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My Exchange Semester at SDU (Erasmus) and student life in Odense

I spent my last semester as an exchange student at Southern Denmark University. And it was an absolutely wonderful and enriching experience, giving me much inspiration and fresh ideas for my study and further career.

Scandinavian Modestly-looking facade of the huge university

The University of Southern Denmark is situated in the centre of Denmark in the city of Odense. The location is perfect: it’s just 1.5 hours by train from the capital of Denmark and 2 hours from the German border. There are two international airports nearby (in Copenhagen and in Billund), opening many possibilities to travel and discover the Scandinavian region.

Denmark is an emerging technological hub, the home for hi-tech startups. Several successful robotic companies such as Universal Robots, Blue Ocean Robotics are located in Odense. SDU is actively cooperating with them by organising career workshops, seminars, and joint research projects.

Southern Denmark University

SDU is a huge university, which is full of contrasts. Outside it looks like an oldish abandoned building with rusty and unpleasant exterior walls. This exterior design was done on purpose, not to distract students during the classes. However, SDU’s interior makes an absolutely different impression. This is a modern cosy university, full of life and interesting things.  Inside the university, there is a very long hallway corridor connecting different blocks, departments, classrooms, laboratories, and cafeterias. It has everything that students need for a productive and enjoyable study process and amazing non-academic life. Modern classrooms are equipped with huge screens and all the necessary multimedia devices. There are several libraries, where students can study anytime. SDU has good sports facilities: a modern fitness-hall, an Olympic-size swimming pool, with free entrance for students.

There is even a pub in the university which is open every Friday night. For me, a student from an Asian country, it was weird to see a bar with alcoholic drinks in an educational facility. But for Danish people, used to the pub culture, it is a normal thing.

The main building of the university lasts along two tramway stops. In the end there is a construction site, where a new hospital is being built, so the university building will be even longer soon. Luckily, SDU has a mobile application with the university map, because it is hard to find a given classroom in such a big building.

Orientation Days

Before the start of the study process, SDU organised Orientation Days for exchange students, and it was very amazing and useful. There were senior students who made a tour around the campus and showed all the facilities of the university, focusing on the Engineering Department where we will be studying. I was really impressed by scale of SDU and the possibilities that it opens. There is everything for research and creative work: workshops, where students can create robots, build satellites, drones. There is a garage with a racing team making racing cars, chemistry, biologic laboratories, and many other interesting places. I can just imagine how much money the danish government invests to maintain all the research facilities and research projects.

The heart of the university is the library, and it is huge too. Not only books you can find here, but also films, music, board games. There is even a section with 3D printers, unfortunately I had not time to try them in action.

The university is open 24/7. Yes, you can come here at night any day and study. Besides the classrooms there are a lot of spacious public areas, when you can find a chair or even a couch to stay comfortably with your laptop and work.

Studying at SDU

As for the teaching level, it always varies: some professors give a lot of theory to study, homework, and research papers, while others spend less time to theoretical material, explaining it in an easy manner, and make more focus on practical assignments.  But what is common for all teachers – is group work. All the professors at SDU give group assignments, team projects or ask to prepare presentations in groups. Usually, small presentations in groups are preferred during classes, 5-15 minutes long. Personal input is important, and they usually require everyone to present a part. 

Exams in Denmark

As for the examination, in Denmark, unlike other European countries, oral exams are preferred. Usually, you are expected to give a short presentation and followed by the Q&A session. The whole exam lasts 15-20 minutes maximum. The main benefit is that you do not have to wait for result, your grade will be declared just at the end of your oral exam.

There are a lot of exchange students at SDU and the university has organized everything for our comfort: from the registration in local authorities to the weekend outings. At SDU I met students from Germany, Netherlands, Italy, France, Poland, Czech Republic, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Russia – and none of them was unhappy about their exchange semester at SDU.

Selecting courses for an exchange semester at SDU

Selecting courses for my exchange semester at SDU, that are suitable to the Health Informatics program at THD, was one of the hardest tasks of the pre-departure part of the Erasmus Exchange Program. SDU does not offer a Health Informatics program, and I was allowed to select courses of the engineering department only. But the main issue is that I had already passed four study semesters in ECRI and validated most of the required courses of the Health Informatics program. Thus, I had a limited choice.

