A semester in Copenhagen

Leah Falvey, a student on the BCL International programme, went to University of Copenhagen for 2012/13.  This was her experience during the first semester there. 

I’ve been living in Copenhagen for three months now and safe to say I’ve absolutely fallen in love with this city. The start of my Erasmus was rocky to say the least. Miscommunication with the International Housing Office and confusion processing my international application coupled with severe student housing difficulties meant that I arrived in Copenhagen on the 3rd of August with nowhere to live. A three week stint in hostels and couch surfing ensued before I ended up in my apartment with a Parisian political sciences student, who I had met on the Danish Language course. Despite a bumpy start and moments of wanting to give up and go home, it’s worked out really well and I’m very happy here. There are serious difficulties for all students looking for housing for the academic year-Danish and International students alike. When you get accepted to the University, send through your application for housing as soon as possible, and don’t be afraid to follow it up with the housing office. Bear in mind that even if you apply on time you might not get a housing offer, so be open minded and look at private housing options!

The Danish language course itself was more intense than I had anticipated-imagine cramming first year of Secondary School French or German into 3 weeks!! However it was a great way of easing into life in Denmark. I met lots of International students and we were able to discover the city and settle in without the pressure of university classes. I don’t think I’ll ever be fluent in Danish, but I have ‘lidt Dansk’ for the important stuff-understanding menus, asking for directions and ordering drinks!! I would highly recommend this course, the extra time to get to know the city and meet people is invaluable, and the Danes appreciate you making a little effort with the language!

Copenhagen is a beautiful city. It’s compact and easy to get around, with all the high street shops in the city centre as well as beautiful parks and gardens dotted around the city. It’s hard to feel homesick living here, and I can’t say that there’s much of a culture shock living in a modern city by the sea! Biking is a way of life here in Copenhagen. It’s the cheapest, easiest and often the fastest way of getting around the city. Luckily the city is very flat and there is a sophisticated system of bike lanes which makes cycling very safe. It is quite daunting in the beginning with all the Danes whizzing by elegantly on their bikes while you rely on cycling skills from when you were about ten years old. You get used to it pretty quickly, hence the phrase ‘it’s like riding a bike’-you never forget!! The one negative about the city is the expense. To give you an idea, a cup of coffee costs around €5 (there’s no Starbucks here either!), you’ll be hard pressed to get a drink in a bar for less than €7 and MacDonald’s is nearly twice as expensive as at home! Grocery shopping can be expensive but there are budget friendly shops such as Lidl, Aldi and Netto. For cheap nights out, each faculty hosts a ‘Friday Bar’ every second week, a night out run on campus by students for students. The Erasmus Student Network also holds cheaper more budget friendly events for international students.

Nyhavn - picturesque area of the city, view from a canal boat

Nyhavn – picturesque area of the city, view from a canal boat

The structure of the academic year is quite different from UCC. You choose three subjects for the Autumn semester and three for Spring semester, with exams at Christmas and Summer. The classes are in seminar as opposed to lecture form. This means you arrive to class with reading prepared ready to discuss the topic. Exams are based on readings as opposed to seminar materials. Oral exams are very popular in the University of Copenhagen system. Classes with an oral exam require you to write a ‘synopsis’-a short research paper on which your oral exam will be partially based – the rest is based on the course readings. This semester I chose Crime and Justice, International Commercial Contracts and Mediation. The classes are small with a limit of 35 per class. Standards are very high as you are in with Masters students as well as other International students. Once you keep on top of readings and attend seminars it’s all very doable!

My Crime and Justice class has brought me on two prison visits to an ‘Open’ and ‘Closed’ prison. It was an amazing experience and really gives you a deeper understanding of the course. It was as a result of these visits that I chose to do my synopsis paper on the Effectiveness of Punishment, which I’m currently researching. Mediation is a very hands-on practical course. As a form of alternative dispute resolution, this course gives a great insight into court alternatives. I’ve just completed a two day training seminar which gave me a chance to act as a Mediator in various types of disputes. It’s a course that is completely different to anything I’ve studied up to now. Mediation requires you to put your legal knowledge aside and think in a new way. It’s not for everyone, but it’s been very insightful for me and certainly something that I would look into pursuing in the future. International Commercial Contracts is a good follow on from the Commercial Law . It’s a popular and competitive class which tends to follow the more traditional lecture style of teaching. This class requires a lot of reading but is very manageable having completed Contract and Commercial Law in UCC.

Amagar Beach in August, 20mins from the city centre

Amagar Beach in August, 20mins from the city centre

This year is also a great opportunity to travel, if you can include it in your budgeting!! So far I’ve been to a few places around Denmark including Helsingor in North Sealand, a scenic seaside holiday area, not unlike Kinsale. On our October Break I went inter-railing to Berlin, Prague (to see other Jennifer, Joe and Gavin), Vienna and Krakow. I’m travelling to Helsinki next weekend with Sarah and Gwen to visit a friend from UCC who is nursing there. Next semester I plan on visiting the girls in Leiden and the Law and German students in Germany.

Copenhagen is a fantastic place to live. I can’t put into words how much I love it here. I can’t recommend it enough to future Law International students-I’m already jealous of those who will be coming here next year!!

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