Saving Money in Copenhagen.

So I’m clearly back in the US and well into my fall semester here at Vanderbilt. BUT, my posting on this study abroad blog is not completely strange or irrelevant! I now work as a Peer Advisor at Vanderbilt GEO, the Global Education Office.

Just last week I was helping lead the pre-departure orientation for students who will be in Copenhagen during the coming semester.  Students had lots of logistic questions that DIS provides answers to through their pre-departure materials and on their website, but one question in particular stood out: how do you save money in Copenhagen?

Given that Denmark is unavoidably expensive, it can present worries for students who are a little tighter on cash. So without further ado, a guide to living frugally in Copenhagen.

Day to Day costs

If you’re not living with a host family or at a folkehøjskole, one of your largest expenses will be food.

DIS gives students a grocery stipend that is intended to cover partially cover some of your food expenses. While it would be extremely difficult to make this cover all of your meals over the length of your stay, there ARE creative ways to make the stipend and your money last longer.

1. Do not buy luxuries- mostly alcohol or candy, these items will kill your food stipend very quickly. Given the conversion rate and the differences of price levels, it can be more difficult to recognize how much money your spending. I recommend creating a weekly budget for luxuries and “treats.” I choose to make my weekly spending ceiling 500 dkr (about $100) to encompass all the extra things I might want, whether it be a pastry or a cup of coffee at an expensive cafe or a beer by the harbor.

2. Eat like the Danes- modifying your diet to be more Danish will save you money in the grocery store. Quite simply, some things that are standard in the US are considered a bit of a novelty in Danish grocery stores. For one, meat is taxed pretty highly, so reducing your meat consumption will help lower the grocery bill. Eggs are cheap. Oatmeal or Muesli and yogurt are standard breakfast fare. Vegetables and produce don’t vary significantly from prices in the US, and if you like potatoes you’ll be pretty happy with Danish cuisine.  If you really find yourself wanting more meat in your diet, I recommend frozen Frikadeller. These traditional Danish meatballs are not only delicious, but their ubiquity makes them easy to find and relatively inexpensive. On another note, if you generally keep Kosher or Halal, you may have some difficulties.

3. Don’t eat out- of course this isn’t a hard and fast rule, but a sit down dinner is extremely expensive in Copenhagen. It is much more typical for young people to get together and cook a meal together than to go to a sit down dinner. On a related note, when you DO go out to dinner, make an event of it. Danish meals are for enjoying each others company, and expected to be long. Service will be slow. But there’s also no need to feel guilty about camping out at a table after you’ve paid, or waiting around for late night specials to start. Food service employees are paid hourly, so they won’t feel have a high table turnover to get enough tips.

4. Take advantage of DIS events- there’s often free food, it’s a no brainer. Additionally, optional study tours, adventure trips, and DIS sponsored cultural outings will give you a lot of bang for your buck. The people organizing these have the advantage of economies of scale, connections and general knowledge of the market that can only come with time and experience. If there’s a place you want to go and DIS offers a trip, it’s pretty likely that they will do it cheaper than you.

5. Choose your travel carefully- certain cities will be much more friendly to your wallet. Additionally, try to take advantage of where other friends are studying abroad. Not only will they know the city, but if they have room for you, you get a free place to stay, and a kitchen to cook food in, instead of eating out.

6. Get involved- by far the easiest way to know where the cheap things are and whats worth it or not is to ask somebody who knows. Ask a program assistant, ask your Danish teacher, ask the people who work at the front desk of DIS. Make friends with people in your kollegium, ask your host-siblings, volunteer friends or team mates. Above all, treating your time abroad like a life instead of an extended vacation not only will save you money, but will insure you have the best experience possible.


Folkehøjskole vs. Kollegium

Both a kollegium and a folkehøjskole will are living options that put you in contact with Danes and International students around the same age as you. I’ve had a few questions asking me about my experience at the folkehøjskole, and since I’ve had the unique experience of living in both a folkehøjskole (or højskole for short) and a kollegium, as a DIS blogger, I feel a responsibility to try to inform on the key similarities and differences between the two.

