My Danish High School Experience

Katelyn Mistele talks about her visit to the local high school to talk about cultural differences. She shared her surprise, experiencing a very different high school system, and touches on what she has learned about the U.S. and how these experiences changed her cultural views.

Today I had an amazing opportunity to go into a local Danish high school and give a talk about cultural differences and my experiences as an exchange student from America in Denmark. I decided to participate in this opportunity and the experience was extremely insightful and rewarding.

For starters, the Danish high school environment is dramatically different from the environment in the United States. When I first arrived on the high schools campus everyone looked very old and mature from what image I had in my mind of “typical” American high school students. This I thought can be attributed to two factors. First off, high school in Denmark is only three years long and most students take a gap year or years after completing elementary school. So the students I had a chance to talk with today about cultural differences and my experiences were all 16 to 20 years old, so not dramatically far off from my age. As well, Danish students are given a great degree of freedom in their high school experience which I think also lends a hand to how mature they were in comparison to how “typical” American high schoolers act. 

The degree of freedom that the Danish students get at high school was honestly shocking to me. Students were able to leave campus to get lunch or coffee during breaks. In some schools in the United States this happens to some degree as well, but the Danish students almost seemed as if they could come and go as they please whereas in my high school it was a highly regulated process and we had to check in and out when we were leaving. In addition, there are many open areas and common areas where students were participating in collaborative group projects. It felt more like a college setting as opposed to a traditional high school where the students are herded from class to class in a structured and efficient manner. Along with this idea of freedom students upon acceptance into the high school get to choose one of six tracks in which they want to study on. Some examples of tracks include biology, business, technology, and social sciences. Once in their track students take a range of courses, but focus on their specialized track which again lends to more of a college like atmosphere. I find this very interesting because I had no idea I even wanted to major in business until my sophomore year in college. Imagine having to have a general idea of what you want to do with your life immediately after elementary school. 

Another dramatic difference that I could see in the high school experience was the fact that Danish students don’t have as large of a sports culture as we can see in high schools across the states. My high school in particular was extremely sports heavy. Most students played at least one sport growing up. However, at this particular high school they didn’t have any sports teams. Instead they had a designated weekend each spring to a tournament of some sort, but that was it. Some of the students asked me about sports culture in the United States. They wanted to know if it was like the movies with cheerleaders, fans, and the band. I was able to provide them some insight to Ohio States football culture which they were very interested in. 

During my time at the high school in addition to learning more about the Danish education system, I was asked to present my experiences so far as an exchange student. I discussed some of the immediate cultural differences I have seen. For example, my biggest adjustment so far has been the fact that Danish people in general aren’t as open and chatty as Americans. After I presented my thoughts the students had the floor and could ask myself any questions. I found it very interesting and eye opening that many of their questions revolved around how safe I felt in the states. They also wanted to get my stance and my peers stance on gun laws. For the Danish people the threats and attacks we have in the states they have never even heard of in their country and they have only seen this through the news so they wanted to get my stance on it. I found it very eye opening and interesting as I have never really given much thought to how some of these events might be seen by other cultures. 

I am so fortunate to have been able to go on this experience. It was extremely interesting and definitely has led me to become even more mindful and aware of how my culture is. Specifically, this experience provided me with insight on how other cultures view America. The idea that students thought that I felt unsafe in America really was interesting to me as I have never thought of Columbus or my hometown as being unsafe. Also the realization that other cultures give their youth more freedom and flexibility to me was interesting as well and I think some aspects of the American schooling system could benefit from less rigidity. This experience of being in Denmark has challenged my cultural views and has shaped them in many more ways than one, and this experience this morning at the high school has contributed to this. 

As I don’t have any pictures from the high school I thought I would share some of my pictures from my most recent trip. I know it doesn’t really fit in with this blog post, but I wanted to give you all something to look at besides words. For spring break myself and some friends from four different universities traveled to Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic. It was an amazing experience and so much fun. My personal favorite out of the three was Budapest, Hungary because it felt like New York City in a way and the prices were SO cheap. In Denmark a single cup of coffee is around $6 and in Budapest it was refreshing as I could get the same quality of coffee for around $1 which I am sure contributed to the fact that this location was my favorite. As well I was able to go to the roman baths in the city which was an amazing experience as well.

These “typical tourist” experiences are great, but traveling around Europe has been really eye opening from a cultural standpoint. Everything is so different in comparison to the United States and has led me to become more mindful. My friends and I really attempt to make an effort to talk with some of the locals when we travel so we can get the true cultural experience. For example, in Prague we met some individuals from London and while they weren’t from the Czech Republic we were able to sit down and have dinner with them and exchange ideas. It’s interesting, many European’s are very interested in my views on the current political climate in the United States, and it’s interesting to see how other cultures view the current environment. Overall, traveling in Europe has made me a more mindful individual. In addition, I see myself adapting some aspects of European culture into my own identity. I find myself more relaxed and find myself doing things at a more leisure pace in comparison to the quick and fast paced nature of my cultural identity in the United States. I have some pictures from my trip below, and I already have my next trip planned to Malta in a week! All of these little experiences are incredible and I cannot wait to share more!

Budapest Parliament Building
Budapest Parliament Building 
John Lennon Wall, Prague 
Prague, Czech Republic
Yummy shakes in Vienna, Austria

Katelyn Mistele

Katelyn Mistele is a third-year student at Fisher pursuing degrees in both Logistics Management and International Business. She is spending a semester abroad in Denmark. At Ohio State, she is involved in a variety of organizations on campus ranging from her business fraternity to two mentorship programs. Originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Katelyn loves spending time with family and friends, trying new restaurants, and hitting the gym.