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A Semester abroad, an Impossible Mission

Many first-year students have big dreams of an exchange semester abroad. Due to strict bureaucracy, most of them will find their plans postponed three years. There is a world of possibilities out there. Why are we not allowed to explore it?

By Silva Mertsola

I was sweating in my first­day­of­school outfit in the Christian Hansen Auditorium, trying to hide my panic caused by the realization of how little Danish I understood. The welcoming PowerPoint show had a slide that has stuck with me. It promo­ ted the great international profile of our faculty, encouraging us to start planning our exchange se­ mesters on time.

I remember this vividly, because it felt so comfor­ ting in the otherwise frightening scenario. I was about to study a full degree of political science in a language I didn’t understand, in a country, whose prime minister I couldn’t remember the name of. I had fallen in love with Copenhagen and left my comfort zone to earn more than just a univer­ sity degree: I wanted to challenge myself, expand my language repertoire, and see what the big bad

world had to offer. Maybe I had landed in a place where students travelled and exchanged ideas over language barriers. Perhaps my confusing Swedish­ speaking, yet completely Finnish, background would not be seen as a burden.


A year later, this time wearing the tutor t­shirt, I no­ ticed that my critical thinking had improved after 60 ECTS credits. The diagram on that same PowerPoint show, telling the freshmen the unimpressively small number of students who had gone for exchange, was not comforting anymore.

The freshmen do not have to start planning their exchange semesters yet. In fact, they will not be seeing much of the world outside of CSS until their fifth semester at the earliest.

Should maximizing our personal competences by enhancing our in­ ternational profile feel like illegal gambling?

– Silva Mertsola

Skærmbillede 2015-12-21 kl. 10.25.19

This will take place only if they find a university that offers 20 ECTS credits of International Rela­ tions and 10 ECTS credits of Comparative Politics, or win in the ‘shift your courses around’ edition of Tetris.

The short list of universities that have been pre­ approved for students wanting to go for exchange during their bachelors includes University of Bir­ mingham, University of Exeter and Universität Kon­ stanz. The list of possible locations only includes universities in the UK and Germany. At least there is not a world of opportunities to hinder the decision­ making.

Mette Cecilia Nielsen postponed one of her cour­ ses during her fourth semester. She is now at Kon­ stanz University on exchange. Upon her arrival, she found out that one of the courses, pre­approved to match Comparative Politics, wasn’t offered any­ more. The risk of KU forcing her home to start the normal criteria­matching courses after they had started was imminent. “I haven’t heard from KU yet, so I actually don’t know if my application will go through, but my coordinator assured me they won’t send me home,” she writes to me in the be­ ginning of October.

Mette Cecilia Nielsen doesn’t agree with my conspi­ racy theory about our faculty making exchange semesters a mere impossibility as an act of a pro­ tectionist policy so as to keep the Danish youth in Denmark. She says the staff has been very helpful

and understanding, and that it simply happens to be the way our bachelor’s program is built.


I believe the problem lies in the strict structure of our program. The title of MSc in Political Science from KU is a mark of quality, which spares the Danish job interviewer from looking deeper in to what the applicant’s degree contains. But to those of us with an interest in the job market outside of little Denmark, KU might not ring a bell to our potential employ­ ers. Ultimately, language skills, an international net­ work, the understanding of foreign cultures, and the capacity of critically assessing our own culture, is what will land us a job in international companies, in Brussels, and beyond.

In Finland, many universities have a mandatory ex­ change semester for every bachelor student. They have recognized the growing demand for an inter­ nationally acknowledged and compatible workforce and the attraction this has on international inve­ stors. We live in a globalized economy where it is impossible to restrict mobility. The university should be an institution that reacts to the changing world and prepares students for future challenges, instead of keeping them home in the ‘andedam’.

Leaving Finland to receive an education in the highest ranked Nordic university, has taught me mountains, but the lessons can’t be measured in ECTS. When looking at the job opportunities in my home country, for a newly graduated cand.­scient.pol from KU with little job experience, I’m worried.

We live in a globalized economy where it is impossible to restrict mobility. The university should be an institution that reacts to the changing world and prepares stu­ dents for future, instead of keeping them home in the ‘andedam’

– Silva Mertsola

I’m worried, because the Finns haven’t heard about ‘fremdriftsreformen’ and they do not understand that I have to actually study really, really hard instead of having a study relevant job, exchange semesters and two or more internships.


There is a way around this, the ever so helpful stu­ dent advisor tells me. On record, we’re supposed to continue on our master’s programs straight after our bachelor’s. Off the record, the risk of not get­ ting accepted into a master’s program after doing a bachelor’s at the faculty is very small. So technically, I could just take a gap year, get an internship in Fin­ land before it’s too late, and cross my fingers that I get accepted into the master’s program at KU. But is it really worth the risk? Should maximizing our per­ sonal competences by enhancing our international profile feel like illegal gambling?

More importantly, why are we not encouraged to go abroad? By making changes to how our education is structured, going abroad during our bachelors could be made easy for those students interested.

We have students from all around Europe still in their bachelors coming in for exchange. Many of those attend master’s courses. We have students from all around Denmark and Europe earning the title cand.scient.pol. from KU, without having donethe same strict bachelor’s program we have – and they’re doing just fine.

So why aren’t we, the future success stories with some of Denmark’s highest gra­ des from high school, trusted with the freedom to see what the world has to offer and make the most of our education?