Thursday, March 5, 2009

Lessons the DIS way

So yes…I have been here for 8 weeks and, seeing as I have not yet written any posts about the school part of my semester, you are all probably wondering if I am really studying abroad, or if I am just taking a really long vacation. Well, I would say that it is a little bit of both. To say the least, anything away from the rigors of Macalester can be considered a vacation. My semesters are usually spent hurrying from one thing to another, where every minute is scheduled and hundreds of post-its fall victim to the scribblings of my to-do lists. Now, for the first time in a very long time, I have time to breathe, to relax, to have fun…and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Why would I cross an ocean to spend my time with Microsoft Word and a highlighter?

This being said, just because I’m not refining my paper-writing skills or improving my IS vocabulary does not mean I’m not learning a lot. It is all about trade-offs. Now, Copenhagen is my library and Europe is my classroom; instead of papers, I write blogs; my all-nighters are due to dancing instead of cramming; I’m more worried about proving myself in the kitchen than in the classroom; I research traveling destinations and hostels rather than revolutions and international codes of conduct; my planner is full of flight schedules rather than test dates….not bad.

Of course, it’s not all fun and games. I rush out the door every morning, coffee in hand, for my 8:30 classes. I take notes, give presentations, study for tests, and meet with groups for projects. I do readings, realize I’ve done the wrong readings, and read again (the compendiums aren’t always very straight-forward.) When I put it this way, it probably sounds pretty similar to what you would find at any college…but the fact of the matter is the structure of school here is very different, even if subtly so, to what I’m used to.

For example, my teachers are professionals rather than PhD’d professors whose life is to teach and to research. Readings are gone over point by point in class, instead of serving as theoretical background for class discussion. And for that matter, class discussion is minimal; it has been a long time since I’ve faced the blackboard and stared at the backs of people’s heads (this is when I wonder how we can be graded on “class participation.”) I am currently in the biggest classes I’ve ever taken, with head counts of a whopping 60 students. And one of the best things? No 20 page papers this semester.

Wednesdays are dedicated to field studies, where we go with our classes to different places in Denmark as a way of seeing in real life what we are learning in the classroom. This could be going to a business, a newspaper, an NGO…a club? Yes, last weekend my Creative Industries class had a field study at Vega, one of the largest clubs in Denmark. We started with a tour and a discussion with a Vega staff member and then finished by watching a concert of the Danish band Small. (It was quite an odd experience to be out clubbing with a professor…beer and dancing included.) To say the least, the phrase “Copenhagen is your classroom” is no joke.

Neither is “Europe is your classroom.” As I’ve mentioned before, we went on a short study tour in Western Denmark for my News Media in Transition class and will be heading out for our long study tour to London in a week and a half. And if that isn’t enough, merely living and observing in Europe/Copenhagen is enough to supply lessons for a life time, even if it's not in the typical way.

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