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Introduction and Welcome Week: Summer, Smørrebrød, and International StudentsIntroduction and Welcome Week: Summer, Smørrebrød, and International Students

“Smørrebrød” was perhaps the word of the week as 71 international students came together for a tremendous cross-cultural workshop. We follow the exchange students for a day in the Introduction and Welcome Week and cover the open-faced sandwich, bicycles, and presentations on culture.

Introduction WeekBy Nicolai Guldager Agernem | 11 October 2018 

Summer and Smørrebrød

Through the workshop branded “Introduction and Welcome Week,” University College Copenhagen and the International Department continued the tradition of introducing new international students to the city and University College Copenhagen. The Introduction and Welcome Week is an excellent event for the students to establish a friendship network in a new country and gain valuable tools to quickly adjust themselves to Denmark. The students are in Denmark for internships, clinical placements, while some will follow regular classes in English. 

Last year, Lorraine Davie did not need much time in Copenhagen before experiencing her first taste of culture shock as she crossed the road only to be a few centimetres away from clashing with a cyclist.

New international social work student Mona Blöchlinger is an experienced cyclist hailing from Switzerland: ‘No accidents yet! I bike at home, too. You seem to have so many traffic rules for biking, though,’ she said hinting at the various hand signals cyclists typically use.

The very un-Danish-like hot and humid summer was certainly present that day in late August, too. Seventy-one international students gathered in a classroom on the fifth floor of Tagensvej 86. The students merrily engaged in social activities, group projects on culture, and vivid discussions on the actual pronunciation of “Smørrebrød” ([ˈsmɶɐ̯ʌˌbʁœðˀ]).


Smørrebrød. Photo: Colourbox.com 

Multicultural Classroom

In the classroom on fifth floor, the first activity of the day revolved around identifying cultural differences between the national culture of the international students and the Danes. Later that day, the students would then present some quickly sketched, yet artistically impressive posters visualising some of the more glaring cultural differences. Some students pointed to differences in the way classes are organised, and Mona was quick to emphasise that: ‘In Denmark, you really focus on discussion-based classrooms, critical thinking, and project/group based work.’

While we were only a few Danes present in the classroom, I was certainly pleased – and somewhat surprised – that many students described Danes as ‘warm-hearted, friendly, smiling, and always up for a little chat.

And while I was basking in a delightful cocktail of honour, joy, and pride, my little bubble of happiness suddenly burst as one student exclaimed: ‘I don’t think Danes are that warm. They don’t like kissing when greeting each other.’

Laughter ensued promptly, but the student’s comment proves just how relative all the bits and pieces of culture really is - and how helpful and rewarding this workshop is on both a practical and theoretical level.

                                                                                                  

The Introduction and Welcome Week is about not only social games and eating smørrebrød, but also a first taste of a multicultural classroom. The international students worked on several group assignments encouraging discussions in various fields and topics, including social work, health, welfare system, and more. The many different cultural perspectives decidedly contributed to more nuanced and colourful debates. The classroom was almost musically brimming with exasperating aahs and ohhs as students shared their own cultural take on each topic.

The exercise of exchanging ideas, opinions, and perspectives is a vital part of the exchange and learning experience – for both students and teachers. According to a survey by the Danish Ministry of Higher Education, approximately 50 % of exchange students list living in another culture as one of the most rewarding learning experiences of going abroad. The exposure to different ways of doing things, different cultures, norms, behaviour forces us all to take into perspective our current worldview - and then learn from the experience.

Mona decided to leave the land of chocolate and watches for a semester abroad studying social work in Denmark. Mona particularly found the Scandinavian welfare model interesting because it offered an alternative to her own reality: ‘I don’t know all the details yet, but I know Denmark is very focused on equality,’ and she adds ‘And then the paternity leave! Fathers in Switzerland only get one day leave.’

Asked about potential benefits to the multicultural classroom, Mona was quick to declare her stance: ‘I love it!’ and added ‘I think it’s more colourful, way more different ideas that are exchanged. You get to know things you would never even think about.’

Dr Hefin Gwilym

The class did have one attendant who did not fit the “student” category. Dr Hefin Gwilym from Bangor University, Wales thoroughly enjoyed the activities that afternoon, too. He is in Denmark for a “teacher exchange” and working closely with Associate Lecturer in Social Work Jacob Magnussen.

You create opportunities for doing research together and write together with international colleagues. On a personal level, it’s good for your moral, sense of satisfaction in your job, you develop international friendships and wider networks and share ideas,’ said Hefin on the importance of going abroad for a while.

Interested in becoming an exchange student at University College Copenhagen? Read more about exchange students here. ​More information on 'Exchange teachers' here

Dr Hefin Gwilym teaches social work in Wales, and has vast experience in having multicultural classrooms. Asked about the benefits of a multicultural classroom, ‘having a culturally diverse classroom, we can challenge our existing ideas and incrementally improve the profession and discipline as a whole. The international perspective is both interesting and very important,’ said Hefin.

Why is the international perspective so important in a classroom? Globalisation and the increased focus on internationalisation appeal to our ability to adapt, and social work is an excellent example in just how culturally dependent one discipline can be across different countries. Hefin explained that, ‘You have different approaches to social work in different cultures, countries, or continents contingent with social development in the respective countries.’

And continued, ‘In Africa, poverty and community is more important than it is in Europe, where concepts such as confidentiality and personal problems are more important.’

Dr Hefin Gwilym is a well-travelled man and brings a vast experience with the concept of exchange and going abroad. For that reason, Hefin found himself “on stage” in front of the students sharing some of his own tips for having a nice experience abroad. In his usual swagger and style – with many similarities to famous Welsh singer Tom Jones - one advice included:

‘You should try to meet locals somewhere,’ before doing a few fancy dance steps and concluded his impromptu dance with one arm in the air:

‘Like admit yourself to a local salsa club!’

Social games and hygge

The event was phenomenally organised by two students of University College Copenhagen, namely Elisabetta Veronesi and Maria W. Stockholm studying Nursing and Occupational Therapy, respectively. The hot and not-very-Danish-like-weather allowed the organisers to arrange some social activity games outside – but before the mimicking of animals and memory games would begin, the students grouped for the bi-annual group photo of international students. 


Bi-annual group photo   

After some activities that surely raised the heart rate by a few beats, the students returned to the classroom. Many students used their new knowledge from the workshop to describe the afternoon as “hyggelig,” a word that is - luckily - slightly easier to pronounce than smørrebrød. One Scandinavian student - who was trying to help her peers pronounce the Danish words - cheekily suggested her peers to: ‘Just put a potato in your throat!’

You can read about Portuguese exchange student Cláudia Faria and her experiences with Danish language courses and another difficult sentence: rød grød med fløde

The last few presentations on various cultural norms in Denmark concluded and the day was coming to an end. Next day, the students joined a guided tour around Copenhagen and Nyhavn with Associate Lecturer in Social Work Jacob Magnussen accompanied by his colleague and “exchange teacher” Dr Hefin Gwilym.  


Social games in the sun 

Dr Hefin Gwilym, Bangor University, Wales