Posts Tagged ‘University of Copenhagen’

Earlier this month, I had my first Danish oral exam in my class, Refugee and Immigrant Health.  In Denmark, oral exams are used as a method to test the students’ knowledge and ability to understand and expound upon the readings in light of the core objectives related to the course.  It is a very common testing method compared to papers, mid-terms, or oral exams in the U.S.

So, oral exams are usually 20-25 minutes in length.  First, I walked in and was asked to pick a question, read it out loud and then confirm that I understood the question.  After that, I was asked to sit down and was introduced to the external censor.  A piece of paper was provided for me to jot down my thoughts.  Next, I gave a short presentation on the question I had chosen.  After that, the course lecturer then asked questions that tested the breadth of my knowledge surrounding the question.  I didn’t feel like it was a grilling session but more of a conversation and a chance for me to express my understanding of the course.  After what felt like eternity but was only like 15 minutes, I was asked to leave the room while the lecturer and external censor discussed my grade.  After about 5 minutes I was asked to re-enter the room and was given my grade and the rationale behind my grade!

My first impressions were oh God, I am about to be grilled for 20 minutes, what if I choose a topic that isn’t my strongest area?  Actually, I did choose a question that wasn’t my strongest area but the main point of this oral exam is not that you know all the answers but that you’ve taken the time to reflect on the readings in light of the course objectives.  Also, if I didn’t know something I would take the question to an area that I was familiar with.  If I wasn’t too sure about a question, the lecturer would ask a question that would help me to continue contributing to the oral exam. So it was really designed to be conversational.

You aren’t talking the whole 20-25 minutes, that time span includes walking in, choosing a question, giving your presentation on the topic, being asked questions about your short presentation, and the discussion of your grade.  Unlike having multiple coursework or exams throughout the semester in the USA, in Denmark the oral exam is your final and only grade.  It was definitely a different experience and it teaches you to articulate your thoughts about the course.  Overall, I think I could get used to oral exams.


This week I’ve attended lots of talks and seminars that I thought I’d share with you all. On Tuesday I went to a talk by Denmark’s first female rabbi, Wednesday I went to a VERY enlightening talk about the international job market, and today (Thursday) I went to a program discussing the University of Copenhagen challenges with making itself more international friendly (something I complained about in my blog about my living arrangements and classes).

Denmark’s First Female Rabbi (Sandra Kviat )
I really enjoyed her talk about her many identities. I love learning about different belief systems and this was the perfect format to do so. Basically it was about 10 people and the rabbi explained her multiple identities. It was so interesting because she gave a very simplified explanation of Judaism, differentiating between Orthodox and Progressive Jews. Within Denmark, she explained that religion is very private and subdued, because even though Church and State are not separate, Denmark is still a relatively secular country. She also talked about the “gender inequality” within Judaism and how becoming a rabbi is almost unheard of in the Jewish religion.

In her discussion of identity, she described herself as a rabbi (having both academic and vocational/pastoral duties), a Danish Jew (having to go abroad to become a Rabbi and essentially being an other in London as a person of Danish descent), being a female in a mostly male-dominated religious position, among other aspects of herself.  She identifies herself as a Progressive Jew as it has allowed her to create her own niche within Judaism.

Another highlight of her talk was her response to my question about the religious vs spirituality distinction and rational vs. mystical interpretations of Christianity in the United States. She was just so structured in her thinking. She basically said that you are a Christian when you confess Jesus Christ as the Messiah but Judaism is not based on faith, most people usually discuss if there is one dogma or one God. So Judaism is about acting and not just believing. She was a very critical of the spiritual distinction in Christianity, saying that sometimes people mistake their emotions for spirituality and often forget the acting part. It’s okay to believe but are you acting on what you believe and not just believing on what you believe.  Overall, I liked how she said that she can’t talk about the religion as a whole but she can only talk about her views of Judaism. So it’s really just her perspective and I respect her for saying that.

International Job Market
I very much looked forward to this discussion panel. It was a discussion panel of 5 people, 4 Americans and 1 Danish person, all discussing how they entered into the International Labor Market. I won’t go into too much detail but I will highlight some of the advice that they gave.

