Thursday, January 10, 2013

Nine Frequently Asked DTU Questions (FA-DTU-Qs)

May 2012 near Copenhagen, Denmark

Wow, I can't believe it's been over half a year since I've been in Denmark! A lot has happened...really too much to write in one post, but here are some highlights:

- I've been having a blast with the Office of International Programs at Renssalear Polytechnic Institute promoting study abroad (to Denmark especially of course) to potential future study abroad students.
- I'll be picking up a best friend from Denmark at the airport on January 16th and he will spend the spring semester at my own institution! (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)
- Another best friend from Denmark will be studying at Harvard and MIT for the spring semester, can't wait to visit her!

So anyhow, you clicked on this post to read about the frequently asked questions I get from students who have read this blog and still had some unanswered question for me. Let's get to the nitty gritty and answer them.

1 - Cell phone plans - Should I bring a phone? What carrier should I have while in Denmark?

Image taken from:

If you have an iphone or blackberry, I think that unlocking it and getting a SIM card in Denmark is absolutely the best way to go. That way you can use wi-fi on your smart phone, but still have a cheap Danish calling and SMS plan. I wasn't fortunate enough to have a smart phone when I went abroad, so I purchased a basic phone at a FONA in Lyngby for about 250 DKK. During introduction week, you will be given a SIM card with a little credit (maybe 10 DKK). This card will give you your Danish phone number and the ability to put as much money into your phone as need be. The carrier given is Lebara, and their rates seemed fair to me. Shopping around isn't a bad idea if you're on a budget though.

2 - I don't get into my assigned accommodation until after introduction week. Where do I stay until then??
Image taken from:

Some semesters, you may have the inconvenience of not being able to get into Kampsax dorm room (or otherwise) until the first of the next month, when introduction week starts at the end of the current month. So where should you stay??

It may be stressful, but if you know anybody going to exchange to Denmark with you, it's best to try and stay with them for the introduction week. As you can read in my earlier posts, I used an air mattress on my friend Eddie's floor in Campus Village until I could get into my room. If you don't have somebody you already know, it's very possible to make a friend on the first day or two of introduction week that will let you stay with them. Some people may think this is unsafe, but I leave that decision up to you. The accomodation office provided me with bedding to borrow when I went and asked them if I could get into my room earlier than the first of the month, perhaps they can do the same for you. Or maybe you'll even be lucky enough to get into your room early! Doesn't hurt to ask, the people in the Intl Affairs office are very friendly.

3 - What's the weather like?

Image taken from:

Keeping in mind that I'm from the state of Maine (top northeast United States), I didn't think that the weather was super unpleasant in the winter months. It was certainly cold, but more of a windy and wet cold, rather than a snow filled wonderland. I believe this is because of how close Copenhagen is to the water. Pack warm clothes for sure if you will be there during the spring. In April and May it starts to get nice, until it reaches about 20 degrees Celsius with a nice breeze. Summer in Denmark must be beautiful...

4 - When do I hear from accommodation about my assigned accomodation?

Image taken from:

It seems like accommodation tends to get back to students a bit last minute at time. However, having said that, if you do not hear back with your accommodation plans prior to a couple weeks of your trip, I would strongly recommend that you follow up with an email or call to the accommodation office. As mentioned above, they really are friendly people and there to help you. Keep in mind that they are very busy with getting all incoming students a place to stay, so they may not get back to you right away sometimes.

5 - I want to learn danish, but do I need to for day-to-day activity?

Image taken from:

In all honesty you won't need to know conversational Danish to get through your semester abroad (unless of course you pick courses that are taught in Danish). I found that picking up a little bit of Danish from my friends was convenient in the grocery stores. This consisted mostly of phrases like "No, thank you" and "Yes, thank you" when asked if I wanted a receipt at the grocery store. However, they will most likely talk to you in English if you tell them you can only speak English. There is an Introductory Danish course taught at DTU, which offers to teach you very basic Danish. Instead, I opted to learn some Danish from my Danish friends, which I thought was more useful and definitely more comedic.

6 - What Danish bank should I use while abroad?

