My exchange in University of Southern Denmark (SDU, Odense) is over but still I felt like writing a bit more. Mainly because I made a list of topics I wanted to write about but never ended up writing. Moreover I am aiming for this blog to cover the topics of exchange report. Additionally as an eternal analyzer I consider this to be a good way to keep on processing.
It is clear that I didn't choose to do an exchange semester just to study. By the time it jumped into a plane in Helsinki-Vantaa I had studied already for five years. I was tired of the stress of deadlines and continuous mentality of performing. I wanted a different kind of autumn and that is what I got. I think that I was planing to study less that I eventually did. However I think I did the studying in quite a relaxed way. I didn't make an optimized plan of the course content - it wouldn't even have been wise because that plan always changes an my plan was no exception. I ended up taking one course from the original plan and choosing courses that sounded interesting and promising to bring more perspective to my way of thinking.
I had heard that compared to Finland, studying in Denmark was a lot more interactive and what I was for some reasons expecting was something close to Harvard like really having to show your skills in the classes continuously as if there wouldn't be any other way for the teacher to notice your skills. Moreover I had heard that it would be better to repeat what the concepts taught just to show that I get them. It was not like that in Denmark.
Most of the lectures were just like the ones in Finland, teacher speaking to himself and in rare cases the most motivated students commenting. However many lecturers had included some short conversation assignments to their lectures. Just when I had immersed myself into a comfortable coma I was forced to talk and apply the information taught. It was a throw to the uncomfortable zone, especially conversations with strangers but that definitely made me learn more and turned me into more active mood of learning thinking of the lecture to continue. We have those exercises in Aalto university too depending an courses but from my experience we should have them more regularly. I think also that getting used to interactivity takes its time because I can clearly recognize myself from previous lecture exercises thinking that I don't want, I don't feel motivated and this is stupid. It is weird why you have to take yourself slightly farther to realize simple things.
A couple of words about SDU. It has seven campuses around southern Denmark the largest one being in Odense. In the campus of Odense there are over 15,000 students studying engineering, health sciences, natural sciences and social sciences and humanities. I was studying both bachelor and master courses of chemical engineering. In the faculty of engineering a new way of teaching has been launched recently with help of companies. The aim for the university is in this way to produce graduates having optimized skills for the working life. What the companies found important was to teach the students how to work in groups and thus every course I took required group work.
Group work is not the most comfortable way of working but in my opinion it teaches a lot. Not only about the topic studied but social skills and in the case of an exchange about different cultures. In addition to that your professional network might grow. Avoiding group work is somewhat possible in some of the programmes in Finnish universities and I've done it too. But now I realized how stupid it is because we end up working in teams anyway. Group works in my exchange studies were pushes to the uncomfortable zone. I have to admit that the stress curve was very high at the time we started working on the projects. However I ended up working with awesome people. We had regular meetings but also individual work was included. In my experience especially the group meetings were a clear difference to Finland. We don't do that. We just divide to work and meet perhaps once if there is no other choice to prepare a presentation for example. I think that we are missing something useful there, we could actually learn from each other. I think that what those conversations teach is worth crossing the line of comfortability. Despite of that group work always enables some free riding which could in principle in the case of SDU result in people to graduate with very bad skills. Additionally it brings stress and more burden on those people that actually put a lot of effort to the project. Another thing I realized: "If you free ride in a group work you eventually hurt only yourself." Simple thing that teachers had been repeating from year to year but I had to go to Denmark to realize that. How retarded am I? :D It is so so true! The more you work the more you learn and it will help you in the future.
Anxiety with endless calculations without a desired result. That project taught a lot to us about how the perfect numbers as an end result was not the goal but to getting the concept. I really don't miss working on that project and going to the exam with no results of our own.
Another big scare difference between studying last autumn in Denmark and not in Finland was taking the exams because they were ORAL. Not comfortable, not nice, a nightmare. Now when I think about it it was not that bad. I had heard some horror stories about students crying and puking there. On the other hand some danish guys had told me how they like them. "Just go in, be awesome and go out". Or how teachers can help you by asking questions to help you find a way to answer or give a hint that you're about to make a mistake. I was terribly nervous before my exams and I have to admit that erasmus-type of styding was not an asset. However I was able to "refine" my thoughts in most of the cases while having conversations with the examiners which surprised me because I am an introvert thinker. What I found hard was the advice not to admit it if you don't know. The idea is there to start talking about something related to that and possibly arrive to a satisfying conclusion. Optionally I was adviced to ask if we could come to that topic later. I understand that it is better to show the process how you think instead of not answering at all but it really gets awkward if you don't have a clue. Additionally I don't like lying and when I lie I think that it can be seen from my face. Among good experiences I experienced a total black out after a long night of studying and awkward moments showing that I really had no idea what calculation model we used simulation biodiesel production process and neither I was able to explain why the sized of our distillation columns were ridiculous. But that's life and definitely I feel that I evolved in expressing myself orally. Which I expect that the Danes are more or less masters at because of the continuous practice on that field. I find this skil very crucial.
You might wonder (or not be interested at all) how my studies eventually went there. They went ok with an average of 3/5 which is never gonna be shown anywhere. It has been one and a half month since I came back to Finland. It is clear that this semester gave me more than I expected but also I think I got the break needed, because now I am motivated with my studies here again and I think I got some influence from the danish way of studying hard and also because I feel bad about taking it easier with the studies in Denmark.
Probably in time I will write at least one post as a sum up and a thank you for the awesome people I meet. Bye!