302. Orangina

IMG_3358 (480x640)It might seem a strange thing to be so high on my bucket list, but I really wanted to try Orangina! All it is is orange juice with a bit of fizz, but in French classes at school we sung this song so many times over and over that I can still to this day remember every word. The song was to help us remember verbs like thirsty, hungry, and nouns like coffee, juice etc. And Orangina appeared many times!

So I got to try this mystical, magical drink at long last, and all the while had “Moi, j’ai soif, je voudrais un Orangine, moi j’ai soif je voudrais un cafe…”  in my head.


85. Sibelius Park

Sibelius Park is named after Finish Composer Johan Sibelius. I was particularly interested by this spot as the minute I read about it I was flooded with memories of my Year 11 music class. There were only 5 of us in the class, and all of us had been learning musical instruments since we were very young, so the school curriculum was a bit of a joke. The teacher knew it too. He’d swan in halfway through class with a Latte permanently attached to his hand, have a chat, make sure we were having fun and otherwise leave us to our own devices. It was part gossip session, part having a little jam and playing the odd song and part Facebooking. Actually back then I think it was Bebo, but close enough. Suited us just fine and a month before the Dean needed internal exam results from him, our teacher he gave us our final deadline warning and we whipped out a year’s worth of internal assignments. Some of them were composing assignments and we used a computer program called Sibelius (and a frustratingly slow version at that), so the walk there was full of fond memories music ‘classes’ – i.e. scheduled social time with my friends and a bit of music on the side!

Sibelius park is famous for a large sculpture that sings magnificently in the wind, and it was a reasonable (though lovely) walk from the city centre. Unfortunately, the one time I would have appreciated some wind there wasn’t any, but it was still a nice spot to see. There was also a tonne of snow to frolic around in too!

47. Join an awesome study group

As already described in my initial impression of the Danish University style, collaboration is key, as our presentations. For one of my papers, Integrated Marketing Communication, throughout the semester we have to do a ‘voluntary’ group presentation. While the notion of doing an assignment for no credit is somewhat foreign to me, most of my exams are oral presentations to a panel of examiners, so it is pretty good practise. Particularly with the Danish style being so different. I actually kind of like the idea – it is much better training for the real world than cramming for two days before a multichoice exam.

The other key difference is that most students have all progressed through semesters/classes together, so already know eachother and are often already in study groups where they have worked on numerous projects.

In one of our earliest IMC lessons, the lecturer asked if the international students who were new to the class would like to be a group together or to split up and join groups with the Danish students. I jumped at the chance to work with students who a) already knew how the system worked and how to get good grades and b) were actual Danes! It was surprisingly difficult to meet Danes initially, with such a huge group of international students exploring Aarhus together.

In response, the lecturer had all the International students stand up and asked the Danish students to pick which ones of us they wanted! Only slightly awkward. I put on my best ‘I’m not an idiot, I swear!’ smile, which seems to have worked a treat.

I really hoped my study group meetings would be exactly like episodes of Community, but sadly my study group are all normal, really nice, and very welcoming. Actually that is probably a good thing, they never seem to get ANY work done on Community…

To compensate for the lack of Troy and Abed in the morning, the baking roster is having an excellent impact on productivity – especially as a certain study group member seems to be an avid fan of Epic Meal Time. In our most recent meeting, he whipped out a gigantic Mississipi Mud Cake, complete with melted marshmallows and mousse to got on top. And supposedly the unique combination of ingredients all cancelled out the calories, so that was a bonus. Pressure is certainly on when it is my turn to bake!

Epic Study Time

24. Laer Dansk (Learn Danish)

I cannot count the amount of times since I have been here that someone has told me Danish is one of the hardest languages in the world to learn. There are extra letters all over the show and the pronunciation is absolutely nothing like how you would expect it to be. Despite everyone here being fluent in Englihs, I have really been looking forward to starting lessons. Not only are a lot of words sinking after just a few weeks, but I really don’t like not understanding what is going on around me, or being able to read menus and signs in shops.

It is also really awkward when someone approaches you speaking in Danish. I always feel bad when I have to say ‘Sorry I don’t speak Danish’. And yet they usually apologise when they switch to English! The exception of course,is people who are trying to sell you something or sign you up for a charity. In that case, I have found that the key to success is to start talking in a third language. A very fast ‘Ah non je suis desolee, je ne comprend pas!’ usually gets them out of the way pretty quickly. I will no doubt regret that the day I get stopped by a French speaking Oxfam salesperson, but until then it seems to be the fastest way to get rid of them!

