While the phrase “study abroad” may not conjure up images of libraries and textbooks, I can assure you, I am in fact learning.
Last week was Core Course Week at DIS. In my core class, Health Delivery and Prioritization, we spent three days learning and traveling in western Denmark and two days studying back home in Copenhagen. Our schedule was jam-packed with activities, including but not limited to a stop at the Jelling Monuments, a visit to a general practitioner’s (GP) office, a Danish sex education workshop, and a prison tour.
For many of us, visiting a Danish general practitioner was a highlight of the study-tour. Dr. Michael Jacobson greeted us in the waiting room in dark blue jeans and a black tee shirt. He gave us a tour of his office, which, like many of the buildings in Denmark, was flooded with natural light. (I absolutely love it.) He pointed out some interesting things we should take note of.
“I placed the joker hat on top of the skeleton so the children aren’t scared,” he explained, smiling.
The majority of our time at Dr. Jacobson’s practice was spent in a Q & A session. Our class had already covered GPs and their role in the Danish health care system, but hearing from Dr. Jacobson brought a unique, personal perspective to the topic at hand.
Students were especially surprised by Dr. Jacobson’s medical malpractice insurance. He paid only 500 kroner, about 80 U.S. dollars, a year – an incredibly low fee by American standards. He attributed this low fee in part to the trust patients have in their GPs. Trust is a common theme that has been brought up again and again during my time in Denmark. It seems embedded in the culture and in many aspects of the health care system.
While in western Denmark, the class also toured Fængslet, an 1853 state penitentiary that closed in 2006. It has since been transformed into museum, giving visitors a peek into the lives of those who lived behind bars. A tour guide led the class through the exhibit, explaining the prison’s history and sharing inmate stories.
In 1949, one infamous prisoner, Carl Lorentzen, spent eleven months digging a tunnel to freedom. It was an elaborate and ambitious plan. Once completed, he left a note at the entrance of the tunnel, translating to, “When there’s a will, there is a way.” He enjoyed six days of freedom before being captured on a nearby farm and brought back to his cell.
While I found Lorentzen’s escape story entertaining, I was most intrigued by his artwork. He was a talented artist, expressing himself through several different mediums: drawing, papier-mâché, carved wooden chess pieces. He often gave his art as birthday and holiday presents. His work made him so much more real and human. The museum brings the prisoners’ experiences to life, while asking us to consider, “How should criminals be treated?”
When the class wasn’t at a planned educational activity, we were most likely traveling or eating.
“It’s like we’ve never seen food before,” Bethany, a classmate, commented as all twenty-six of us simultaneously converged on four boxes of pastries.
Core Course Week provided a unique opportunity to learn and interact with my public health classmates and professors outside the classroom. It felt like a cross between summer camp and a school field trip. Traveling across Denmark in a bus was definitely tiring, but it was also extremely rewarding.
After all, you can’t spend every day drinking overpriced lattes in hygge cafés. When at DIS, you have to put the “study” in “study abroad.”