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International exchange student perspective

Highlighting the experience of a group of nine international software engineering exchange students.

Last semester, we were happy to welcome nine international exchange students who all chose to study a semester abroad at our department. They were all accepted into the Software Engineering study program where they followed the same six elective courses. We asked them to share their experiences with us in order to document their perspectives and learn from them as a department for the benefit of future exchange students.

Motivations to apply for a semester at Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE)

For some of the students, the path to studying at our department has been clearer than for others. For Anna-Sophia, who was born and raised in Australia as the child of a Danish parent, it has always been her plan to study in Aarhus – both to improve her Danish language skills and her software engineering skills. She also has family here in Aarhus, so she wanted to spend some time with them.

Bao had visited Aarhus in the past and liked the vibe and the cultural and social scene. Oskar and Ellion chose to come here because Aarhus University and Aarhus, in general, were recommended to them by friends and students at their universities. Oskar adds:

“For me, it was also a decisive factor that the Nordics are considered to be frontrunners within the field of IT. I wanted to ensure I would spend my time wisely and learn relevant skills during my stay abroad.”

For Sophie, a semester abroad is a mandatory part of her study program, and her decision to come to Aarhus was COVID-related:

“At the time when I had to apply, lockdowns were still happening, and in case there would be another lockdown and the teaching would be online-based, I thought it best to choose somewhere close to home (red. Germany) so that if necessary, I could do the online classes from home while being with my family.”

For Yen Lun, Aarhus University was not his first priority, but in the end, he was happy to be given a place here as he also heard many positive stories from people at his university in Taiwan.

Finally, for Vojtech and Niclas, the fact that Danes are known for speaking good English and the fact that courses are taught in English were important factors in their decision process.

Being welcomed as international exchange students 

When you arrive as an international exchange student at Aarhus University, there is a whole support system in place ready to receive you. Aarhus University’s International Centre provides a wide range of services for international students, and Studenterhus Aarhus organizes a variety of social events, for example, a weekly international night, “I-night”, held every Tuesday – each time with a different theme.

As a group, they generally feel well-received by their fellow local students, who are friendly and easy to talk to. During courses, however, they find it difficult to get to interact with local students because tight-knit study groups are already in place way before the arrival of the exchange students. They feel they could have benefitted from working in mixed groups, but they have found other ways to interact with the locals.

Renée, for example, plays in Aarhus University’s basketball team. Apart from playing basketball, she also takes part in a lot of social activities with team members. Yen Lun is a regular attendant at tech events organized by ORBIT Lab – our department’s local tech and entrepreneurship community, and Vojtech stays in a dorm where he is the only international resident. They have also all enjoyed socializing with their local peers in Katrine’s Kælder, the Friday bar located on ECE’s campus.

At ECE, Henning Hargaard, Associate Professor, has followed the group closely during the past semester in the capacity of their local contact here at ECE.

Notable differences in student life

Being a student at ECE is widely different to being a student at many of the universities that our exchange students come from. The main differences highlighted by the group include differences in teaching style and philosophy, exam format and timetables.

To Ellion, the main difference is the number of hours he has to attend courses here. He explains:

“Back at my university, I spend more time studying on my own than attending classes. I enjoy the group work here – something which I am not used to. Another good thing is the possibility to do retakes if you don’t pass an exam. At my university, you have to retake the entire course.”

To Anna-Sophia, adjusting to fixed timetables has been a challenge. Back at her university, she has been used to putting together her own flexible schedule, allowing time for e.g. entire working days. However, with everyone being on their own schedule, it is difficult to bond with fellow students and find people to work with. She elaborates:

“I can see how the fixed schedules here contribute to a good team environment which makes it easier when you have to work together on projects. The local students go through their studies together, which is nice.”

Oskar is used to having a lot of highly theoretical lectures and not a lot of project work. He says:

“I really like the format, where we have a short and concise lecture on the theory and then we go straight into hands-on exercises where we get to apply the theory in practice. It is also really great that we do so much project work – the learning outcome is significant.”

One thing they all agree on is that it has been tricky to understand the format for the exams and decode the lecturers’ expectations of individual performances. They have all been used to different exam formats, and the project exams have been a new experience for most of them.

Also common for everyone in the group is that they enjoy the Friday bars, which up until their arrival, was an unfamiliar concept to them. 

The prospect of a future in Denmark?

A recent analysis by Damvad Analytics for the Danish Society of Engineers demonstrates the value of international graduates for Danish society – particularly those with a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) background.

When asked if they could imagine living and working in Denmark after their studies, there was a 50/50 split between those who could see themselves coming back to Aarhus and those who could not.

Vojtech, for example, could easily see himself returning:

“With our educational background, there are a lot of good career opportunities here in Aarhus and in Denmark in general. The lively social atmosphere and the many activities you can do in your spare time is also something I find very appealing.”

The department’s perspective

At ECE, we acknowledge the high demand for engineers and that this demand is ever-increasing. We wish to help solve society’s future needs, and in order to do that, we need to educate more internationals.

Henning Hargaard has enjoyed being their local contact and hopes to be able to welcome more international students in the future:

“It has been a great joy for me to help this group of young people from across the globe navigate through their studies at our department. I hope we were able to give them a great experience and hope some of them might consider a future in Denmark. In any case, I wish them all the best.”

Head of Department at ECE, Mikael Bergholz Knudsen consents:

“It is crucial that we continue to provide opportunities for international talent to thrive and contribute to the growth and development of our department and our society. At ECE, we are ready to receive more international students at bachelor’s and master’s levels and look forward to welcoming them to our department.”

More information about being an international student at Aarhus University

Below are some useful links to share with international students who are considering doing an exchange program or a full degree at Aarhus University.

Bachelor’s level

If you have any questions about being an exchange student in one of the engineering programs at bachelor’s level and how to apply, you are welcome to contact International Coordinator Fie Bøje Misholt: fbm@au.dk 

Master’s level

If you have any questions about doing your master’s degree at Aarhus University as an international student and how to apply, you are welcome to contact Sarah Gram at Aarhus University’s International Office: sarg@au.dk and International Coordinator Fie Bøje Misholt: fbm@au.dk

Relevant for all international students

iMentor Aarhus is an association run by volunteering students from the two faculties - Natural Sciences and Technical Sciences. Students from iMentor Aarhus play a central role for exchange students during their first weeks in Aarhus and throughout the semester.

We also encourage you to follow Aarhus University’s Instagram account, where international students regularly do takeovers and answer many questions. Via this profile, you will also be able to reach and chat with current international students at Aarhus University.

Profiles of the exchange students

The nine exchange students represent four continents across the globe. They are

  • Anna-Sophia, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia
  • Yen Lun, National Taiwan University, Taiwan
  • Renée, Zürcher Hochschule für Angewandte Wissenschaften, Switzerland
  • Niclas, Zürcher Hochschule für Angewandte Wissenschaften, Switzerland
  • Votjech, Ceské Vysoké Uceni Technické v Praze, Czech Republic
  • Sophie, Hochschule Bremen – City University of Applied Sciences, Germany
  • Bao, Háskólinn í Reykjavik, Iceland
  • Ellion, University of Arkansas, USA
  • Oskar, Politechnika Gdanska, Poland