Overall, it’s a peaceful way to end my day.

Tuesday:

5:30 a.m.-8:30 a.m.: Repeat Monday’s morning routine.

8:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m.: On Tuesdays and Fridays I have three classes in a row, beginning with Danish Language and Culture at 8:30 a.m. Danish is a very challenging language, and it can definitely be a struggle to coerce my brain to cooperate at such an early hour, but overall I’m glad I’m taking Danish. Although I think it’s entirely possible to pick up the language  via daily experiences in Copenhagen, my Danish class has given me the confidence to speak Danish in public with Danes. My most-used Danish phrase? “En stor kop kaffe, tak.” (Translation: “a large cup of coffee, thanks.”)

A little snippet of my walk to class every day.

A little snippet of my walk to class every day.

Next I go to Stolen Childhoods: Migrant and Refugee Children in Europe and Fleeing Across Borders: International Refugee Law. These classes give me two very different perspectives on refugee-related issues. While Stolen Childhoods focuses on how refugee issues affect child development, Fleeing Across Borders focuses on the asylum process in Europe. Overall, Fleeing Across Borders is my favorite class as it has given me a wealth of background knowledge that will allow me to effectively communicate with my peers about the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis. As this issue will only continue to grow in relevance in America, I’m thankful for the opportunity to spend a semester dedicated to learning for the sake of learning rather than learning for the sake of performing.

Let me elaborate: while the academics at DIS are certainly rigorous, Danish educators take a vastly different approach to learning than American educators, at least in my experience. Rather than focusing on performance, as American educators tend to (i.e. consistently reporting my learning progress to professors via essays, tests, quizzes, etc.), Danish educators focus on topics that are interesting to the class. This is learning for the sake of learning. It’s a refreshing break from my college education (which I love, don’t get me wrong!), and I’ve found myself more engaged and attentive this semester than ever before.

1:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m.: Repeat evening schedule.

Wednesdays:

Wednesday is a bit different because it’s field study day! Rather than having regularly scheduled classes, I attend field studies periodically throughout the semester that give me hands-on experiences with the subject matter I’m studying.

Throughout the semester I’ve done everything from touring a Danish kindergarten to a walking tour of Copenhagen to guest lecturers to cultural workshops and much more. These experiences not only provide a nice breather in the middle of the week, but they also greatly enhance my understanding of course material. Again, this is all part of what I like to call, “learning for the sake of learning.”

Wednesday nights are also special because my roommates and I cook dinner for my host family. Though we keep it simple on most occasions and follow recipes provided by my host family, sometimes we like to mix things up and share a little bit of American culture with them. I’ve attempted real Tex-Mex enchiladas, breakfast for dinner, and most recently, a full Thanksgiving dinner. Though it’s a challenge trying to convert metric measurements to fit American recipes, the most challenging part is the subtle differences between Danish ingredients and American ingredients. My proudest culinary moment will always be the time I converted Italian pasta sauce to enchilada sauce.

Thursdays:

5:30 a.m.- 10:00 a.m.: Wake up, get ready, go to my core class.

10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.: I try to leave Thursdays free for adventure! There’s so much to see in the greater Copenhagen area, and with so much independent travel planned, I knew I couldn’t fit my Copenhagen bucket list into a few weekends. There’s nothing like grabbing a to-go latte from Emmery’s (a favorite organic coffee shop of DIS students) and hopping on a train to see Helsingør or Hillerød or beyond.

Call me strange, but there is something magical about riding the train. Music is so important to me, and taking long train rides on Thursdays just to stare out the window, listen to music and process has become one of the highlights of my weekly routine. Insert cliché about “learning so much” during your time abroad.

But in all seriousness, take time for yourself during the week. You’re in Europe. You’ve got a lot on your plate. Take time to process and explore and just be. Cheesy rant over.

Friday:

5:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m.: Morning routine and classes.

1:00 p.m.: You made it! It’s Friday! I’ve often semi-jokingly lamented that Fridays don’t feel as rewarding in Copenhagen because the weeks fly by (and still feel like somewhat of a vacation). Even as my workload has increased throughout the semester, I can say this still holds true. But Fridays are still wonderful!

Exploring the city with my roomies.

Exploring the city with my roomies.

Though no Friday is the same, my roommates and I generally enjoy a hamburger dinner with my host family and head into the city to meet up with friends. Everyone needs a little break every once in a while though, and we take advantage of this by spending Friday evenings all snuggled up watching a movie, eating candy from a nearby candy shop or just hanging with the host family. Hygge to the max!

So there you have it! That’s my week in a nutshell. Studying, exploring, living, napping, eating… the whole shebang! Hope you enjoyed getting just a taste of my life abroad!

Vi ses!

Abigail

This post originally appeared on the A Coffee Girl in Copenhagen blog.

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