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Luis from Argentina – Mechanical Engineering

27-year-old Luis Octavio de Cunto is from Argentina. He came to Aarhus a year and a half ago to take a Master’s degree in mechanics, where he is looking at simulating structures and metamaterials.

Why did you decide to take your Master’s degree at Aarhus University?

Denmark wasn’t really my plan A. I’d originally thought about going to Germany, because German universities are very well-known in Argentina for their good engineering programmes. But then I was in Copenhagen in another connection, I saw that Denmark could be an option. In Argentina, I studied in Buenos Aires. It's a huge city, but I wanted something a little smaller and quieter. So I applied to come to Aarhus, without really knowing anything about the city at all. But I was pleasantly surprised to see how nice the city is to live and study in. So I'm pretty sure that plan B actually ended up being better than plan A.

I’ve previously been to summer school in Aachen, Germany. They have a good university, but the city is a bit boring. On the other hand, Aarhus is very lively. There’s a rich cultural life with many museums and festivals. For example, the ARoS art museum compares with the very best internationally. That was a surprise. There’s a lot going on here. One of the things I like most about Aarhus is that, even though it's a rather small city, it has everything you could expect of a big city. There’s everything you need – and everything is close by.

What’s the teaching at Aarhus University like?

There’s a very informal tone in Denmark, and the relationship with the lecturers at the university is also very relaxed. In Argentina, my teaching staff were a little more conservative, they were a little more distant and aloof. Here in Aarhus, there’s no clear hierarchy in the same way, and you can always knock on the door of a professor. Actually, you’re encouraged to drop by and ask questions. I like that. You know that the teachers are always there, and that's great!

In Argentina, teaching is very much about preparing for tests and exams. Here in Denmark, focus is more on the fact that you actually need to learn something. In South America, you become a machine to pass exams, but in Scandinavia it’s more important that the teaching actually makes you smarter and better. I really like that approach.

One of the reasons why I went to Europe is that I want a career in research. And there’s good opportunities here. In my home country, they’re more interested in what industry needs. It’s all about finishing your studies so you can get a job in a company. Here in Denmark, more resources are allocated to research, and there’s better opportunities to find funding for a PhD, for example. So when you study a Master’s at Aarhus University, you get the tools to work in industry and to do independent research, if that’s what you want.

What do you think about Aarhus?

Aarhus is a really nice city. There’s a lot of young people and many international students. I hadn’t expected that. The city has everything: Beaches, forests, parks and beautiful architecture. I live close to the centre, so most things are within easy reach. I’ve not bought a bike yet, but I’ll have to soon, because that’s how Danes get around. They cycle everywhere!

I play basketball in the university sports club. And the club is actually a little community in itself. We have a lot of parties and dinners together. And even though there’s around 100 members, we all know each other, more or less. There are both Danish and international students, so training is always in English.

You don't have to be able speak Danish to get by in Aarhus, because everyone speaks perfect English, and that also makes it easier to integrate. If I meet with some Danes, they automatically go over to English, because they insist on speaking English if there’s a non-Danish speaker among them. And that’s a really good principle.

There are many Danes in my group on the Master's programme in mechanics. It took some time before we started seeing each other outside the university, but once you get to know them, they're really open and nice. I come from a country where social life is entirely different. In Argentina, we’ll invite you to dinner, even if we don't know your name – and we make friends right away. Here in Denmark there’s a bit more distance at first, but once you get used to it, it’s no problem.

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to a 25-year birthday party at home with some of my Danish friends, and I witnessed a slightly curious tradition: If you’re not married at the age of 25, you get tied to a chair by your friends, who then pour cinnamon on you. An awful lot of cinnamon! Of course, it was just for fun. But being invited to this very private event made me feel like one of the Danes.

Do you want to stay in Aarhus?

Yes, I really like both the city and the university, so my plan is to apply for a PhD. And then we'll have to see what happens. Otherwise, I’ll try and find a job nearby. There’s a lot of large companies close to Aarhus, and they’re constantly looking for skilled engineers. The wind turbine industry is huge here, but there are also other exciting companies, like Lego and Terma, just nearby.

I’d like to stay in Denmark, because it’s a good country. The winters can be a bit cold, but there are so many opportunities here in Aarhus that I don’t have in Argentina.