10 Things You Didn’t Expect to Learn While Studying Abroad … And Tips to Make the Most of Them!

Here are 10 things you didn’t expect to learn while studying abroad, as well as some helpful tips to make the most of your time in Scandinavia:

Commuting, Megan Jensen

1) Mastering the metro…Bus, train, light rail, bike lanes, and ferry
Public transit may seem foreign, daunting, or unreliable to many Americans. In Scandinavia, you gain a whole new perspective whether you choose to study in Copenhagen or Stockholm. Public Transit is one of the easiest and quickest ways to get around. Copenhagen’s Metro, S-Trains, buses, and harbor bus allow you to transverse the city with ease. The T-Bana train network in Stockholm is the artery of the city’s transportation network, taking people for Östermalm to Södermalm in a matter of minutes. You will get to know the transportation networks in your city like the back of your hand and appreciate it every day as you go from home to class to dinner with friends.

Also, if you will be studying in Copenhagen, join the 50% of Copenhageners that commute by bike everyday rain or shine. Biking is free and the fastest way to get around the city. Copenhagen has a robust biking infrastructure. Most roads have bike lanes that are elevated from the main road and separated from the sidewalk. Special traffic lights control the flow of bikes and specific bike lanes called ‘green-waves’ keep these traffic lights green to prioritize bikes over cars during rush hour. Biking gives you so much freedom – you can literally go anywhere on a bike. Once you get a taste of biking here, you become addicted and biking turns into your favorite form of transportation. Stay tuned – DIS will give you all the info you need to rent a bike for your semester.

Tip! Use google maps or the local travel planning apps to help you get around the city, but also don’t be afraid to get lost from time to time. You’ll find new neighborhoods and get to know the city better as you find your way home. Also, asking for directions is a great way to interact with locals.

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2) Gaining greater intercultural understanding
Copenhagen and Stockholm are international cities. Even though you are studying with mostly American students, you’re interacting with Danes, Swedes, and people from various cultures on a daily basis. You’re going to encounter cultural differences, in both the obvious big things but also during small unexpected moments. Your local hosts, roommates, friends and even DIS faculty, might speak the same language as you fluently, but they will often have very different perspectives or traditions of politeness. Respect these differences and reflect on how they compare to your culture. In this process of respecting and reflecting, your worldview opens up and you have a greater sense of empathy towards others.

Tips! Here are some good tips we hear most about from past students for blending in like the locals. When entering someone’s home, take off your shoes just inside the door unless they invite you to leave your shoes on. You’ll notice that Scandinavians eat using both fork and knife in each hand – cutting their food as they go. They even eat pizza and burgers this way! It can take some practicing, but give it a go – they will be impressed if you master your cutlery. And Scandinavians tend to be pretty independently tidy – cleaning up as they go whether it be in the kitchen, bathroom, or even their own private rooms. Look around you and become aware of your host’s or hallmate’s standards – fitting in with their standards can make a world of difference from the start.

Danes and students in a DRC eating Easter Lunch

3) Becoming Food Network’s next celebrity chef
Well not exactly…but, you definitely learn your way around the kitchen. Living abroad isn’t like living at your college campus – you will be living with new people, shopping at unfamiliar grocery stores, and experiencing different ingredients. If you haven’t cooked on your own before, this can be intimidating at first. But, don’t fret – you will know your way around the local Netto or ICA grocery store in no time!

And know that meals are king here and locals are often not as big on snacking as we are in the U.S. So you might want to stock yourself up, even if you are living in a Homestay – or at least let your hosts know that having some snacks around is something you’d enjoy and see if they are open to it.

Tip! Try using Google Translate on your phone when you shop to translate ingredients – it’s not uncommon to come home with what you thought was a carton of milk and it is actually yogurt!

Cooking with your Danish, Swedish, or American roommates can be a great bonding experience if you are living with many other students. If you like the idea of cooking and/or eating together, suggest potluck nights or nights where you trade off cooking for the group.

If you are living in a Homestay, be open to trying new foods but if you have any dietary restrictions don’t hesitate to tell your hosts about them. Danes and Swedes appreciate when you are direct about your questions and concerns. Also, offer to help out with meals. It is a great way to chip in and shows that you want to be a part of the family. Many students say that their favorite memories of their Homestay experience revolve around cooking and eating a meal with their host parents and siblings.

Want to start cooking like a Scandinavian right away? You can find fun seasonal recipes from the blog of DIS Culinary Living & Learning Community Coordinator, Linn Katarina Grubbström here – make sure to open the blog in Google Translate. Linn is a Swede living in Copenhagen and is a professional food blogger and cookbook writer specializing in simple and delicious recipes using local ingredients.

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4) Budgeting
Scandinavia is relatively more expensive than the States. But you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy your time here. The studying abroad experience, in general, is a great time to practice budgeting finances. You have the opportunity to decide how you want to divide your expenses between daily activities like grocery shopping, cultural events like concerts, and weekend excursions. Budgeting is a necessary skill to learn. So why not start while you’re abroad so that you can maximize your Krone?

Tip! Before you purchase in a café or restaurant, ask if they have a student discount.

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5) Getting a confidence boost and forgetting FOMO
Being abroad is a formative time. Your half-way across the world in a foreign place without your family and friends. A new form of independence rests upon you, and you can feel a bit lonely and scared of the unknown. It’s important that you forge your own experience abroad and live in the moment – don’t worry what others are doing back at home or around DIS – focus on making the most of each of your days with those in your immediate community.

