Reserved Danes are hard to get to know

Tuesday 12 Jan 16


Morten Overgaard
Head of International Education
Office for Study Programmes and Student Affairs
+45 45 25 11 66

International Student Barometer 2014

164,863 international students from 209 institutions in 18 countries participated in the study.

50 per cent of DTU’s 1,532 international students took part in the study.

DTU’s facilities, the study programmes and the social activities were received the highest scores for satisfaction.



Watch Amy’s video on her experience at DTU here (and other international students' videos).


International students find it hard to make contact with their Danish classmates. A sociologist explains that it is a cultural issue.

The findings of the International Student Barometer 2014 indicate that DTU’s international students are generally very satisfied with their studies at the University. However, they are not quite as happy when it comes to the contact they have with their Danish classmates. In this category, DTU comes bottom of the list when benchmarked against ten other universities. And in relation to all the universities surveyed worldwide, DTU ranks 138th (out of 209) as regards international students’ satisfaction with their relationship to students from the host nation.

Rachel Meyer is a 23-year-old American student who started her studies at DTU a year ago, and is currently taking the second year of her MSc study programme at DTU Wind Energy. In her experience, her Danish fellow students are very polite, but they never take the initiative to talk to her.

“The Danes are very reserved. They stick together with the people they know and rarely make an effort to find new friends. This means I’m always the one who has to take the initiative to start a conversation. When I do manage to make contact, however, they are always very friendly—but I’ll never be a close friend,” she says.

A similar view is put forward by Amy Fitzpatrick (22) from Ireland, who is on the second year of her MSc study programme in Food Technology.

“The Danes’ circles of friends are extremely close-knit. I’d been living in halls at Kampsax Kollegiet for seven weeks before I had a proper conversation with one of the other students. The Danes seem to be shy and embarrassed about speaking English, but they all speak it really well. Everyone is very friendly, but interaction rarely develops into an actual friendship,” she adds.

It is Danish culture

Have Amy and Rachel simply been unlucky? Have they run into a group of particularly introverted Danish students, or is it more something to do with Danes in general? This is the specialist area of the Living Institute in Copenhagen, which runs activities such as courses for ex-pats, including the ‘Danish Living Crash Course’ that is designed to provide international employees with insight into the Danish mentality, both at the workplace and in more informal settings.

“What Amy and Rachel have encountered is Danish culture. I don’t think it’s specifically limited to DTU, because the experiences they describe closely resemble what we hear from other foreigners when they come to Denmark,” remarks Katinka Hyllested, Senior Consultant at the Living Institute. She goes on to reveal that many of their course participants experience a ‘Eureka moment’ when they hear that it is generally tough to get to know the Danes.

Photo: Søren Hald




"Be persistent and patient in your contact with Danes. It also helps to build up some insight into Danish culture. "
Katinka Hyllested, Senior Consultant at the Living Institute


“We Danes are a strange people, because we differ from most other peoples in several areas. For example, we are highly trusting, not overly hierarchical and fiercely individual. At the same time, we behave almost like a tribal people, living in a tightly closed society. We tend to keep new acquaintances at arm’s length, and hardly ever let them fully inside. On the other hand, once you’re on the inside, we take you to our hearts,” says Katinka Hyllested. 

Advice for both sides

If Katinka were to give the international students one piece of advice, it would be:

“Be persistent and patient in your contact with Danes. It also helps to build up some insight into Danish culture. Understanding the culture will help you see that it’s about the Danes themselves, and doesn’t have anything to do with you as a foreigner.”

Her advice to the Danish students at DTU is direct encouragement to make the most of having the chance to interact with international students on a daily basis:

“When working on assignments as part of your study programme, diversity in a group is a huge advantage. Spending time with people other than those who closely resemble you gives you the chance to think more innovatively. If you want a future in a hi-tech field, it’s stupid not to exploit the opportunity to establish contacts, networks and friendships among the international students. It’s an early ‘birthday present’ that may well pay real dividends later in your working life if you find yourself working in an international context. It will help broaden your horizons and give you a better understanding of the fact that diversity will be crucial to our survival in Denmark,” concludes Katinka Hyllested from the Living Institute.

We’re aware of the problem

Photo: Thorkild ChristensenMorten Overgaard, Head of International Affairs, at DTU explains:

“We’ve been following developments in this area for several years now, and we’re well aware that international students face a challenge here. We are currently in discussions with the DTU management and LearningLab DTU to determine how the University can boost contact between international students and their Danish counterparts. I would like to stress, however, that the international students are otherwise highly satisfied with their time at DTU. They feel happy and secure, and they enjoy good relationships with each other,” he says.


LearningLab DTU is the DTU centre for developing teaching. Birgitte Lund Christiansen, Head of Centre, relates that LearningLab DTU is planning activities intended to encourage students to work across boundaries between nationalities.


“While we cannot solve a culturally based issue, we can work with how the teaching framework affects the students’ behaviour. For example, we can encourage the lecturers to make demands on how the students are to form groups when group assignments are to be completed. Another approach would be to lay down criteria for group formation that assure diversity within the group, and this could help boost integration between the Danish students and their international classmates,” she says.


LearningLab DTU is currently preparing tips and suggestions for how Danish and international students can become better at integrating, so that they make the most of different cultural and academic backgrounds in their group work.

News and filters

Get updated on news that match your filter.