Daniel is a London-based student, who decided to seize the opportunity and study abroad for half a year. For his Erasmus+ exchange he chose the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. Read on to learn about his life-changing experience!
In the April of 2017, I was one of the fortunate British students selected to study abroad at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark under the Erasmus+ programme. After fighting a competitive battle with other students, I was thrilled to hear that I managed to secure a place on this Study Abroad Programme. Erasmus+ is the European Union programme for education, training, youth and sport. It offers a student exchange, originally set up in 1987, enabling university- level students across the EU, to complete a study or work mobility placement in another country. The current EU budget (2014-2020) supplies Erasmus+ with €14.7 billion and attracts around 2 million students from the higher education sectors. The fact that I would be one of the UK students to receive EU funding stunned me, and hence, it was a big deal for me.
Moving abroad was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and the chance to study at one of Europe’s top-ranking research universities was a rare opportunity, given the University of Copenhagen being home to some of the best researchers in the Social Sciences. Growing up, I studied at one of the lowest performing high schools in Croydon, South London, before studying at a good performing sixth-form college. My dream to build a career in Government and Politics in Europe was the impetus to applying to the Erasmus+ programme.
In June last year, I returned home to London after living in the Danish capital of Copenhagen for six months. I have since begun to reflect on my study abroad experience. The Erasmus programme was undeniably the most challenging programme that I have ever completed, but it has filled me with much perseverance. In hindsight, I wished I had been more prepared mentally. Living and studying in a foreign country was not easy at all; the experience was full of ups and downs, but ultimately, proved to be life changing. I learned a great deal about myself in such a short amount of time.
Erasmus+ was a tough learning process which has truly impacted me from enhancing my confidence, to teaching me new skills, and helping shape my career path.
Cultural shock and developing self-awareness
Initially, the reality of moving to Denmark did not sink in until I began interacting with the local Danes and immersing into the Danish daily life. I soon realised that Denmark was not Britain, so naturally, everything from grocery shopping to commuting would not be the same. At the start, I perceived the Danish to be ill-mannered and rude, but was this really the case? Danish society is similar to societies in many other European countries; in a sense, it is socially laid-back, as well as has its customary practices in place.
Strange things like people walking past and barging into me in the supermarket without saying excuse me would irritate me. In such situations, I learned to be more self-aware of the different norms in Denmark and eventually, this helped me realise that social politeness was not the same as it would be in Britain. After all, the Brits are well-known for queueing up and being seriously over-polite. I’m guilty of this! I now try to be less judgemental while experiencing different cultures, as this assists me in realising that culture shock is normal. One way of dealing with this was to use the abundance of opportunities that were available to me. I learned to be more effortful in learning basic Danish and getting to know some of my Scandinavian friends, to name a few.
Embracing the inner-researcher and traveller in me
Studying abroad was eye-opening to my enthusiasm for research and travel. Furthermore, I volunteered as a paid participant for experiments managed by the Department of Economics that conducted studies for other European research institutes such as the University of Zurich. As an English-speaking student, I could only study specialised courses at the master’s level, which were incredibly challenging and thought-provoking. This way, I was able to produce three research papers amounting to 15,000 words which explored my academic interests freely. Hence, lengthy essays and intense deadlines have prepared me for my undergraduate dissertation.
Denmark is also an EU member state that belongs to the continental Schengen zone, sharing its borders with Germany and Sweden. So, exploring Scandinavia was not too difficult as I got to travel to Malmö by train and then jet off to Stockholm, both of which are in Sweden. Europe is massive. There is more to the continent than just a handful of Western European countries. Although this summer, I caught the travel bug and have been travelling across continental Europe to Belgium, Spain, France and Italy.
Living life like a continental European
Studying outside the UK for as long as this was a unique experience and one that felt continental in every single way. For instance, residing in Denmark made me feel more European and less restricted to the continent. It compelled me to improve my carbon footprint, through recycling more and investing in reusable coffee cups, as well as living a more healthy and active life. My time living abroad has even made me more aware of the highest tax regimes in continental Europe. However, it was the religious culture in Denmark that prominently stood out for me. The national religion in Denmark is Lutheranism, a branch of Protestantism in Christianity. Among many other European countries, Denmark is seemingly traditional and celebrates Christianity through long public holidays, which tend to span for longer than those celebrated in Britain. Public institutions and businesses in Denmark remain shut for a day or two after, whereas public holidays in Britain, do not exceed beyond its fixed duration.
Furthermore, I visited the Roskilde Cathedral, which is a UNESCO world heritage site merging French gothic and Danish architectural styles. Consequently, living on the continent taught me that Europe is more diverse across its national borders than it can be imagined. Diversity was visible through monetary economics, religious culture and environmentalism.
Completing the Erasmus programme was one of the most fulfilling and hardest things I have ever done at university. This tough learning process has rewarded me with the ability to overcome culture shock with self-awareness, deal with difficult situations, realise my interest in research and world travel, and live life in the shoes of a continental European.
Now, I am one of the 2 million students EU-wide, who have benefited from the scheme and gained an array of skills and a renewed feel of confidence, that I believe will assuredly help improve my future employability opportunities too. As a result, the Erasmus+ programme led to my promotion at work and becoming the elected President for the Goldsmiths Model United Nations Society.
Words: Daniel Deefholts
Photographs: author’s own