Isanya Köhne

This week we’re back in Europe, with the first story belonging to Jos. Jos, 21 years old, is currently studying Economics & Business Economics at the Radboud University in the beautiful city of Nijmegen. Not too long ago, he did his Erasmus exchange at nowhere else than the Syddansk Universitet in Odense, Denmark. “The reason I chose to go there was because I was intrigued by the Scandinavian culture and their magnificent landscapes”, he says. After he limited his choices to the Nordic countries, he applied to universities in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. “Odense ended up being the one, and to this day, and I’m grateful for that.”

An attitude change

I believe an exchange, besides improving your English and possibly other languages, is very good for your social skills. It gives you the opportunity to step outside of your comfort zone. But, I think the most valuable aspect for me, was to learn about the many people that all had different backgrounds, cultures, and traditions. I’m very satisfied about the procedure behind my Erasmus experience. We got plenty of information about all the required deadlines and necessary documents. Both the sending as the receiving university informed me on time what they needed me to do. I remember the moment I arrived. It was midnight as I got to the central station and I was thinking, “oh no, what am I getting myself into”. But then my assigned buddy picked me up, brought me to my place, and helped set me up a bit. The morning after my attitude changed instantly and I was like “alright, let’s do this!”

The residence I lived at in Odense had its ups and downs. The room itself was spacious and we only had to share the kitchen and bathroom with two of us. The room however, only had a bed and a desk upon arrival, the rest needed to be furnished by ourselves. The dormitory was also a bit out of reach of the city centre, 5 kilometres to be exact, and 7 kilometres from our university. But, cycling was a great way to stay in shape, and as a Dutchie, it was not a big challenge for me! Organising the housing was pretty efficient. I did it throughout the university and even though there wasn’t a guarantee of finding a room straight away, I got an email rather quickly. The dormitory was in a small village outside of Odense, hence the distance to the centre, and housed mostly international students. It had a football field, a place to play volleyball, a gym, and even a cheap bar. It was really nice and easy to meet others and there were plenty of possibilities to hang out with them.

When I lived there, I didn’t really experience a culture shock, as the Dutch and Danish culture doesn’t differ too much. Something I won't forget however, is how much the city of Odense honours fairy-tale writer Hans Christian Andersen. Everywhere you looked in the centre there’d be something that refers to him, varying from statues to his silhouette in the pedestrian traffic lights. The biggest obstacle I faced was registering at the municipality. I didn’t receive my citizenship card in the mail but I needed it. I tried to look into it but much of the information was in Danish and Google translate was no help. Luckily, after a couple of visits to the municipality, everything was handled in the end. Communicating with the locals was never an issue. Because of their great education and the plenty of internationals living there, the level of English was generally very good.

Amazing travels

So much happened while I was there, and so many memories were made. But, if I had to pick one favourite memory, I would have to choose the trip to Lapland. Halfway through December we went on a trip with ESN Odense to Lapland to go and see various sights, including the Northern Lights. The fun began with the bus trip there, which was over 30 hours! Each hour we saw the landscapes become covered in snow and the daylight more short lived. When we were there, I didn't even see any sunrise for an entire week. We did so many things, from riding a snow scooter and dog sleds, to doing evening hikes through the snow. One day we went to visit the city of Narvik, Norway. On our way there our guide talked to us about how on a previous tour he went to go for a short swim in a fjord together with someone else. After we heard him tell that story, all 15 people in our group didn’t have to think twice. We embraced the cold like true Vikings and entered the icy water. And as the grand finale to that week, we were able to see one of the clearest Northern Lights our guide had witnessed in years. It was breath-taking.

On of the memories I like to look back on, is in Prague, on a viewing point just outside the city. We were with 6 guys and 5 girls. At a certain moment the girls decided to take a group picture, which took over 10 attempts. So, the six of us, sarcastic as we were, said to ourselves, “Let’s take a quick ‘guy picture’ as well then, but only one!” It’s safe to say it turned out pretty well, especially with everyone taking a random pose without knowing what the others did. This has been a running joke throughout the rest of our exchange, even a year later we all remember that moment perfectly.  

There were a lot of possibilities to go and explore the country. During some weekends we went to go see Copenhagen with some friends. When my family came to visit, we went to other cities such as Aarhus, which had so much nice to offer. After the exams we went on shorter trips to see the landscape of Denmark. One of the highlights from those was during the last days in Denmark, where we rented a house for an entire weekend with 8 of us friends. We reminisced about all the things we had done that semester and how incredible our time was here.

