Tips for Surviving Denmark- by Meg Eichmann

Exchange isn’t always as wonderful as people make it out to be. Most exchange students begin exchange with serious FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) including myself. During my exchange I met an American that went home after a month and a girl in Barcelona who was going to stay for a year but decided to cut her stay back to six months. She felt envious of our exchange in Denmark, where the locals happily speak English, and speak it well to communicate with you.

But while they will speak English if you initiate the conversation, the Danes are a very reserved people and often described as impolite or unfriendly. I would not describe any of the Danes I have grown to know as impolite, and definitely not unfriendly; but their social sphere can be a difficult world to penetrate.

My Danish Culture teacher said it best (he was Para-quoting Anne Knudsen) that “Danes are in a circle. Everyone is looking in at each other, but their backs are to the rest of the world.” That is exactly how I would describe the Danes. They may not simile at you in public, but get inside their circle and they will always look out for you. So the trick is to get inside one of those circles yourself, even just a little – and there are several ways to do this.

First is through university and your dorm. If you are living in one of the larger dorms like Signalhouset (where I was) then there will be a few Danes scattered about the apartments and you might have a Danish roommate. In Signalhouset there were barbecues before the beginning of the semester, and here I met and had a long conversation with two Danes. Once there is a reason to start engaging in conversation, the a nearby Danish contact is very useful for translating bills and giving you shopping tips. Return this kindness with a few beers and you have the basis for a great friendship.

Outside of the dorms, one of the best ways to meet Danes, and engage in the local community, is volunteering. There are two ways you might go about it. I had an interest in bees. So I did some research and approached a local bee community project called Bybi; directly asking if they wanted any help. As a result I was one of only 4 volunteers (Danes and international students) and had free lunch with everyone whenever I went. I once mentioned my tight budget, jokingly saying I got half my nutrition from the lunches, and one of the employees kept giving me leftovers to take home from then onwards. Volunteering with them taught me about bees, allowed me to sell honey in places I never would have seen and was overall ones of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
There are also other organisations and foundations you can go through to volunteer, where you might end up teaching English to Danish kids, or volunteering in the student house, Studenterhuset, where you’ll get cheep/free alcohol. However you do it, volunteering is a wonderful way to start feeling established in an alien world, and potentially make some great friends.

Of course, dating is another way to meet Danes, but you don’t necessarily have to be looking for love to use Tinder. If you are careful and considerate, Tinder can be a great way to meet people. And a great first line to someone you’ve matched with can be ‘hey, I’m new in town would love someone to show me around.’ Someone suggested trying this in the different countries she visited while on exchange, I didn’t try it myself, but if I you do, I’d love to hear how it goes ?.

There are so many other ways to make friends when on exchange, sometimes with Danes, sometime exchange students. KU university puts on so many social events, and Denmark is a country with several bars on each campus. If you specifically want to meet Danes, you can meet more through your assigned mentor or through mentor activities the university puts together. But put the effort in and you will have a much better time on exchange.

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