By: Renata Nagy
My name is Renata and I am a volunteer at The International- Academy and Barding School of Denmark during the school year 19/20.
I come from Romania, but I am of Hungarian nationality. You might ask how did I choose to go here? Maybe also, why?
If you want the short answer, that would be: because I wanted to try something different.
If you want the long answer, well...
...I've been fascinated with Denmark for some time now. More specifically, since one of my best friends moved to Denmark and I heard stories about his life, about the country, Danish customs, Danish language...And something clicked. I became interested. I started learning the language. Reading in Danish. I started looking for opportunities for how to get here.
It wasn't easy. In Romania, volunteering is not as promoted as in more Western countries. It certainly exists, but because of the lack of promotion, most people don't even know about their options.
What was I to do? I had one clear goal: Denmark. I jotted down what I thought were opportunities for me to get here: being an au-pair, being a student, becoming a volunteer.
Truth be told, at 29 years I felt to be too old to be an au-pair and truth be told, I wanted to do something more close to my education. So, then...student, I already had both a Bachelor and a Masters Degree, why and what to study more?
So, I had my answer: I'll start looking into volunteering. I knew some organizations that were sending volunteers across the world, so I started browsing their programs.
I signed up for the European Solidarity Corps page, which serves as a database for volunteering programs. It is funded by the European Union's Youth Ministry. Within this database, I searched for projects in Denmark.
It was the end of December that I found my project! I read the description, what they are looking for, visited their webpage, analyzed the information and it all clicked...I just knew - this is what I will apply for! This is where I wanna go.
The International-Academy and Boarding School of Denmark
I didn't search any further. I know, the more applications you send, the more chances you have, but I felt like I wanted to be focused on this one. I guess, I just really liked what I read and was truly motivated to try my best and get there.
It was a long shot.
In January, my current coordinator, Jon, wrote an email, asking me for an interview. I remember, I was sitting in my room, reading the mail from my phone and I kept re-reading because I couldn't believe my eyes. It was such a long-time wish and I wanted this particular opportunity so much that I just couldn't believe my eyes.
The rest is history. We had an interview and following that a couple of days when I was “walking the walls”, thinking “please choose me, please, choose me”. Then, it happened. I was chosen as one of the two volunteers for the next school year set to start in August.
Goodbye Romania, hello Denmark!
August 4th, 2019. I set my feet on Danish ground. Let's begin!
I arrived and I didn't have too much time to think as the school began one week later and throughout my arrival week, we were having meeting after meeting and discussing rule after rule that I did not know anything about yet.
As the school began, I had to adapt and literally go with the flow. If I could characterize the school, I would say that it is ever-changing and super fast-moving. At the very beginning that was quite confusing. Especially, after the students arrived. Our school is 100% English speaking, with approximately 40% of our students being different nationalities, other than Danish ( British, German, American, Thai, French, Polish, Czech, Spanish, etc.). Also, getting used to so many different cultures in an all-English speaking environment was somewhat challenging, but mostly very interesting. As my education includes the study of Culture on a Masters level and Literature and Teaching German on a Bachelor level, all that was awaiting me, filled me with a lot of enthusiasm and curiosity.
With the months going by, this curiosity was not lessened as the tasks filled me with so many insights. I found out about a completely different way of teaching. A completely different lifestyle - the boarding school life - with its particular habits. It was a whole new world.
In Romania, the education is very frontal - the teacher dictates the lesson with the students writing several pages during the class, in the next class they get a grade based on their response about the previous class' lesson. In Denmark, it is very different. In Danish schools, there is so much focus on project work and group work, instead of focusing on learning material by heart. Also, critical thinking is highly suggested instead of “just learning facts”.
Another difference between Romania and Denmark, or in this case, a boarding school in Denmark, was the eating culture. Here, in Denmark, eating together and using this time to socialize is important. In both Romanian and Hungarian, we even have sayings referring to the fact that if you eat, you should not speak, but use your mouth for eating. In fact, in Romania speaking at the table while eating is considered bad manners. So, if you go to Romania and people don't talk to you at the table, it's not because they have anything against you, it's just part of the Romanian eating culture.
Something that was also quite new to me and - as I found out - is quite traditional in boarding schools, is the assembly, during which the students sing together or just listen to the teacher share some thoughts, watch videos, read something to them. Similar to that are the “Storytelling” sessions, where the students get to know some more things about their teachers: these can be personal stories from the teachers' life or some stories the teachers find inspiring and want to share.
Flat hierarchy - this was one thing I heard about and knew what meant, but never had the opportunity to experience it until I came to Denmark. The concept basically means that there is no to very little power distance between the different societal groups aka. the boss is seen as equal to the worker, has the same tasks as any one of the staff members, the distribution of the work doesn't come from “above”, but is equally parted between the members. Neither Romania or Hungary are flat hierarchical countries, so for me, it was quite unusual to have joint meetings with the management and have the freedom to propose an idea and have that idea accepted by my superiors.
The truth is, a boarding school is more than a set of “out of the ordinary” activities, or more than a school, where students live. It is something quite unique. It is a distinct little world. Before you know it, you are part of a family.
As with a family, there are some good days, some bad days, some misunderstanding, some more laughter, but in the end, it's there for you.
A feeling that I have and I think describes somewhat the essence of a boarding school is that you are not the same person, you were when you started your year. You grew. You didn't only grow in terms of education. You grew as a person. You became more responsible. More aware of others. More respectful.
Now almost at the end of the year, I see our students, I remember how it all started and I see how much they changed. Knowing that even if to a very small extent, I was part of that change, fills me with enormous contentment.
Also, towards the end of my volunteering year, I remember so many things, so many I couldn't put them in an article. Some everyday, minor memories of evening duties, like when the students decided to put shaving cream on each other's doors and the corridor ended up being full of shaving cream and water, so they needed to clean that a several times before getting approved. Some classes, like the very first presentation I held during Film Art class on The History of Cinema. I was so nervous even though I prepared a lot. Then, I have the memories of the students, with some of them growing so close to my heart...having tea talks, where we talked about anything coming to our minds, things bothering us, happy thoughts, the Read-a-thons, where we read for 12 hours straight to “just” hanging out and chatting. I have so many memories that it's hard to choose. One thing is sure. I do not have a single regret coming to this place. I am glad my intuition was on point when I felt this is the place I want to come to.
If I got what I wanted? Well, I certainly came to Denmark and I certainly discovered more about Danish culture, traditions, language, but honestly, I feel like I got a lot more than that. I became a part of a family, yes, sometimes with challenges, sometimes with difficulties, but also with so many amazing moments that it is hard to enumerate.
If I had to describe this experience in one word, it would be: grateful.
Thank you, TI!
If you want to read more about volunteering in Denmark or read more about Dansk ICYE and their exchange program, please visit www.icye.dk/volunteer-dk/