So my first term has passed… It has simply flown by. And there’s been radio silence on my part – I know. I don’t know what I expected before starting the term. I think I thought that sure, I would have to work hard – it’s not ivy-league for nothing – but I didn’t quite expect how hard. I didn’t expect how much of a transition from studying at University of Copenhagen it would be either, but the two systems are very different.
First of all, studying in English, despite the fact that my English is pretty good (I got a 116 out of a 120 on my TOEFL-test, just for reference) this definitely has taken some getting used to. When speaking in class I was at first unsure of myself in a way I’ve never been at University of Copenhagen. This term I have taken two women’s, gender and sexuality classes and while I’m capable of discussing this topic in Danish I felt challenged by not knowing some of the terms in English and not being able to deliver what I wanted to say as tactfully as I would have in Danish. And when discussing women’s and gender issues one has to be eloquent and have a rounded and gentle wording – that’s just how it is in that field. So studying in English, not so much the writing but discussing complicated theories in class, has taken some getting used to. Which I’m not going to lie, has been a little stressful for an (over)achiever as myself.
Adjusting to a new system
The way you study at Dartmouth as compared to studying at University of Copenhagen (KU), at least as how I’ve experienced it, is also starkly different. The amount of assigned readings is very different. Social science classes tend to be heavy on reading so this might not hold true for classes in other fields but for most of my classes there was rarely assigned less than 50 pages and most often it would be 80 to sometimes 125 and then there were hand-ins at least weekly for each class on top of that. At Anthropology and KU, if more than 50 pages of heavy theory is assigned, most students will find this to be a little unreasonable, which now to me seems somewhat foolish. I’ve gone from reading maybe 40-50 pages a day to around or above 100. This has taken some getting used to, but I’m glad I’ve tried it. I believe when returning to KU I will have a much higher work ethic. Here, the Danish students could learn a little from the American system. I believe, however, that the American system could learn something from the Danish system as well; when assigned this much reading there is never enough time to really get to the bottom of the texts. To really work with the readings. To apply them. I’ve experienced that there is a great focus on reciting the readings instead. While this is a great skill, I believe that learning to apply what you read is where the magic really happens. To not just memorize the text, but to be able to engage with it and use it.
Having assignments during terms was also something to get used to. At Anthropology, depending on the class, you might have to hand in 2-5 short papers during the term, which works as your final paper (this is called a portfolio exam). For most courses, there is just one final paper/exam at the end. You don’t get graded for participation and there are no midterms. This of course makes it hard to really know how you’re doing during the term, and if you have an off-day on the day of your final, it will be reflected in the final grade, and not all the work you have put in during term. Mostly, however, courses won’t end with an exam, but with a paper you work on for a couple of days. In the American model it’s easier to adjust your effort if the hand-ins and midterms come back with a lower grade than expected. Having on off-day won’t break the grade since most grades don’t weigh more than 50% towards the final grade – and most of them less. There are a lot more tests, hand-ins, midterms and participation grades to keep you motivated and engaged. The smaller classes, to some extent, forces you to do the readings. At least if you don’t, it’s more obvious than it would be at KU. I think that in Denmark you have to be more self-motivated, because if you’re not doing your readings and not really participating in class no one’s holding you accountable. It isn’t obvious till the final exam – if even then.
What I have learned
In Denmark, or at least at Anthropology, no one is holding you accountable, because you are seen as an adult, who is (or at least should be) capable of managing your own studies. At Dartmouth, on the other hand, I experience the studying to be quite governed. The assignments, tests, midterms and what not is a way of making sure that the students do their work. I’ve even had a professor peak in on readings to see if they were underlined. This has been a bit of a struggle for me. At KU I’m viewed as an adult, an equal to the professors, whom always go by their first name, having a sort of camaraderie where you’d go outside for a cigarette and coffee together in the breaks. At Dartmouth, I’m seen as a child, not capable of studying on my own, having to be checked up on and governed. I experience the relationship between professors and students to be much more hierarchical. Calling the professors by title is a big part of creating and maintaining this relationship. Open office hours, which isn’t a thing in Denmark to the same extend, does create the opportunity for dialogue and more one-on-one time with professors. However, the relationship is still mainly one of the professor being an adult and the student somewhat of a child. Here I think we, the Danes and the Americans, can again learn from one another. Even though the student/professor relationship in Denmark is more equal, it does not create less respect for the teacher – to me it’s actually quite the opposite. I believe that an equal relationship encourages relating and learning.
This term I’ve learned many new things, but I have to say that I think I’ve learned the most outside the classroom. It has been from the things surrounding my studies abroad. It’s been from meeting all these new people with very different lives, backgrounds and stories. And right now, still in the midst of it all, I’m sure I haven’t realized exactly how much I’ve learned. Now a new term has started, I’m excited, not only because of the new classes I’m taking, and the new people I’m meeting, but also because I’ve settled into studying and living “American”.