When deciding where to study abroad, students often find themselves asking tricky questions, like, where can I spend a semester that would make traveling easy? Where can I find a vibrant nightlife and a welcoming culture without a language barrier? Last spring, 13 members of the class of '13 arrived at same answer: Copenhagen, Denmark.
The Copenhagen crew included Gabe Faithfull and Allison McKeown, who had two very different experiences, even though they lived in the same city.
McKeown opted to live with a host family based on recommendations from students who had studied in Copenhagen.
"The host families were ranked as one of the best parts of the program. I wanted to see what Danish culture was like," McKeown described, "And I liked the idea of having a base in Denmark—a family I could go to if I needed it."
McKeown instantly connected with her host family, calling the experience "unbelievable." Prior to leaving for Denmark, she learned that one of her host sisters was disabled.
"Over the summer, my host parents emailed me to describe themselves and tell me that Siiri, their nine-year-old daughter, had 'syndrome of the Down,'" said McKeown. "She was the sweetest child I have ever met."
Though McKeown did spend a lot of time with her host family, she had a great deal of freedom in their home.
"They weren't like parents at all. They had their rules and their routines and as long as I respected them and joined in on their activities, they were happy. They gave me a key and told me that they didn't care when I got home, just to lock the door," McKeown said. "They left for vacation for a week. I had the entire house to myself."
Faithfull, on the other hand, requested to live in college housing because he had heard that living with a host family could be "awkward." He was placed in the oldest college housing in Denmark, where he lived alongside 1,000 other students, 60 of whom were Americans.
With over 900 students enrolled at Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS), Faithfull found it easy to make American friends.
"I didn't really hang out with Danish people or Europeans. I spent most of my time with Americans I met in class. We would hang out just because we ended up at a lot of the same places. I always met new people through my program," said Faithfull.
"At Bowdoin it feels like the same 100 kids go out every night. You don't meet that many new people here," he added.
Both Faithfull and McKeown noted how much later nightlife in Denmark begins and ends compared to Bowdoin.
"Danes drink very differently from Americans. Here in the States, we start drinking at nine and we're done by two because we try to crush as many beers as we can, as fast as we can. The nightlife goes so late there, five o' clock, six o' clock in the morning," said Faithfull.
McKeown laughed while recalling one of her late nights out. "One time I got home at 8:30 in the morning when my host family was eating breakfast. I joined them and then went to bed."
When McKeown went out, she attempted to avoid hot spots known for attracting Americans.
"We'd try to look for places that didn't have as many Americans so we could meet Danes," said McKeown. "People are really excited to meet an American girl in Denmark. I loved the Danish men; they are definitely taller than Americans."
Faithfull, on the other hand, haunted such hot spots like the Kulor Bar. He typically went out four times a week and frequented this bar on Tuesdays and Thursdays when the crowd was mostly comprised of Americans.
"You would pay the equivalent of 12 US dollars for unlimited beer until midnight. There is a really good DJ, jail cells, stages, and crazy techno lights. It was just so European," said Faithfull.
When deciding where to study abroad, Faithfull, who is on Bowdoin's baseball team, knew he could only study in the fall and sought out countries where English was widely spoken. Ultimately, he decided on the DIS program in Copenhagen, where his good friend Andrew LoRusso '13 had also applied to study.
"I had pretty high expectations because Drew's brother had gone there before, so he told us a little about what to expect," said Faithfull.
McKeown, a neuroscience major, chose DIS because it would allow her to obtain science credits.
All Danes are required to take English in school so the majority of Denmark's population, particularly in Copenhagen, is fluent. Still, McKeown decided to take a Danish language course in order to better navigate the unfamiliar city.
"Learning the language was not easy; I still can't speak it," said McKeown. " I picked up some things and I retained what I learned for the most part."
Faithfull decided against taking Danish because he did not believe that he would learn a sufficient amount within four short months.
"The Danish language is a lot like English, where you would need to be part of the cultural context in order to pick it up," explained Faithfull.
A government and legal studies major and history minor, Faithfull took mostly government classes while abroad. He noted a stark contrast between the academic rigor at DIS and at Bowdoin.
"My academic experience in Denmark really put into perspective how hard Bowdoin is, but I didn't really go for rigorous work." said Faithfull, "I went for a different type of education, like traveling."
In addition to class trips, Faithfull and McKeown were able to travel freely during many of their weekends and their two-week fall break. Faithfull visited Amsterdam, Madrid, Rome, Berlin, and Prague during his time abroad. He and LoRusso organized their trips based on affordability.
"We had a lot of friends in Rome and one friend in Prague. We stayed with them to keep costs down. We flew with cheap airlines, and hostels were very reasonably priced," Faithful said.
Although Faithfull spent most of his time with Americans, he only had positive things to say about the Danish.
"They have such a laid back society— I'd be going to class at nine in the morning and people were sipping on beer," said Faithfull.
Toward the end of the program, Faithfull had several meaningful interactions with Danes.
"I got to drink with some Danes. It was cool to hear about their culture and what they think about Americans," explained Faithfull. "They have a word for this feeling of warmth and coziness that can't be defined in English: hygge. They actually want to get to know you; it's not superficial. If you start talking to a Dane, be ready for a three-hour conversation."
In a conscious effort to meet more Danish people, McKeown joined a club volleyball team in her town and was able to make lasting friendships with several of her teammates. She plans to meet one of her Danish friends in New York City during spring break.
"I didn't realize how close I would become with the people on my volleyball team," said McKeown.
Ultimately, Faithfull says, his semster in Copenhagen provided the unique and valuable experience he had hoped for.
"My dad told me that this happens once in your life, so live it up. It's something you remember for the rest of your life. And it's never going to happen again."
Faithfull offered a preview for anyone currently considering studying abroad in Copenhagen: "Be ready for the most beautiful girls you have ever seen in your life. Models all over the place. They're just normal humans, they're not even considered hot. But American guys don't have a chance with Danish girls."
McKeown gave more practical advice: "Bring a raincoat and rain boots. And make sure you know how ride a bike."