Paul McNamara is a 35-year-old Irishman from County Wicklow who came to Denmark in 2015 to study at the University of Southern Denmark. CPH POST asked him about the advantages and disadvantages of studying abroad.
How did you end up at university in Denmark?
I took a bachelor’s in psychology at UCD in Dublin, but then realised I had absolutely no inclination to work within that field, so I went travelling for some time. A few years later I took a teaching qualification, but again went travelling, eventually settling in Copenhagen, where I decided to do a master’s.
Why did you choose comparative public policy and welfare?
Denmark’s welfare state is known for being one of the best in the world, and with immigration always being a big topic here, that subject really stood out for me as a topic of interest.
Is there a difference between the way things are taught in Denmark and the way they are taught in Ireland at university level?
Absolutely! For example, group work was something I was really not used to. Additionally, I’d got through four years of my bachelor without making a presentation. And presentations are definitely something important at Danish universities. I think this is fantastic … but I still really hate them, and am terrible at giving them! Additionally, the style and level of formality between the students and professors was very relaxed. This made them much more approachable and I never felt awkward contacting them for help.
Were you able to get a student grant to study in Denmark and, if so, was it from the Danish or Irish government?
I received SU, which I supplemented by working in a bar. There’s absolutely no way I would have been able to do this in Ireland without taking a big loan. And that’s something I will be eternally grateful for to Denmark for.
Was your course in English or Danish?
English – it was very much so an international class, with perhaps only five of the students being Danish.
Is there a special atmosphere when classes are comprised of mixed nationalities?
Yes, terrific. It’s fascinating to see how different nationalities come together in group projects – each with their own big personality, ideas and sense of humour. It also creates a very dynamic atmosphere for classroom debates because everyone wants to bring something from their country to the table, or to learn from someone else’s perspective.
What would you say is the main benefit of studying abroad – and are there any downsides?
It’s always good to challenge yourself, and getting out of your comfort zone is the best way to do it; if only to get different perspectives on things one can become short sighted or blind to.
Finally, what would your advice be to anyone who is hesitant to make the jump to study abroad?
You have nothing to be afraid of. New friends, new challenges, new opportunities … you’re really only here to make memories, so go and do it. I even did it at a relatively advanced age, but you’re never too old to make a change or take a chance.
Karla Hamilton, 15, is a current student at Gasværksvejens skole in Vesterbro, Copenhagen. Following the completion of her elementary learning next year, she will attend Efterskolen Smededal, an establishment in northwest Zealand, for a year starting from September 2020.
Why have you decided to go to efterskole?
Because I want to try something new, and it sounded really fun to live with friends for a whole year. I also think you will grow a lot as a person in that year.
Can you tell us about the efterskole you’ve decided to go to? What made you choose it?
I’ve chosen Efterskolen Smededal, because when I visited it, it had a really ‘hyggelig’ vibe, and I just had that feeling that this was the one. It is also only one hour away [from Copenhagen] on the train
Academically, what are your expectations? Do you think it will better prepare you for gymnasium?
Yes, because I think it’s good to have a year before gymnasium where you can relax a little
Are you excited by the prospect of boarding for a year? Do you expect to have fun?
Does Harry Potter have a broomstick? Yes, of course.
What percentage of your peer group at school are going to efterskole?
I would say around 50 percent
Have any been negative about efterskole – what did they say?
Yes, I have heard about people who didn’t have the best experience, because the teachers were to tough, or maybe they just couldn’t find friends, or maybe efterskole just wasn’t their thing