As you meet people and get into a rhythm with your classes and extracurricular activities, you will find that you develop a greater sense of self. If you are having trouble getting settled, put in the effort to be a little more outgoing and “put yourself out there,” so to speak. Jump onto opportunities that present themselves to you, whether it be friends inviting you for dinner, a roommate in your Kollegium or Studentboende asking you to come along on a weekend excursion, or making sure you make it up in the morning for breakfast conversations with your Homestay.

After months of tackling new challenges, building your intercultural understanding, traveling to new countries on Study Tours, and seeing how what you learn in class is applied to a ‘real world’ context on Field Studies, you feel a little more confident in yourself and your abilities.

Tip! Be ready for deep conversations on topics – especially concerning where you come from and your thoughts on current events. Scandinavians are very globally savvy and often interested in a good debate.

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6) Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable and unexpected
Study abroad is not all roses all the time. You may find that you and your Homestay have a miscommunication about something, that you get on the wrong train to get home, or that, simply, the dinner you made didn’t turn out the way you envisioned it. Accept that things won’t go to plan all the time. To make your transition to life abroad a bit easier, be proactive about bringing up any questions and concerns you have with your roommates or host family. But remember, studying abroad is a new experience and there are bound to be some small bumps along the way.

Tip! If you hit a wall, always know that the DIS Care Team is here for you if you need support:

>> Contact DIS Copenhagen Care Team 
>> Contact DIS Stockholm Care Team

Hygge girl at tivoli

7) Master the art of coziness

Hygge is the Danish word and, mysigt, the Swedish word, for something cozy that creates a warm atmosphere and sense of contentment. You’ll find it in the locals using candlelight throughout the long dark winters in cafes and over meals. You’ll find it reading a book under a warm blanket or during a great conversation with friends on a picnic blanket. It is all about living in the moment and making that moment as cozy as possible. Once you experience it for the first time, you know that it will be a part of your life forever.

Tip! An easy way to practice this coziness is to have daily fika – a Swedish tradition that involves people coming together to have coffee and pastries. Fika isn’t just a tasty snack. It also allows you time to take a step back from the craziness of daily life and reflect and recharge your batteries.

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8) Becoming a more productive and proactive person

Study abroad helps you improve your time management skills. There’s so much to see and do in Scandinavia! And, between classes, Field Studies, and extracurricular activities, your weeks become jam-packed and can slip away. You learn to compartmentalize so that you can maximize your experience here. Remember to always put your academics first. But, also note that learning takes place outside the classroom, too! So, find time to hunt down the Forgotten Giants hidden in the forests in Copenhagen’s outer metro area or explore the many museums on Djurgården, one of Stockholm’s many islands.

Tip! And while planning travel is often a high priority when you are abroad, be sure to leave yourself time in your host city. There is so much happening here on the weekends, and the more people you get to know locally, the more ‘local must-dos’ you will learn about and won’t want to miss.

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9) The great outdoors
Urban and natural environments are super accessible in Scandinavia. When studying in Scandinavia, you adopt these notions and you have a whole new understanding of outdoor space and how you can utilize it, rain or shine. That’s right, rain won’t stop a Scandinavian from being out and about!

In Sweden, it even has a name – allemansrätten – the freedom to roam – which is protected by Swedish law and grants all people the right to roam freely in nature. This encourages Swedes to access the beautiful outdoors that surround them. You can walk, bike, camp on, kayak, even ski through land that is not right in someone’s front yard or under cultivation.

Tip! In Stockholm, rent a kayak for the day and paddle to any of the 30,000 islands that lie in the capital region. Pack a meal and a blanket and invite friends to a picnic on a hillside overlooking the city. Or grab a tent and go for an overnight in the nearby forests. You can even ski within the city’s boundaries once the snow falls.

Copenhagen prides itself on its human-centric urban planning. The city is walkable and bikeable with 400 km of bike lanes, and it has green spaces in all of its neighborhoods. You’ll find Danes picnicking in Kings Garden, swimming in the canals (both in summer and in winter with the help of a sauna), and enjoying the city’s many urban gardens.

Tip! If you have a warm day at the start of your semester, be sure to take advantage of the big canal that cuts through the city by jumping off a diving board in one of the many sea-baths. And don’t let the colder weather hold you back! The locals swim all year long, winter bathing in colder months. They warm up in a sauna and then jump into the ocean, repeating two to three times. You can find cafes along the canal in Refshaleøen that you can pay a small price to use their sauna.

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10) A Scandinavian sweet tooth
There’s simply nothing quite like a Danish kanelsnegl or Swedish kanelbulle. Especially, when you are wearing a fuzzy sweater and sitting in a cozy café with a warm cup of coffee while eating them – their flaky, yet doughy texture is to die for. The secret to these wonderful creations? Simply some Scandinavian magic and a lot of butter!

Danes and Swedes love their candy. On Fridays in Denmark and on Saturdays in Sweden, parents often treat their kids to some candy after dinner. This candy could be anything from chocolate to gummies. Families will often go to special candy stores to let their kids pick out which candy they want.

Tip! If you live with a Homestay or have a Visiting Host, this tradition will be a highlight of your weekends. Why not suggest an American themed Candy Night to share a bit of your home culture? Treat your family to some American candy and watch a classic film from your childhood or favorite TV show from back home.

And if you don’t live in a Homestay or have a Visiting Host, why not start a Friday tradition with friends at your Residential Community, Kollegium, or Studentboende where you combine candy and a movie/TV night. Try watching a local film or series.

See you soon in Scandinavia! 

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