Talking to Two Exchange Students from Denmark

Around 12:55 pm on a Thursday, I mill around the entrance to Lincoln Hall while waiting to meet two exchange students from Denmark. Everything looks calm. From this point of view, I can see some members of KDIS staff strolling along the soccer field. Being the lunch hour, perhaps a few others and students alike are still sitting in the cafeteria trying to finish up their lunch. My train of thought is suddenly interrupted by footsteps. Well, one of the students is here. Tall, blonde and friendly-looking, she calmly introduces herself as Sophie. We exchange pleasantries. Some seconds later, the other student, Ask, joins in with a flurry of apologies for failing to make it on time. Surprisingly, he is just a minute late.

Sophie Lund and Ask Nissen are master’s students at Aarhus University in Denmark, majoring in political science. It is almost 3 months since they came to Korea for their exchange program. Judging by their jovial vibe, it seems their stay is good. They are bubbly and full of life. When I try to find out the secret, Ask is quick to point to the warmth and friendship they have found here: “The students, the staff and Koreans, in general, have embraced us. There is little to complain about.”  In addition to that, Korea’s response to the current coronavirus crisis has put them at ease.  KDI School has also put measures in place that they deem satisfactory. They are now buried in school life and carrying on with online classes like they would under normal circumstances. Both have enrolled for 5 courses each: State Fragility and Development Policy, Comparative Politics-Global Perspectives on Political Institutions and Behavior, just to name but a few.

KDI School has a wide range of partnerships with graduate schools and institutions around the world where interested students can apply and go study abroad for different exchange programs. Aarhus University, Denmark is one of them. It is through this partnership that Sophie and Ask found their way here. At the moment, one KDIS student is also enrolled at Aarhus University. In the same measure, Aarhus University has partnerships with myriad universities other than KDI School. Therefore, Sophie and Ask could have opted to join another university or go to another country, for that matter, while contemplating their spring exchange program options. However, given their strong interest in Korean culture and what they imagined KDIS would be (and now is)- a melting pot of cultures, they were left with no other choice.  “This school has a lot of international students. To be around students from different countries, different cultural backgrounds, seemed fun. I felt I was going to learn a lot,” Sophie chimes in with refined alacrity.

The experiences have been amazing. From having thrilling conversations with professors, moving around the city, trying out Korean food and hanging out with friends, they have a lot to write home about. “‘People here are super-friendly. We have a number of Korean friends who have made our life here easy. From ordering stuff online, learning about the different Korean cuisines and culture, they have helped us,” adds Sophie.

Speaking of Korean cuisine, their love for it is evident by their keen interest is when I broach the subject. They delve into this subject like a seasoned food critic would. They have tried some Korean foods and found none disappointing. At school, they prefer the Korean restaurant to the international restaurant.

Now that they have been here for some months, I am curious to find out if they have observed any glaring similarities and differences in Danish and Korean cultures. Sophie muses for a while but only settles on Korea’s level of politeness. She feels Koreans are a tad bit more polite compared to Danish people. Ask, on the other hand, picks on a similarity, drawing in on punctuality: “People are very punctual here. Something we can relate to back home.”

The novel coronavirus has crippled the progress of countries across the world. Korea was hit hard at the beginning but the stringent measures the country took have lowered the day to day number of new cases. Korea’s approach to solving the corona-crisis is one Ask feels Danish policymakers can turn to and learn from.


The article was first featured on the KDI School website.

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