1. Commute

One of the most major differences is that højskoles are way out in the suburbs, while kollegiums are mostly in the urbanized, greater Copenhagen area. The commute to a højskole is long, but the time on the train can be used to do homework, contemplate the meaning of life, or take a nap.  However, getting early classes can be a huge struggle. Also, the suburban trains and buses often stop around 1 am on weeknights, so that’s something to keep in mind if you want to be spending every night in the city. One of my favorite new experiences about living in a kollegium this semester is the fact that I can bike to class every morning, and experience Copenhagen’s rush hour bike traffic.

Old Commute

Old Commute

New commute

New commute

2.  Rural vs. Urban

højskoles tend to be a bit isolated because they’re a Danish institution that is specifically tasked with helping the students “find themselves.” For the students actually attending højskoles, there’s no necessity to leave. I personally loved living in the middle of the woods, even if walking or biking through the forest in the dark was a little creepy sometimes. However, I am currently savoring the fact that I live in a city, and I can just jump on my bike or the metro when I want to go somewhere.

Beautiful Krogerup <3

Beautiful Krogerup Højskole

City life

City life

3. Food

At a højskole you eat your meals at a set time every evening with all the students who attend the school. At a kollegium, you cook your own meals in a shared kitchen. The ease of having meals provided for you at a højskole was great, BUT it often kept me from participating in DIS activities because I was eager to be home for dinner at 6pm. If one of us was missing dinner, we would usually just ask one of the other DIS students to save us a plate to eat when we got home.

Dinner time at Krogerup

Dinner time at Krogerup

At a kollegium, DIS gives you a food stipend so if you’re a picky eater, you’ll have a lot more control over your food and the whens and wheres of your eating than you would at a højskole

4. Social Life

Personally, the unique social situation I was in while living at Krogerup Højskole was what made my experience in Denmark so fantastic, as well as giving me an awesome amount of cultural immersion (the magic of study abroad). I still spend a lot of my time with Danish friends that I met there.

Krogerup Klique, still going strong.

Krogerup Klique, still going strong.

That’s not to say it didn’t take effort, at the beginning, all the DIS students actively strategized on how to integrate ourselves. We always sat two Americans to a table to avoid making an “American group”, but also to have enough presence that people would speak English. Another benefit is that at a højskole, generally most people won’t know each other, so everyone will be forming social bonds as opposed to trying to integrate yourself into a group that has already been formed.

The other side of that is that I did not make many close American friends at DIS, sticking mostly with two of the other six students that I lived with. My current situation at the kollegium is much less social. Everyone who lives in my hall is friendly, but I happened to be placed on a hall that isn’t extremely social. I know that this definitely depends on chance because some people have weekly dinners with their halls and have bonded really well.

Overall, I think both experiences are extremely positive depending on what you’re looking for in your housing experience. For any potential DIS students, I hope I’ve effectively covered the major differences between the two, but feel free to ask me questions on any specifics.

Mange Hilsner.

Krogerup Goodbye

Nearly four weeks later, I think I’m ready to write about the gut wrenching Krogerup goodbye.

On Friday, December 13 in customary Krogerup style, we had a party. Not just any party, but the final farewell of E’13. The week had been hectic, with cleaning packing, class wrapups, and for the DIS students, exams and final papers. The day before there was a comical closing “ceremony” with dozens of skits that only we would understand, whether it be a ‘best quote’ an impression of how someone dances, or a superlative. But the finale had to be a stylish affair, with a four hour dinner (which is standard for celebration in Denmark) followed by a rowdy and raucous goodbye party.


All the Beautiful E’13ers

During the dinner we had chances to sing songs, raise toasts, and makes speeches.  Many of the songs where parodies of Danish classics, like one set to the popular “Svantes lykkelige dag” that ended each verse with the “and no one is ready for cleaning.” Nearly everyone had something to say about what an amazing impact Krogerup has had on each of us as an individual, and the amazing friends we’ve made while living there.

