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Course evaluations

It’s final exam time already!  In total, I’ve got 5 research papers and 1 sit-down test.  Sounds like a big deal, but I’m the type that rarely gets stressed out.  All you’ve got to do is show up to class, pay attention to the teacher, ask some good questions, and everything will turn out just fine.

Speaking of those classes, I think it’s a good time to do some end-of-semester evaluations.  To be honest, but I ultimately chose DIS because of the wealth of courses that are offered.  Although you’ll have dreams of traveling around Europe and visiting all the fun cities and tourist attractions, that tells less than half of the story.  Let’s get real – with the exception of a handful of travel breaks here and there (I had 3 weeks off and a couple long weekends), you’ll be spending lots of time in the classroom, listening to presentations, writing assignments, and studying for tests.  Plus, you can get to most of the popular European destinations from just about anywhere – it doesn’t matter if you’re studying in Copenhagen or London or Barcelona, you’ll always be within flying distance of France, Italy, Germany, and even Ukraine.

That’s why it’s so important to not overlook the “study” part of study abroad.  Choose a program   that sounds academically interesting, not a city that sounds like fun.  When push came to shove, it wasn’t Copenhagen or the winter weather or the “world’s happiest country” that made me come to Denmark.  It was my countless hours searching courses online, researching the faculty’s experience, reading student testimonials.  Indeed, registering was so difficult because everything sounded so interesting – like Nordic Mythology, Humanitarian Law, Kierkegaard’s Authorship, Muslims and the West, etc.  I scrapped other destinations because the course selection did not even come close.  Mohyla Academy in Kiev had just 5 or 6 classes to choose from, and most of them were not even in my major.  Maybe it works for a Graduate program, but for now it was inadequate.

Here’s a ranking of the courses I chose, from 1 (best) to 5 (disappointing):

1. Humanitarian Law & Armed Conflict (core course)

with my 2 professors - Nicolai and Ulrik

with my 2 professors – Nicolai and Ulrik

  • Topics: military law, noncombatants, genocide, terrorism, case studies on bin Laden and Palestine
  • Fun faculty fact: both Nicolai and Ulrik served in Danish military as legal advisers, stationed in Kosovo and Afghanistan
  • Pros: fascinating 5-day study tour to Bosnia, thought-provoking research papers, intelligent class discussions
  • Cons: dense readings, lots of theory at beginning of semester, toughest class
  • Overall: the Bosnian trip had a profound impact on me (I firmly believe that this core course trip is the best one in DIS, because we had so much personal interaction with locals and tons of critical analysis; politics+law+religion = perfect combination), and the course makes me more inclined to pursue a career in law. Professors became some of my closest mentors at DIS and incredibly easy to talk to. *If you have any interest in law/politics, please take this course!!*

2. Muslims in the West

  • Topics: cartoon crisis, hijab, women’s rights, democracy & Islam
  • Fun faculty fact: Jakob is young, energetic, and loves to play “devil’s advocate”
  • Pros: visits to Islamic center and talks with Danish Muslims (including Imam Pedersen), lots of classroom discussion (Jakob often stops his lectures so that we can debate and ask questions)
  • Cons: relativism and failure to make normative claims was frustrating
  • Overall: Islam is a hot issue in Denmark, especially with the growing immigrant community. The professor really made this class great, although I’m still not sure if any solid conclusions emerged from this class.  Is everyone right?

3. Russia Past and Present 

with Mette and Jon at the airport

with Mette and Jon at the airport

  • Topics: Russian history, religion, art, literature; week-long trip to St. Petersburg and Moscow in March
  • Fun faculty fact: Jon is the official Russian translator for the Queen of Denmark, owns his own travel agency, and is married to a Ukrainian (!)
  • Pros: Jon is a freaking genius about Russia.  Our study tour was out-of-this-world (many thanks to Mette, too!), I asked so many questions and Jon always had an answer.  Reading Crime and Punishment was a great social commentary, and in-class discussions are always provoking.
  • Cons: class only meets once per week, sometimes felt like the class could have been 1 instead of 3 credits
  • Overall: I have a new passion for Russia/East European politics (wrote 2 research papers about the Russian-Ukrainian relationship). Once again, the professor really made this course great.

4. Partners & Rivals: EU-US Relations

  • Topics: security, trade & monetary policy, environment, leadership
  • Fun faculty fact: Jacob is the former Transportation Minister for the Danish government, has worked in politics for some 20 years
  • Pros: case-study presentations forced class participation, interesting lecture topics, met with Jacob twice as class representative, visited U.S. Embassy
  • Cons: lots of questions unanswered, lectures sometimes repetitive, very unenthusiastic students inhibited class discussion, often pro-European mindset
  • Overall: this class had a lot of potential, but the lack of participation was disappointing

5. Danish Language & Culture

  • Topics: Danish history, language, cultural studies
  • Fun faculty fact: Charlotte understands that Danish is hard
  • Pros: Studying ‘Jante’s Law’ and Danish tribal identity hints at the philosophy behind the welfare system and social dynamics
  • Cons: one semester is far, far too short to make any significant progress on learning Danish, and I can learn most of the “culture” by just living here and walking around
  • Overall: not happy that Georgetown required me to take this; sacrificed awesome courses like Kierkegaard and Nordic Mythology because of this requirement
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