A Humble Maturity – An Erasmus Year at the University of Copenhagen

Denmark is that country that you never really hear about, and Copenhagen is that city that not many people pay attention to. Honestly, three years ago I would have trouble finding this city on a map, that is, if I even cared to look for it in the first place. Surely, the university reflects the city in that sense right? I could not have been more wrong.

The University of Copenhagen is a top-ranked university for many reasons, yet their course variation deserves special attention, along with the experienced lecturers themselves. I chose the human rights/international law route, and got into every class I wanted. I learned ‘International Security Law’, from a lecturer who has worked in conjunction with an EU Counterterrorism team. I studied ‘The Law of Armed Conflict’, from a scholar who had served in the UN peace operations in former Yugoslavia. My ‘States of Emergency’ lecturer had to move class this past Thursday, because he was in Jerusalem, evaluating Israeli constitutional legitimacy amidst the ongoing conflict with Palestine. I’ll never forget, when my ‘Comparative Law’ lecturer joined two of us students for a coffee last term, as we discussed backlash fundamentalism against historic doctrines of Sharia Law in West Africa. If experienced lecturers are something you’re interested in, then the University of Copenhagen is for you.

Maybe the university’s human rights courses are not your thing though. They offer everything from ‘Media’ and ‘Sports Law’ to ‘Great Trials of Western Legal History’, where (as I’m told) you evaluate the jurisprudential flaws in the trial of Jesus and Cicero, among others. And if the lecturers in those classes are anything like that of my own, then those students could have expected practical experience from dedicated lecturers in their field.

I also had no idea just how international this university was. Every one of my classes this year must have had students from at least 510 different countries at any given moment. I am an American student, studying in Ireland, and on either side of me is a French guy and an Australian girl. All of us are learning from our Italian teacher, who completed his Bachelors in Switzerland, and his PhD in Canada. The eclectic diversity that the Erasmus program for Copenhagen offers only bolsters each and every in-class discussion we have.

For example, I am currently taking International Protection of Refugees, and when each student can highlight their own country’s response to refugee protection, it is easy to gain a wider grasp of the content as an international issue.

What I personally have learned to appreciate the most is the Danish Exam structure. The majority of classes require what is known as an ‘Oral Exam’. This means that you randomly select a question or topic and then have a one-to-one sit-down discussion with your lecturer and a 3rd party invigilator. You discuss the question for approximately 15 minutes, in a casual, stress-free setting. You are still obviously graded on how well you know the information, yet it is the most stress-free exam I have ever taken, and more often than not, students’ grades will reflect the relaxed situation in a positive way.

The transition between collegiate life and Danish life is quite seamless. Unlike UCC, the University of Copenhagen is split up all across the city. This means, that when I am invited by my lecturer to a discussion about Legal Cyber Warfare for example (which is surprisingly often) that you have the opportunity to get to know more aspects of the city. When I go to the Law Library, I walk past the beautiful Round Tower that overlooks all of Copenhagen. When I go to class, I pass by the bustling Stork Fountain, on one of the longest shopping streets in all of Europe. When a seminar takes me to the Danish Courthouse, I walk past the picturesque Copenhagen Canal, an image that never gets old. All of this is centrally located, in a city that boasts modernity as well as student life.

Cultural immersion is easier than I thought it would be. Student organizations are very helpful in this regard, and there are those specifically for Erasmus law students. With that group, I travelled all over Denmark, met some great friends, and made even better memories. This group helps you become accustomed to Danish culture, but even if you don’t join, it would not be that hard to fit in. I am yet to meet a Dane who does not speak fluent English. I am yet to meet a Dane who won’t help me find a library book. I am yet to meet a Dane who, even though I cannot pronounce their name, remembers me from class and won’t buy me a beer at the Law socials.

I titled this blog entry ‘A Humble Maturity’, because it perfectly describes this university as well as the city. The university does not brag about its top international ranking, how world-renowned its lecturers are, or how its small class sizes allow for an optimal learning environment. The city does not boast how it is one of the most modern, that it has some of the world’s lowest crime rates, or that it is ranked one of the happiest places to live in on earth. I would highly recommend this choice for anyone in the BCL (International) program, just don’t forget to bring your bike!

Garrett Mulrain

BCL (International) III

(2013/2014)

University College Cork