GoAbroad Interview: Julia Wheeler of Danish Institute for Study Abroad

Julia Wheeler

Danish Institute for Study Abroad

Today, GoAbroad interviews Julia Wheeler, Assistant Director of Institutional Relations for Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS).

While DIS is recognized as a quality study abroad program and a leader in study abroad, you are located in a country that is not on the top of most students’ destination list. Why should a student go to Denmark?

Denmark serves as a wonderful case study for students abroad, because it is different enough from home to be deeply fascinating, but similar enough to be relevant for future studies and careers. It is a safe country where almost everyone speaks English fluently, and the Danes have much to offer in academia, the arts, research, design, and human services. They are the happiest people in the world, pay the highest taxes, get paid by the government to go to college; and at the same time they struggle with the same issues we face in the USA: immigration and national identity, holding their place in the global economy, dealing with an aging population and prioritizing health care, training increasingly diverse schoolchildren for an ever-flattening world, maintaining efficient and sustainable cities that support community, and continuing economic growth while maintaining environmental responsibility.

Are all classes in English?

Yes – all classes are in English except Danish Language, which is taken as an elective by 70% of DIS students.

Aside from classes with local students what other opportunities exist to enhance a student’s cultural immersion?

DIS students live with Danish roommates, in host families, or in student residence halls with Danes – and much cultural immersion happens here, precisely because we do not place all our students together but instead spread them out across the city to live among Danes.  In addition, each semester begins with an “Immerse Yourself” fair where students learn about the dozens of opportunities to engage in the community through volunteering, having a Danish Buddy, joining a sports team or special interest club, or being a DIS Ambassador and visiting local schools as a group to talk with Danish students about issues facing young people today.

Are classes in Denmark more difficult than US classes?

Students should expect to work hard, and each semester’s student evaluations include sentiments such as “it was harder than a study abroad program is supposed to be.” In fact, we believe that studying can deepen the student experience rather than detract from it, and DIS is set up to maximize student learning and experiential/intercultural growth. Students are expected to do a great deal of reading, writing and critical analysis within their disciplines, but we also give them two weeks off in the middle of each semester for their own endeavors.  Classes are differently challenging; the classroom environment and expectations are not the same as at home. DIS faculty are experts who work in their field and teach on the side, bringing priceless real-time expertise and experience into the classroom, and taking students out of the classroom and into their professional worlds through weekly field studies throughout the semester or summer.  We aim to ask a lot of our students but give them even more in return.

Julia Wheeler

Julia Wheeler of the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS)

You have a furniture design course, what other unique programs do you offer?

Our Architecture and Design programs are incredibly unique, including studios in Architecture, Interior Design, Urban Design, Textile Design, Information Design, and Pre-Architecture for students with less studio experience.  Pre-med students have a one-of-a-kind experience in Medical Practice and Policy, which is taught by top physicians with classes held in Copenhagen’s teaching hospitals, including access to practice labs and real patient cases.  Our Public Health program introduces students to Europe’s health care systems, including Denmark’s welfare state that offers free health care to all citizens – and contrasts it with the US model including the pros and cons of each system. Psychology students can learn about and critically examine ‘the happy Danes’ in Positive Psychology, a new discipline that seeks to understand and treat with a focus on positive emotions rather than addressing only abnormalities as the field of psychology has done for centuries.  Our new Sustainability program shows students how environmental policy can work with economic policy to push us into new technologies and cultural shifts, learning from the country that invented modern systems for recycling and wind energy.

What is the one thing that US students don’t know about Denmark that they should know?

Danes won’t cross the street if the sign says “don’t walk”.  They leave their babies in strollers outside shops or cafés while they go in to shop or meet friends.  The Danes have twelve political parties, but they eat the same thing for lunch every day. Danish children climb tall trees, play with matches and use sharp knives. Design is everywhere – the bike racks, door handles and toilet knobs are well crafted and simplistic.

Our alumni are constantly telling us “you should tell students how amazing Copenhagen is!” and because most Americans don’t know much about Denmark, it’s a challenge for us to promote. It’s really a fascinating place. Come find out!

Is Denmark gay friendly?

Denmark was the first country in the world to recognize same-sex unions in 1989, and GLBT rights are extensive.  The Danish people overwhelmingly support gay marriage, and the city of Copenhagen has an active GLBT community, where DIS students play an active role every semester.

Your offices are located at the University of Minnesota, what is the relationship between DIS and the U of M?

The University of Minnesota (UofM) is DIS’ school of record, and our North American Office resides within their Learning Abroad Center.  The UofM is a key stakeholder, as are our other partner universities across the USA, in DIS program and curriculum development.  As our school of record, UofM sends a team of faculty and staff to DIS every three years to conduct an extensive review and ensure that we’re maintaining the highest standards of academic and extra-curricular student learning and development.  We hold in great esteem the national reputation of our Learning Abroad Center colleagues, and enjoy frequent collaboration at all levels, including outreach, best practices, and staff development.

What kind of student is the ideal DIS student?

The ideal DIS student is intellectually curious, self-motivated, open-minded, ready to do serious academic work and interested in engaging with people.  All courses are upper-level, and our faculty, in the European academic tradition, love to debate with students and be challenged. Most DIS students seek to deepen their major, as well as broaden their horizons.

You can find out more about all the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS) programs at GoAbroad.com!

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