The first classes, first assignments, first field trips, first time getting lost, first Danish words, first friends, first postcards, first cooking disasters, first time getting caught by the rain in sandals, first time biking in the streets of Copenhagen, first time getting yelled at by fellow bikers, first everything… Our classes began last Thursday, but this was our first “official” week. This week for me was unexpectedly rough though… I got very ill on Sunday, today is the next Saturday and I am only now starting to recover. Unfortunately I wasn’t the only one; many of the DIS students were running around with tissues and cough drops all week. I guess it is the unavoidable reaction to moving to a completely new country. I missed some classes and the first field trip for my Wider European Security class 😦 , but oh well, the professors were very understanding. Spending so much time in my room just resting made me really homesick, which is very unusual for me (I don’t get homesick until one month after or so), so that was quite strange and sad… But at some point I felt good enough to pick up my bike, which made the daily commute so much more enjoyable. It is really not that difficult to bike around here since Copenhagen is a very bike friendly city, you just have to make sure not to mess up in the middle of traffic –if you do, be ready to get yelled at.
I will move onto how classes are here. DIS combines the American and the Danish education systems, which I think is wonderful. The teaching methods are very different here; the student participation forms a bigger part of each course since Denmark itself is a country that highly values the opinions and ideas of each and every individual. Hence, participation is a huge part of academics here; I have already had several debates, presentations and class discussions. Moreover, people in Denmark call their professors only by their first name, which makes everything more casual and comfortable. The professors guide us into discussions and debates, as well as lecturing us, but they are also a part of our discussions. Another major difference is that walking is a big part of our classes. Copenhagen is a walking and biking city that is full of things to do and things to see. Accordingly, our professors want us to profit from that, so at least 1/3rd of each course I have is made of field trips. I think that this is a method that many other education systems could incorporate; there are so many schools that are close to such resources, but don’t make use of them. It is easier and more enjoyable for both, the professor to teach and for the student to learn, in a location that is physically relevant to the course. Sitting in the same classroom each and every session can get really boring for both sides.
The first assignment for my Urban Design Foundations Studio (my core course –meaning 2 credits) is called “Transformation of Halmtorvet. Connecting the square with the neighborhood.”. Our focus is to connect the Halmtorvet Square to the Sønder Boulevard, which is an active urban space with green areas, sports and game facilities, as well as some recreational activity for the neighborhood. Our assignment is about how to treat the spaces in between buildings in a way that prioritizes people. The space we work on not only has to be functional, but also has to provide some meaning and inspiration to daily life. Our class is about 3,5 hours long (technically 4), twice a week. So far we have been spending 1,5 to 2 hours of it in the studio, listening to some lectures by our professor or working on our projects, and the second half walking to Halmtorvet to get enough information on the location for our analysis. It is very useful to be able to walk to and observe the location with the professor and classmates since it is most people’s (including myself) first time doing any kind of design/ architecture.
We also went on our first field trip for my New Nordic Design class. We went to the Royal Danish Arsenal Museum and observed how the “The Danish Wars” and the “The Collections” exhibitions were installed. The theme of this session was “Authenticity in architecture and design.”, so we reflected on the atmosphere, the rhythm (columns and showcases), the light, the materials, the space, the communication effects and finally on what is exhibited in what way. It was quite interesting to observe and reflect on the way an exhibition is installed, instead of the things in it. I had a reading assigned for last Tuesday, which mentioned how design has become so underrated and overlooked. After noticing that I have never paid too much attention to the design of an exhibition, I once more realized the power and presence of design.
Then there was the first cultural assignment for my Danish Language and Culture class. The main objective of the assignment was to be culturally aware. In order to get to know a new place and its culture, observation is key. Accordingly, for this project we were required to observe a certain area, get some information on it and identify the significant differences and similarities. This will help us with our analysis of the values in Denmark and the Danish society, in the future. For this assignment, we were all separated into groups of 3. Each group was assigned an area and an “important Dane” related to the area. Moreover, each one of us was given a certain amount of money to try the coffee/tea/whatever drink you prefer and pastries in different cafes within the area!!! Our goal was to get enough information to be able to make a 5 to 10 minute presentation about Frederiksstaden (our area), Maersk Mckinney Møller (“the important Dane”), Mormors (our favorite café in the area) and some of the Danish traditions and behaviors that stood out to us. This, to me was more fun and informative than a regular homework or project. Denmark is cool, Danes are cool, the program is cool, the classes are cool, the professors are cool, all is well.
Oh, lastly, the Danes have a very sarcastic and dark sense of humor, which I am so so happy about. Almost no one gets my humor in the US or in Turkey, so I always end up being “the awkward one”. Now, the tables have turned.