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Copenhagen's Erasmus Student Network associated with binge drinking

Financially supported by the University, student network ESN promotes binge drinking at parties and events

Excessive drinking is accepted, and even promoted, by the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) in Copenhagen. This is in spite of discreet warnings by their financial backers in the International Office, growing student criticism, and a party that could have gone badly wrong.

Written responses on the University Post’s Drugs and Drink survey Drugs and Drink survey, sources who have spoken to this media, and a cursory reading of upcoming events on the Erasmus Student Network facebook, all paint a picture of an organisation that actively promotes a Nordic binge drinking culture: A culture that may be increasingly at odds with large segments of Copenhagen’s international student body.

Events hosted by ESN this semester include: A 2000-exchange student cruise on the Stockholm-Tallinn ferry with Scandinavian ESN colleagues which includes a drink-as-much-as you-want-for-free double happy hour. A Copenhagen casino night with welcoming champagne, and a toga party where draught beer and shots can be had for only DKK 10.

Last December, the University Post reported from an ESN co-organised event that could have ended in disaster: Common sense safety precautions were flouted and semi-drunken students were verbally abused by bouncers after a sudden power failure.

In the latest University Post Drugs and Drinks survey, which had no questions specifically related to ESN, an enthusiastic student points to »Erasmus parties with special prices for drinks for students, allowing people to drink more«.

Embedded in alcohol-tolerant culture

The stated purpose of ESN is to organize activities for the international students to meet each other and their mentors in an informal and fun environment. The network also organises trips, presumably non-alcohol related, to Danish folk dancing and a trip of the Danish Nordisk Film studios.

But what the fun also entails is hinted at when incoming students are welcomed by ESN representatives at orientation meetings for new international students.

»We have been told that we are not supposed to talk too much about alcohol,« said the ESN representative at an orientation event recently to murmurs of laughter from unsuspecting students. He then outlined a series of upcoming events where cheaper drinks seemed to be one of the main attractions.

The International Office supported ESN with DKK 20,000 last semester, an amount that is a regular and routine financial support for the network. It has previously discreetly warned the group that the alcohol element should not get out of hand.

»The University is not interested in supporting binge drinking,« Director of the International Office John Edelsgaard Andersen emphasises to the University Post. »And the ESN should be careful that it does not get a profile that is only oriented towards partying«.

That said, John Edelsgaard Andersen doesn’t »believe that we in the International Office should go in and stipulate that no alcohol should be allowed at ESN’s events. Remember we are embedded in an alcohol-tolerant culture,« he says.

At normal prices, only Danish students

According to the International Office, timely budgets are handed in to them by ESN, outlining what the ESN has used their money for.

No line items on this budget specify exactly what goes to alcohol-related social events, and what goes to cultural events like folk dance. But according to ESN spokeswoman Anne Saabye, none of the DKK 20,000 donation goes to alcohol or alcohol discounts.

International students come from a range of cultures, some with different drinking traditions. A culture clash, or co-optation, with Northern European drinking may be inevitable. Some will argue that the ESN network may not even have the power to stop the binge drinking even if it wanted to.

But the issue of heavy drinking in international student networks raises larger questions on alcohol policy, explains John Edelsgaard Andersen of the International Office. Upholding stricter university policies just for internationals is not realistic.

He points to the regular Danish university tradition of the Friday-bar for students at departments throughout campus: »Should we then prevent international students from taking part in these events?«.

Read ESN’s response to the criticism here.

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