Luckily, the Engineering department of SDU offers a wide range of courses related not only to engineering disciplines, but also to management, business administration and other areas. And the SDU’s website has a very detailed information about each of the courses, describing course’s structure, content, examination process and other key details. The information helps to understand what and how will be taught during the course, and to estimate how the course’s content is close to my courses at the home university.  After a careful study of all the SDU’s engineering courses’ description, I selected the following four courses for my exchange semester:

– Organisation and management

– Strategic Management

– Cross cultural management

– Project management

Below I will describe them in details.

1) Organisation and Management – the course focuses on studying different management models, strategies, organizational structures, economic analysis models and applying all the theories on a selected company. The main output of the course consists of an analysis of the company, including several group presentations and an individual report. I was in a group with four students from France and we selected a local IT company Netcompany for our research. We defined and described its organizational form, corporate structure, the level of integration of departments, outsourcing, evaluated its market strategy, legal and economic environment, risk management practices, the level of IT processes and some other aspects. The final exam consisted of the presentation, individual report about the company and the Q&A session.

2) Strategic Management – the course consists of theoretical content covering business analysis, strategic thinking, decision making, lean thinking, analyzing resources and capabilities, PESTEL analysis, EAM, IT strategies and other theories. During the lectures we analyzed different companies and conducted business analysis to define managerial strategy, possible management and IT strategies for the firms, trying to solve specific problems in the internal or external environment. As an exam we had a QnA session covering  more than 40 different models and theories related to management and IT, studied during the course, and resolution of a case study, related to a management problem, with argumentation of the proposed strategy or solution.

3) Cross-cultural management – the course covers different aspects of the intercultural communication in business environment, with a special focus on the organisation and management of business and social processes in international corporations. For instance, we studied how firms handle issues in multicultural environment, techniques to establish positive relationships, identifying factors that may jeopardize effective business communication. There were a lot of practical information about understanding body language signs and cultural habits in different countries. Through the study of business cases in international companies such as Starbucks, Nestle, Toyota, and many others, (including healthcare domain e.g. Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson), I got useful knowledge about working in a multicultural team, dealing with communication problems. Moreover, during the four months we had four guest lectures, with practicing managers from different international corporations. They shared their hands-on experience of managing multicultural teams, projects, handling communication issues, establishing business relations and many other interesting details from their practice.

4) Project management 1 –I found this course to be the mostpractical one among others, that I had  during the semester. Project Management 1 course covers mainly the project planning stage, during which the project documentation is being prepared. The biggest part of the course is dedicated to composing project documents by the PMBOK methodology. The main goal is to generate a project idea, describe it and present to potential investors. I was in a team with 3 danish students and 1 student from the Netherlands, and it was a good collaboration experience. I told them about the Medappoint mobile application, that I designed with my classmates last semester under the “Programming practice” course in ECRI, and we decided to develop this project idea further as a course project. During the 4 months we developed all the project documentation for the Medappoint app (Project charter, Work breakdown structure, RACI Matrix etc.) and presented the project idea and implementation plan. In addition to the final presentation we had a theoretical test as a part of the examination process.

About the requirements to EU and non-EU students

Initially, I was planning to study only the four courses (which are equivalent to 20 ECTS) during the semester (in order to dedicate them more time and receive higher grades). However, after arriving in Denmark it turned out, that in my case 20 ECTS are not sufficient. The immigration authorities of Denmark require international students from non-EU countries to take at least 30 ECTS per semester. Thus, I had to take additional 10 ECTS to comply with the requirement. Fortunately, at SDU students are allowed to change their study program during the first 2 weeks of the semester.

Students from EU countries do not have the requirement, they are allowed to take fewer ECTS per semester.

