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Denmark as portrayed by international studentsDenmark as portrayed by international students


Bicycles, Danish television series, and a strong welfare system. These are three things foreigners typically associate with Denmark. At least that is our conclusion following a tremendous cross-cultural workshop. On August 23, Metropolitan University College met with 65 international students at T86 for a workshop – the first of its kind.

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The freshly arrived international students from 13 different countries are having a go at the social introduction games. The organisers used every means possible including the mimicking of animals. 

Text and photos by Anne Trap-Lind  | August 31st 2017

Lorraine Davie did not need much time for her first culture shock in Denmark. As Lorraine Davie arrives in Copenhagen Airport, walks outside and crosses the road to catch her lift she encounters what she will soon learn to be the definition of heavy traffic in Copenhagen. Lorraine was very nearly hit by a bicycle on what she soon after learned to be designated bike paths. 

In Lorraine’s home country, Scotland, bike paths or even bicycles are a rare sight. The same can be said for Ireland, home country of Lorraine’s friend and fellow student Emma Richardson. Emma explains the reasoning being: “Everyone has a car. The winding roads going through the green hills of Ireland are not child’s play – not even for grownups on bicycles”

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Lorraine Davie (left) and Emma Richardson (right), both studying occupational therapy, enjoying their break from the workshop on the staircase of T87.

The two young students are both studying to become occupational therapists. They chose an internship with Bispebjerg Hospital for three months in collaboration with the Occupational Therapy education here at Metropolitan University College. This Wednesday in August, they are both attending the workshop along with 65 other international students merrily engaging in games and socialisation. They are all here to study at Metropolitan University College in the field of health, social work, or pedagogy.

Lorraine, Scotland, explains why she came to Denmark: “I applied for this internship as it offered a chance to deal with patients who had experienced a stroke. We were both very interested in this area” and adds: “And of course, the Danish welfare system has a nice reputation!”

Emma and Lorraine got acquainted with Metropolitan University College through Queen Margaret University, located in Edinburgh, Scotland, which has collaborated in a partnership with Metropolitan University College involving exchange students for the past three years. As part of their program in Denmark, the two international students will give a 45-minute presentation on a case study for their fellow students of Occupational Therapy on September 1.

Workshop on culture and curious moves

The 65 international students from 13 different countries are bonding well during the workshop. The two organisers, Mathias Velling Hansen, Occupational Therapy student, and Mathilde Thea Lund Schmidt, Nursing student, designed an agenda for the workshop which guides the students to reflect on the many quirks of their host country Denmark. Luckily, that Wednesday, the bright, late summer sun allowed for some of the activities to be performed outdoors.

And the Danish late summer sun is working wonders. The students are from Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Ireland, Scotland etc., and they are all merrily jumping around in a heroic attempt to mimic the animal they have been assigned. And of course, who could ever deny us the opportunity to immortalise that experience through a good old group photo?  

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At the top floors of T86, the students are presenting their posters which they used the morning to prepare. The assignment was quite simply to picture what they each associate with Danish culture including the Danish welfare system, health care system, and Danish cuisine. Unsurprisingly, the topic is rapidly taking the shape of bicycles and bike paths.

A Belgian student draw comparison between the never-ending, heavy Belgian and Danish traffic – the only difference being the heavy traffic in Denmark is mostly on the bike paths. Other topics included the Danish TV series The Bridge (‘Broen’) and The Killing (‘Forbrydelsen’) which both hold a special place in the hearts of our international students. But dreary things such as rain, being reserved, and a general resistance to change were also noted as being “Danish”.

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And the cultural frame of reference was put to test as the multicultural Belgian-Dutch-Irish team described the Danes as “relaxed and easy going”. However, not everyone completely agreed with the description as a smiling Spanish student noted the Danes as friendly, but perhaps overburdened and stressed. The Spanish student probably knew the Spanish siesta and the Southern European laid-back approach would be impossible to beat.

Welfare and well-being in Copenhagen

Another group presents their thoughts of the Danish welfare system. Keywords such as equality, the Government’s social responsibility, and the public-sector financing it all. The Danish taxation system is probably as famous and exotic as the bicycles, the rain, and the “hygge” which obviously had its place on the poster as well.

Already after two weeks in the Danish health care system, Emma and Lorraine are enjoying the group dynamics at the job, which is far less hierarchically structured in comparison to Ireland and Scotland. The cooperation is something they are very appreciative of as they put it into words: “In my job as an occupational therapist at Bispebjerg Hospital, I get the feeling of being taken seriously by the other professions.

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Back home in Ireland, occupational therapy is still an unknown field of profession. Many even think of it as strange. I am so happy to experience first-hand the Danish health care system, and I can testify that they actually do put the patient in the centre of attention. I believe that is the goal in the United Kingdom, but it might be hard to achieve because of the organisational structure being quite hierarchical. In the same vein, our occupational therapy tutor, Nanna, really did put us and our internship in the centre of focus. It is absolutely lovely, informative, and inspiring too!” says Emma Richardson.

For the 65 freshly arrived international students attending Metropolitan University College, the workshop is only one day out of a week of socialising, which is much to the happiness of Emma and Lorraine. They believed the internship and the tutors would be more adequate for their stay, but the workshop and the socialising with other Metropolitan University College students gave them a whole new perspective of the Danish education system, Denmark, and of course new friends to share the experience and wonders of Copenhagen. 

​Read about exchange students and academic programmes 

The question, then, is what would you like to experience in Denmark before you return to your respective home countries? 
“I want to experience the City Hall Square (‘Rådhuspladsen’) and Christiania by bicycle!” says Lorraine Davie, and soon after Emma Richardson adds: “And I would like to explore the local areas of Copenhagen and get the sensation of feeling at home.”

What do you think you will bring back home from Denmark? 
“For me as an occupational therapy student, the internship was an eye opener for a different practice when dealing with patients. It was less stressful, less tense in the nursing care interventions, and especially the focus on any potential physical struggles a patient might experience following a heart attack, for instance struggles with swallowing.” 

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