Particularly touching was Rikke’s speech, which although it was in Danish, she had the foresight to have English copies available for those of us who have not quite mastered the language, (ie struggle immensely.) The moment when she told us that she wanted to “express her admiration for the DIS students, who had become an important part of the Krogerup community” immediately brought tears to my eyes, both in the moment, and now, a month later as I remember it.

The party that followed went off as expected, the main difference being that everyone awoke early the next morning (or perhaps never went to bed) to say goodbye.

We gathered in the hall, many people still fuld or with visible tømmermænds, to sing one last song, and start our many goodbyes. Within minutes everyone was crying. I don’t know how long the hugs and tears lasted, but with every goodbye, I wished that I had spent more time with each and every person that I had met at Krogerup. Because of Krogerup, I now have friends in Japan, Iceland, and Tunisia, as well as from many parts of Denmark. At least one person is already planning to visit me in Nashville this coming summer, which I look forward to immensely, I’m planning to visit Iceland this May,  and I’m sure there will be countless other adventures to look forward to.

Today, a month later, I’m happy to see that E’13 doesn’t show any signs of fading yet, and excited that I’ll be returning to København in just 12 days for another semester with friends that will last a lifetime.

Taksgiving på Krogerup

Firstly, if anyone is actually following this blog avidly, I apologize for my prolonged sabbatical from writing. I wanted to relish the last moments at Krogerup, and so I am now drafting posts about my last three weeks in Denmark from my bed, at home in Tennessee.

Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday for a long time.  Despite it’s basis on a idealized founding myth (and I by no means want to forget the fact that Europeans unjustly massacred Native Americans,) today’s celebration is focused mainly on appreciation of family and opportunity The holiday seems to have avoided some (but not all) of the vapid consumerism that is often associated with other holidays in the United States.

Thanksgiving was the first day that I truly felt homesick in my entire stay. I have never in my life spent it apart from my mother, who I am very close to, and when I skyped her that evening, I almost cried because the connection kept breaking up. However, sharing the tradition with friends from around the world was unforgettable. Nicolaij, the head chef at Krogerup has done Thanksgiving a couple times now, and I must say I was truly impressed with how accurate his interpretation of Thanksgiving dinner was.

Happily filling up plates of mashed potatoes (photo cred to Kimberly Thomas)

Happily filling up plates of mashed potatoes (photo cred to Kimberly Thomas)

Sitting around the table, surrounded by close friends, we all stated what we were thankful for, as the tradition dictates. While it was nothing like being at home, surrounded by biological family, it felt as right as could be.

My personal favorite moment of the evening was when Sveinn, our Icelandic friend asked: “do people every deep fry Turkeys in the U.S.?”

“No, only hillbillies strung out on meth do that” Nathan replied. As per usual, everyone turned to me at the mention of the word “hillbilly” and I was forced to admit, that yes, in fact, my family has deep fried a Thanksgiving turkey in years past.

A Photo from Thanksgiving 2012

A Photo from Thanksgiving 2012

After dinner came the best part, Colbie & Jamie, two other American DIS students had made a bunch of pumpkin and apple pies, and snickerdoodles. Overall, most of the Danes didn’t get the hype about pumpkin pie, but to me it tasted like being home, and I was happy to eat what others didn’t want. The Snickerdoodles were a hit, even though most people refused to believe they could be named something so silly.

Desserts & Paper Turkeys (photo by Kimberly Thomas)

Desserts & Paper Turkeys (photo by Kimberly Thomas)

Sharing Thanksgiving was particularly rewarding because it felt so natural, as if it could be easily incorporated into Danish culture without any huge paradoxes or contradictions. It seemed to bring something new to the table (pun intended) that would leave no bitterness.

Folk dances, Icebreakers & John Lennon songs, Oh My!

