In terms of comparing the educational systems and experiences with students, I have found that some of the observations between Denmark and America don’t ring true to my experience as a professor at the University of Maine at Augusta (even though some resonate with my undergraduate and graduate experiences). There are certainly differences, but the distance between my American students in Maine and my Danish students in Denmark may not be as wide as it could be.
At Danish universities, there are no fraternities or sororities and there is no sports culture, particularly the kind you find at big American universities. So, while I got plenty of Go Cougs! and Beaver Nation! at Washington State and Oregon State Universities during my graduate studies, at UMA we don’t really have much of a sports culture and we don’t have a football team.
Related: much of Danish students’ social life takes place off campus. Since UMA is a commuter campus (or, rather, a set of commuter campuses), this rings true for my students as well. In both contexts, we work to try to make spaces and opportunities for students to socialize.
Few students live on campus in Denmark. UMA has no dorms so no students live on campus!
UMA has a confusing name. The University of Southern Denmark also has a confusing name, or set of names. The abbreviation of SDU throws us American off and I have heard the Danish name for the university, but have yet to pin it down with my developing language skills.
Danish students call their professors by their first names. One professor explained that when he taught at Mississippi State e could not get his students to call him by his first name, but in Denmark he can’t get them to address him formally. I have always asked my students to call me by my first name and feel very uncomfortable when students address me with the American version of respect.
While I have been told the Danes can be big drinkers, and there are even bars on campus (whether formal or informal), at UMA we are not allowed to purchase alcohol with university funds and we are rarely allowed to consume alcohol on campus.
I have been told: Here in Denmark many students don’t attend classes since it is not required. There is an understanding that Danish students are adults and they should have independence and freedom. It is the students’ responsibility to learn the class material so they can pass their exam at (or after) the end of the semester. Further, students may not participate in classes as fully as American students and may have a more ambivalent attitude toward their education. While attendance may be sorely lacking at UMA, and I have certainly encountered students who do not wish to participate, I do find that most of my students (who are “non-traditional” compared to the Danish) are highly engaged and invested in their educations. They have often sacrificed a lot for their education and end up with crippling debt.
In Denmark, there are high dropout rates, especially in the first year and many students just never finish their education at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate levels, even though that education is “free” and they are paid a generous stipend to be a student once they reach the age of eighteen. (PhD students are actually employees of the university with a full salary!) UMA suffers from a similar set of problems (low attendance and completion rates), but for what may (possibly) be an entirely different set of reasons. I will have more to say about these similarities and their fundamental differences in future blogs!
All of these observations are based upon my preconceived notions from research, conversation, and Fulbright orientation, so I am excited to see what more I learn this year… beginning with my first class on Wednesday!