How embracing new experiences shaped Tim’s semester (and beyond)

Tim (he/him), Northwestern University, did plenty of research before he arrived at DIS Copenhagen in the fall of 2022 – but he still found himself constantly surprised by unexpected opportunities, challenges, and adventures.

We sat down with Tim to hear about his semester, from navigating his one-hour Homestay commute, to speaking on a panel for Danish high schoolers and volunteering with local organizations. Read on to discover the highlights of his semester, and how his time in Copenhagen adjusted his expectations for the future.

Setting up the semester

DIS: Tell us a bit about yourself!

T: Hi! I’m Tim. I’m from the San Francisco Bay Area and I attend Northwestern University near Chicago where I study computer science and clarinet performance. Some of my interests include going on long runs, playing basketball, trying new foods, and learning languages. I also have a special affinity with maps which has sparked a great deal of interest in places, people, history, and culture!

DIS: Why did you choose DIS, and what has your journey leading up to studying abroad with DIS been like?

T: I was searching for study abroad programs with music courses when I stumbled across DIS. After learning about the variety of courses and the integral role of Study Tours, I was hooked. I actually didn’t even take a music class since there were so many options to choose from!

I visited Scandinavia (specifically Stockholm and Helsinki) with my youth orchestra back in 2019 and really appreciated the calm and clean lifestyle of the region, which I thought would be a great environment to study in and an ideal location to establish a home base during my time in Europe. My friend who had gone through DIS also confirmed that the city was perfect for students with its cozy cafes, student spaces, and biking culture.

Before coming to DIS and Copenhagen, I made sure all my expectations for study abroad would be met with this program. For one, I knew my focus wouldn’t only be on academics, but would also be on learning through new experiences and living in a different country with distinct traditions and habits.

I was also particularly interested in living with a host family so that I could be more immersed in local life. DIS is a unique abroad experience in that it isn’t affiliated with a university — being a specialized study abroad institution comes with certain benefits like events catered for us and guided travel opportunities, but there are also a few limitations like less interaction with non-American students. After I considered all this, I knew I was ready to come to Denmark.

DIS: What was one thing that was on your bucket list before coming here?

T: So many things on that list… one of my goals was to travel within Denmark and go to a place I hadn’t known about prior to being here. That happened fairly quickly when I took a weekend trip with friends to the island of Bornholm. Looking back on this semester, it’s probably still the trip I have the fondest memories of — not to mention, I made an awesome group of friends through this chaotic and rewarding journey! From swimming in the Baltic Sea and Opal Lake to a brief bout with fish poisoning after eating too much fish to exploring the “forbidden forest,” there were so many bonding moments that have stuck with us throughout this semester. We ended up traveling more together and planned Friendsgiving and Secret Santa, which highlights the most notable takeaway from all this — it’s the people you travel with that make it memorable.

Life in a Homestay

DIS: Where do you live in Copenhagen? With whom?

T: I live in a Homestay north of Copenhagen, in a community called Espergærde, which is about a one-hour commute to the city. My host family is a real gem: my host parents Micha and Thomas are warm, caring, and sometimes sarcastic (in the best way), my host sister Lucca is a pop-culture savant and smooth with English, and my host brother Tristan is usually off at efterskole, but is super fun to have when he is around. And don’t forget Logan, our sweet and energetic chocolate lab!

We’re located in a peaceful suburb near Louisiana Museum and Kronborg Castle, so there’s plenty to see in the area, but it’s also very quiet and can feel like we’re not close to a city at all. Helsingør is nearby and an underrated place to visit, so it feels good to be familiar with the northern shore. It really is a beautiful area.

DIS: How do you experience living in a Homestay?

T: Living in a Homestay has completely shaped my abroad experience, and it starts with my daily commute. It can definitely be pretty tough meeting up with friends in Copenhagen in the evening or going home after classes, but the commute has also given me a greater appreciation for the suburbs and what they have to offer. It’s all about finding a good balance and knowing what you’re getting into. Also, it is super nice to be able to retreat from the city for some much-needed rest.

