Meeting Royalty Abroad: A Danish Prince

The Streets of Copenhagen

As an American, I find the concept of royalty intriguing. I can’t say I really know where I stand on the issue.  On the one hand, it seems like a fun nod to history and a great added cultural dynamic to help represent a nation’s culture, heritage, and identity without many of the political trappings that go with elected delegates.  On the other hand, I have my American bias which bubbles up almost instantaneously with the screech of a bald eagle, its cry heralding freedom and the taste of apple pie and hot dogs. This may be the perfect connection to resolve my inner turmoil and begin to understand the Dane’s adoring relationship with their royal family.  After all, as a hot dog vendor outside Vesterport Station once told me, New York and Germany may get partial credit for the hot dog, but it actually originated right here in Denmark. I suppose wars have been started over smaller claims, but in this case, perhaps it is a great illustration of the many core ideals, principles and cultural components that the US and Denmark share.

Meeting with HRH Prince Joachim

I’ve gotta’ admit that over the last year and a half my respect for the Danish Royals has grown exponentially. With rare exceptions, the Danes absolutely love them.  They bring in NYE with the Queen’s speech. An event which somehow manages to get a country full of extremely happy, energetic, and firework-crazed party-goers to set down their explosives, take a sip of their drinks, turn on the TV, and listen in dead-silence for half an hour. As someone who also comes from a country that loves mixing loud conversations, high-explosives, and alcohol – I’ve gotta say I was not only impressed but also a bit shocked.

Martin Lidegaard

But, perhaps I shouldn’t have been … after all, the Danes have a lot to be proud of and are without a doubt one of the most patriotic groups of people I’ve encountered outside of the United States. They don’t just love their royals, they take great pride in their flag – the oldest in the world – their culture, their heritage, and their country as a whole. So, it was a very special and unusual honor when I learned that HRH Prince Joachim of Denmark would be doing a Q&A session with a small group of us.  It’s a highly unusual opportunity to have the chance to meet with royals,  an even rarer opportunity to meet with beloved royals, and even rarer still to be able to pose a series of questions during the meeting.

Meeting with HRH Prince Joachim

I’m a member of the Danish Youth Goodwill Ambassador Corps. We are a relatively new initiative that has been launched through a partnership between a number of different Danish organizations as a youth/student talent development program. Our charter is straight forward – to connect with other international students with a passion for Denmark and to share the knowledge we’ve accumulated during our time in Denmark with the world at large.

Meeting with HRH Prince Joachim

This past weekend we held our national conference.  It was a two-day event where YGWAs from Aalborg, Aarhus, and Copenhagen came together to meet, mingle, brainstorm and learn about Denmark.  As part of the conference, HRH Prince Joachim spent an hour with us while answering a variety of questions from the audience.  The questions were very diverse and focused on everything from his entrepreneurial projects, what it is like to balance life as an entrepreneur, parent and royal to questions about innovation, and even a few about how best to enact change in the world around us.  He was joined by the Minister of Climate, Energy and Building, Martin Lidegaard and Martin Bendsøe who is the SVP and Dean of the Danish Technical Institute. The event was moderated by Natasja Crone, one of Denmark’s most prominent Danish journalists.

YGWA Conference 2013

I was absolutely blown away by the introductory talks given by both HRH Prince Joachim and Minister Lidegaard. It wasn’t the usual talking points and dry ramblings you might expect from politicians.  Just as it wasn’t a rushed regurgitation of points exhaled swiftly and barely given time to settle in before  a flurry of hand shakes and the sound of the revolving door swinging shut as is so often the case with high ranking officials. In particular, it was fantastic to see that the Prince arrived at the start of the event and stayed until the end.  More or less a three-hour period, during which time he paid close attention to the Minister, the Dean, and the panel of four local entrepreneurs who also presented.  He also made himself available to us during the two brief breaks and gladly answered questions, paused for photos and chatted with us. Hardly the type of behavior I expected and a real tribute to the Danish Royal Family.  I can’t stress enough just how genuine and sincere HRH Prince Joachim was.

YGWA Conference 2013

The following clip is a short segment I shot on my iPhone (sorry about the quality) as HRH responded to one of our questions.

