I wish I were writing this post sitting in a cafe in Aarhus, drinking strong Danish coffee and munching on a pastry. Yes, everyone mentions Danish pastries, yes they are good, and yes, prepare to eat a lot of them.
Regrettably, procrastination means that I am writing this on a humid Auckland afternoon with law school looming on the horizon.
This post will be different to most of the content on the 360 blog. I was only at Aarhus University for 2 weeks, so what I’m going to mention is narrower in scope than other blog posts here.
To give a quick rundown: summer school used to be the definition of short term pain for long-term gain. You suffer through summer, knock out a paper or two and finish the degree quicker.
Fortunately, Aarhus University has come up with a brilliant innovation: winter school. Summer school, but Northern Hemisphere style. They offer short (2 week) courses to New Zealand and Australian students on their summer break. You rock up to Aarhus, take the course, and transfer the points back to your degree at Auckland. Summer school suddenly became a lot more interesting.
Aarhus is Denmark’s second largest city. Although, it’s still not very large (a total population of 340,421 according to Wikipedia). The university is a big part of the city, and there is definitely a student culture and university town vibe. I thought it was like Otago in that sense, except bigger. With the bigger size comes most things you’d expect from a larger city in terms of transport, places to eat, and activities.
Winter School gives you the option of 3 courses. Two business style courses, and a law one. Being a law student, I took ‘Climate Law: International and EU Law in Context’.
All up, it was interesting and not too different from things back home in terms of the teaching style. We had a few different lecturers. Like any university course, they ranged from mediocre to really engaging. One thing I appreciated was the realism about how hard a bunch of Kiwi and Aussie students would work when in Europe for only 2 weeks (not very hard). The only assessment we had in Denmark was a straightforward multi choice test. There is a more substantial take home assignment, which you have a month to do. That requires a fair bit of work but you do have the month before the usual university semester begins.
All up, I had a really fun time. Aarhus University plans activities into the two weeks you’re there for. We had a welcome dinner complete with a salsa dancing lesson after (unexpected, definitely not Danish, but lots of fun) and a tour around the old town of the city.
Aarhus itself isn’t too big, and the public transport is great. Being Denmark, you can very easily rent a bike and cycle everywhere – flat terrain and ample cycle lanes make this a less terrifying prospect than it would be in Auckland. The vast majority of Danish people I talked to spoke fluent English as well.
The best part of the exchange by a long shot was the people we met. Because there were 3 New Zealanders and 80 Aussies taking the course, these turned out to be mostly Australians! Who would’ve thought the best part about Denmark would be a group of Aussies?
Seriously though, people can make or break an experience. I met some fantastic people and got up to a whole heap of different things – from cycling to the deer park, to ice skating, and eating at Aarhus’ legendary international food court. It definitely pays to go into an exchange with a ‘get yourself out there’ mentality. Talk to as many different people as possible and attend all of the social events that come your way.
Top tips/honest advice
And now for a few practical tips to make the most of your relatively short winter school experience:
(Big shout out to Sandy and Pia, the other two Auckland Uni students who did Winter School, for helping me out with these tips).
- Don’t fly directly to Aarhus. It’s very expensive! A much better way would be to get either a bus or train from Copenhagen. Buses are much cheaper than trains and just as good.
- Yes it is cold and the days are short, but there are definite advantages to Europe in Winter. Denmark is a country designed around cold, so the Danes do cold well. The buildings are warm! Just make sure you bring a scarf and gloves as well as a coat.
- The best part about Europe in winter is that it’s quieter and less touristy. If you’re going to buildings and museums the season doesn’t make a huge difference. You can also take advantage of cheaper flights and accommodation.
- Denmark is quite expensive. Air BnB’s can be good. The food at the university is really good and reasonably priced as well compared to what you can get elsewhere.
- The workload is forgiving enough that you can use the weekend in the middle of the course to go to another European city, like Berlin or Hamburg (I ruled this out at the beginning because I thought I would be busy studying – I wasn’t). That said, it could be just as fun to stay in Aarhus and explore the city with others. I stayed in Aarhus and had a blast.