It’s been already six months that I’ve been studying at the Roskilde University of Denmark as an exchange student. After the first semester enrolled in Communication Studies, I’m currently studying International Studies until I finish in June and come back to Spain, and I’m really happy.
I made a good decision when I decided to make an extension of stay for the full year. Though most people do Erasmus here for one semester only due to various reasons (use to be money), I knew that if my college gave me the possibility of prolonging my stay, and my parents would agree, I would do it. Just one semester is a too short time.
The advantages of staying here for one more semester are already showing. I’m improving my English every day, I’m meeting new incredible people and stretching links with people from the previous semester, I’m discovering more sides of Denmark that I didn’t know… Six months is definitely not enough time to discover one entire country. Only thing I’m regretting is not have been going to Danish classes since the first day. Now I’m thinking it’s too late to take that train.
Anyways, the thing is that the way northern education systems work, and overall, the way Roskilde University works, is totally different from the Spanish college. There are things that I love and others, that maybe because of the big differences, have been making me a bit anxious.
Let’s start with the things I love.
~ YOU ARE AN ADULT HERE ~
Except for some of the courses I took in the first semester, professors don’t use to take into account who goes to class and who doesn’t. You are obviously supposed to go and supposed to keep with the rhythm and the readings, but educators are not there to “force you” to do so. People are supposed to be there by their own will, and I really enjoy feeling the responsibility to totally rely on me. Also because of the absence of parents, this experience really helps people to learn how to manage their own lives (although I’ve already experienced the need of taking care of yourself without parents because I study in Madrid while they live in Málaga).
Also, the amount of class hours we have is really low compared to Spain, this is like that because they expect you to work for your own, and to use your free time properly. They put a lot of emphasis on group work, so you might even have full days free of class, but because you should use that time to work with your classmates. Having the chance of deciding how much time and effort you and your mates put on the work really helps in growing responsibility, I think.
In this university, they really love to use readings as a learning process through the courses. Going to class is not enough, not even the most important thing in some cases, I would say. For each class, professors upload readings to moodle, that you need to read along with a textbook in some cases. These readings are really important because although professors will explain the theories in class, many aspects can be omitted or talked fast, to reserve time for discussion or, again, group work. This is, Danish educational culture really loves participation. They don’t conceive class without at least some kind of feedback from the pupils.
So classes are more like a place to resume what the reading says and to discuss it with your neighbors, as they say. This is, in every class teachers will make questions and ask the people to discuss it with the person sitting next to us. If you have not read the texts, you will not be able to participate or giving that much to the conversation, unless you are really good at the matter, of course.
~ THE UNIVERSITY IS 24/7 READY FOR YOU ~
It’s not that college libraries are not there for you in Spain, or that you can not access to material, but in a Danish university, the campus is open for you and ready for you to use anytime you want to. It feels really weird being able to access several parts of the college even at night, almost at every hour of the day. Libraries are open even without personal supervision and with a code card system, you can access to the buildings in which you use to have class in, in case you need to do something or you want to work somewhere with your classmates. For example, when I was in Communication Studies, we needed to use the computers room to edit, and we could access to this class at any point of the day, with our student card and personal code.
Like I said, it’s not that this kind of freedom is not common in Spain, but since the campus is sometimes unmonitored and it can feel really lonely and empty, it’s cool that you can walk through it just like if it was your home and use the common rooms and kitchens when you feel like it. The huge amount of kitchens and bathrooms in every building is great, you can just borrow a tea bag or make yourself some coffee, leave something in the fridge to use later… The existence of these kitchens really shows the difference in the way Danish see college respect from other countries. The campus is really prepared to spend time on it while feeling welcome and relaxed.
Also, the library is huge and beautiful, just because of the beautiful it is, with its huge crystal windows and big spaces, it really invites you to go to study there.
