Making Our Mark in Denmark: My Leadership Externship Experience
April 2, 2018
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Denmark has been one of my top places to visit for the past few years now, as I knew that they were consistently ranked one of the happiest countries (if not the happiest) in the world. I was particularly interested in their efforts in eco sustainability, health care system, biking culture, and “hygge”. Thus, when I was offered to go to Denmark for my leadership externship for two weeks in collaboration with USC Global Initiatives and Southern Denmark University, I knew that 1) I had to go and 2) it was meant to be (duh!).
During the two weeks, our schedule was jam-packed with presentations, activities, and cultural exchanges! In the first week, my team and I presented to Metropolitan University College, Southern Denmark University, and University College Lillebaelt on how education and healthcare systems function in America, what USC’s OT program looks like specifically, and some of the research being conducted at USC. As much as we were the ones providing information to Denmark’s school departments, students, and faculty, they also provided an abundant amount of information about themselves, their research, and their culture in return.
During the second week, we visited Hammel Neurorehabilitation and attended an Ergo Symposium hosted at Southern Denmark University, where Dr. Renee Taylor, one of the authors of a textbook we use in the program, was a speaker! In that same week, we had the amazing opportunity to shadow occupational therapists at Odense University Hospital in various departments (i.e., hand therapy, pediatrics, TBI, trauma, oncology, etc.). While shadowing at Odense University Hospital, it was evident to me that the free healthcare system adopted by Denmark affects the way OTs practice there.
Throughout the two weeks, we were completely immersed in Danish culture and ways of living, and I can honestly say that it has changed my perspective on life. Here are just a few of the things I learned along the way:
The importance of work-life balance | In Denmark, employees receive 6 week paid vacations (which does not include sick days) and 1 year paid maternity leave. Speaking of sick days, it is actually looked down upon if you go into work sick (if you’re sick, you’re sick… Don’t be selfish and contaminate the work environment, they say!). Overall, the Danish really embody the idea that when you leave work, you actually leave work and live your life.
The importance of saying what you mean and meaning what you say | Here in America, it is so common for me to say to almost everyone, “Hi! How are you?” In Denmark, however, this customary greeting does not equivalently translate. We were told that you do not ask someone, “How are you?,” unless you are prepared to get an actual answer about how they are doing. In short, people in Denmark do not say things unless they mean it. For example, they will not offer to do something they do not want to do, and will not sugarcoat things or beat around the bush.
The importance of humility | In the working world of America, we like to rack up all of the accomplishments we can so that we can put them on our resume. This is something we have to do in order to be a competitive applicant. Interestingly enough, they do not do that in Denmark. For the Danish, it is actually looked down upon if you try to upstage the people around you and/or try to make yourself stand out and look better. Showing off how much money you have, how great your career is, etc. are big no-no’s in Denmark! This idea relates to Denmark’s emphasis on equality (see: below bullet point).
The importance of equality | The emphasis on equality is reflected in so many ways in Denmark. For example, education is completely free (as a university student you also get a monthly stipend), and so is healthcare (it doesn’t matter if you’re homeless or if you’re the richest person in Denmark, as both will get the same level of care).
The importance of trust | They trust everyone in Denmark. On one particular day, we walked by a restaurant and there was a peaceful child sleeping in a stroller outside without the parents! It is probably safe to say that would not happen here in America, but it’s refreshing to know that there is so much inherent trust within the people in Denmark.
Taken altogether, this experience has been a highlight in my time here as a USC OT student. I’ve always loved traveling, and this trip was confirmation why. The world is so big, and there is always more to explore. It is so incredibly easy to simply go through the day-to-day motions and be stuck in the bubble of Los Angeles, but traveling always grounds me and forces me to expand my ways of thinking. There is more to life than the life lived here in LA.
Mange tak (many thanks) to Dr. Danny Park, Benedict of the Global Initiatives Team, the kindhearted students and Dr. Jeanette Christensen of Southern Denmark University, and my wonderful team of 7 for a life-changing international experience.
I just so happened to stumble upon your article through my search for information on Occupational Therapy as a student desperately awaiting a sign as to future career plans. For many years, I have contemplated becoming an OT, however, I find myself continually doubting my abilities.
I will be studying abroad in the Fall in Copenhagen, of all places, and was overjoyed by your portrayal of Denmark’s health care system. Your article was refreshing, motivating, interesting, and insightful as I plan my upcoming journey in Denmark while trying to solve my career dilemma. I knew I would regret not informing your of the impact and intrigue your article brought fourth as I continue on my journeys; soon to Denmark then maybe to OT school.