Tips for Navigating Shared Kitchens

Maddie studied abroad at DIS Copenhagen before returning to Scandinavia to work with DIS as an intern. Hear from Maddie as she draws on her experience as a DIS student-turned-intern, and shares advice for navigating co-living spaces while abroad.

Since meal plans are a prominent component of university life in North America, studying abroad with DIS might be the first time (other than at your childhood home) you have full range and control of a kitchen – and all the responsibility that comes with that. In my opinion, the kitchen is the epicenter of a home; it’s where you cook, convene, and create community. And while it is not a *glamorous* fact, the truth of the matter is that cleaning is the foundation for creating a comfortable, welcoming, and hygge/mysig home for you and everyone else. Dirty dishes on the counters the day after you used them? Not hygge. Unloading the dishwasher when you see the cycle is done without being asked? Super hygge.

Here is a list of tips and tricks to help you navigate shared kitchens while studying abroad with DIS:

1. Communication is key.

Have a conversation with your apartment mates, floormates, or Homestay hosts to establish expectations and procedures. Most living spaces will already have a cleaning system in place, you just have to ask. It’s important to understand who makes the standards – whether it is a host parent, DIS as an institution, or local residents. When I first moved into my Kollegium as a DIS Copenhagen student, there was a cleaning roster that we used religiously. But I wouldn’t have known unless I awkwardly asked someone in the kitchen, ‘hej, so how does cleaning the communal spaces work…?’ Taking personal responsibility for your mess is very important – whether that’s cleaning your own dishes, or running the dishwasher when you see it is full. And don’t be afraid to ask for help if you don’t have a lot of experience with cleaning, or if you don’t understand what the words on the cleaning bottles mean!

2. Cooking as culture.

Cooking can be one of the best ways to build community. Even if you yourself are not cooking, just being in the shared space can be a wonderful experience – although I’m sure many people would also appreciate it if you offered to pick up a knife and chop up some vegetables while you chatted! At my Kollegium as a student, we had ‘Dinner Club’ on Tuesdays and Thursdays where you could join a rotating cooking roster and come together for shared meals every week. However, even without dinner clubs, cooking is a great way to share your culture and get to know the people you are living with. You could cook a favorite meal your parents used to make when you were a kid, organize a Thanksgiving meal, or bake some chocolate chip cookies. Get creative!

3. Clean your stuff!

In shared kitchens, each person does not have their own set of pots, pans, and cooking utensils. Therefore, it is incredibly important to clean up right after you eat, so that others can easily use the kitchen. One of the worst feelings is walking into a kitchen excited to make your meal, and finding out you have to clean someone else’s mess before you can even get started.

4. Sort your trash – aka recycle, recycle, recycle.

It is no secret recycling is pretty popular in Scandinavia. If you aren’t studying abroad here already, once you arrive you will quickly notice the multiple recycling containers in most Scandinavian homes. Upon arriving at my Kollegium as a student, I was shocked to learn we had six different containers – cardboard, paper, plastic, metal, electronics, and glass. Whenever it was my cleaning week, I made the trip down the elevator with the six containers and properly disposed of them. And if all the containers were overflowing, a Kollegium mate would pitch in and help me carry it all.

5. Tea towels are your friendly reusable kitchen lifesaver.

In the United States, we are used to a plethora of paper towels, but in Scandinavia most households use tea towels. However, not everyone knows that these are reusable. It is very poor form to use a tea towel, and promptly throw it in the trash. In fact, when I moved back to Scandinavia for my internship, I did just that in front of two of my coworkers and they stared at me in shock until I asked what I had done. In order to avoid such a situation, simply wash and reuse the tea towels (just as you would a normal towel). Now that’s a lot of saved trees.

6. Dishwasher etiquette.

Like dishwashers in the United States, you need to refill the rinse aid in dishwashers periodically in Scandinavia to get that shiny clear glow on your glassware. Most dishwashers have a sun-like symbol that, when blinking, indicates the rinse aid is running low. Rinse aid should be poured into the small circular container next to where the detergent is placed, and can be found under most sinks in a thin blue bottle. If you can’t find the rinse aid, don’t hesitate to ask the people you live with!

Pro tip: In Denmark, dishwashers need a little extra love. You have to put salt into your dishwasher as well. The salt softens the hard water and prevents chalk build up (and therefore, prevents cloudy dishes). But don’t just throw table salt into the dishwasher! Instead, look for the specific dishwasher salt compartment cap, found on the bottom of most dishwashers. You remove the cap and fill the with compartment with dishwashing salt (which can be found under the sink most likely).

7. Cleaning the sink is just as important as cleaning the dishes.

When washing up dishes, don’t expect to wash away the scrap food down the drain in a garbage disposal – they aren’t common in Scandinavia. So, while it might seem a little gross, it’s really important to empty the sink stopper of any leftover food.

Danish Specific Tips:

1. What the heck is that white stuff in my kettle? 

Danish water is ‘hard,’ meaning it has a high mineral content that results in chalk buildup over time – hence the white residue in the kettle and sometimes on counter tops. In order to get rid of the chalk build up, just fill the kettle with half water and half white vinegar (or lemon juice) and let it soak for an hour. Once the hour is up, boil the kettle, and rinse thoroughly when done! You might also want to boil water a few times after to thoroughly get the vinegar smell out.

2. Hidden trashcans.

Fun fact: aside from larger standing trashcans, in many Danish homes and residences, trashcans can also be found inside the cabinet door under the sink in your kitchen. This is where you can dump food scraps from the sink.


Madeline was the Shared Housing Assistant at DIS in 2019-2020 and is a former Fall 2017 DIS student. She is a lover of all things water, and consistently has a swimsuit in her work bag throughout the summer – just in case! With a major sweet tooth and a knack for finding all things free and affordable, she can often be found wandering around new areas of Copenhagen with a bag of candy in hand.

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