How we look through Danish eyes

Students from Denmark describe their experiences at NCC

Myra Saturen,

"Americans are friendly, outgoing and kind," says Simone Skaarup Mortensen, one of about twenty-five students from Roskilde Business College in Denmark who are studying for ten weeks at Northampton Community College (NCC). She, Michelle Linnemann and Frederick Jensen sat down with public information staff to talk about their impressions of the United States. Simone, Frederick and Michelle

They are especially pleased with the warm welcome they have received. "It is easy to make friends here," Jensen said. NCC students often greet them in the halls and ask them about their country, a lively interest that Jensen appreciates.

In addition to interpersonal warmth, the students find Americans helpful. For instance, when Jensen and others got lost in New York City, they asked a passing girl for directions. Eager to assist, the girl went onto the Internet, found the correct subway line and directed the students to it.

One of many courses the students are taking is culture. But just living here for a while is an education in itself. Cultural and social differences between the two countries stand out for the students. In United States, competition is the norm, they observe. "Denmark has a huge safety net," Jensen said. Citizens pay about 60% of their income in taxes, but these levies provide free education plus a stipend for students all the way through graduate school and free health care throughout life. Economic equality is one result of the Danish system, Linnemann says. "All Danes are middle class," she says. Moreover, it is considered arrogant, even taboo, to boast about or even discuss one's income, even within families. Everyone is deemed equal. On the other hand, the students believe that stronger competition in the United States motivates people to be more ambitious.

Meeting people from different backgrounds also intrigues the students. Coming from a mostly homogenous culture, they enjoy and are learning from America's ethnic diversity.

The students described how the educational system differs between the two countries. In Denmark, the equivalent of elementary school runs from first through ninth grades, with an optional tenth grade. Some students go on to college; a bachelor's degree takes five years, a master's three. Others continue through the Ph.D.

Educational uniformity characterizes Danish higher education, the students said. Colleges tend to offer highly similar curricula.

Study of English is universal in Denmark, beginning in the third grade. "Only five million people in the world speak Danish," Jensen said. "So it is necessary to learn a second language." This second or third language can also be German.

Living with host families provides yet another kind of education. "We really get to know Americans and the way they do things. We get to experience different traditions," Mortensen says. "We are out of our comfort zone, talking to people we don't know." "But we get to know them quickly," Jensen adds.

"We have had only good experiences here," Mortensen says.