My host family has been a big support for me, whether that’s through making time for conversation, offering insight into Danish culture, recommending things to do, or just relaxing and joking around at home. I’ve also been told I have a decent Danish accent, and I can attribute that to horribly mispronouncing every word the first time I mention it at home and then being nudged in the right direction by my host family.

DIS: What activities have you done with your Homestay family?

T: Sometimes it’s difficult to remember specific things because we’re living life together — going on walks with Logan, exploring the nearby area on the weekends, watching TV, having dinner together and then chatting afterward (occasionally for a long time). Other highlights included meeting the grandparents when they visited, paddle boarding with my host dad, driving to Møns Klint, decorating Christmas candles, watching Black Panther with my host siblings, and checking out the Christiania Christmas market.

I think the day that sums up my experience best was when my girlfriend Liz came to Copenhagen on her birthday: we surprised her in the morning with the Danish birthday song (hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!) and had Danish desserts that night, eventually staying up until 2:00 a.m. talking even though we had a train to catch the next morning.

DIS: Are you part of a Homestay network?

T: Yes, I love my Homestay network! We didn’t hang out so much initially, but then eventually we all grew tired of going home alone on the train after being out in the city — from there we started to host hygge dinners at each other’s Homestays and also shared events in our group chat in case anyone wanted to attend together. I’m grateful that we got to know each other and sought out community simply because we live so far from the city. I think we’ve come a long way since our initial Homestay barbecue back in August.

Engaging with the Local Community

DIS: How have you gotten involved since coming to Copenhagen?

T: Building meaningful relationships with people is important to me when I arrive at a new place, so I made an effort to get connected with community groups. I went out to the DIS Students of Color Affinity Group activities and joined KFS, the Christian student union in Copenhagen. I’ve also kept an eye out for events going on in the city like Culture Night (Kulturnatten) which are excellent ways to get to know Copenhagen and participate in local happenings.

DIS: Tell us more about Cycling Without Age. What is the initiative, what is your role, and how have you experienced being part of it?

T: Cycling Without Age is an organization that provides the elderly with the opportunity to go outside, see the city, and feel the wind on their face on bike rides. I’ve gone on rides with my friend Adarsh and have gotten to know some of the senior residents at the nursing home — they’re always eager to get on the trishaw for a breath of fresh air and to see familiar and beloved sights around Copenhagen. The conversations we have are just as important as the scenery. They love chatting with us while we bike. Volunteering is fairly accessible as the trishaws are electric-assist and only require a short training session to be operated. Plus, you become well-versed with the bike routes in the city through these trips.

In this age of constant activity and distraction, I have a hard time slowing down and taking the time to visit my grandparents. Volunteering with Cycling Without Age has reminded me to cherish the company of senior citizens, to hear their rich storytelling and accumulated wisdom. Shoutout to Karl and Erik, our two old friends — they have experienced so much of life and still have much to offer. Without a doubt, this has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had while in Denmark.

DIS: Tell us about your experience of being on a panel at a Danish high school. How did that come about, and what was it like?

T: I first heard about the panel at the DIS Activities Fair, but it wasn’t until my Danish class was canceled for that day that I decided to reach out and see if I could take a spot on the panel. What a stroke of good luck! Participating in the high school panel was unexpected and incredibly insightful — truly a valuable educational and cultural exchange between the Danish gymnasium students and us. Check out my blog post on the event!

Academics at DIS Copenhagen

DIS: Which courses are you taking at DIS? Why did you choose them?

T: I needed a break from my major classes, so I took more humanities-based courses at DIS. My Core Course was New Media and Changing Communities, and I chose it because I wanted to explore technology from a journalistic lens instead of my usual interaction with it through computer science. I was reminded repeatedly of the importance of ethics in tech and media, and I really enjoyed the wide-ranging forms of media we studied and the classroom environment facilitated by our professor.

I was reminded repeatedly of the importance of ethics in tech and media, and I really enjoyed the wide-ranging forms of media we studied and the classroom environment facilitated by our professor.

