Photo courtesy of Amelia Bergeron
It is still dark outside during the 10-minute walk to the train station. After passengers use a transportation card to check in, the train’s manual doors open at the push of a button and reveal soft benches inside. Upon arriving at the “Husum” station, another walk, this time on a path surrounded by bicycles, leads to the school. This was my daily 45 minute commute to get to Nørre Gymnasium just outside Copenhagen, Denmark on a Wilson exchange trip.
A gymnasium in Denmark is a type of school attended after finishing high school in order to go onto a higher education program including university or medical school. Students are admitted through an application process and their ages range from about 15 to 20. The curriculum at Nørre Gymnasium has more flexibility than at Wilson. “Basically teachers get to teach whatever they want. Nobody is watching what they teach [or] how they teach,” explained 11th Grade Assistant Principal and trip chaperone Julian Pineda.
Students from Nørre Gymnasium visited DC just before spring break last year, so their Wilson hosts followed suit by going to Denmark for a week at the start of November. As the program was through the mass media department, both groups created documentaries while in their respective foreign countries. The documentaries covered the differences between the education systems in the United States and Denmark.
After attending several classes with students including English, we Americans were taken aback by certain distinctions. Students at the Gymnasium are given much more freedom than allocated by Wilson. Those from Wilson agreed that the school was also extremely clean and peaceful. “The school was very quiet, if we talked at a normal voice level it would seem loud,” sophomore Coco Rodriguez said.
One of the largest differences we noticed was the trust that the school had with their students. “They’re really responsible for their own education.” Rodrigez remarked. There are no bells, so students know when to get to class and when to come back from their breaks on time.
All students at the school had laptops because almost all of their work is online. Although they had access to technology they were responsible with this privilege. “Nobody was on their phone, like not one person…They had access to their phones, but they weren’t on them,” sophomore Isa Thompson said.
Besides spending time at the school to work on our documentary, we traveled into Copenhagen for some sightseeing. We followed an charming walking tour at Rosenborg Castle on the first day. “We ended up with a guide who was very engaging and he knew how to connect with teenagers and joke a little bit, but at the same time being respectful,” Pineda explained.
On the second day of sightseeing, a trip to the Round Tower preceded a boat cruise on the river through Copenhagen. With the free time we were allotted on both days, many people went shopping along with getting lunch or other food.
The architecture in Copenhagen differed from block to block. “I liked how all the buildings were different colors” explained sophomore Marco Squitieri. “In America everything is just kind of gray.” The most colorful part of the city was “Nyhavn” or New Harbor in English.
Everyday after school we usually had an evening activity or had dinner with our host families. One night we went bowling with our exchange students and another night some students attended the F.C. København soccer game. Some even went to an amusement park called “Tivoli” in center city Copenhagen. “It was like endless. There were so many different rides. You’d think it would stop, but it just kept going.” Thompson said.
Through staying with host families we got to experience a first-hand perspective of Copenhagen. “I liked indulging in like the culture and like seeing what it’s like to be a student in Denmark,” Rodriguez said.
Many of us had to use public transit to get to school in the morning, including the train and bus. When getting on public transportation, “you have to like tap in and out, but there was nothing you had to walk through you were just trusted to tap [your travel card].” Rodriguez added. This faith in riders proved to be very different than the train in DC.
The exchange program culminated in a documentary that we showed in the school’s theater room on our last full day. The project was a joint effort from the interviews of students and teachers to filming to editing. Thompson and Amanda Lugo made another short about fashion at the school and in Denmark in general.
Although none of us understood the Danish language, we all still got the opportunity to experience the Danish culture through food, interactions, school, and public transportation. We were very productive with only a week, but there is still so much in the city that is left to be seen. When asked if they would do it again, students’ answers were always an enthusiastic yes. “It was like one of the best weeks I’ve ever had!” Thompson said, smiling.