After stuffing two years’ worth of clothing and school supplies into two huge suitcases, I was ready to go. I didn’t have time to be sad, just stressed. My parents took me out to lunch and drove me to the Sea-Tac airport, and my boyfriend met us there to send me off. After a surprisingly tearless goodbye, I hopped on a plane and flew to…London.
(You see, I’d waited to long to book a flight, I had to take this really strange connection with three layovers…thankfully none of them were longer than two hours though.)
I got held up at security in Heathrow because I’d forgotten to take my liquids out of my carry-on and they had to search my bag, which was stressful because I had a 1-hour connection between flights. Fortunately the security personnel were extremely nice and did everything they could to expedite the bag-searching process and get me to my gate on time. I’ll even forgive them for losing one of my bags. Heck, I’m surprised they managed one. Props to you, British Airways!
After layovers in Oslo and Aalberg (a city in northern Denmark), I finally made it to the Aarhus airport, a tiny little thing which, at 8:00 on a Monday night, was completely deserted but for the other passengers on my flight.
Since I was arriving late and the student housing office was closed so I couldn’t pick up my key, I had made prior arrangements to stay with someone from Couchsurfing for a night. I knew from his profile that his name was Thomas and he was a Danish photojournalist. Turns out he was sort of the “dirty hippie” type, which I was quite grateful for at the time because I was stressed out over flying and he was a pretty chill dude, and because I didn’t smell that great after 17 hours in transit, either.
Because of his job, Thomas has a car, so the next day he drove me around the city helping me run errands and find my housing. I was so grateful! He even helped me carry my remaining suitcase up the stairs.
My room is in a student residence called Teknolog Kollegiet. I have a small, furnished room and my own (tiny) bathroom. There are about 30 people on my floor from all over the world. They range from undergraduates doing semesters abroad, to one 30-something guy working on his second Ph.D. My room is 12m2 and has a tiny foyer area with my bathroom and a closet, separated by a door from the main room. It’s quite small, but I actually really like it. I’ve also got a bright window with a thick curtain.
Half of the rooms in the building don’t have their own bathroom, and as a result their rent is about 200 DKK ($40) cheaper per month. I’m paying 2650 DKK per month to live here, which is about $460 right now (though a few weeks ago it was closer to $500). This is actually quite cheap for this city. Denmark is one of the richest countries in the world, and Aarhus is the second-biggest city in it. That’s not saying much, because Denmark is a small, sparsely populated place. Aarhus has about 315,000 people living in it, and a huge number of those are students.
My first impressions of the town are fairly positive. It’s right on the ocean and has a harbor, which I haven’t been to yet. The city has existed for 500-odd years, and it does have a somewhat picturesque city center, but it’s full of shopping and restaurants and entertainment, so it’s a weird mixture of old and new: an old brick church across the street from a discount grocery store, an H&M located in a beautiful old building. The new parts of the city (which is basically everything except this small downtown area) are incredibly modern, with lots of strange modern architecture. The Journalism School of the university, for instance, is this extremely ugly building made in the 70s and built entirely from concrete with hardly any color and few windows. I guess the architecture students like to come and study it, but it’s quite unpleasant to be inside.
My program started the very next day, and my first impressions of it were quite positive as well. We are a group of nearly 100 students from 70 different countries. There are only two other Americans. The students come from every continent except Australia and Antarctica. There are several Germans, Danes, Spaniards and Chinese. There are a handful of Africans. We have several South Americans. It’s funny to hear the Spaniards complain about the Latin Americans’ accents, and vice versa. They all seem like really nice, interesting people so far, and many of them are quite well-traveled. Needless to say, I latched on to the Germans and have been trying to speak German with them. I’m not even speaking German 24/7, but speaking a little bit every day is already helping bring my language skills back after hardly using them for a year. The Danish government also offers free Danish classes for foreign students, and I haven’t met anyone yet who doesn’t want to at least try to learn some Danish.
We had our first lecture on Friday. It was 7 hours long, which was exhausting, but very interesting. It had nothing to do with journalism, but rather, political science perspectives and ways of analyzing world politics, which I don’t have any background in and found very informative. I am under the impression, though, that if I want to actually be producing articles and multimedia, I’m going to have to pursue that on my own, because that’s not what our classes are about. But whatever, that’s the difference between internships and higher education.
One thing about this group: They like to party! Almost every night there are people hanging out in the kitchen, drinking and talking. Nobody here wants to drink and watch a movie – it’s all about talking, bonding, getting to know one another, forming deep friendships. It’s pretty cool. But it’s a bit hard getting used to. In the states, I went out drinking once, maybe twice a week. And by “out” I mean I went to a friend’s house and we shared a bottle of wine and some gossip. To put it in perspective, our first day of the program was Wednesday. Thursday night, all the international students were given a free ticket to Tivoli, a nearby amusement park, and some people stayed out past one in the morning. This was the night before the seven hours of lecture. AFTER the seven hours of lecture, there was a big welcome party for all of the students in our program that went from 6pm until midnight.
And Saturday night, there was ANOTHER party at a different student residence which tons of students from other programs as well went to. I’m torn between wanting to be studious and succeed academically, and wanting to take advantage of the opportunities for international friendships and such. For now the workload has been pretty manageable, so I think I’ll take advantage of the “accelerated bonding” period, but there’s no way I can keep up with the Danes and the Brits once we start having huge papers to write.