Chloe Williams is a DIS alumna now living in Copenhagen. As the leader of the Diverse Identities Social Club at DIS, (find information about the D.I.S. Club in Stockholm here) Chloe has been able to bring together students of diverse backgrounds to discuss their experiences as expats in Copenhagen. We recently chatted with Chloe to hear more about her experience as a student, her role with the D.I.S. Club, and advice she has for current students.
DIS: Hi Chloe, thanks for talking with us today! First, we’d love to hear more about your experience as a student at DIS. What was that like?
Chloe Williams: I attended DIS in 2009 and took the Psychology of Happiness Program. I was supposed to stay just for a semester, but ended up staying for the whole year and taking the Child Development Program in the spring! Both semesters I lived in the Rented Room housing option – first with a young couple, then with a Danish student in her twenties.
I joined a group I found at the DIS Activities Fair called Pangea – an expat network for LGBT people – which is where I made a lot of the friends I have now (including my wife!) It was a group of international ex-pats, with members who came from Latin America, Spain, Germany, France, etc.
DIS: Awesome! And now, while you are living and working in Copenhagen, you still have a connection with DIS through the D.I.S. Club. How did you become involved in the organization?
CW: I had always been in contact with DIS staff and faculty since I was a student, and last semester, one staff member asked if I would be interested in running the group. It’s a really great club within DIS because it makes sure students have the resources they need; it’s a place where students can come and bring their experiences and talk about things going on.
DIS: What are some main concepts or discussions held in the club?
CW: It’s a very informal setting – the club is led by students and is dependent on what they want to bring to the table. For the first meeting at the beginning of the semester, we talked about getting used to being in Denmark and discussed expectations, fears, things that excite them … trying to in some way land the students in the experience they’re in now. In the next meeting, we plan to have students share one thing that was challenging that they overcame, one thing that surprised them, and one thing they’re looking forward to. I want to ask them how they can challenge themselves to make the most of the time left – and how to frame the study abroad experience.
I’m a proponent of making the most of the experience, which takes mindfulness. We discussed some of the initial interactions, thoughts, or fears that they had during their first two weeks in Denmark. Some were very positive, some were very real, or very challenging. Then we talked about it openly, and other students would respond to their comments.
I try to come in with my experience and feedback, and advice on how I would handle the situation – but I try to keep it as open as possible. Students have this space to make their challenges heard and vent if need be.
DIS: What is the importance of the D.I.S. Club?
CW: When I studied at DIS, there were not that many students of color, and I could see that for some it could be a challenge that you’re not well represented or don’t have a resource to talk to. Some of the students ask about cultural interactions – like, “Is that just how the Danes are?” I see the need for a resource that is not academic-based – someone who students can share with. I’ve lived in Denmark for five years and I’ve gone through a lot of the things they’re going through.
The club is inclusive for any students from a diverse background. It’s not just diversity in the strict sense of the word. If the group just appeals to you, you’re invited. Being a part of Pangea allowed me to be with people with more experience in Denmark who could answers questions for me.
DIS: What is some advice you wish you had as a student that you might share with current students in the D.I.S. Club?
CW: My advice for students would be that you’re only in Denmark for a semester, or a year if you’re lucky, and there are so many impressions and things you want to be involved with, that you get really busy. I hope that the group only grows in popularity and importance because I would love to make it even more active than it is now.
The key to making the most of your time is to gauge your expectations and reflect on your experience. The more that you understand how this study abroad thing is going to change your life, I think you realize how precious your time is and challenge yourself outside of what you might normally do at home because you never know the impact it’s going to have on your life.
I almost didn’t go to that first meeting with Pangea because I thought it wouldn’t be for me. It’s easy to make up any excuse you can come up with. Sometimes it takes going to the first meeting by yourself, but you never know how that one experience is going to shape you and change you for the better.