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International students seek Danish friends. This is hard work, says researcher
Danes are reserved and hard to get into contact with, say international Erasmus exchange students in a recent study by Kathrine Bruun Thomsen of the Saxo Institute/European Ethnology. But the same international students admit that they don’t go out of their way to make friends with foreign students in their own country.
While international students are eager to meet other Danish students, a large majority of them end up only making friendships and networking among other international exchange students, explains Kathrine Bruun Thomsen.
»The students in Erasmus are in a particular situation that they share with other Erasmus students. It is much easier to make friends among other Erasmus students, because they, like them, insist on making new friends. This openness is not shared by the Danish students because they are not in this same situation,« she says.
The result is that in Copenhagen, like in other universities, two groups, the international and the Danish group, come to live in separate worlds.
Some international students studied by Kathrine Bruun Thomsen were disappointed in not meeting any Danish friends during their stay. Other students had made it into their own pet project to get Danish friends, bragging to the other students when they were successful.
A Lithuanian student quoted in the study related with pride how he had attended a party with only Danish friends. Now he tries to spend less time with Erasmus-students and more time with the Danes.
»It’s more interesting and more challenging, because Erasmus-students, they’re open and Danish people are not, so if you can manage to make friends with Danish people – it’s something,« he said.
But Danish students won’t meet them with open arms. Several international students point to Danish people being particularly reserved.
Kathrine Bruun Thomsen has another explanation however: For a Danish student, it may be seen as too much effort to strike up friendships with exchange students as they are leaving soon anyway. As a female student from Belgium puts it:
»I guess Danish students don’t see the point in it, because they know that we are here for four months – so what’s the point? Or maybe they’re just not interested. I don’t really know,« she says.
When Kathrine Bruun Thomsen questioned the students it turned out that they themselves had very little contact with international students at home in their own country for the same reasons.
Several exchange students point out that one of their goals with their exchange period was to meet other nationalities. This, meeting nationalities other than Danes, is not a problem, says Kathrine Bruun Thomsen.
The University of Copenhagen, like other universities has a mentor-scheme, designed to make students quickly feel at home in Denmark.
International students do indeed feel welcomed by the university, and Kathrine Bruun Thomsen wonders whether any attempt to break the ice between the two groups, exchange students and Danes, is doomed to failure.
»I have thought a good deal about this. Why is it actually necessary that you make friends with people who have a home in the city where you are an exchange student? I mean: You are only going to be there for one or two semesters. Maybe we should not judge the success of our study abroad on how many Danes we meet, « she says.
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