What I didn’t realise about learning Danish is what they actually must have meant – it is the hardest language to begin to take lessons in.

Here I was thinking it was all going to be handed to me one a silver platter, or more accurately, a straight forward transaction where I sign up for the class, get the confirmation email with time, date and location and I’m good to go. The first few parts worked out, but when I arrived at the school and checked in at reception things didn’t quite work out that way.

It was pretty much exactly like this:

*I think the introduction was meant to say the Danes, rather than the British

Apparently my registration hadn’t been entered into the system correctly, and the receptionist couldn’t work out what classroom I ought to be in. So her answer to everything was simply ‘No’:

Harriet: Can you tell me what room I am meant to be in?

Dopey Receptionist: No. You are not in the system.

Harriet: Well I signed up a week ago and the confirmation email said I start in the class at 6:30 tonight. Do you know what room the beginner class at 6:30pm is?

Dopey Receptionist: No.

Harriet: Is there someone you can ask?

Dopey Receptionist: No.

Harriet: Can I sign up now then? If I’m not in my allocated class there should be a spare seat…

Dopey Receptionist: No. Someone will email you with a room number.

Harriet: Are you telling me I have to just turn around and go home and wait for an email?

Dopey Receptionist: Yes.

Harriet: Are you serious? There is nothing you can do to find out what room I am meant to be in?

Dopey Receptionist: No. Someone will email.

It was beyond ridiculous. There I was, nice and early, ready for my class and the ridiculous barrier to entry was the receptionist not knowing what room I was meant to be in because there was no page in the handbook telling her how to deal with that situation. I know the place is government funded, but at least take the initiative to go ask your supervisor a question. Maybe it wasn’t so much her fault and the place was entirely reliant on that computer system, or the poor woman wasn’t empowered to make decisions in her job, but it was bewildering to think that bureaucracy overruled logic and they couldn’t just squeeze me in to the class I was meant to be in because of their error. Even if it was the wrong one, its not like the bloody place was going to be a mosh pit, I could have sat in the back of the room!

I made it home, rather annoyed that I had gone all the way in to town just to turn around and go back home, especially knowing that the classes start once a month so I may have to wait a month to join the next one.

After a week I still hadn’t received an email about my class. I was about to ring up and enquire, when I checked my emails and there was one from the coordinator at Laer Dansk. However, to my great surprise, it was a group email to all of the exchange students promoting a gig from some local band. From his work email. This isn’t the first time I have encountered someone who is too busy promoting his buddy’s shitty garage band and thinking he is the next Simon Cowell to actually do his job, so it annoyed me even more. Suffice to say he received a rather tersely worded reply with just the right amount of guilt tripping.

With that the issue was resolved and I was put in to a class the next Monday. When I got there the teacher knew exactly who I was, so I guess there had finally been some internal communication in the place. Unfortunately everyone else was two 3hour lessons ahead, so I had to work twice as hard to catch up. Which the teacher conveniently kept forgetting.

Luckily I wasn’t too shy to stick my hand up and say ‘Sorry, I have no idea what you are talking about.’ If it had been my fault that I missed class I would feel bad about holding everyone up, but I was so frustrated about being behind and it being their fault, that the least they could do was make a bit of an effort to help me out!

Halfway through the lesson I was feeling like I had caught up somewhat, but it certainly wasn’t a fine display of Scandinavian efficiency. With one book full of conversations/sentences, a second book with the translations and a third book with pronunciation, it was enough of a puzzle flicking through the pages and trying to match them up before she sped on to the next module, but by the end of the lesson I felt like I was catching on. We covered a huge amount of material and then there was homework to do, so the name of the program – ‘Intensivst Dansk’ – certainly was no lie!

It definitely makes it a whole lot easier being surrounded by Danish speakers, reading Danish shop signs etc. Immersion theory and all that. I have already found myself getting a lot more used to Danish words and their pronunciation in particular. Hearing the place names being called out on the buses has been incredibly useful for that too. In fact, before my first class I was already having full conversations in Danish! For example:

Harriet: Hej (Hi, pronounced ‘hi’ also)

Shopkeeper: Hej

[Shopkeeper scans items]

Shopkeeper: [says something Danish]

[Screen says price]

[Harriet hands over cash]

Harriet: Tak! [Thanks in Danish, pronounced as you’d expect, for once]

Success! I bet she didn’t even know I wasn’t Danish!

