I’ve been in Copenhagen about a week now and I’m already feeling at home. Despite the city being even more cripplingly expensive than I imagined, it’s proving to be a wonderful place to live. I’ll try and capture the last few days for you – bureaucracy, university and bikes.
When I arrived at the office to collect our keys at about 1pm I was delighted to find out that the office was closed. In fact the opening hours where 9am to 10.30 am, yup an hour and a half each day. The Danish take their days off very seriously, the country shuts down on a Sunday despite not being a particularly religious country, it’s more of an excuse to sit outside drinking beer, an activity that generally has to occur after any sort of work, including an hour and half of sitting in an office giving keys out to people apparently. Luckily on a Tuesday the office reopens for an hour in the afternoon, and luckily it was a Tuesday. After a large sigh of relief it was then just a waiting game.
When we finally got to the apartment my friend and I were pleased with the neighbourhood. It’s off a busy main street (Nørrebrogade) but is itself a quiet pretty street. Our building is a bit ghetto, every other house is perfectly maintained and then ours is covered in graffiti but I kind of think of it as a teenage building trying to look hard, however underneath the graffiti it’s clear that it’s an elegant red brick building from the early 1900’s, it can’t fool me.
We had a couple of days to unpack and find our feet in the city before classes began. Most of this time was spent doing all the necessary bureaucracy such as getting residents permit and a CPR number (a Danish identity and national insurance number). However, probably the most important thing was getting a bike. I knew biking was popular in Copenhagen before I arrived but I didn’t quite understand the magnitude of the biking situation. EVERYONE bikes. On my first day I watched from our flat window kids being picked up from school, unlike any British school there were no parents waiting in cars, oh no, they were all on bikes, bikes with huge baskets at the front, in which a child, or two or three sits strapped in and then they are cycled home. I can understand why cycling is so popular here, because the city (and country) is so flat it makes cycling a breeze. It’s obviously something that has occurred for a long time in city because every road has a cycle lane on each side, and there are rules and traffic lights just for bikes, in fact it feels like I’m being taught to drive all over again.
I’ve been cycling for a few days now, and its official: I love it. Once I got over the original nerves I quickly saw the charm of getting around the city in this way. You can see so much in such a short space of time, and you’re not confined behind a window.
University life is really only just beginning, with having my first class today. I can’t help but compare Copenhagen University to Edinburgh, at least those first days when I arrived in Edinburgh. At the moment it feels like I’m in a dark room and I have a flash light, but it’s only showing me a small part of what is going on. There was no fresher’s week or welcome to the university, no one to help me find my way around the city, no one to discuss my academic affairs with, no societies and no sense of community as there was when I arrived in Edinburgh. Everything is down to you, you have to sign yourself up for courses and exams either via the internet or by post – there are also deadlines for this, which they don’t email you to let you know so you have to find this out yourself. You then have to find out the location and time of classes yourself, by either emailing the course secretary or searching the web pages (often only in Danish). There is an orientation lecture by the international office; however this comes quite late for most of the deadlines. All in all there’s no personal contact, you never sit down and discuss anything with any adviser or teacher. The first class you attend is probably the first time you speak to anyone at the university. Personally I would have preferred a more personal approach, but it seems to be that the university expects you to be independent, especially in your studies.
This shouldn’t discourage students from coming to Copenhagen though, aslong as you are organised it’s not a problem and the city more than makes up for the extra hassle.
Although there are no societies there is a group called ‘ESN Copenhagen’ which is the Erasmus Student Network and they organised trips and social events, so I’m quite looking forward to getting involved in that. I’m slowly getting to know my way around and learn the area and street names; cycling has certainly helped. I’ve not had a chance to do any sightseeing yet but hopefully soon I’ll have the chance. ESN are organising a canal tour on Friday and then next weekend I’m taking advantage of being connected to mainland Europe by taking a train to Germany (Cologne) for the weekend.
Hope all is well in Edinburgh!
links: ESN Copenhagen