For my part, I was able to ask Minister Lidegaard two direct questions about the work he has been doing to pass a work visa/green card reform bill which is as exciting as it is progressive. The new bill would automatically grant a three-year green card to all international students who have received a complete MA or PhD from a Danish University.  As I wrap up my MA and explore job opportunities, an automatic work visa would drastically improve my chances of staying in Denmark and greatly ease the challenges that go with finding work here as an expat. Something that would be a net-gain for both my career and for Denmark who would retain me as a business professional, economic driver, and taxpayer while realizing benefit from the money they spent on my Masters.  A far cry from the current system which heavily encourages me to go abroad or return to the United States where I’ll work professionally, likely in competition with Danish companies.  Minister Lidegaard’s talk also had great factoids about Denmark’s renewable energy policy, how to deal with the emerging rift between the renewable energy camp and the conservation/green party, and some powerful points about infrastructure investments necessary over the next 10 years to keep Denmark’s power infrastructure secure and operational.

Meeting with HRH Prince Joachim

At the end HRH Prince Joachim left us with this final thought:

“To me the duty of representing Denmark truly is a privilege. It is very rewarding and I love to see that the work I do can be fruitful to Danish society as a whole. As youth goodwill ambassadors you will reflect on your experience in Denmark and whether at home in your own country or embarking on a new international career elsewhere in the world, you will always remember your time in Denmark and take a piece of Denmark with you.”

On that note I would like to extend a special thank you to His Royal Highness the Prince, the Minister, the rest of the speakers, and the Danish people for a fantastic experience and wonderful, informative, and exciting cultural insight. I can now cross meeting with royalty off the bucket list.  Next up? Working on that knighthood …

*Event photos in this post were provided by the official event photographer and are used with permission*

Five Major Differences Between Long-Term and Short-Term Study Abroad Programs

The Round Tower - Copenhagen, Denmark

It sounds simple but if you’re like me, you probably view all study abroad programs as essentially the same, and you probably view most international students similarly as a result.  Hold your horses!  The two are actually vastly different.

I’ve participated in the two extremes of study abroad.  My first introduction was the summer after my Freshman year of College at Arizona State University.  I attended a six and a half week study abroad program through the Barrett Honors College which spent three weeks in London, ten days in Dublin and twelve days in Edinburgh. We traveled, we explored, we took two courses, and it was a great intro to international travel.  In the 7 years since I completed that program I used it, movies, and conversations as a general way of relating to all of the international students I met.  While it helped some, I now realize I made a lot of mistaken assumptions.

Just over three weeks ago I arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark where I’ll be spending the next two years pursuing a masters in Communication and Cognition at the University of Copenhagen. An experience which I’ll be documenting here on VirtualWayfarer.  My formal studies start in less than three weeks and without even beginning the academic portion of the experience I’ve already realized that long-term study abroad and short-term study abroad are vastly different.

To clarify terminology – when I say short-term study abroad I’m talking about trips which last less than 7 months but longer than 5 days.  When I say long-term study abroad I’m including year long programs but mainly focusing on complete degree undergraduate and graduate programs.

Here are five of the key differences:

Preikestolen "The Preacher's Pulpit" - Norway

1. Commitment

As scary and challenging as short-term study abroad programs can be, you never truly have to commit to leaving.  The study abroad trip is an adventure, sometimes a relatively long one, but always experienced with a set perception of your native country as home.  You know that you’ll be going back at the end of that program and even if that program is 6 months long, you’ll always be in a social/passing through phase.  While you may become a participant in the local culture, you’ll never find yourself striving to become a truly active member or to go native.

In a long-term study abroad program you have to go all in.  You’ve committed to something more than just an extended visit and are literally moving to your destination country.  You operate on the realization that in the 1 to 6 years you’ll be gone that everything will change drastically, that you as an individual will be completely different, and that you are re-locating your home.  There is a realization that to not only enjoy, but to survive the experience you have to make an effort to go native.  That you will be changing far more than just where you sleep and study, but also how you eat, how you socialize, and perhaps even some of your core assumptions and values.

Warehouse Row in the Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

2. Support

One of the best parts about a short-term study abroad program is that almost everything is taken care of for you by the partner schools, program coordinators and chaperones.  You’re told exactly what to do to engage in the process, where to be, and what to expect. Things like housing, transport, and course registration are handled, and most programs have you experience the trip as part of a group of people from your University or home country.  For my first trip this consisted of  two courses taught by faculty from my home University and our group was made almost entirely up of students from Arizona State’s Communication and Honors colleges.

While the experience may vary, I’ve found that long-term study abroad comes with significantly less support.  Especially for international students who are completing entire degree programs.  As a full program international student you’re not engaging in a study abroad program, so much as you are opting to study abroad.  The subtle difference is that while one is a program, the other is standard application and acceptance in a University that just happens to be international.  That means that virtually nothing is taken care of for you, though most Universities offer international programs offices which try and provide some guidance and limited help. At a basic level, however, consider all of the things that go into applying for College or Graduate school as a student attending an out of state school (housing, strange fees, long distance phone calls, different time zones, different banks, paperwork, transcripts, moving your possessions etc.) and then consider doing those internationally across thousands of miles.  Things like visa processing and paperwork, language barriers, international time zones, and vastly different education system structures all come together to create a very challenging and daunting experience.    Believe me, trying to complete the housing and visa process alone with minimal guidance or support is an incredible challenge and one that has left me with more than one sleepless night.