ESN Odense

The classes there were a bit smaller than the ones I have in Nijmegen, and the focus was much more on being able to discuss your answers. This is also why the examination was more focused on group work and oral exams. In most of my courses, there was a combination of exchange students, full time international students, and native Danes. Class was a nice way to meet Danish people, but outside I would mainly hang out with other Erasmus or international people. There were a lot of supportive activities that helped me connect with other internationals. My buddy organised a nice get-together with some other buddies shortly after I arrived and after that the ESN Odense had a city tour and karaoke night which really helped found a community of Erasmus students there. The university itself organised two days of introduction as well, where we would meet others from our studies and get to know the university itself. Next to all these options, it definitely helped that a lot of the international students were housed at the same location as me. The bar was a place where a lot of us got to know each other.

A regular week would kind of look like the following; I’d start Monday with classes the entire day till five o’clock. Afterwards, I’d go to football practice with the university team and some friends. Tuesday was a special day, cause ever since the beginning of exchange, it would be Tequila Tuesday. We’d go to a nice tequila bar where we would enjoy time and party together. Wednesday or Thursday were normally in the spirit of watching football. A lot of times I’d go over to two friends of mine who lived two blocks away. We’d then have dinner and watch the Champions League and Europa League. On Friday, our university had something that blew our minds the first time we heard it, called ‘Nedenunder’, which is also known as ‘Fridaybar’, a bar that’s located in the basement of the university. We’d kick off the weekend the right way there.

The city of fairy tales

When you go to Denmark, you don’t expect things to be very cheap. But if you go to the right places, things were only just a little bit more expensive than in the Netherlands. For instance, supermarkets such as Lidl often had very good deals and discounts. When you go out, there are some places where you don’t have to pay ridiculous prices. But of course, there are also a lot of places where it is as expensive as you’d expect from Scandinavia. The ‘worst’ price I’ve seen in Odense was 60 Kroners, equivalent to 8 euros, for only just a bottle of Heineken. Something I wish I knew before going on exchange was that I'd have to furnish my own room. The first night I was there, I literally only had a desk that I still needed to build myself, a bed and a small pillow. Later on I learned that I only had that pillow because the previous renter left it there, haha.

Looking back, I regret not having learned to speak the native language while I was there. I used Duolingo before I arrived, but never followed a real language course. It was expensive, but in hindsight I believe it would’ve been totally worth it. If you’re thinking about going on exchange, I’d say do it. It’s a great opportunity not only to see more of the world, but to develop your view on the world while having a good time! If you do go, and have the possibility, I highly recommend going to Lapland. While it is quite expensive, it is for sure one of the most beautiful places I have seen in my life. But you also cannot miss the smaller things, such as the nature in Northern Denmark, and you must stop by Odense, for it’s not big but has amazing stories. Something that really surprised me, and still baffles me a bit, is how clean the Danish people can be. When you walk through the city centre, there is barely any gum or trash to be found in the streets. The city becomes even more beautiful because of that. I fell in love with Denmark on the 25th of August, in the first week I was there. It was the day I had the city tour and I saw how beautiful Odense was. There were so many fairy-tales and the nature was incredible, it was the day I felt my Erasmus had just begun. My journey back to the Netherlands was a solo car ride of 6 hours. We’d had a lot of moments where we had said goodbye to people, but only when I drove past the German border did it hit me. It was actually over now.

I’ll be back

When someone asks me about my exchange, the first story that comes to mind is the one about the evening before heading to Prague. A friend and I took a flight a day earlier, and it was scheduled super early in the morning. The trains to Copenhagen were therefore either way too early or barely in time, so we decided to go to Copenhagen the evening before our flight. We just sat in a bar drinking and waiting to go to the airport. Then after being in Prague for a day, the rest of our friends arrived as well. It was a great start of the week. I’m still in touch with my friends from my exchange, and before this whole COVID situation, we had a small reunion in Belgium with some of us. We were planning on meeting in Spain this summer but unfortunately that wasn’t possible anymore due to the measurements. I also haven’t been back to Odense since my exchange. The plan to go to Tinderbox, a yearly pop festival in Odense, was suggested. But also that plan fell through due to measurements. I’m now waiting for the right time to go back. Something I still practice now in the meantime is improving to speak foreign languages. I don’t practice it very often, but my aim is to eventually learn many simple phrases and be able to respond to them.

“I want to say one more thing to anyone that’s still in doubt whether to go on exchange or not. My exchange brought me memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Yours will too”.

Jos, we want to thank you for taking us along on your incredible exchange in beautiful Denmark. With the weather getting colder, this one made us hungry for the winter months. They may not be covered in snow as much as they’re in the north, but we will definitely dream of these places. If anyone has any questions related to going on exchange in Scandinavia, Denmark, or exchange in general, you are free to contact Jos.