The peninsula of Denmark juts straight into the North Sea, serving as a bridge between Scandinavia and continental Europe. This has brought a continuous stream of cultures back and forth over the centuries, and the benefits are evident in today’s Denmark: modern, cosmopolitan cities; simple, historic architecture influenced by Nordic tradition; and fairy-tale villages with town markets, country churches, and castles. The country is relatively flat, with moors, lakes, farmlands, and woodlands, and traffic-free “walking streets.” Citizens of a maritime nation, the Danes have always turned their eyes and hearts to the sea, and no part of the country is more than an hour’s drive from the seashore.
As an AFSer in Denmark, you’ll spend a full academic year attending a local high school and living with a host family. Denmark is more than just a peninsula: there is the exciting possibility of being placed in Greenland, an unspoiled country full of adventure, indigenous people, and breathtaking landscapes; or the Faroe Islands, located north of Scotland, providing spectacular scenery and friendly close-knit communities.
Danish is Denmark’s official language. In Greenland, the predominant language is Greenlandic which is closely related to languages spoken by the Inuits of northern Canada, Alaska and Siberia.
The ability to speak Danish is not a prerequisite for the program, but we strongly suggest that you learn as much as possible prior to departure. All students are expected to learn and speak Danish during the program.
It’s possible that your local chapter will be able to arrange Danish lessons after school or instead of your normal classes one day a week during your first months abroad. Some schools offer some Danish lessons as well.
Host Family & Community
Most placements in Denmark’s mainland are in rural or suburban areas. Towns are close together and there is an excellent public transportation system. It’s possible that you could be placed in Greenland or on the Faroe Islands.
Host families in Denmark, like all AFS host families worldwide, are volunteers and are not paid. They open their homes to students in order to share their community and culture as well as to enrich their own family lives.
The Danes tend to be cosmopolitan in their attitudes and lifestyle. The Danish standard of living is high and Danes tend to be well educated. They take pride in their country’s highly developed public schools, higher education, and health services. The culture is highly respected for its accomplishments in science, art, literature, and architecture.
Perhaps nothing captures the Danish perspective on life more than the concept of hygge, which– roughly translated– means cosy and snug. This affects how Danes approach many aspects of their lives, from their homes to cafes.
Nuclear families are the most common in Denmark, but, like in many other countries, divorce rates are quite high and many kids stay with single parents or have stepparents and step-siblings.
On weekends, Danish teens, like most teens around the world, like to get together with friends to talk, go to parties or see a movie. Danish schools and local community organisations offer various activities. These include sports, music, crafts, drama and scouting.
Danish teenagers play sports or belong to outside organisations and clubs after school. Soccer is the most popular sport in Denmark. People also enjoy handball, badminton, swimming, sailing, rowing and jogging. In Greenland and the Faroe Islands, hiking, dog-sledding, and skiing are popular. Biking is a popular mode of transportation.
Danish teens are encouraged to be independent, but are expected to take responsibility for schoolwork and household chores. This reflects the culture’s promotion of personal responsibility and oplysning, which means “enlightenment towards lifelong learning.”
Traditional open-faced sandwiches known as smörrebröd are popular. The evening meal is usually the main meal of the day and is often a time when the whole family is together. Dinner usually includes meat or fish, potatoes, rice or pasta, and vegetables. Sometimes dessert is served. Staples of the Danish diet include roast pork, fish, beans, Brussels sprouts, fresh vegetables, and grains.
Danes tend to eat meals rather than snack from the refrigerator. Vegetarianism is extremely rare, making vegetarians difficult to place.
There are two types of school that AFSers may be enrolled in. Most students are placed in the first or second year of Gymnasium, which is a 3 year college prep school similar to high school. Other students will attend Folkeskole, which is geared toward 6-16 year olds.
School runs from August through June, with breaks in October and at Christmas and Easter. You will attend classes Monday through Friday from 8:00AM to 3:00PM. Students usually have 5-6 mandatory subjects and 1 or 2 electives like a foreign language, sports, or physics.
Orientations & Activities
In addition to the orientations that you will participate in domestically, you and your fellow AFSers will have several orientations while abroad. These required orientations are intended to help you maximise your AFS experience, prevent culture shock and to gain knowledge, skills and a global understanding.
In addition to the orientations, many local chapters organise activities for students and host families throughout the year. These will vary from chapter to chapter but may include parties or excursions to other cities or regions in Denmark. Unlike the orientations, these activities are optional and are at the student’s expense.