Candy and Scale - Copenhagen, Denmark

3. Different Educational Systems

While most people know this, I don’t think people truly internalize the fact that school systems around the world differ greatly. American educational systems are vastly different than European systems which are completely different than Asian systems.

I mentioned earlier that for my short-term study abroad experience we brought our own teachers with us.  You’ll find that in most short-term study abroad programs the academic coursework and structure remain largely the same as the country of origin.  This makes sense as switching back and forth for a few weeks/month-long program would be messy and confusing.  It also goes back to the experience as a visitor vs. participant/member.

Long-term study abroad programs, however, are done in the local educational system.  Remember – you’re just a regular student who happens to be from abroad.  As a participant this means figuring out and learning vastly different registration, course schedule, course load, teaching style and testing systems.  Even the little things like how course hours are credited can be vastly different.  For example while US schools operate on a credit hour basis, University of Copenhagen and most of Europe uses the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS).

Street Music - Copenhagen, Denmark

4. Social Restart

I mentioned earlier that short-term study abroad programs tend to set you up with, or travel in packs.  Even though you probably didn’t know most of the people before the trip began, you’re put with a group that automatically forms into a new peer group/group of friends. Some will become great friends, some you’ll tolerate because, hey, it’s only a few weeks or months, and one or two you’ll probably absolutely detest.  Ultimately though, this becomes your social network while traveling and fills in for your family and friends back home.

While there is some of this in long-term study abroad the nature of the program makes it significantly more difficult. There’s a huge sensation of loss as you realize that you’re not returning to your regular social group and good friends in a couple of weeks or months, but that it will likely be years. Years during which they may get married, move elsewhere, or change drastically as people.  As a long-term student you also have to effectively start over from ground zero.  One of the biggest frustrations I hear from people who did long-term study abroad programs and had negative experiences was that they never managed to meet new people or establish a new network.   It’s tough, and it takes an active willingness and investment in meeting, connecting, and generating friendships in a way most of us haven’t done actively in close to a decade.

There is no fall-back social group, or core-social group that you can always spend time with or call up to go grab a coffee, see a movie, or grab a beer. That sense of initial isolation is where I’m at right now, and while I feel very positive about the people I am meeting and my ability to build a new social network here in Denmark, it can be rough at times.  A lot of that will also change as the other international students starting my program arrive in town and courses start giving us an easy common thread to network through.  Still, that in and of itself poses another challenge as I know that if I’m going to be here for two years I need to do more than just hang out with other international students. That means going outside of my comfort zone and doing things that are far less comfortable for an international student – it means committing myself to the culture.

I’ve met some great people in the three weeks I’ve been here, and as orientation starts up I know I’ll meet a wealth of new ones. Despite that, it has definitely been a vastly different experience than traditional short-term study abroad.

Dad and I

5. Family

I always wondered how my international friends, roommates, and acquaintances dealt with being away from family. I come from a very close family where my parents, brother and I talk regularly, travel well together, and have an incredible relationship as peers.  For a long-time I wondered what long-term student’s relationships with their families were like that they were comfortable and able to leave their family for years at a time.  I think at a certain level, though I’m a bit ashamed of myself for it, I assumed that their relationships with their families must not have been incredibly close which made it easier to spend time away.  I’m happy to say I had no idea what I was talking about.  Leaving family behind and knowing that visiting and communicating will be much more challenging is easily one of the toughest things about long-term study abroad, but it in no way reflects the strength of the relationships between an international student and their siblings/parents.

As I write this I’m engaged in a two year program which may extend into a PhD and has the potential to lead just as easily to an expat scenario as a return stateside at the end of my two year program.  Two days before I flew over to Denmark my brother flew to Africa with the US Peace Corps for a two year deployment to Zambia.  Moving thousands of miles away, after spending most of our lives less than an hour away from our folks and each other was an incredibly difficult decision. But it was one that was made possible largely BECAUSE of how close our family is.  Their support, encouragement, and constant wisdom made the move a reality.  So, I encourage you all not to make the same mistake I did.

Are you thinking about studying abroad, or have you done a short or long-term program?  I’d love to hear your thoughts, observations and answer any questions you may have!