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What I wish I knew before coming to Denmark

n January 2013 341 new international students will be arriving at Aarhus University. But the city, their degree programmes and the Danes will all be new to them. So to help them feel more at home here, UNIvers has asked a couple of international students to give the newcomers a few tips: what to do in the city, life at the university, and what the Danes are really like behind their occasionally reserved exterior.

Henry Eddins. Photo: Anders Trærup
Vera Stelkins. Photo: Jesper Rais

Henry Eddins, Kansas City,
Cognitive Semiotics
Has been in Aarhus since August and thinks it’s a bit hard to find your way around European cities.

What do you wish you had known
… before starting at Aarhus University?
”It’s an interesting environment here at the university. The education system in the States is a bit different. In essence, only the exams count toward the final grade. As a result of that the importance students give to their projects throughout the semester can vary. I’m very used to having homework assignments every night, quizzes every week, tests every month and so on. It was a strange change to get used to and now I have to be a lot more accountable to myself rather than to the courses. As long as you do use your free time for some studying you will be alright. I’ve come to enjoy it. It creates a different breed of student, meaning they succeed because they are putting an effort into studying, and not because someone is watching over them. A little push is always good, but I’m definitely seeing the merits of the Danish system.”

… about the cultural life of Aarhus?
”I wish I’d had some sort of guide to cheap culture here. You can’t really go out and go to a restaurant like you would in the States. Here it’s exponentially more expensive than eating at home. I know there are some neat spots here and there, but even just getting used to the layout of the city was a total pain. It would be nice to have some way of finding the cheap spots to go and do something other than study, sleep and drink.”

… about the Danes?
”Danes are very reserved in public, but very open in private. I’ve not had a bad interaction with a Dane when I’ve been talking with them one on one. Even if we are arguing it’s still a very pleasant interaction and I love that about the Danes.
But there’s almost no eye contact in public from what I’m used to, there’s no small talk or pleasantries when you’re on the bus or waiting in line. Everyone is in their own private mode.
I would recommend that any international student get to know some Danish people. If you don’t try a little you end up just hanging out in your international club and you miss the chance of exploring the city with some people who actually know it. To get a taste of the culture here and the holidays – whatever that holiday was recently where someone hid in a flock of geese and on that day you eat a duck for some reason – you need to learn that from Danes.
To get to know the Danes you have to find the crack in their armour and open it up. Find the path of least resistance; find the Danish people in your life that you interact with on a regular basis and pick their brains, though it can be really difficult.”

… about campus?
”There are some nice places around campus. Dale’s Café and the student bar are really nice. Also I would advise international students to go and explore different canteens to eat at. Even just for the remote possibility that you’ll meet somebody new. Exploring the campus as well as the city are two things I can’t recommend highly enough.”

Vera Stelkins, Munich,
Consumer Affairs
Has been in Aarhus since August and hasn’t had a bad experience with any Danes.

What do you wish you had known
… before starting at Aarhus University?
”I was actually really satisfied with the information I got from the university. I’ve done an exchange before in Canada and the information was horrible. This time everything from housing to classes and exams was organised.”

… about the Danes?
”We have a joke among exchange students that you must make Danes drunk to make them talk. It’s quite funny to see that after just a few beers the Danes, who don’t talk to you under normal circumstances, really start talking. Their behaviour changes totally. I kind of like that the Danes are not that into small talk, though. People are a bit more serious here, but also more honest.”

… about studying in Denmark?
”At Aarhus University it seems more acceptable to have your own thoughts about the theories you study and you don’t just learn by heart. You can really contradict the professors if you think you have something to contribute. I think it would be nice for new students to know that there can be big differences in teaching and examination styles from what you’re used to.
We always apply the theory to cases here, whereas in Germany it’s pure theory and I really like the style here.
If you want more out of your stay than just the social life you need to show up in class, be active and go into discussions with the professors.”

… about places in Aarhus?
”There are some nice places around Mejlgade and Graven. I also really like Løve’s Bog- og VinCafé and the rainbow on top of ARoS. It’s cool. I can also recommend walking on the beach and round the harbour.” 


  • Go to the Friday bars – you will get to know many Danes.
  • Learn to play their games – Danes love to play Bezzerwizzer, table tennis, football and all their drinking games.
  • Get out and participate as much as you can in the culture.
  • Get used to the kroner.
  • Get a bike. Otherwise you’re at the mercy of the late night bus.
  • Challenge Danes to speak to you.


  • Don’t small talk – it won’t work.
  • Don’t miss the introduction week or the parties at your hall of residence.
  • Don’t expect to get to know Danes without making an effort.
  • Don’t complain about the rain.