Surprisingly, yet very unsurprisingly, a large part of what you do during a semester abroad is studying and going to class (yes, shocker).
While spending a lot of time with your head in a book or writing papers doesn’t sound like a glamorous way to spend your limited time abroad, the classes that students can take with DIS are more interactive and don’t follow conventional course structure.
Throughout university, I had spent a lot of time struggling with how much I had come to disdain learning. Doing assignments, completing projects, and studying for tests felt demeaning and sometimes pointless because I couldn’t connect what I learned to anything that seemed meaningful to my goals. I often wasn’t sure if it meant I was studying the wrong degree or that university wasn’t actually something for me. The result of it was utterly debilitating burnout, and it made actually doing the assignments, completing the projects, and studying for the tests almost impossible. Unfortunately, for many of us, this isn’t an unfamiliar feeling.
During the summer going into my junior year, I knew the burnout was so bad that I absolutely needed to make a change. So, I made a few big decisions about how I was going to finish university and make it so I could do it in the best way for me; 1) I was going to pursue a second degree (medical humanities), 2) I was going to spend an entire semester studying abroad, and 3) I was going to take an additional year to make everything possible. I will agree that, yes, these are big and difficult decisions that heavily impact my timeline to graduation. Which seems counterintuitive to the burnout and exhaustion I was experiencing at the time. But looking back, I am pretty sure the alternative was dropping out altogether. So I am honestly just thankful I could figure out a solution that worked for me.
But where that currently brings me is spending a semester in Copenhagen during my fourth of five years of studying biomedical engineering and medical humanities. And the classes I have been taking this semester have finally resulted in a well-rounded course schedule that is comprehensive of material from each degree. As we are about to turn the corner into final exams and projects (and thinking about what the upcoming semester will look like), I have become grateful for the difficult decision I made (notably in the midst of extreme burnout).
Being that my subjects of study are a bit unconventional (or at least I have yet to meet someone else insane enough to do this – I’m patiently waiting), I figured I would talk about some of the classes I am taking, why I chose them, and how they have turned out.
Medical Biotechnology & Drug Design and Development
The name of this course is a mouthful, but so is the name “biomedical engineering.” So I find it fitting. This course (my core course) focuses on the development of pharmaceuticals and their interaction with biotechnology that impacts or participates in the pharmaceutical field. Our course material has heavily focused on the clinical trial process, the mechanisms of different pharmaceuticals, the immune system response, and the current pharmaceutical development and research in Denmark, the U.S, and Europe. Although, a significant portion of this course actually takes place outside of the classroom. Since this is my core course, our class has traveled throughout Denmark and Portugal, where we met experts from different sectors of the field, learned about the variety of research being done, and gathered a comprehensive understanding of all the different roles that impact healthcare through pharmaceuticals.
After feeling so much unrest and dissatisfaction with this degree a few years ago, I am relieved that this course provided a real-world view of what medical biotech looks like and how I could participate in the field with my knowledge. I chose this course because of its connection to international biotechnology, but I have made so many connections to different skills and topics related to biomedical engineering that I couldn’t have anticipated. Honestly, really validating and reaffirming my choice to stick with my studies while morphing them into something I feel content with. Especially with the amount of dedication it took to do a semester abroad, I have been washed with a sense of relief that I have thoroughly enjoyed this class and my peers (I highly recommend taking this class if you are an incoming DIS student studying anything close to the subject! Not only is the course interesting for students with different academic backgrounds, but the professors are outstanding, and you have fantastic study tours.)
Taking this class was a no-brainer for me being that medical ethics is an important topic within medical humanities. There were many opportunities to take this course before studying abroad at my home university (and I probably should have before taking 400-level classes, but I digress). However, I am so thankful that I was patient and took this essential class abroad because it addresses medical ethics within the U.S. and the Danish healthcare systems. Overall, helping me further my understanding and practice of bioethics while also comparing how the values within ethics are cultivated and perceived by different societies. This class is taught through theoretical application to case studies and group-driven discussions or hands-on activities.
Danish Language and Culture
While I was the most hesitant and nervous about taking this course, I was going into my senior year still needing a language credit, so I figured now was better than later. Learning languages have never (despite my best efforts) been my strong suit, and I knew Danish would be a complex language to learn. But I hoped that being surrounded by written and spoken Danish would help me, and I have actually found that it has. This course has helped me learn enough Danish language to feel somewhat connected to my surroundings.
Although, learning the language is not the only thing we do in this class. There has been a heavy focus on learning about Denmark and Copenhagen’s historical and modern culture. At the start of each class, our professor allows time for questions about things we notice or are curious about outside of the classroom. We have covered everything from the election and politics to social culture to family dynamics to events happening around Copenhagen. Occasionally, we will do field studies in parts of Copenhagen that help better understand the history and culture of Denmark. At this point, I know a handful of random facts or interesting things that I didn’t expect to know at the start of this class.
So my ending message is that yes, you will have to take classes and study while being abroad. I know it is not what I want to do all the time while here, but it is honestly not that bad. The classes are enjoyable and interactive, straying from the typical rigid classroom structure. The work we do for the class and the commitment to in-class time is exceptionally considerate of ensuring students still have free time to enjoy Copenhagen, Denmark, and being in Europe. The study tours and field studies even work some of those explorations and experiences into class time.
What I found most important was that I would be taking classes that would contribute to my degrees and that I would simply find meaningful to my interests. And being near the end of the semester, I can contendenly say that my intentions were fulfilled.