My Migrants, Minorities, and Belonging course stood out to me because I have an interest in learning about and discussing my ethnic heritage and the minority experience. I related most with this class as it really informed my time in Copenhagen as an ethnic minority and I was able to see the things we studied playing out in daily life (e.g. walking around the Nørrebro neighborhood where many immigrants live, anti-immigration rhetoric during the Danish general election). This was my favorite class in terms of content and structure.

I felt that taking Danish Language & Culture would be important for my time here as the language would help me get around and allow me to show some respect to the Danish people. Even though Danish is difficult to learn and most Danes speak English anyway, I enjoyed it a lot! Urban Exploration Photography was definitely a step into new territory for me — I’d always wanted to learn how to use a camera well and take good photos, so I picked the class as a way to push myself to learn. Finally, I picked Disaster Management Leadership primarily for the additional travel component, since it’s an Exploration Elective.

DIS: How have you experienced Field Studies and Study Tours?

T: These have been my favorite class experiences. I really enjoy the interactive and interpersonal aspects of these visits. For my Migrants class, we had the chance to hear from Denmark’s first female imam who spoke on Muslim identity in the country and theological discussions in the Muslim community. We also had an exclusive parliament visit where we had a conversation with a politician from the conservative Danish People’s Party about their anti-immigration views — a really good way to explore counterarguments and also gain access to an important government institution. I also visited a photobook publishing company with my photo class and observed examples of the artistic and design processes which would inform us on our own final photobook project.

The highlights of my Core Course were definitely the Study Tours — our Core Course Week in Copenhagen and Malmö and Study Tour week in Dublin were super fun and academically engaging. Having the DIS-planned itinerary certainly makes for a more relaxed travel experience. I think the best class components were hearing from experts in the field, like a Swedish public broadcasting journalist as well as an Irish data protection official, and even an analyst who studies conspiracy theories.

Oh, and we saw the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. Really, really cool.

DIS: Has studying in Copenhagen been different from studying in the US?

T: From what I’ve seen, the Danish classroom is more casual and discussion-based. I’m not sure how DIS compares to Danish universities, but at DIS, we’re on a first-name basis with all of our faculty. It’s been refreshing to be more focused on the learning process while also seeing how concepts from the classroom apply directly to the world around us.

It’s been refreshing to be more focused on the learning process while also seeing how concepts from the classroom apply directly to the world around us.

Looking Forward

DIS: What do you think you will take with you from your time in Copenhagen?

T: I’ve realized that I tend to thrive when encountering a lot of new experiences — it pushes me to be more thoughtful and organized with what I do and become more active in seeking out opportunities. I hope to bring this mentality back to campus and treat every day as a fresh learning experience. This is my first time living in another country for an extended period of time and I’ve learned what it’s like to pick up on a whole new culture and way of living. Also, because I’ve enjoyed my time in Copenhagen so much, I’m more actively considering the idea of studying or working abroad for a few years.

DIS: Do you have any advice for future students?

T: Don’t feel too rushed or be too distracted when going places! Sometimes you can stress yourself out to the point where you don’t even notice or enjoy your surroundings. I’ve found that the most happy coincidences and the most memorable moments occur when you least expect them. You can only catch them when you have your head up and are observing the people, places, and events around you. 

I’ve found that the most happy coincidences and the most memorable moments occur when you least expect them. And you can only catch them when you have your head up and are observing the people, places, and events around you. 

Be open-minded and try many Danish things: the food (even if you don’t end up liking it), the traditions, the activities, the language. You don’t need to travel at every opportunity. Stay in Copenhagen on the weekends, find events to attend, and explore different neighborhoods. Do it! If you can travel within Denmark via trains and boats, do it. If you can take a class that is specific to Denmark or Scandinavia, do it. If you can choose a course that travels to Greenland/Iceland, do it (but actually, all of the Core Course destinations are amazing). Most importantly, commit to doing something that you haven’t done before, even if it’s just one thing. And have an absolutely wonderful time abroad!

Learn more about Tim and opportunities to engage with local culture in Copenhagen:

>> Read Tim’s study abroad blog
>> Community Engagement
>> Homestays at DIS Copenhagen

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