What is it like to study in Aarhus, Denmark
So, what can you get from choosing to spend a semester in Denmark, the southern-most country in Scandinavia? According to Jacob Van Wolvelear, it’s all about new perspectives on renewable energy, experiencing the quietness in a city with thousands of bikes instead of cars, and despite this, a culture that resembles his own very much.
By Anna Bruun Pedersen
In January this year, Jacob Van Wolvelear from Illinois State University in the US moved to Aarhus, Denmark, to study at Aarhus School of Marine and Technical Engineering (AAMS). Choosing to go abroad for a semester was not a coincidence for Jake: When Jake went looking for a foreign educational institution, AAMS was the best match with his major in Renewable Energy. Because as he says, “Denmark is a real-life demonstration of what we should use our education for.” Here, 56 per cent of the electricity production stems from renewable energy, from which 41.8 per cent comes from wind power and 11 per cent from biomass fuel (data from 2015).
While not concentrating exclusively on renewable energy, the classes at AAMS are also focusing on other energy solutions such as district heating, a heat delivery network widely used in Europe and Scandinavia. “It’s interesting learning about the different types of renewable energy technologies that aren’t really a thing in America,” Jake says. “I feel like that’s really good knowledge to have to go back to America and possibly upgrade certain things.”
At Navitas, a big new diamond-shaped building at the harbor-front, Jake everyday commutes to school on bike, attending classes with both Danish and other international students. The classes at AAMS are very different from what he is used to at ISU: The class consists of only 27 students, of which 8 are internationals, and he is sharing every class with the same classmates. This, he says, makes it possible to make friends easier than at his home university. Another difference from his home university is that at AAMS, nearly all classwork, homework, and projects are done in a group; there is almost no individual work.
“There’s groups of five or six people and each group has 1 or 2 international students, so I’m with one other international student from Austria and four Danish students,” Jake explains. “It’s nice to have the Danish students because they are more familiar with the structure of how classes work. They have also recommended interesting things to do or cool places to go, so it’s nice to have actual Danish guys to give you advice.” AAMS furthermore arranges a buddy system every semester where Danish students welcome internationals, showing them around and going on a cabin trip.
Life in Denmark
As the second largest city in Denmark, Aarhus is a city for students – with a population of around 330,000 people, almost one out of six is a student. Lying just next to the ocean and with several forests, the nature in Aarhus is easily visited, and climbing the hills on a bike makes a good chance to exercise. Since it’s a smaller city, it’s easy to commute, and Jake especially shows excitement about the fact that so many people use their bikes rather than cars: “It’s pretty nice because I like the feel of the city without it being too crowded or anything. I like that so many people ride bikes here because it’s so clean and so quiet, especially for 300,000 people. There’s a lot of places to go and things to do which is fun, so I really like Aarhus. It’s my kind of city.”
In the city, different events are always taking place, and there isn’t a lack of opportunities for either Danes or internationals. Weekly, International Nights are arranged by the Student House in Aarhus, and Jake has taken the opportunity to practice woodworking at an Aarhusian center for cultural production called Godsbanen. Furthermore, there are many opportunities to spend time with those you share a dorm with. Jake and his fellow dormitorians live on the harbor at the Grundfos Dormitory, which is owned by the Danish pump manufacturer, Grundfos. The Grundfos company has invited them out to dinner and hosted several parties for everyone living in the dorm to get to know each other. Jake also lives with many other international students, and they are always cooking together every night.
As for cultural differences, Jake has noticed that Danish humor and sarcasm is somewhat different from the American, making it hard for him sometimes to decipher if his Danish classmates are joking or not. However, he has problems pinpointing other main cultural difference: “It’s hard to say, it doesn’t seem like there’s too big of differences, really. I was kind of expecting more but for the most part the US and Denmark are both western countries and have similar cultural values.”
Though Danes speak Danish, international students shouldn’t be afraid of not being understood. As Jake points out, everyone in Denmark speaks English. If you, however, should feel like learning the hard language of Danish, several cost-free language tandem groups can be found all over the city.
All in all, Jake says he is loving living in Aarhus, and highly recommends it to anyone from ISU majoring in Renewable Energy or Engineering Technology who thinks they want to study abroad. It’s similar enough to home in America to not be too overwhelming, while different enough to greatly expand your horizons. The people in Aarhus are friendly and happy, and the city is beautiful… what more can you ask for?