Human-Robot Interaction (HRI)

Among other courses in the Engineering department, I shortlisted the Grid Integration of Renewable Energy, Intellectual Property Rights, and Human-Robot Interaction courses. It was hard to select one of the 3, and I decided to visit each of them before making the final decision. Firstly, I came to the “Grid Integration of Renewable Energy”. The course content was interesting, and I was realizing its importance and career potential. Besides, there was a chance to learn the famous Matlab application. But I still had doubts about whether I will need it in my CV. Thus, I came to the Intellectual Property Rights class. The knowledge of property rights is highly demanded today, and I will certainly need it when working in IT.

Then I tried the last one – Human-Robot Interaction (HRI). I didn’t know anything about robots and it was an absolutely new area for me. But during the first lecture, I realized that this course is exactly what I was looking for. The teaching style of the professor was absolutely fascinating and easygoing. Also, the course included two projects with statistical analysis tools, which we started to study at ECRI and I wanted to study them more. Thus, after the first class, I had no more doubts about selecting my 5th course. However, there was, an obstacle: HRI was a Master’s level course, and I am a Bachelor’s student. Luckily after careful consideration of my request, the administration of SDU allowed me to take the Master-level course.

This course focuses “on the emerging field of Human-Robot Interaction (HRI)” covering different scientific fields such as: “Robotics, AI, Human-Computer Interaction, interaction design, psychology, anthropology, education, drama, and Cognitive Psychology and other fields”. During the course, we were exploring and tested how robots and people interact in different situations, and how people react to the robot’s voice, appearance, and movements in everyday life. Ethical and cultural issues of robot design were also covered during the course. But for me, the application in the medical field was more important. That is why I have got involved in a collaboration project with the Blue Ocean Robotics company, producing a special type of robot for hospitals – PTR. The robot represents an elevation tool positioned near the patient’s bed. It is used to transport a patient safely and easily from the bed into a wheelchair, to support during rehabilitation exercises etc. During the project, I got an opportunity to test how the robot works, how it is being used in practice by healthcare professionals. Finally, our team has got an assignment to design additional features to improve the functionality of PTR. This was an absolutely useful collaboration experience.

The core of the HRI course is the research project, that we conducted using another robot in SDU. The idea was to study an aspect of HRI, to formulate a hypothesis, collect data, estimate it using a statistical tool and verify the hypothesis. With my teammates from Netherlands and Czech Republic we conducted a study of people’s reaction to different robot’s voices and their willingness to obey robot’s instructions.

The examination of the HRI course was conducted in the oral form. It was based on project reports and the follow up questions. Even though I didn’t get the highest grade, HRI was my favorite course at SDU.

6) As for the English course, my 6th course in the semester, it was mostly consisting of class discussions on selected topics. It was more a debate club, rather than a language course: no grammar, no vocabulary, only the speaking practice. But considering that there were almost 40 students in the group, and we had only one four-hour class per week, it was not very effective. Most time we were working in groups with our classmates. The professor just had not enough time to work individually with every student, to correct mistakes or give advices. During the semester every student made 2 presentations. The itself course was not hard, however, the exam was quite complicated. It was an oral exam, consisting of a short presentation and QnA session about the topics covered during the course.

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Costs of Living in Odense

Living in Odense

The support from SDU, THD, ECRI and Erasmus before and during the exchange semester was outstanding. On the predeparture stage the whole process was well explained by the International Office of the THD, and we received detailed instructions about each step:  selecting the university courses, filling-in the learning agreement, preparing document, passing the language assessment test etc. The active support of International Office, Erasmus+ Team, especially Iris Reul, Antonia Gruber and Prof. Spittler, the Coordinator of the Health Informatics program, helped me a lot in the pre-departure preparation period and during the exchange semester.

In Denmark everything was well-organised and carefully planned – the study process, extracurricular activities, cultural program, Erasmus events. The support of exchange students was organized by the International Office of SDU and the Erasmus Students Network. Before the start of the semester we had two Orientation Days in SDU where the stuff and the students of Engineering Department showed us the university and gave presentations with the information about the registration in Denmark, orientation in Odense, the study process, examinations at SDU. Besides there was a support channel in MS Teams, where university staff was answering questions online or helping students to find required information. Finally, there were several non-formal groups of exchange students in Whatsapp and Facebook, where we could ask questions and receive support online, or organize an event. The last ones were exceptionally helpful and active throughout the whole semester.