Image taken from:

When it comes to a banks, I highly recommend you pick a bank that is convenient for you to get to. Banks like Nordea or Dansk Bank will be spread well across Denmark and will be convenient to get to wherever you are in Denmark. For an "Easy Account"  or "Nem Konto" (what you will need for basic banking or direct deposits from a job - free to open), I found that there wasn't a huge different between banks when it came to any ATM fees. Feel free to do a little research if ATM fees are a big deal for you.

7 - Is it difficult to find a part time job while abroad? Is it possible?

Image taken from:

For a semester alone, it is a little difficult to pick up a decent part time job. I looked at for a while and had a hard time finding the right job for me. Don't be discouraged though, because there are often indoor climate experiments held on DTU campus that will pay fairly well for student subjects. I was a bit uncertain with this at first, but from what I'm told the experiments are very safe and consist of things like doing Sudoko Puzzles while the temperature is changed in the room.

8 - How do I get a room in Kampsax?

Kampsax Kitchen Five

In all honesty, it's just luck and timing if your home institution doesn't already reserve rooms in Kampsax for it's outgoing students. Try to get your accommodation preferences form in as early as possible and keep those fingers crossed for good luck. I think that Campus Village is really quite a fun place to live if you can't get into Kampsax, but can't accurately speak to the other housing options available at or near DTU.

9 - What are some awesome activities I MUST do while in Europe/Denmark?

Gliding with the DTU Flying Club

Here's a list of some AWESOME things I would recommend:

-Go on the ESN Seabattle. I didn't have the money for this, but all my friends couldn't say enough about how fun it was.
-Go on and find cheap tickets for a cruise from Copenhagen, Denmark to Oslo, Norway. You will spend only a day in Oslo, but it is really a quite beautiful and fun place to visit. Not to mention the fun you'll have on the cruise with all your friends (who you definitely should bring).
-Go gliding with the DTU Flying club for 250 DKK. Being in a glider is an incredible experience. Plus, Denmark is a super flat country and on a nice day you can see a lot of it from the sky. You can even see into Sweden some days.
-If you have the money, take a month before or after your semester in Denmark to travel the other countries in Europe. There are train ticket deals (Eurail Pass) for any and all of the train that go across continental Europe. If you're from North America or a different Continent, make the most of your time in Europe.

Finally...Dream a little! You're in Scandinavia, why not go up into northern Sweden or Finland to see the Northern Lights and Lapland? Do the cool and awesome things you've always wanted to do in that part of the world.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Reverse Culture Shock Roller Coaster

Image from:

Keeping in mind that I was a victim of severe homesickness at times throughout the semester, being home has so far been a really strange thing.

After being almost 100% independent for more than 4 months, coming home to constantly available food and my mom's great cooking is weird enough in itself (not that I can complain about her cooking). I honestly think I may gain weight in the first few weeks home as my semester long fast food craving is currently affecting my eating habits. I'm sure Taco Bell has appreciated my business in the past week.

It's really a strange thing; trying to explain why I now feel awkward at home - the place I've spent the majority of my 20 years. You'll have to trust me when it just feels...well a bit uncomfortable.

You're probably more interested in some of the specifics (other than food), so here's a few:

1 - Having a car. 
I know I'm extremely fortunate to have my own set of wheels, but sitting in a car with the radio on hasn't been doing it for me like it used to. I've realized how easy it is to bike a lot of places I usually go (easier than you would think), and the thought of burning gas and not getting the exercise is really not that appealing. I've been successful in changing my habits so that I bike to almost all of my friends' houses now (a recent exception due to an ankle running injury). The convenience of a car makes it easy to overlook the benefits of biking everywhere, but I'm a point to look past that now.

2 - Having a cell phone that gets blown up all the time.
I did have a cell phone in Denmark, but used it maybe once a day and only for direct messages (like "let's go out tonight, meet at 10pm at my place". However, now that I'm back in the US with unlimited text messaging available, I'm stuck with conversational texting all the time. I know it may only be a personal problem, but I find it really distracting and annoying. I got used to going to physically see somebody if I wanted to see talk with them and catch up. It's a lot more fun that way. This usually only involved one or two text messages, in which we set a hang out up. Frankly, I didn't have the money for phone credit to text people all the time in Denmark.