  1. Never count yourself short. Make yourself indispensable.
  2. Know yourself! This basically means have some idea of what you want to do. Never settle for anything less.
  3. Be opportunistic and don’t be afraid to take something that will be used as a means to get you to the place you want to reach. See opportunities beyond obstacles.
  4. Figure out the location of where you want to live and think of integration factors: Obtaining visas and how much can being in that particular location help you develop into what you want to be.
  5. Do a job because you want to, not because you have to. Keep in mind that making the transition between going to school and getting a professional job is always challenging!
  6. Network as much as possible. One panelist said that possibly 66% of job opportunities in Denmark are obtained through networking or informal means!

Internationalizing KU
This was basically a program designed to discuss what Copenhagen has to offer students in the Faculty of Health Sciences and Medical Field. They also addressed international student integration issues. I definitely have my problems with KU but I will address them with time.

I think one of the main problems is the lack of transparency. You are expected to know things about KU that aren’t so obvious UNLESS you are Danish. For example, some of the websites with important information haven’t even been translated in English yet or sometime emails with class information are sent around in Danish. Thank God for Google Translate, but it can still be a bit tedious and sometimes can even create this feeling that you aren’t fully accepted.  Practical matters such as how to gain access to library databases or what are research paper guidelines, just are not that clear and made known to international students. Also, there is a level of disconnect between lecturers and administrative staff. But every school has its issues and you learn to deal. All of the difficult stuff I have had to navigate has made me appreciate my studies even more. If you study here you really have to learn to take the initiative and ask as many questions as possible. As I said earlier, KU is in a transitional stage for internationalizing the university, it might take some time but they will eventually get there.

So I thought I’d take the time to describe my living arrangement and classes.

I live in Nørrebro, which is northwest of the Copenhagen City Center and one of the 10 main districts of Copenhagen. It is known for being very multi-ethnic and I would say that it has the highest concentration of non-ethnic Danes in all of Copenhagen. The largest minority groups are from the middle-East or Arabian background, representing countries such as Iran and Pakistan. Nørrebro has fairly cheap housing with lots of cafes, bars, and shops. I love living in Nørrebro because it’s like getting the best of both worlds by giving me the perfect chance to observe immigrants and Danish interaction. I live with four Danish roommates, which consists of two men and two women. The flat that I live in is very spacious and has a nice view of the park across the street.

A Map of the Major Districts

So far my classes at the University of Copenhagen are going really well. Although, I am on a research grant, I am still required to take a full course load, which is the equivalent of 30ECTS. So far, I am taking:

  1. Health Systems in Nordic Countries: Focuses on policy and comparative analysis of the Nordic Countries.
  2. Medical Anthropology I: Focuses on understanding the social and cultural analyses of health.
  3. Gender, Sexuality and HIV/AIDS in Low Income Countries (mainly Africa): Risk behaviours, prevention, policy and intervention strategies:    I start this class on Wednesday, Sept. 29. It is focused on prevention, policy and interventions strategies in low-incomes countries.

Semesters are divided into Block 1 and Block 2, so Health Systems in Nordic Countries and Medical Anthropology I are just in Block 1 while the Gender, Sexuality and HIV/AIDS class will take place in Block 1 and Block 2.   In Block 2, another course will be added, Medical Anthropology II: Bio-sociality and Biological Citizenship – Anthropology and the “New” Biology.

As far as the University experience, I encountered a problem with understanding how the “system” works in the Public Health Department. In some departments you have to register for exams separately from  registering for the course.  Although this is completely different from my U.S. college experience, I figured it can’t be that difficult to figure out.  However, most of the websites have not been fully translated into English  and I would have liked help with how to register for exams from the administrative level.  It was very confusing and a bit frustrating at times, when you’re told that if you don’t register for exams you won’t get credit, but no one really tells you HOW to register for exams.   Luckily, I found a Danish student to help me out. I think the main problem is that most things are in Danish (a lot of stuff still needs to be translated in English for non-speaking Danish students) at the University, so it evokes this feeling of I have to understand Danish in order to gain access and because I don’t understand Danish my access has been denied. I completely understand why everything is in Danish, because Danish is the native tongue (so I’m not complaining).    I think the Public Health Department is in a transitional stage for welcoming non-Danish speaking students (also, the core courses are not offered in English, just the elective courses are offered for the fall semester, which I was aware of before I came). However, this is just one of the problems and is not deterministic or indicative of my whole experience at the University. Overall, I really like the apartment I am living in and I love my classes. The classes are challenging in their own way and will either help me gain or enhance my skills related to my research project.

The living room area of my apartment.