15. University, Danish style

Today was my first day of classes, and also happened to consist of half of my classes for the week. Working out our timetables has been enough of a mission – you don’t have set times each week, they are completely variable. What was 8am Monday one week maybe 3pm Thursday the next. The University leaves it up to you to find out if your timetable clashes and then you have to change your courses. Too bad if you are in your final semester and you need your papers to graduate! I have come out with Tuesday and Friday off, which makes up for 8am-9pm in class on a Monday. Hello long weekends gallivanting around Europe!

In my mega day of classes I have noticed a number of things that are very different to my previous experiences in NZ.

First of all, if you remember everything taught in class you can have a high five but it won’t get you an A (or a 12). The Danish style, and potentially that of many other European Universities, is to discuss theories in class, then outside of class you are expected to do a great deal of extra reading/research to enable you to critically discuss the theories and apply the processes to cases. This isn’t completely foreign in a Bachelor’s degree at Otago, but most of my classes thus far have focussed on memorising information (which you will most likely forget again soon after). The exams for my papers as yet are either open book or an oral exam/presentation solving a case study.

Second, the marking scale isn’t linear. The average grade is a 6 or 7 (a C+/B+) across the entire school of business, but one lecturer explained that most students would be really happy with a 4, which is about a C-. Betwenn 8 and 12 is an A- to A+ and almost no-one gets a 12. It is almost like an A+++. There is also a complex scaling system which limits everyone’s ability to do well, so most people just pass and are happy with that.

Third, socialism reigns supreme at this University. One of my classes apparently usually has 70 students in it, but this semester only has 5 exchange students. Supposedly the reason is that last semester the exam was really hard and many of the students failed (there were some mathematical calculations that the poor marketing students weren’t expecting) so this semester the Student Union organised a boycott of the paper. So apart from those of us from foreign countries who had no idea what was going on, there wasn’t a single Danish student there. The Danes are really big on their unions and associations here so even if you needed that paper to graduate, if Union says no…

On that point, one class has an optional presentation which “in theory should be worth 10% of your grade but if you guys don’t want to do it we don’t have to.” Our lecturer explained that in the Danish system “nothing is compulsory” (which seems to make sense to me, you don’t have to go to any exam at Otago, but you won’t pass either. Perhaps passing your papers is less important when you don’t pay tuition fees). He then said that if we all collectively decided we didn’t want to do the presentation we wouldn’t do it, but he strongly urged us to do it and further incentivised our commitment by deciding on the spot he would promise to give us the full 10% just for giving it a go. I wonder if that had anything to do with 1/4 of the lectures being taken up listening to presentations, so if we didn’t do them his work load would increase… Whatever we decide, we have to somehow all come to the same resolution. A classroom dictatorship would be so much easier. (I think they actually call that the lecturer deciding how to examine the students, but I could be wrong).

Fourth, most lecturers don’t speak english as a first language (as with most students in the class) which makes for an ideal speed to keep up with taking your notes.

Fifth, there is this strange concept called the ‘academic quarter.’ I am not too sure why it isn’t just ‘your class starts at quarter past on the dot so be ready to go,’ but supposedly the concept is that although your timetable says 10am, class won’t begin until 10:15, which is meant to allow time for discussion with the lecturers. In reality, it means you sit and wait for 15 minutes while the students who know the system slowly creep in. Most of the ‘2 hour’ classes also have 15 minute breaks, so realistically it is more like 1.5 hours.

Sixth, spell checking just got a whole lot easier, as they use american spelling here which is much more Microsoft Word friendly!

Finally, lecturers really seem to go out of their way to entertain. Again, this isn’t so new as a number of lecturers at Otago showed short video clips or played songs, but it seems to go a little bit further than a 3 minute clip of something semi-relevant to the course materials. In my Organisational Communication (or should I say OrganiZational Communication)  paper we watched the first 15 minutes of ‘A Bug’s Life’ and analysed the Lyrics of ‘Circus’ by Britney Spears. The first to illustrate the development of processes and systems in large societies and organisations, the second to represent dealing with difficult people in the workplace.

Day one was an enlightening experience all round!