3 - Understanding all the conversation around me.
Believe it or not, I became at peace with the fact that I didn't understand all the conversational Danish going on around me. It had the perk of making my life a bit simpler, but now I can actually join nearby conversations without having to guess what's going on or when I should introduce myself. It's not really good or bad I guess, just different.

I really can't help but feel like I'm treading the life water all around me trying to figure out how to swim again, it's just so uncomfortable at times. I know it'll get better with time, I'll be sure to keep you in the loop. Until then...Taco Bell is open until midnight right?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Perfect Ending to a Perfect Semester

Sleep wasn't first priority when it came to my last two nights in Copenhagen. As a matter of fact, I was so go-go that I didn't even have the spare time to write this post, which I'm currently writing from my bedroom back home in Sidney, Maine, USA.

Night 1 - End of Year BBQ and Night on the Town

To see as many of my friends as possible, I had a BBQ at my Kampsax Kitchen and then bounced over to Campus Village for an hour or two to visit a BBQ that was happening there. Lots of good food and friends is always a recipe for success.

Football is a must on such a beautiful day.

Fire is also a must on such a beautiful day.

Enjoying some great "end of Bryan's semester cake"
Thanks to my Polish friend Magda for that  

Despite having plans to stay at DTU for the night, I was convinced to go into Copenhagen for the night by my international friends. We had a great night, spending almost all of it at Kulor Bar, a bar that's really popular among international students. Plus, if you get in between 10pm and 11pm, there is no cover charge. Saving money is always a plus.

Night 2 - Distortion Festival in Copenhagen

This is a MUST if you like electronic music. As mentioned in my previous posts, Distortion is a 4 day street festival where DJs from Denmark and all over the world come to play in the streets of Copenhagen. There's dancing, food, drinks and LOTS of people. What a great time. You don't have to pay for entrance to the festival, but obviously for any food or drink you want.

A packed square in front of one particular DJ

More dancing and people

Some of my best international friends

That grey object is actually a urinal that goes
right into the gutter, cool right?

A DJ setting up for a show by himself late at night

And here's a video to wrap it all up. I'm going to try and do a few posts on reverse culture shock in the USA, so stay tuned for that. However at this point, there is nothing I can say to those students reading other than YOU NEED TO STUDY ABROAD. It's a life changing experience, don't be scared to go out and experience it. The logistics will work themselves out if you're willing to try. Believe me, the life long memories and friends are well worth it. 

Thanks for reading thus far, please tell your friends about me. As always, feel free to e-mail me at if you have any questions, need any advice, or need some help setting up a study abroad experience. Cheers.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Don't Be That Sucker Who Says "Goodbye"

So I’ve got a secret to tell you. 
Ok come closer…are you listening?

The happiest and easiest goodbyes are the ones that never happen. Don’t ever say goodbye to someone that you truly care about. Doing that would just be silly.

Now I know some of you read that and thought, “Wait, so just leave? Don’t say goodbye? That’s a terrible idea!” That’s not what I’m saying. You will truly enhance your relationships and ultimately happiness in life by forcing yourself to never truly say goodbye to those you care about. Invest in those relationships that matter to you by creating a sincere “see you in the future” instead of a "goodbye".

To the close friends I’ve made during my semester abroad, I've commanded them to visit the USA and get in touch with me if they set foot anywhere in the Northeastern USA, whether it be in the next year or 10 years. I want to see them again, and I won't take no for an answer.

You can’t just say these things to your close friends willy-nilly though, you have to mean it and show that you mean it. I left a letter with my Kampsax Kitchen, listing all my USA contact information and addresses, so that they literally could find me or get in touch if ever travelling in the USA. They will have that in writing for as long as they keep track of it (or avoid spilling beer on it), and putting the effort into a letter helps shows you mean business and don't want to lose contact with them. Get everybody on Facebook, and write to them that way if you too. There are plenty of ways to pack a punch in your message, writing can help.

As for an example of sincere follow-up, my two Danish friends Mikkel and Alex are visiting me at RPI this October! Only 4 months away! How cool is that?? I’ll tell you that knowing this made a true “see you later” situation at the airport and avoided a sad and depressing “goodbye” situation.

I also do have real intentions of visiting other parts of Europe (ok, and the rest of the world) in the next 5 years. I told my close friends that when I’m in their country (because it will happen), I will have to see them. You care about these people, don’t be afraid to tell them you need to see them again. I 100% would love to see every single one of my close friends every day possible.

