Denmark at a glance
Moving abroad for two years in order to complete a master’s degree programme is a big decision, and choosing the right programme and university is probably your first priority. But what about the surroundings, the culture and the language? Get a taste of Denmark below. And please keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive guide, so we suggest you find information elsewhere too.
Moving to Denmark, you will undoubtedly come across the term ‘hygge’ – the uniquely Danish notion of ‘cosiness’. It’s incredibly difficult to translate, but it relates to a nice, relaxed atmosphere in good company. Perhaps watching a film or having coffee and cake in a room lit by candles. Enjoying the moment and appreciating everyday life.
Creating ‘hygge’ can be seen as a way to get through the dark winter months. Christmas is a strong tradition that lights up wintertime, and 75% of the Danes are members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Church of Denmark. However, most Danes consider themselves secular, and keep their faith to themselves.
For centuries, Danes have been a homogeneous people. Today, though, with globalisation and population changes, definitions of what is ‘Danish’ are constantly up for discussion.
When you start working with Danes – with fellow students or in a student job – you might find that they are quite structured. Most meetings follow a tight agenda, and Danes are punctual, so don’t be late.
Sarcasm and irony are key ingredients in the Danish sense of humour. Indeed, the world famous Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard wrote the classic ‘On The Concept of Irony’ (1841). When Danes make fun, everybody’s under fire, high and low, and you’re not expected to take it too personally if the joke’s on you.
Unlike most countries, Danish students are usually in their early twenties when they start their university studies. Many students have taken a year or two off after completing upper secondary school and have spent time travelling or working.
Meet the Danes at Associations and clubs.
Situated in East Denmark – and right next to Sweden – you’ll find the capital that accommodates the University of Copenhagen. Approximately 718,000 people live in the City of Copenhagen. Zooming out, you’ll find 1,3 million inhabitants in the Copenhagen Metropolitan Area. Generally, students appreciate that Copenhagen is friendly, peaceful, safe and easy to get around. Many Copenhageners continue to live in the city when they start a family, so you’re likely to see quite a lot of children.
Make no mistake though, Copenhagen is a capital with plenty of action all year round. Parties are abundant: the University’s Friday Bars, night clubs downtown, private parties and numerous festivals and other cultural events can make your stay colourful. The University even has its own Spring Festival. Copenhagen is buzzing with tourists all year round. Locals make their voices heard at occasional demonstrations next to the Danish Parliament and the government departments.
In 2019, Lonely Planet appointed Copenhagen the best city in the world to visit. We hope you will stay for more than a visit, though.
- Getting around
- Finding housing
- ‘Why Copenhagen is One of the Happiest Student Cities in the World’ (article on topuniversities.com)
Finances: The Danish welfare model is based on the principle that all 5.8 million people in Denmark have equal rights to social security such as education, infrastructure and public health insurance. The majority of Danes are middle class, meaning that few people can be categorized as either extremely wealthy or extremely poor.
Spare time: ’Micro-democracy’ and voluntary work are cornerstones in the Scandinavian cultural concept ‘foreningsliv’. It translates into associations – or clubs – where Danes spend much of their spare time pitching in to keep their ‘forening’ alive and kicking. Foreninger are sustained by membership fees and run by a small committee of members.
LGBTQ+: Denmark was the first country to legalize same-sex marriage, and the LGBTQ+ community has a strong voice. Each August, companies, organizations, political parties and educational institutions line up in the huge Pride Parade. The University of Copenhagen hoists the rainbow flag and joins the parade under the heading ‘Diversity of Copenhagen’. BLUS is the ‘forening’ for LGBTQ+ students in Copenhagen.
Education: From an early age, most Danish children spend their days in childcare before moving on to the mandatory nine years of school education in public or private schools. After this, a lot of young people continue their education, e.g. with three years of upper secondary school and then on to university. Government-funded education is free of charge and open to all. Consequently, Danes are quite well-educated, especially in the Capital Region of Denmark where 40% of the citizens have completed higher education (usually a master’s degree).
Careers: Men and women join the workforce – and continue working when they have children. However, men predominate in leading positions and still receive higher salaries for the same job as women. One third of the Danes work in the public sector, with the other two thirds in the private sector. In the public sector, women make up 70% of the employees while in the private sector, men make up 60% of the employees. See ‘Gender equality in Denmark’ by Statistics Denmark.
Obviously, official hierarchies exist across the Danish society. But having a powerful title is not synonymous with a perceived higher value as a human being. You’re likely to observe that Danes are quite relaxed and engage in conversations – using first names – regardless of their status.
