When this article is written, I have been living in Denmark for 1.5 year and now I am studying Master’s in Corporate Communication at Aarhus University, Denmark. When people knew that I moved to Denmark, both my friends in Indonesia and new friends that I met here in Denmark were quite surprised as to why I chose to live or to study in Denmark. I meant, I think we are all know, that the most attractive study destinations for foreign students are usually the English speaking countries like England, United States, Australia, and Singapore. Otherwise, for Indonesian students if they want to study to a non-English speaking country, many of them would choose Germany, Netherlands, or Japan.
So why is it Denmark then? Denmark is a small country situated in northern Europe with approximately 5 million populations, doesn’t sound very international, and seems like cold (because it is in the north). Below I will mention you some of the things that I hope would intrigue your mind and probably are appealing enough for you to consider moving here.
1. Free healthcare for all residents
When I applied for my student visa in Indonesia, I did not need to take care about insurance matter at all (but not for tourist visa applicants). This is because when you are going to live in Denmark for quite a long term, which could be for studying, working, accompanying spouse, or family reunion, you will get your yellow card with CPR number (registration number for residents) that is functioned as a health card to get a free healthcare. This healthcare includes doctor consultation, surgery, X-ray, and even staying in hospital (tooth care or dentist is not included). I remember when I was in Indonesia, my family and I avoided to go to the doctor if it was just for a little health issue, like cold or headache because the doctor consultation simply would cost money, but knowing that the healthcare in Denmark is free, when I called my Mom saying that I had a headache or flu, she then said “Just go to the doctor there, it is free, right?”
However, as the saying goes, “there’s no such thing as free meals.” Indeed,why the healthcare could be free for all residents (as well as other freebies), this great welfare system are feasible due to the taxes that the government collected, such as income tax. For those with income of more than DKK 40,000 a year, the income tax averages on 40%. But for those with income less than DKK 40,000 a year, they are exempted for paying the income tax.
2. The flat hierarchy and low power distance
I remember when I was studying in Indonesia, we always addressed our lecturer with “Pak”, “Bu”, or the informal way would be at least “Mas” and “Mbak”. And I guess in many other countries, you should address your lecturer with “Professor”. Here in Denmark, you could just call your lecturer’s name directly, for instance “Michael” or “Lene”. At first it felt a bit weird, but here how it works in every situation is just simply with less hierarchy in both academic and workplace settings. The way to address people is one of the examples, the other examples include how you could talk, discuss, or even argue with them. In the class if you want to give inputs or you disagree with your lecturer, it is acceptable and they would love to hear your reasons and be opened to that.
3. Group work
In Denmark and other Scandinavian countries, group work is strongly emphasized in the educational system since elementary school until higher education. I think that when I was studying my bachelor degree in Indonesia at University of Indonesia, we also had many group works and many of them were graded. But here, even when sometimes the grade is only determined by the final exam, we still have group works and group discussions in the class. The most shocking part that I first heard about group work is that you are allowed to work in group to write your thesis (both in Bachelor and Master’s Degree), usually for maximum three students in one group; and this is really working together for the same thesis title and project, but you will just be graded individually at the end.
4. Three times exam attempts (!!!)
In many and most other countries in the world, in university level, when you have an exam then you are failed, then you are simply failed and have to wait for quite long like in the next semester/year to take a re-exam, which is sometimes you are also obliged to participate in the same class for the same subject again. While here in Denmark, the exam attempts are three times, so if you are accidentally failed or are not ready for the first attempt of the exam, you could just utilize and maximize your performance for the next attempt. Even sometimes for some students who are not ready for the exam, they will just hand in a blank paper, and then they will be automatically failed and will be registered for the re-exam. The first re-exam will usually take place in the next 2-3 months and in most cases the students are not required to attend the same class again. Denmark is really concerned about social well-being of the people while also try to be efficient at the same time.
5. The unique grading scale
The most commonly used for grading and GPA is A to E, and GPA scale of 4.0, but this doesn’t apply in Denmark. Here they have 7 scale grading system, from -3, 0, 2, 4, 7, 10, and 12. You would need to get the minimum grade of 2 in order to pass the subject and of course the maximum grade that you could have is 12, not 10. At first when I heard about this, I felt that this was very weird, because there is a minus grade (-3) and 12 is actually the maximum point. Many Danes here also have no idea why they should use this, so don’t ask me why.