~ DON‘T BE SCARED OF EXAMS ~
The way examination works, especially in Communication Studies, was really friendly and relaxed. Often, exams here don’t consist in a paper with questions you need to resolve by your own in a limited time. Since what we did in Communication were mainly communication products, exams used to consist of what they call, Showtime.
When we had to make a poster for a communication campaign we created, or present a video, we did it in a special room where many people could watch us present our work, along with the teachers. It’s meant to be in a way that all students can give feedback, and not only teachers. so that people can also contribute to the exam of other people. The feedback you give can also be seen as part of your own examination. Teachers won’t really force anyone to say something or will be noting who talks and who doesn’t but is a moment when everyone is supposed to be participative.
Danish professors are open-minded in the sense that, as long as your work meets the basic criteria given, and you are able to defend the process you followed or the perspective towards the work you had in mind, your assignments will be able to pass with no major difficulties. Of course, this won’t work the same for other fields different than Communication, but in general, the philosophy remains the same.
For other subjects or other studies, like International Studies, the most common kind of exam is the 48 hours exam. This is, a written essay you have to elaborate based on a question the teacher gives to the class, and that you have to solve while using theories you learned from the class or readings. The good part of this is the freedom an essay styled exam gives you, and the amount of time they give you to finalize it. You don’t need to use your memory that much in this kind of test.
~ THE PROBLEM–ORIENTED PROJECT WORK ~
In relation to what I said before, the whole way this university has to grade your works is completely different from what we are used to in Spain. It is time to talk about the heart of Roskilde University, the group project.
In every semester, in every field of study, you will have a subject called Project Work that costs 15 ECTS. To complete this subject, what you have to do is to make a written work, based on a topic and on a research question, along with other students (usually the groups are formed by three or five people).
All the work must be done on your own, this means, there are no physical classes you have to assist for this subject. Instead, you’ll have supervisions with a professor, that will guide you through all the way. This is very similar to how a TFG in Spain works (final bachelor work, or something like that, don’t know how to translate it). Because of this, doing this project is very useful for people like me, who will need to face the TFG next year and that will find this as a good way of preparing yourself for that final mission.
The examination of this project consists of a conversation with two professors, one professor from RUC and another one from a different college (often from Copenhagen University). In this conversation, professors will make questions to you about the work, and will that way evaluate if you actually learned something in the process. It is then, a very relaxed way of doing an exam (even if you hate talking to people), very difficult to fail once that you’ve already made the hand-in of the project. If your written work meets the requirements, it is very rare that you fail the oral exam.
This image is the basis of what RUC professors expect from you. While other education systems, like the one we have in Spain, sometimes fail to move the students from the first layer to the highest one. In Denmark they want you to be able to build something new or to apply what you’ve learned in future works. Which is great, but also very difficult.
~ VOLUNTEERING PHILOSOPHY ~
In Denmark, volunteering in university activities is very common. In this university, international students are an important part of the community, and a lot of both international people and Danish students will volunteer in order to make great events that you can go to. They are very good and useful to meet new people or just having a good time. First of all, this university counts with what they call, the Foundation Course. Helped by volunteers, this Foundation Course is a two weeks program where some activities are planned for new international students.
They won’t just teach you how to make basic stuff like getting your residence permit but also it will allow you to meet new people. Me myself, I must say, didn’t go to the course, neither many of my friends, and it is not a problem to miss it. However, people we know that have participated does not regret it at all.
I also remember the taco night, where volunteers organized a delicious dinner (of tacos). Even though we arrived there with our friends, we ended up talking to people we didn’t know, which is very much the common thing in this university, you got the chance to talk with very different people. Halloween parties, club nights in the RUC bar and other cool stuff is also fueled by volunteers. They really make an important job!
These are pretty much some of the things I like the most about this university. Of course, not everything is perfect and, in the next post, I will talk about the things I liked the less or the obstacles I found in my way. So, don’t forget to follow the blog to not miss the future posts 🙂