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Odense (locals call it “Unse”), this is an absolutely wonderful city, having its special cloudy but cozy ambience. You won’t meet many tourists here. It is a calm and charming city, a perfect place for students to live and to study. The city is very beautiful, especially I liked its historical part, harbor, lot of parks, gardens, and small forests.

The city has everything for a comfortable student life. There is a good choice of student accommodation, for different budgets, modern transport infrastructure, free public libraries, and numerous pubs to relax after classes.

The main student transport here is a bicycle. In winter and in summer, under rain or under the wind, people ride bicycles here. And it was a small bike-cultural shock for me. I have never cycled so much in my life before, like here in Odense during the 6 months! It is easy to rent a bike for several months if you don’t want to bring your own. Denmark is a flat country, there are absolutely no mountains. Probably that is the main reason that so many people prefer to cycle.

In Odense there is a separate infrastructure for cyclists with separate roads, crossroads, and traffic lights. For me, it was complicated during the first days. I could not even understand how to turn left on a big crossroad with my bike. Because separate lines for cars, trams, bikes and for people, meet on the crossroads and it can be very confusing especially if you came from a non-European country. The best way is to try your road to the university in advance, using Google Maps navigator. Luckily it works pretty accurately in Denmark.

As an alternative transport, there is a tram (Letbane) connecting the city centre with SDU campus. It is a nice option when it rains. And it rains very often in Odense.

Odense is a city of Pubs. They are concentrated in the city centre and have a different concept: there are sport bars, dancing, karaoke, board games etc. There is even a special pub for students, with special discounts. If you are bored by sitting at home and studying, you have a lot of options to change the ambience. Keeping the right work-life balance is an important part of the Danish lifestyle and “hygge”.

Speaking about expenses, Denmark is an expensive country. Accommodation and meals took all my scholarship and it even more. Here is the list of my main monthly expenses: 420 euros for the room, 200 euros for food, 25 euros for bike rental. This is a so-called “survival minimum”, which does not include other expenses for entertainment, pubs, travel etc. Travelling from Odense to Copenhagen (the most frequent trip that most students do) by train costs 12-20 euros depending on the date and time. If you eat in a restaurant it’s 30 euros per a person. Visiting HC Andersen’s museum costs 30 euros too.

Also, ESN organizes various trips and excursions in Denmark and even abroad. And they manage to negotiate the best prices. For example, the 5-day tour to Finnish Lapland cost 470 euros only. In my view, this is the best way to explore Scandinavia with your friends.


Tipps for exchange students in Odense

– Bike rent service:  swapfiets.dk : From 179,00 kr. per month. If you want to save money, you can ask for cheap bikes in WhatsApp \ Telegram groups. There are usually abandoned bikes near student accommodations, just ask your roommates.

– download the university map application

– connect to the WhatsApp groups of your accommodation as soon as possible (there must be at least one). People leave their stuff when leaving, you can have a cheap bike or a Wi-Fi router

– bring waterproof, wind-resistant clothes. You will often be in rain. Umbrellas are useless because of the wind.

– visit Faroe islands. This is the best place in the world, you will not regret! While you are a student in Denmark, you don’t need a special visa to go to Faroe or to Greenland.

– Visit LEGOLAND in Billund – It is definitely a “must visit” place if you live in Odense, because this 8th wonder of the world is just one-hour ride by bus from your city.

– follow ESN group in Facebook, and any other group to not miss fun and useful events. It’s fun to travel and hang out with ESN team.

– try to join ESN Active Members club. You will get friends there and receive a lot of benefits.

– don’t focus on your studies only. Grades are important but don’t miss non-academic events and parties. Join any event to make new friends and have your exchange semester as brightest as possible.

– Østrebro dorms are probably the best student accommodation in Odense. Even though you cannot select a residence when you apply for student housing, there is a special field for notes in your application, you may try to request it there.   

– Do not order flight tickets before you have seen the exams plan (mid May / Dec). Moreover, it must be the final plan, because sometimes they change exam dates.

  • If you fail an exam you will have to sign in for a 2nd attempt.
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