Jade Denson’s semester abroad in 2013 changed her relationship to learning; she fell in love with leveraging experiential learning as a framework for growth and development. Now Chairperson of the DIS Alumni Board, Jade is excited to take part in helping build lifelong learning and community engagement opportunities for other DIS alumni that still yearn for the DIS magic they experienced in Scandinavia.
DIS: Hi Jade! Tell us about your experience of studying abroad with DIS in 2013.
J: Hi! I went to Grinnell College, which has a culture of studying abroad so I first consulted our advisor there and asked if there were any programs available that were in alignment with sociology and psychology because I was a double major. DIS was one of the first programs he shared that had coursework in both areas.
I wanted to be in a place where I would be challenged to learn another language, but also have teaching in English. I was also really excited about study tours, and I liked the emphasis on experiential learning. There is a really clear focus on that with DIS.
DIS: What was the learning experience like at DIS compared to Grinnell?
J: At Grinnell, it was very academic, although not in a bad way. There was a lot of theorizing and philosophizing, talking, and discussions. I do think that’s an important part of learning, too. But when I was at DIS, we were going to communities and asking questions; interviewing people and observing the things we are studying on the streets, and that was just totally different.
I think the part that resonated the most with me was my Study Tour. We went to Istanbul as part of my sociology course. Everything we learned about and encountered was very meaningful.
DIS: Looking back, what has your career trajectory been? Where does DIS and the experiences you had studying abroad fit into that?
J: While abroad, I started to get invested in people doing as a way to learn. So as opposed to just studying and taking courses, I really understood the impact of experience as a way to learn. I started to appreciate people having a variety of experiences in order to see what they like and don’t like, and to get better at the things they want to understand better.
That is something that is at the core of what my job is now. I work with talent growth of young people in the tech industry at Target. We provide people with year-long programs that give them the experience that they need to be really good at the job that they want to do.
While abroad, I started to get invested in people doing as a way to learn. So as opposed to just studying and taking courses, I really understood the impact of experience as a way to learn.
DIS: Prior to that, you also worked at the DIS North American office. How was that?
J: Relatively quickly after I got back to the U.S. from Copenhagen, I received an email about open positions at the DIS North American office. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but I loved my experience at DIS and I was wondering why more Black people weren’t studying abroad in Denmark. Why weren’t people on my campus that looked like me more interested in the DIS experience? I was curious about that. So, when I did get the job at the DIS North American office I was excited about being able to share the opportunity with more people, in particular people that look like me.
I enjoyed talking to them about what was possible and how they could use their experience at DIS to get what they wanted career-wise, or what they wanted out of a learning experience.
At the North American office, everyone traveled to fairs and campus visits to do relationship building with people in the study abroad office. What I really liked about my role was being able to hear what people want out of an experience and making recommendations. I enjoyed talking to them about what was possible and how they could use their experience at DIS to get what they wanted career-wise, or what they wanted out of a learning experience. I think that was the first time I started to see myself as someone who could connect people to impactful resources.
DIS: How did you bring your personal experiences of studying abroad as a woman of color into your work with students?
J: I specifically remember doing a DIS pre-departure session at Spelman College, which was a really cool experience because it’s all Black women. They asked me what it was like to study abroad in Copenhagen. I was being really honest and said that I experienced being in Denmark to be lighter than being in the U.S. I think part of why it felt lighter is that they don’t have the same history. Of course, there’s racism everywhere, but it’s not the same histories as in the U.S.
To me it was a really interesting experience to be perceived as an American first by the Danes. I talked like an American, and I move about the world like an American. The Danes recognized that I was Black as well, but ultimately an American. In the U.S., I don’t feel American. I feel like a Black person.
We also talked about how there are Black people across the diaspora in Denmark. It is super interesting and cool to experience being around Black Danes. I was able to talk about how it’s important to seek out those experiences while you’re in Denmark. I shared some examples of places I went to, and advice on how to seek out pockets of Black people when you want that experience.
DIS: Looking back, are there things you would have done differently while abroad?
J: I think what I would have been more tactical about how I wanted this experience to inform and support my future career. I was thinking so short sighted about how to get the credits I needed, when in actuality Denmark is leading in so many industries when it comes to career. I would have thought about things like how to connect with a company while I’m there, how to shadow people in an interesting way, or how to do anything that would help progress me and get some experience on my resumé.
I would definitely have done a Homestay. I lived in a Kollegium, and I wish I would have challenged myself but I was nervous about the awkwardness and comfortability. I also did not know about the diversity club when I was at DIS. I should have done my research to better understand and be more involved, because I think that would have been really impactful.
In the weekends, I was in Denmark. And that’s something I highly, highly recommend. Because there’s only so many times in your life you get to really live in another country.
I was one of those people that didn’t travel a ton. I traveled during the travel breaks, but in the weekends, I was in Denmark. And that’s something I highly, highly recommend. Because there’s only so many times in your life you get to really live in another country.
DIS: Are there parts of Danish culture that have stayed with you over the years?
J: In my sociology course at DIS we studied why Danes are so happy and learned that it is not like there’s a secret sauce. It is about how Danes frame their expectations and what they want; the idea that “I have done my best and it is what it is, now I can move on to the next day.” As a U.S. college student there is so much anxiety about being perfect and being the best. I was one of those anxious, worried people with a feeling that nothing I do will ever be enough. Since studying in Denmark, I have relaxed a ton and incorporated the philosophy that I gave it my best and I’m done thinking about it.
I love being able to use Denmark as a real example when I am in conversations about healthcare or the welfare state. Some people always talk about the reasons why we shouldn’t do something, and I feel like I have specific examples of how and why certain things are effective. I continue to carry that with me, that things could be different. We would have additional challenges of doing what Denmark does, because Denmark is way more homogenous in the U.S., but I think it’s still a goalpost of something that we could be closer to.