For Brown University alum, Elise Dadourian, studying with DIS Copenhagen was a pathway to conduct research for her senior thesis, but her experiences in Denmark gave her so much more.
We asked Elise about her time at DIS, her remarkable documentary about food waste reduction in Denmark, and her hopes for the future:
DIS: Hi Elise, tell us a bit about yourself.
E: Hi! This past May, I graduated from Brown University with an honors degree in environmental studies. I considered pursuing a career in sustainability, but ultimately decided to follow my passion in filmmaking. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I planned to move to Los Angeles in the fall to get a job at a production studio. It became clear, however, that it would be difficult to meaningfully enter the workforce any time soon, so I decided to go back to school.
Though New York and Los Angeles are lauded for their excellent filmmaking programs, I wanted to get out of the United States and learn from a less traditional and more global perspective. It was DIS that taught me the value of diverse thinking and international collaboration. I am now living in the United Kingdom and pursuing a master’s degree in producing at the Metfilm School of London.
It was DIS that taught me the value of diverse thinking and international collaboration.
DIS: Tell us more about your interests and academics at DIS and Brown University.
E: Though my concentration at Brown University was in environmental studies, about fifty percent of my coursework was dedicated to film and the fine arts. I had the privilege of taking courses at the Rhode Island School of Design, our neighboring school. I also was extensively involved in the acapella and theater communities.
While in Copenhagen, I went a little outside my comfort zone and took a history course on Holocaust and Genocide. This turned out to be an incredibly meaningful course as it allowed me to delve deeper into my family history and pay homage to my ancestors, who fled the Armenian genocide in 1915.
DIS: How did your time in Denmark affect your academics at home?
E: My time in Denmark radically changed my approach to my academics. After learning the value of work life balance, I made an effort to place a higher priority on social time and good sleep hygiene. Now, I find that I am more productive when I sit down to work. I also am happier and healthier in general.
My time in Denmark radically changed my approach to my academics.
DIS: We saw that you made a documentary based on your time at DIS. Can you tell us a little more about the documentary and how it came into being?
E: As an environmental studies major, I had respected and admired Denmark for quite some time. Its sustainable and green initiatives had been the subject of many class discussions. I remember being particularly inspired when reading about the food-waste reduction efforts of Ms. Selina Juul. It gave me hope that a single individual’s efforts could have a verifiable impact on an entire nation’s carbon footprint. When it was time to choose a topic for my college thesis, a research project that would take almost two years, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
DIS Copenhagen was offering a new program on food sustainability, and I just thought, “This is perfect.” I can go in-person and gather my own primary-source evidence. From the beginning of the thesis process, I knew that I wanted to make a film. This was an unconventional choice for someone in the environmental studies department, but it seemed the best way to combine my two fields of interest: film and sustainability.
One of the things that I learned while filming my documentary was from my respected colleague and friend, Selina Juul – that when individuals work together, they can have a large and lasting impact. The best way of disseminating information, uniting people, and spurring action is through digital media. Wider reaching and more evocative than print, films have the capacity to influence culture and change the world for the better. That, for me, is the real draw of filmmaking.
DIS: Where did your interest in sustainability come from?
E: My interest in food sustainability comes from my grandparents. As survivors of the Armenian Genocide, they place an immeasurable value on food. Throwing out leftovers was never an option in my house.
DIS: What is something that surprised you when you first learned about sustainability in Denmark?
E: One of the things that really surprised me about sustainability in Denmark is just how far ahead it is. The mere concepts we discuss at home in the States have already been implemented in Copenhagen. Renewable energy, district heating, bike paths – It’s an environmental scientist’s haven! How lucky I was to study my subject in a place that takes it seriously.
One of the things that really surprised me about sustainability in Denmark is just how far ahead it is.
DIS: Tell us about some of the influential people you met in Denmark and why they had such an influence on you?
E: I will never forget the kindness of Lisa, Gustav, and Liva, the Danes that welcomed me into their home for the semester. By the end of the five months, they genuinely felt like a second family. I have been back to visit them since my time with DIS, and plan on doing so again very soon.
Another person that was influential on my time in Denmark was Catharina Rosendal, my professor for Danish Language and Culture. A friend from home who loved the onsdagssnegl and frequent trips to Lagkagehuset had recommended her course. Catharina’s demeanor is as warm and calming as the varm chokolade she often serves in class. She embodies the very notion of hygge and her students are lucky to have her.
DIS: What other important impressions and reflections do you have from your experience as a DIS student?
E: One of the greatest impressions I have of Copenhagen is the degree to which people trust each other. Coming from Philadelphia, I am used to clutching my purse to my chest as I walk through the streets. If I am out alone after a certain hour, I hold my keys between my knuckles.
In Copenhagen, however, I feel a level of ease and safety that is wholly unfamiliar. Unattended baby carriages line the outsides of cafes while their parents sit inside sipping tea. Self-service fruit and veggie stands function in the streets with the honors system. Taxi drivers return items, no matter how high the value (This last example I had the benefit of experiencing myself!). There is a certain ease of mind that comes when you feel those around you “have your back.”
DIS: What are your hopes for your future?
E: After I finish my master’s, I plan to pursue a career as a producer for feature films or long-format serial dramas. Whether this path will lead me back to New York or Los Angeles, or keep me here in London, I don’t know. I just hope I am lucky enough to be a part of productions that shoot on location – I want to see as much of the world as possible.