“To travel is to live” as the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen famously said. But as a student, travelling abroad while studying is not just pure amusement. It can also be the golden ticket to a future dream job – although only one in ten students on higher education programs in Denmark choose a foreign exchange stay, according to OECD.
The recently published OECD report “Education at a Glance 2019” finds that only 12 percent of Danish students on higher education programs opt for an exchange stay abroad while studying.
At CBS, the numbers are a higher, but according to Head of Research, Higher Education and Diversity at the Confederation of Danish Industry (DI) Mette Fjord Sørensen, there’s room for improvement.
“It would be great if the share rose a little”
The 12 percent total covers all Danish universities, but at CBS alone, the share of exchange students during the academic year 2017/2018 was 26 percent according to CBS International Office.
This share is balanced compared to former years, when the levels were between 22 and 30 percent.
But even though the share corresponds to a quarter of all CBS students at the time, Mette Fjord Sørensen would like the number to increase.
“A slightly higher share, like 35 percent or so, would be great – it’s only a single semester, after all,” she says.
But on the other hand, she also understands why studying abroad can be a difficult prospect.
“For young students, deciding to go abroad involves several concerns: will my application get approved? Will I get enough ECTS points? And do I have the necessary courses to qualify?” Mette Fjord Sørensen says and continues:
“If such administrative issues are putting some students off the idea, I would highly recommend that students make their university aware of these barriers so that we can remove them.”
However, Mette Fjord Sørensen still recommends that students take the plunge as they will reap many rewarding benefits. Not only on a personal level, but also when job hunting after graduation.
“I would definitely urge students to join an exchange program. It gives you a lot of job opportunities and some new personal perspectives on the world,” she says and supplements her recommendation to CBS students:
“Throw yourself into it. It can be the icing on the cake that gives you a front row ticket the job market.”
Should you stay or should you go?
Although Mette Fjord Sørensen would like to see more Danish exchange students, and wants to assist by removing any university-related obstacles, going abroad may not be a better career choice than staying at home.
“In general, study-relevant jobs and internships count most when Danish companies look at applicants’ resumes. But that doesn’t mean that exchange stays have no significance,” she says and continues:
“Having an exchange stay on your CV reflects courage and that you dare to do something different. So, an exchange stay certainly has a positive effect.”
According to Mette Fjord Sørensen, the country that students choose to go to determines whether an exchange stay will impress Danish employers.
“Many students choose New York, Silicon Valley, London, Oxford and the like, and surely there’s a lot of prestige in doing that. But taking an exchange stay in non-English-speaking countries actually weighs a little more in your favor,” she says.
As Mette Fjord Sørensen explains, having lived in a non-English-speaking country gives you dual competences, which are of great significance to employers.
It shows courage, and also has a positive effect that you understand another language than English and have experienced a very different culture.
But all things considered, if you have the relevant competences and a study-relevant job, it’s not entirely the destination of your exchange stay that counts for employers, but the very fact that you’ve been abroad.
“If two job candidates are equally well-educated and both have had study-relevant jobs and such, then the employer will choose the one who has been on an exchange stay,” says Mette Fjord Sørensen.
A rewarding experience
During the fifth semester of her BSc in Business Administration and Sociology at CBS, Monique Jensen went on an exchange visit to Arizona, in the southwestern region of the United States. Her choice of destination for studying abroad was not based solely on improving her future career.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the United States and I also have some family over there. So, when CBS offered the opportunity to go on an exchange stay, it was a clear-cut choice for me to go to Arizona,” Monique Jensen says, adding:
“On a more career-oriented level, I chose to go abroad because I would like to work within diplomacy and collaboration between different countries, and the United States seemed like a great place to go.”
According to Monique Jensen, her exchange stay in Arizona gave her many experiences and cultural insights that she wouldn’t be without.
“It has meant a lot to me on many different levels. I made some new friends and a network over there, and I learned a lot about coping in a foreign country with a different culture.”
“So, without any doubt, the experience has been very rewarding for me on both personal and professional levels,” she says.
“An internship gives you much more hands-on experience”
Contrary to Monique Jensen, CBS student Oliver Dittmer Christensen decided against an exchange stay. This decision was based both on his personal situation and his desire to get some more professional experience, which made more sense to him.
“On the one hand, I didn’t go because I had a boyfriend and felt pretty established at home. On the other hand, I had heard that unless you get into one of the most prestigious universities, it isn’t a very impressive addition to have on your CV,” he says and continues:
“So, I kind of made a cost benefit analysis in my head and reached the conclusion that both I and my CV would benefit more if I stayed at home and got some more professional experience by taking an internship in Denmark.”
Although the idea of traveling abroad was not at the top of his list, Oliver Dittmer Christensen applied for an exchange stay at BI Norwegian Business School anyway and was accepted.
But meanwhile, he had also applied for an internship at the Danish political party Venstre which he was offered as well. Ultimately, he accepted the internship instead of relocating to Oslo. This proved to be the right decision for him.
“I’m very happy that I made this decision. Both because taking an internship gives you much more hands-on experience and you get to solve some actual tasks, and because it was also of great personal value to me. I got to know a lot of people while learning a lot about myself as well,” says Oliver Dittmer Christensen.
Looking back on his internship, he does not regret his decision a single bit.
“Compared with many of my fellow students’ CVs, mine looks much better because I took an internship instead of going on an exchange stay. And if faced with the same choice again, I would definitely make the same decision,” he says.