Living with the Locals: Copenhagen

This article was written by Milly Cooksley, published on 26th November 2014 and has been read 17369 times.

Milly Cooksley studies Sociology at the University of Warwick and is on her year abroad in Copenhagen as an Erasmus student at Copenhagen University. In this piece, she tells us about her experience of living with Danes, including language barriers, food clubs and dancing on tables!

Before I came to Copenhagen I had heard many a time that finding housing was one of the most difficult things about moving to this country to study. However, I was lucky; I had a friend who lived in an independent kollegium when she had been on her year abroad the previous year. By independent, I mean that it was not part of the housing foundation halls, which are linked to Copenhagen University.

I applied to Egmont with the recommendation and help from my friend who had lived there. I found the application form on their website, which had English translations, and printed it off to fill out. Egmont functions by students living there their entire university careers - so up to five years essentially - and they furnish the rooms themselves for this period. If they go on exchange during this time, they can sublet their rooms and that is what I was applying for, to rent a furnished room from a student on exchange.

Due to the reputation of the dorm (community based, a 'party' dorm) the application process is rather competitive. And did I mention the majority of the students are Danish? The application form is quite detailed and asks questions to find out about your personality and whether you will be suitable for the dorm, to ensure its unique traditions are upheld. For example, I had to answer a question asking what I, personally, could bring to the dorm, and how I would act to comply with the traditions and rules. I noted things such as my eagerness to get involved with Danish culture, that I was the event's organiser of my lifesaving club at my home university and I made sure to note that I was not adverse to the odd drink every now and again!

I was thankfully successful in my application. I remember clearly getting the confirmation email, because I had been waiting and hoping and getting slightly stressed for a good few months! I was on a packed bus and squealed with delight, which definitely earned me a few strange looks and a jealous sniff from a friend who wasn't embarking on Erasmus. Not only did I have a place to live confirmed before everyone else, but I managed to avoid to car-crash system that is the housing foundation. Most importantly however, I was going to live with a group of Danish students - not many exchange students can boast of a similar experience.

So, moving on to actually living here in Egmont; 'an experience' is an understatement! I have been here for three months and have already made the best memories and have some ridiculous stories because of living in this kollegium. I am very much in an 'I love living here' mindset, but please don't think that it has been easy! Despite Danes speaking great English, they are shy, and comfortable in the kitchen because they've been living there for so long. Therefore, it did take a while to get properly settled into the kitchen; not only is it hard being the new girl, but the new girl who doesn't speak Danish is a whole other kettle of fish. At first I didn't particularly enjoy spending a lot of time in the kitchen because I did feel so self-conscious and left out, but the Danes aren't being rude when they continue to speak Danish (at least I hope they aren't) but they need to get used to having an international student again, and they do just forget.

There was one occasion I was out shopping with a housemate, she hung up the phone to a friend then turned to me and just spoke in Danish. We both looked very confused and burst into laughter. An example of how it is not necessarily rude behaviour, it's just their first language!

A party on the third day of moving in broke the ice and helped hugely - we had a joint dinner and then a few drinks, there was lots of dancing on tables and drinking games, and I had a really good time. Since then, things have only really improved in terms of the language thing. A lot of the time, effort is made to speak English, I have become more confident in asking for them to speak english and there have been a few occasions where I have been so tired, that I am happy for everyone to chat in Danish and for me to be able to do my own thing!

We have a food club, where one person cooks for everyone, and we each cook the meal once a month. This is the time I struggle most with the language barrier because everyone gets carried away speaking in Danish. However, a couple of times one of my housemates has reminded everyone to speak in English which I found really kind and was very appreciative.

In terms of the traditions, we have loads of little quirks in the kitchen that make it very unique. For example, when the food is ready at a food club, we have a plate in the hall which is spun. it makes such a noise that everyone hears and knows the food is ready, so head to the kitchen. Birthday breakfast is also a tradition in which the neighbours of the birthday boy or girl get up really early to make breakfast for everyone, and there is a lot of Danish singing. It is definitely a good wakeup call at 7am!

It is an extremely sociable dorm which more than lives up to its party reputation. There are organised parties that are more creative than anything I have ever experienced, in terms of games played, themes and decorating; the amount of effort that goes into the parties is really admirable. The Danes do not do things by half! We have lots of parties through the semester, which can be for the entire dorm (it's a big dorm too), a single block (it is split into three, each with eight floors) or stay within our own kitchen. Every single one is unique and so much fun to be a part of. They always have a regular 'Thursday cafe' which takes place in one of the bars in Egmont. One kitchen gets to host, so they pick a theme, the music and they run the bar. These nights are great for bringing friends over, so they get to experience a little bit of what Egmont is like, because I really do not know anywhere else quite like it!

As I mentioned the bar, I will quickly run down the extensive facilities at Egmont. It has a well equipped gym, a small basketball court and a sauna (expect to end up in here during a party). Of course it has washing machines, tumble dryers, and a drying room, which I've never had to queue to get in to. It also has a huge party hall which is used for studying during the day, and a couple of other rooms with bars used for smaller parties or dinners. It has a small vintage/second hand shop which is great to find a bargain or fancy dress, and a bike repair area. Lastly, the basement is always full of leftover furniture, so if you fancy a new chair, or lamp, have a look in the basement before you rush to IKEA to buy a new one!

Alongside some of the best people I have met in Denmark, I can understand why you often hear the phrase 'I don't really need to leave' being mentioned at Egmont. It has everything you need, and even if you do it is in Nørrebro, one of the best districts in Copenhagen (not that I am biased). It has been a challenge but I am ridiculously happy that I am lucky enough to experience my year abroad in such an authentically Danish way.

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