So here I am – sitting on the plane home and smiling about every single person I miss, because I know I have created a situation where I may very likely see them in the future. At the very least, I will be able to keep in touch with them on a normal basis via Facebook.

Take control of your future and the relationships you treasure. Don't ever say "goodbye" unless you really mean it.

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Great Free Afternoon in Copenhagen

Making the most of one of my last days in the great city of Copenhagen, my friend Mikkel and I ventured into Copenhagen to see Rosenborg Castle and the nearby botanical gardens. It's a great afternoon if you don't feel like spending any money, and an especially nice afternoon if the weather is sunny.

It's free to walk around the beautiful lawns surrounding Rosenborg Castle, as well as the botanical gardens. Price ranges vary if you want to go inside the castle and look around. An adult ticket is 80dkk ($15), a student ticket is 50dkk ($11), and anybody under 17 can visit for free. For more information on hours and pricing on the inside of the castle, be sure to check out:

The site also has some great history you can read up on.

Outside of the green house, botanical gardens

The botanical gardens are only about 5 minutes walk from Rosenborg Castle and you can see these for free, inside and out. Fair warning though, the inside gets extremely hot and humid (as one might expect in a green house), so bring drinking water!

All in all, I spent about 2 hours between these two attractions and could have easily spent more. I recommend bringing a blanket and sitting out on the grass somewhere, it's wonderful in the summer. Bring a snack and a beer or two if you'd like, keeping in mind that drinking in public is legal in Denmark, but being too intoxicated is not. As always, don't get too crazy.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Warning: Swan Attacks Do Happen

Yes, I was attacked by a swan and it was terrifying.

You have permission to take away my man-card for the time being. I still can't believe this happened.

These past two days I went on a canoeing trip with Alex and Mikkel. We rented a canoe from a location only 5-6km from DTU's campus. You can check out the website here:

We canoed for about 4 hours to get our campsite. Feeling ambitious, we decided to continue on to the next campsite a few kilometers down. That's when we reached "swan lake", where a ballet of terrified campers and a large testosterone filled swan played out.

We were canoeing through this lake, Mikkel paddling up front, Alex sitting in the middle and I paddling in the back of the canoe. I couldn't help but notice that in the far corner of the lake there was a mother swan and some cygnets (baby swans). However, these birds were 30-50 meters away, which we knew to be more than a safe enough distance from our trips past swans we had seen previously on the trip and had no problems with.

That's when I saw him. The large male swan was 20 meters behind us navigating through some weeds, in a somewhat hurried manner. "Hmmmm", I thought to myself. We were close to being between this father and his cygnets, not an ideal position for us. However, we were quickly moving out of the way.

I make a comment, slightly concerned, "Hey Mikkel, check it out. This swan is kinda moving along towards us."

Mikkels responds with a wise crack, "Yeah man, he's totally optimizing his path."

I laugh it off and turn towards the front, continuing to paddle along, pushing thoughts of violent swans to the back off my head.

Then I heard it - the cry of a wild bird going to attack. I turn around to see the swan, 2 meter wingspan spread, flying full speed barely above the water towards the boat. Two words slip out of my mouth, "Aw, $%!#...".

Truly terrified, every violent video game I've ever played starts running through my head. I turn and stand up the canoe, paddle in hand, just waiting for the voice of mortal combat to yell "BEGIN", signifying the start of our primal battle royal. Honestly, I had zero idea how to fight an angry swan. My only thoughts were swing for the fences.

As the bird swoops in to the right of the canoe, I turn to face it, immediately losing balance and causing the whole canoe to become capsized.

Great. Now we're in the water with an angry swan. That's ideal fighting conditions.

After initial recovery from the tip, we all swim towards the shore, keeping the boat and a paddle between us and the swan, who was circling around us like a shark moving in for the kill.

After a few minutes of pure adrenaline, we make it safely to shore, only to find that almost 100% of our equipment is soaked and that all the locals know this swan is overly aggressive and territorial of the lake.

Would have been nice to know before hand, right?