Danish television series and film stand out and get international attention, so it’s actually possible to do some cultural research while seated comfortably in your bed or sofa. Crime is a signature topic and the term Nordic Noir captures the trend in Danish television and film-making. Take a tour of Denmark by watching the series Rejseholdet (2000-04) about an elite mobile police task force, which was broadcast all over the world. Based in Copenhagen, ‘Forbrydelsen’ (‘The Crime’) became hugely popular, especially in the UK. Copenhagen’s proximity to Sweden is portrayed in ‘Broen’ (‘The Bridge’) referring to the Øresund Bridge that connects the two countries. It’s a very nordic noir four-season TV series with characters and scenes from both Copenhagen and the Swedish city Malmö.
Danish food culture is on the move; from traditional pilsner, pig and potatoes to New Nordic Cuisine with light and playful food made from local ingredients. Michelin-starred restaurants may be out of range for most students, but the general appreciation of good food will indulge your taste buds.
Design and architecture have been Danish hallmarks for a century, roughly. Design is simple, stylish and fit for use in everyday life. Especially the design of chairs excels within the furniture category. The fashion scene in Denmark is very much alive, flashing its newest creations at the Copenhagen Fashion Week.
Across Denmark significant buildings stand out – or integrate with nature. As a student in Copenhagen, you can hang out at Superkilen, a spectacular urban space for pedestrians and cyclists in multicultural Nørrebro. Feel like skiing? Go to Copenhill, a brand new year-round ski slope on a massive waste incineration plant. The University’s Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences resides in Maersk Tower, which opened in 2017. With its 15 floors covered by 3,300 copper shutters, the iconic building towers in central Copenhagen. Make sure you explore Maersk Tower, either on a guided tour or on your own, e.g. by visiting the cafés or enjoying the outside park area. Finally, there’s a very special hall of residence, whose original circular architecture is outstanding, namely Tietgenkollegiet.
In principle, the Queen rules since Denmark is the oldest monarchy in the world. However, when it comes to politics, her position is ritual as Denmark is a democracy with a multi-party system. In the Danish Parliament, Folketinget, politicians from various parties represent Denmark (175 members), Greenland (2 members) and the Faroe Islands (2 members). Parties are considered either rightwing or left wing, and (usually minority) governments tend to consist of a couple of parties with support from another couple of parties.
In 1849, the Constitution of the Kingdom of Denmark Act became the first step towards modern-day democracy. Following decades of discussion, women earned the right to vote in 1915.
As an international student in Denmark coming from a Nordic or an EU country, you are eligible to vote in your municipality and region (next time in 2021) – and in the election to the European Parliament. If you come from a country outside the EU and the Nordic region, you are eligible to vote when you have lived in Denmark for three years. Only Danes can vote in the national election for the Folketing.
Denmark is a Scandinavian country connected to Germany in the south and hence to continental Europe.
Westwards, the fierce North Sea ends in endless stretches of wide beach. Northwards, two seas meet at the tip of Jutland, which points towards Norway. Southwards is the border to Germany and, moving east, numerous islands make up the South Funen Archipelago. Eastwards is the capital Copenhagen – and moving further east (crossing South Sweden) is the rocky island of Bornholm in the Baltic.
Compared to its neighbours, Denmark is quite small. E.g. it takes less than three hours to go by train between Copenhagen and the second largest city, Aarhus. With approx. 7,000 km of coastline you are never far away from the sea – especially in Copenhagen, where you can easily take a plunge, either in the harbour’s clean waters or at the grand beach Amager Strand.
The climate in Denmark is generally mild. Winters are dark and damp, so springtime brings people outside where they soak up the first sharp rays of sunshine. Sommers change a lot, ranging from windy and rainy periods to heatwaves that bring crowds to the country’s many beaches. Autumn is the chance of mushroom hunting in forests and lots of indoor ‘hygge’ (or ‘cosiness’ – read more above in ‘Meeting the Danes’).
- Copenhagen is the world’s best city to visit (Lonely Planet, 2019)
- Copenhagen is the most liveable city for European expats (ECA International, 2019)
- Denmark is the world’s least corrupt country (Corruption Perception Index, 2019)
- Denmark is the second happiest nation in the world (UN world Happiness Report, 2019)
- Denmark ranks 13 in gender equality (the Global Gender Gap Index, 2018).
#1 Copenhagen is the world’s best city to visit (Lonely Planet, 2019)
#1 Copenhagen is the most liveable city for European expats (ECA International, 2019)
#1 Denmark is the world’s least corrupt country (Corruption Perception Index, 2019)
#2 Denmark is the second happiest nation in the world (UN world Happiness Report, 2019)
#13 Denmark ranks 13 in gender equality (the Global Gender Gap Index, 2018).