I Fell in Love with Copenhagen

Georgia comes from Baltimore, where she has done a bachelor’s in Geography and Geoinformatics at Towson University. Now Georgia is studying for her Master's Degree in Geography and Geoinformatics at University of Copenhagen. We met her at the university’s Geocenter, in the heart of Copenhagen.

Photo of Georgia Karabelas

I came to Denmark in 2011, the third year of my bachelor, for half a year, and I went to Aarhus University. Then I went back to the States to finish my degree.

I wanted to go back to Denmark, because I liked it so much, so I found an internship at the US Embassy in Copenhagen and stayed there for the summer. I fell in love with Copenhagen, and decided that I wanted to apply for a master’s programme and here I am.

Why did you choose Europe?

My father is from Greece and my grandmother is from Germany, so I have a Greek and an American citizenship. If I didn’t have a European passport, I would have to pay a tuition fee.

Why did you pick Copenhagen?

It was the city and the programme. I wanted to stay in geography, and University of Copenhagen was most relevant to my field, because it has a lot to do with development geography in the global south.

What’s your thesis about?

After studying here, I realized I was really interested in migration, so I decided to do my master’s thesis on international education in Denmark and Danish gymnasiums. So I’m looking at a case study school and the International Baccalaureate programme. The migration part of it is how this international education prepares students for future mobility within the EU. I’m mostly doing qualitative research with students and interviews.

Do you find it difficult to study here?

It’s like any degree: It’s challenging, it’s hard work, but that’s what you do, when you go into a master’s programme. What is difficult is getting into the different learning styles. The group work, the independent learning, the oral exams.

You were not used to independent studying?

Not at all. In my bachelor’s programme, I had assignments to do every week. I was graded on coming to class, I was graded on participating in class – it was sort of like high school. And here it was just my final grade which was counting, and if I didn’t pass that, I had three more chances, but still it’s based on one final exam. At least in Geography I have never had a non oral exam. It’s always like this: you submit an assignment and then you orally defend it.

Are the relations to the teachers different here?

Yes. You are a lot more informal with your teachers and they take your personal experiences into account. In the United States, it’s more based on a hierarchy and here it’s very flat.

And in the United States, if I didn’t hand in my exam, that was it! There was no exceptions, no excuses. Even if you were sick, you had to have it done, unless there was medical emergency and you had a note from your doctor. Here they really do take account for your personal situation – it’s more fair.

How does it feel to be an international student here in Copenhagen?

Well, I can say that nearly all of my friends here are international students. I guess they are more outgoing. I have one Danish friend. And some of my other friends are from Norway, so they are international but they are still Scandinavian.

What do you think of the study environment, the facilities … ?

The facilities are really, really cool. Especially the KUA (the part of Copenhagen University situated on the island of Amager) where you have art installations everywhere. It really makes you want to stay there and inspires you to work. I live on Amager, so it’s convenient to use the facilities there.

The Geocenter here is part university, part high school … it’s an interesting building, but it’s a bit strange to mix university and high school. You come in the cafeteria, and there’s the young kids screaming around. But there’s the thesis room up here, which is my stomping grounds – it’s really cosy, there are potted trees and it’s easy to make an area for yourself.

What kind of jobs can you get when you finish your master’s?

It’s a geographer’s dilemma. There are so many ways you can go. I have interned for an NGO here – the Bahrain Human Rights Center – doing visualizations and data processing, and I can see myself working for an NGO.

At the same time, I also have a background in environmental planning and GIS, Geographic Information Systems, which is used for organizing and visualizing data. Any company or organization can use that skill, because it doesn’t matter if it’s health – they can use it to track the outbreak of epidemics – or for instance at the human rights center where we are working on geotagging all the instances of police brutality in Bahrain. So it’s a very useful skill.

Your own dream about a future job: you mentioned an NGO ... how would you like to work?

My dream job would mean a lot of work and maybe would not bring such a lot of money. I would like to work with migrant worker rights. In the US we have a lot of immigration issues, so there’s a lot of work to be done to help people there.

I’ll definitely go looking for a job here for a while. Maybe I will stay a few more years. But I would like to be closer to my family in the future.

Do you have any good advice for foreign students coming to Denmark?

Train your presentation skills for the oral exams. I failed the first few classes I had, because … my papers were great, but my defense was not. And I was used to this hierarchy, so I was expecting the teachers to be asking me questions, so I didn’t take the lead.

And make sure to participate in activities – because the weather can really affect you. In the winter it’s so dark and gray, so you don’t want to leave the house. You need to be proactive. I joined the university sports club – it’s really cheap. They’ve got so many great classes, and that’s where I had my first Christmas lunch, so that’s a great place to make Danish friends also.  

The interview with Georgia was conducted in December 2014.