Why Denmark? Why DIS?

Hej! (That’s “hi” in Danish)

As some of you might be wondering, why am I studying abroad in Denmark? How and why did I choose DIS?

All are reasonable questions, since choosing a study abroad program and country are fundamental in shaping your experience abroad. As an urban studies major, I did not have that many options when it came to choosing a program that offered classes related to my field of study. While that narrowed down my choice significantly, it wasn’t hard to pick DIS as my first – and only – choice of program. Why was this choice so easy then? Well, I chose DIS for two reasons:

  1. Jan Gehl
  2. My friend Mira

For those of you who don’t know who Jan Gehl is, he is an architect and urban designer who practices the philosopher of building cities for people. He is a Dane and has transformed the way urban planners approach urban public space. I could go on and on about how amazing and important Jan’s work is to the urban studies field, but I’m going to leave it at that. But do yourself a favor and Google him, because he is truly impressive. Anyway, as the urban studies nerd that I am, I thought there was nothing cooler than studying abroad in the city that Jan grew up in and helped transform.

The second person is my friend Mira, who, like me, is an urban studies major. Spring of 2017, she studies abroad in Copenhagen at DIS. After hearing about her experience here – her passion, love, and joy for the city – I realized just how special this city was. She told me how she broke down into tears at the airport as she was leaving, gripped with sadness at the fact that she had to go. This was her favorite city in the world, which is notable for a girl who grew up in Chicago (one of my favorite cities) and goes to school in New York City (the city of cities). Mira is my guide throughout college, helping me pick classes and build relationships with professors. However, her most highly recommended move in college was to study abroad with DIS, as it truly changed the way she thought and felt about cities.

While Mira was a big influence in my college career, I wanted to look around and see my options. I always had considered Copenhagen because of its centrality and lack of a language requirement (language is not my strong suit). Moreover, Copenhagen is renowned for its livability – a term that assesses a city on its quality of transportation, affordability, public/green space, culture, etc. When looking at a core course called “European Urban Experience: Why Cities Matter” on DIS’s website, I couldn’t help but notice how much the city was used as a classroom, something that was highly appealing. After all, I could learn about urban studies anywhere, but there was only one opportunity to learn about European urban studies – specifically Copenhagen – while actually living in that city. With my core course, I will be examining the economic, physical, political, and social systems that contribute to city life in Europe. While the focus is primarily on Copenhagen city life, I also get to visit Aalborg, Vienna, and Budapest with my class. In Aalborg, which was named in New York Times Top 52 Cities to visit, I will explore the harborscape, which is under redevelopment. I will then compare that transformation with Copenhagen’s harborscape. I am so excited to visit Aalborg since it is not as well known but is home to amazing urban projects and initiatives. I am also looking forward to Vienna, which has consistently been named the most livable city in the world.

So, come August of my junior year I applied to DIS and thankfully got in. Jan and Mira were huge influences in my decision to apply, so I attribute my decision to them.

I thought I only wanted to take one urban studies class, since there were so many other cool elective classes offered at DIS. However, after day one of classes, I knew I wanted to learn more about Copenhagen through this lens. So, I changed around my schedule (again) and am now taking Strategies for Urban Livability. This class is all about planning cities for people. Unsurprisingly, Jan Gehl is going to come up a lot in this class and I couldn’t be happier. I just read four excerpts of his and was giddy whenever he mentioned a street or square in Copenhagen that I had already been to. What’s great about studying the place you’re living in is that you are constantly inspired to go out and explore; I want to see the popular urban parks, the discreet passageways that are hidden throughout the city centre, and the historical buildings. Rather than traveling every weekend to some other European city, I want to spend an equal amount of weekend here in Copenhagen exploring. I am convinced that I could spend every day for the next four months here and still not see everything.

My urban studies background and my passion for social justice and equality allow me to see the city in a different way. I study how cities serve their inhabitants – who are they built for, who is excluded, whose needs are ignored? While I marvel in Copenhagen’s beauty, I also am critical, not wanting to blindly praise the city. And I’ve noticed something: the cobblestone streets, the emphasis on walking and bicycling, and the lack of elevators make this city rather inaccessible for individuals with physical disabilities. Curious about this, I asked Gry, my LLC coordinator (who is amazing and can’t wait to tell you more about later), who told me that due to Denmark’s free healthcare, disabled individuals are provided transportation services and living accommodations, which is why you do not see them in the city streets as much. I am excited to learn more about how urban design/policy and social justice interact here.

When it comes down to it, I choose DIS and my program because of Copenhagen. I don’t want my location and studies to be divorced. Having a time limit in this city makes me want to learn as much and see as much as possible. Moreover, an equally important part of study abroad is the living abroad aspect. However, for me, living in Copenhagen is just as much of a learning experience and relevant to my studies as my classes are. As such, whether it is inside or out of the classroom, I am constantly thinking about how this city functions, what works, what doesn’t, what’s different, what’s the same.

I hope to gain the same love of this city that Mira has. I think I am well on my way, but I am excited to capture this love story on my blog.

As for some updates about abroad life, on Saturday I went to Freetown Christiania which was…interesting, to say the least. I would share photos to demonstrate what I mean, but you are not allowed to take photos there. I didn’t spend too long, since it felt weird to gawk and observe an independent community. After leaving Christiania, I went to visit Vor Frelsers Kirke, or, in English, the Church of Our Savior. With its iconic spiral and beautiful inside, I checked out the architecture of the Church before heading back to my dorm.

Some photos from the week: a back wall of Christiania, a flower shop, the view from my window, and the inside of Vor Frelsers Kirke

On Sunday, our LLC met Gry for the first time at brunch (which was delicious by the way, love the Smorgasbord style of brunch here). We told her about our interests and learned about her work as a journalist. We then had to go ask Danes about their opinions on Danish life. It was pretty daunting to ask random strangers their views on gender equality in Denmark, but after the third person, I quickly began to learn that Danes are very friendly and happy to answer questions. Other groups had to ask harder questions about minorities and democracy, big questions that could take hours to answer. It was a cool activity as I got to learn about how Danes viewed their society since all too often I only knew how outsiders viewed Denmark.

Anyway, since I’ve taken a lot of pictures of the city, architecture, and design, I decided to start an Instagram dedicated to my photos. You can see my photos on the blog, but you can also check out my profile here (https://www.instagram.com/anthea_explores/).

Until Next Time,

Anthea

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