6. Education is free for Danish and EU citizens
As an Indonesian, I am studying in Denmark with a scholarship, but for every Danish citizens they are entitled for a free education until Master’s degree and they will be paid or receive money from the government for studying that is around DKK 5,000 or EUR 700 per month. And for EU citizens, studying in Denmark is also free and they could receive money as well from the government, but they have to work for certain amount of hours per week to be eligible to receive this student grant from the government. This student grant is not a loan, so they don’t have to return it after they graduate. That is why there are so many European students studying in Denmark, which top-ups the quality of education’s reason, of course. For taking PhD in Denmark, PhD students = work full-time. This means, they will be paid as working full-time for the university and this applies for all nationalities.
7. Five weeks of paid leave and one year of both maternity and paternity leave
In other countries like in Asia and United States, on average, employees are entitled to get paid leave for 12-18 days per year. How about in Denmark? As written by the law, companies grant five weeks of paid leave for all full-time employees. Fortunately, many established companies add bonus by extending the paid leave to six weeks, so this means you could have a long holiday and travel as far as you want. Also for maternity leave, in Denmark and other Scandinavian countries, they are very generous in giving this as a part of their social system. Both the mother and father could take leave for the new-born baby at the same time for the first 14 weeks, then they should take turn or split for the next 32 weeks, which can be extended by another 14 weeks. And this is just for one child, so of course if they get more children, they are entitled to get other weeks of maternity and paternity leave. In this way, parents could really take care of their children and both parents and children could have a better well-being. Also, for the Danish citizens when they have children, they will get support by the government for every baby or little child they have. I guess Denmark could be one of the best countries to raise children and with everyone believes in the value of work-life balance.
8. Gender equality
In Denmark, gender equality is a very important issue and this will affect so many things. I just mentioned that father could also take paternity leave and this is one of the examples. Since childhood time, girls and boys are trained to be equal and they will have interaction each other. Girls and women are taught to maximize their potential, while boys and men are taught to know on how to treat these women. More and more companies in Denmark are promoting gender-balanced composition in senior leadership position and gender equality in the recruitment process or staffing. In Denmark, it is also normal if for instance, the wife or the girlfriend earns more salary than the husband or the boyfriend. In this condition, the men are not feeling socially or psychologically embarrassed at all. Most of the men in Denmark can cook and would be willing to cook for their partner and the whole family. They would also be willing to do cleaning and other household tasks. While for women, many of them are quite strong both physically and mentally and they are very independent. For instance, it is quite common to find women do gardening in household context and if in general there are women work in restaurant or warehouse and there are heavy boxes that need to be lifted, they could do this themselves without asking for men’s help. However, if it is something mechanical like repairing cars and something very physical like assembling cupboard, this type of works will still be done by men.
9. Great English speaking skill
When you think that in non-English speaking countries the English skill of the locals is bad, it doesn’t apply in Scandinavia. One of the most surprising things when I arrived in Denmark was that the locals speak very good English and there have never been any problems to speak in English with them. This also applies to most of the elderly. The old people in Denmark are also good in speaking English, especially those who live in a large city. However, in most of the times when the locals (strangers) communicate with me, in university, in the shops, restaurants, etc, at first they will speak in Danish, because in Denmark there are many Vietnamese who first came as refugees few decades ago; so they do this to make me feel included as a part of the society (in case I were a Vietnamese or Danish citizen in an Asian look).
10. On a side note: Tall and blonde men and women
By average, I think in Scandinavia both the men and women are generally taller than in any other countries. For men, 180 cm is not considered as tall, because there are many others whose heights are almost or more than 2 meters. And most of the locals are blonde with blue eyes. If this sounds exotic for you, then you should definitely consider moving or trying to visit here.
So these are the facts which I thought could be interesting for you to consider studying or working in Denmark. As always, shoot me an email or comment below if you have any questions.
Correction and addition: the reason why in Denmark there are free healthcare and free education is because the citizens pay a very high income tax, approximately and on average 40%. From tax, government can allocate the fund for welfare support.