This morning I went to yet another orientation session for my core course, and then an info session on safety etc. This week has felt like a repeat of Camp Vandy, the first week of freshman year, where they continually throw information at you.

Talking to other DIS students this morning reaffirmed just how different (and AWESOME) living in a folkehojskole is. The kids who are living in the city are already exploring Copenhagen’s bars, which I fully intend to do, just not quite yet, mostly because of that hour commute.

There are six DIS students living at Krogerup, the rest are students within the folkehojskole from all over the world. Nathan, Michelle, Kim, Gabbie, Phillip and I all come from separate Universities, and have different interests, but we share a desire to get a truly Danish experience. 

The  fact that the advice DIS gave on how to meet Danes and make Danish friends was similar to the strategies we’ve already been using during out meal times at Krogerup seems to be pretty promising. 

The best way to emphasize how fun and different our experiences at Krogerup are is most certainly an anecdotal strategy.

When I arrived (late) at Krogerup, the opening ceremony was starting, and the first thing we did was sing John Lennon/ The Beatle’s  I Get by with a Little Help from My Friends. This was followed by practicing greeting people in different hypothetical situations with whatever salutation would be appropriate from our culture, and finally  learning some Danish folk dances.

At the end of evening, Rikke, the principal of Krogerup told us that there would be many opportunities for parties, but she would like us all to refrain from drinking, because “it is very important that you meet each other… ‘genuinely’ (sober,) but only until this coming Saturday, because…. We’re having a PARTY!

So until then, we’ll have to pursue the impossibly difficult activity of interacting with twenty somethings without alcohol as a social lubricant, how tragic (PS Mom, this is SARCASM, I promise)

Krogerup the commune

My 24 hour journey from Knoxville to Humlebaek went off without a hitch, I’m all moved in to my room at Krogerup Hojskole, and I’m already sure that I chose the best possible housing option for myself.

Krogerup is like Hogwarts, in the middle of the woods, filled with interesting people from all over Denmark and the world (including people from Ghana, Burma and Japan) and located adjacent to a farm commune.


Our path through the forest towards the train station

After dinner today, I spent some time wandering around my beautiful new home.


A hay bale playground

We were pretty excited about these massive hay bales, bringing out the five year old in all of us.


Sunflowers in the garden

The garden not only had a ton of these huge sunflowers, but was filled with produce as well. Naturally I was pretty excited about the opportunity to make a name pun with the corn that was growing


Ears of Corn

The colonial buildings are also beautifully quaint



Newest place to call home.


Everybody in Denmark loves bikes, the stereotypes are true.


A shot of the courtyard through my window at 7:30 am


PS: forgot to mention that there’s casually goats on the commune next door.

Housing- a Folkehøjskole

I FINALLY received my housing information for my study abroad term (if you ask me, ten days before arrival is cutting it a little close) and I’m excited to that I will be living in a Folkehøjskole called Krogerup Hojskole in the Danish town of Humlebaek, part of suburban Copenhagen. For the record, the spelling and names of these places is killing me, but I assume I’ll get the hang of it eventually.

A google image of Krogerup Hojskole

A google image of Krogerup Hojskole

According to Wikipedia (an excellent source, I know, but it’ll do the job) the town of Humlebaek is situated on the shores of “Øresund” or “The Sound” a strait that separates one of the Danish islands from Sweden, and is surrounded by fields and forests on the other three sides, as well as having access to some beaches on the shores of the Øresund (but it’ll be too cold for any of that!)

A Folkehøjskole is a Danish tradition founded about 150 years ago by Frederik Severin Grundtvig, a Danish priest and poet dedicated to the idea of an educated community. According to DIS it functions like a liberal arts college, as a residential community where students live and take classes, but they are free from the constrains and stress of grades and tests, instead choosing to pursue knowledge by their own motivation.

I personally will be taking classes at Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS) with other American students, as well as one class at the University of Copenhagen with Danish students, but I’m extremely excited to have this opportunity to live and interact with Danish and International students at Krogerup Hojskoel.