Mikkel and a helpful neighbor went out to pick up the few things we lost in the tip over. The swan followed them all the way around on their trip, occasionally flapping up to the boat or making other violent gestures. Even when we were all on shore, the swan stayed right next to us, blowing itself up and doing other things to look "tough". It even went as far as biting our aluminum canoe. Smart bird. However, threatening it with a paddle or tossing some water on it kept it a distance. The bird was all show.

The rest of the camping trip was crazy, but fun. To summarize, we had to make our way to the nearest campsite, dry all of our stuff over an open fire, boil some water to drink, and make ourselves some food. I think our adrenaline was still raging, because we did all of this extremely fast. What a crazy trip, but a great laugh looking back. I can't say I've ever of anyone being truly attacked by a swan.

I got some footage of this crazy bird. Expect a video when I have some free time.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Must-Reads While Studying Abroad

I'm a bit embarrassed to say that the last time I had a reading experience on my own account (not counting textbooks) was when I read a few of Harry Potter series books at age 13. However, being abroad has given me the right amount of space and relaxed time to pick up a few really spectacular books. Not only are these books spectacular read from any location, but they have a 100% direct application into the international exchange student's life while abroad. Don't believe me? Keep reading.

Recommended Book #1 - 
The 4-Hour Workweek, Escape 9-5, Live anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferriss
I'm sure just mentioning the name of this book made many of you aspiring entrepreneurs sit up on the edge of your seat. This book is perfect for international exchange students, because going abroad can make many students say, "Hey, this is really awesome. I want to travel more and experience more great places.", at least it did for me. This great read promotes "ideal lifestyle design", a process that Tim Ferriss meticulously describes step by step so that anyone could follow. A student and follower of these practices can (according to Ferriss) avoid the dreaded nine to five workweek and pursue a mobile lifestyle, a life anywhere and everywhere on the planet, making enough money to live an excellent life and have "mini-retirements", such as a year in a foreign country pursuing a personal hobby. He describes the "New Rich", a group of people who measure their wealth in not just savings, but time, happiness and the ability to pursue personal life goals. Even if you don't buy into the whole lifestyle design process, he gives some really excellent advice on how to be more effective and efficient in your day to day life, so that you have more time to do what you want. If this book changes your mentality on life half as much as it has mine, you'll also never view life in the same way.

Recommended Book #2 - 
Body Language, How to read others' thoughts by their gestures by Allan Pease
(or any general body language book)
Unless you're fluent in 7 languages or more, chances are very high that you will run into a verbal communication barrier with other international students you meet. This can really make it hard to read your new friends' emotions or thoughts in the same way you would with a friend native in your own language, sometimes very much taking away from the level of friendship you can reach with one another. This book offers the reader a great number of basic body language tips and tricks, allowing you to read anyone's thoughts and emotions (even those you speak a native language with) five to ten times better than you could before. My only regret with this book is that I didn't pick it up before I came abroad, because I believe it would have made a lot of interactions go much smoother. The crazy thing about body language is that people pick up on it and are affected by it subconsciously. So if you can understand how others body language makes you feel and react, you can in turn use your body language effectively to portray the appropriate messages to others, making them feel certain ways's quite empowering. They may not realize that it's you're excellent body language that is making them feel comfortable talking with you, but the fact is that they are feeling more comfortable talking with you. Easier to pick up the book and find out for yourself how this works. As mentioned above, I strongly recommend this prior to going abroad, but of course it's of benefit at any time really.

Recommended Book #3 - 
Xenophobe's Guide to the Danes by Helen Dyrbye, Steven Harris, and Thomas Golzen
Last but certainly not least, this quick read does an excellent job of summarizes Danish culture in a comedic and extremely accurate way (even my Danish friends chuckle at this one and say, "yeah...that's about right"). This book is a part of the Xenophobe's Guides series, claiming to take an, "irreverent look at the beliefs and foibles of nations, almost guaranteed to cure Xenophobia". Xenophobia is defined as, "an irrational fear of foreigners, probably justified, always understandable". In my opinion, this book is best read during the semester, so that you can see the great cultural references this book shares in such a hilarious way. This book owns such great phrases as, "What oil is to Texas, beer is to Denmark" and many other mostly hilarious, but always true phrases. If you enjoy this one, there are a lot of other cultures in the series. More can be found at: