A student guide to Copenhagen
When I moved to Copenhagen (or Kobenhavn) I was a doey eyed graduate, drawn into the city with dreams of philosophizing outside cafes with Smørrebrød and Carlsberg, dreams that were soon crushed by my being vegetarian, the price of beer and my philosophy masters.
After finishing my degree at Lancaster University I was set on doing a Masters in philosophy abroad. So I applied to Copenhagen not expecting any response I continued to work hard for my degree. To my astonishment I received an offer to study at Kobenhavn University. It wasn’t long after I was packing my bag and taking the long and torturous one hour journey to Copenhagen airport. First arriving to Copenhagen, I was excited to get drawn straight into the culture; experience the museums, sit by the harbor and meet the beautiful blonde locals. However, my first night was spent raiding the Netto at 8:45 to find a pillow and blanket, after lugging around two suitcases for three hours- my Danish experience had thus begun.
Communicating with locals was most defiantly not an easy feat. Not infamous for their immediate friendliness, my friendship with a Dane would be more of a long drawn process or a bottle of tequila, then a friendly chat on the bus. This was all part of learning the social etiquette of Copenhagen, challenging and at times embarrassing for a friendly northerner. Instead of the usual ‘thanks duck’ shop keepers departed with a ‘hi hi,’ which was at first, impossibly confusing. As such, as has any ex pat, I have missed the soothing tones of my local dialectic.
I no longer had PG tips, Dairy Milk bars or even my beloved quorn mince. The Food in Copenhagen is fairly eclectic, but the price is substantially high. They also love buffets and being Vegetarian, this worked out kind of okay. You get used to the tiny supermarkets and the £7 pound tubs of ice cream. Avoid the 7/11 however, they lurk on every corner and were created so that drunken people can spend £8 for two bags of ice. In the spirit of this I confess I have committed a national sin, by never having tried Smørrebrød, if you are a fan of cold fish and aesthetically pleasing sandwiches, then defiantly give them a go.
Not riding a bike in Denmark is something on the cusp of blasphemy. The flat landscape has created a nation of cyclists, where they say around half a million bikes are sold each year! Here is where I admit my own dirty secret; I have never ridden a bike in Denmark. Before you spit your coffee out in disgust, I was given a backsy once by a Danish girl on a night out (which defiantly counts). While there are cycle lanes everywhere and Denmark is the best city for cyclists, the thought of having to train my brain to think on the right side of the road and then back again for every holiday visit was exhausting. Also after having seen the ease to which a Dane can perfect both the helmet look and also speed through the city- scares me.
Thus, I have been forced to travel the city through public Transport. My experience of Danish transport has been surprisingly nothing but positive. Cheaper than home, I get a monthly unlimited two zone pass for 360 Krona (40 pounds). The buses are smart and consistent with timers on the bus stops, the driverless metros come every two minutes and if you have time to kill, you can even get the bus boat around the harbor. Bike or bus you’re guaranteed to travel round the city in fairly short time.
The Danish Language appears nigh on impossible to learn. Don’t attempt to pronounce any of the words you see, because you have said it wrong. My old flat was located in Amager which I soon learned was pronounced ‘ama.’ If you remain unconvinced try saying ‘speciallægepraksisplanlægningsstabiliseringsperiode,’ I’m not joking, that’s a word. However, don’t give up you can get free Danish lessons once you have your CPR number (citizens card). Whilst Danes are all fluent in English try and make sure you put your lessons into practice, as you can soon find you’ve made a lot of progress and Danes love foreigners who have thrown themselves into it.
Danish fashion is pretty easy to grasp: Never underestimate the power of the LBD (little black dress). Black is the colour of choice for most winter and even summer outfits, match with a pair of brightly coloured new balance trainers to complete the look. Men appreciate the power of a good beard it has both aesthetic and practical uses, giving them both a Viking look and keeping them warm (it can get really cold). If you are a woman from the UK, you understand the time and effort it takes to complete your going-out look. And yes, while you may have picked bright sparkly eye shadow with matching hot pants you look great! In Denmark it’s a bit more casual and toned down, boring I know, but I have to admit they do look pretty good.
Nightlife in Copenhagen is great! There are so many different clubs and areas to explore ranging from, grungy cheap bars that never close, to up-market cocktail bars, there is defiantly something for you. The infamous meatpacking district is an area donated to clubbing and surprisingly meat. Pick up some steaks by day and then dance ‘til you drop at night. If you prefare the more toned down approach, you can try free town Christiana, a hippy paradise with few rules, I thoroughly advise the Sunday Jazz nights there.
Studying in Denmark feels pretty relaxed, I am currently doing a humanities masters at KU and I go to the university twice a week. Good if you like independent study and bad if you lack self-discipline. Copenhagen University is full high flying academics being consistently ranked in the top 50 universities in the world and boasting eight Nobel laureates. Wandering my campus (one of four) is pretty awe inspiring. The newly purpose-built institute dominates the landscape with Orwellian prominence. Learning in English, it is sometimes hard to get all the books you want and sometimes it can be difficult in lectures. Overall, however, it’s really easy to get around and most universities offer some type of English course.
If you are thinking of studying or just moving to Copenhagen, make sure that you try and secure some housing before you come. I have friends who lived in hostels for months before securing a room. It is hard to get a fair priced room (or any room) and impossible to get a flat to rent. I myself have purchased an andelsbolig, after four un-successful staying’s, but this not practical or ideal for an new ex pat. The student housing waiting list can take years and social housing lists up to 50years, so don’t hang around and be prepared to spend a lot as a new-comer (something you can later rectify). Denmark is very ‘who you know not what you know’ so making contacts and developing friendships can be handy in many ways. In my months of house searching I got two online (findbolig.dk) and two from friends, so don’t close any doors.
Doing an Internship can help add to your experience in Denmark and looks damn good on your C.V. Looking for Internships can be tricky, finding the right one for you that matches your course or the experience you want is defiantly tough. I currently work for an internship company called Wiredelta. It’s a web design firm for start-up companies, which seems a strange fit with my philosophy masters, but it’s great! So don’t close doors, try everything, not only could you realize things you like, but also realize new things you are good at. Internships are all about learning and gaining new experience, so if there are limited places, you may not get the exact one you want.
The student life in Denmark can be great, if you stay open to new opportunities, new food, new friendships and a new language. Avoid the cultural shell shock by embracing it. There is plenty to do and see as Copenhagen has new events and festivals on every week. These are generally catered to young people, so stick around and keep your ear to the ground. It is particularly important to do this in Denmark as unlike in the UK there are no university societies. This means you have to be proactive and keep alert. The Copenhagen student life can be great if you get out there and join in, but no one is going to push you.
About the author: Kate Fitzhenry 22, studies at Copenhagen University and interns at Wiredelta Copenhagen.