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The essential words and phrases that explain student life in Denmark

Michael Barrett
Michael Barrett - [email protected]
The essential words and phrases that explain student life in Denmark
Students graduating in Copenhagen. Photo: Niels Christian Vilmann/Ritzau Scanpix

Thousands of international students come to Denmark every year to study at universities across the country. Here are the words and phrases you'll need to navigate Danish student life and make the most of your time here.


Intro week

When you first begin at university, the term starts with rusugen. This the equivalent of a fresher’s or orientation week at UK or US universities, where the new students are initiated into university life. Rusugen is sometimes given the more straightforward name introduktionsugen (introduction week).

The origins of the word ‘rus’, which is used to describe the new students (and therefore translates to ‘fresher’ or ‘freshman’, are unclear. It can sometimes cause a little confusion for new international students, given the plural (rusere) sounds very similar to the Danish word for ‘Russians’ (russere).

The week itself involves a range of events organized by mentor students, typically known as tutorer, encompassing both information meetings, guest lectures and social events, which range from ‘stille og rolig’ (calm and relaxed) to full-throttle parties.


New students in Aalborg in September 2019. Photo: Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix

Semester start

Exactly as you’d expect, semesterstart marks the beginning of the term proper.

At this point, you’ll begin following a skema – the weekly timetable of forelæsninger (lectures), undervisning (lessons),  læsegruppemøder (study group meetings) and seminarer (seminars).

You’ll also be given a pensum (course syllabus) of required reading, while the content of your programme of study and your course and exam structure will be set out in a studieordning, which is approved by the studienævn (board of studies).

You can approach this board if you want to appeal paper grades and exam results throughout your time studying in Denmark, but it’s always best to first consult a studievejleder (student counsellor): a fellow student, usually in one of the senior years, who is assigned to your programme and will be able to advise you of study and exam options.


All students should familiarize themselves with the akademiske kvarter (academic quarter of an hour), a tradition that means most lectures or events start at 15 minutes past the hour. This Scandinavia-wide custom dates back to a time when the hourly church bells served as a warning that students had 15 minutes to make it to class. In other words, your skema might say you have a lecture at 12pm, but you don’t actually have to arrive until 12:15.


Finding student accommodation (studiebolig) sounds daunting, but many higher education institutions offer international students a spot in a kollegium (student halls), or at least assistance in finding a room to rent.

Should you take a room in a kollegium, you’ll probably live with a mixture of Danish and international students, although the halls offered to internationals are often the less popular ones without long waiting lists, so you might find yourself a bicycle ride from town or uni.

Students in Danish kollegier live in private rooms (you won't have a roommate) and share kitchens with other students whose rooms are on the same corridor.

Skjoldhøjkollegiet in Brabrand on the outskirts of Aarhus, in a 2011 photo. File photo: Martin Ballund/Ritzau Scanpix

Friday bars

Student life wouldn’t be student life without the chance to drink a beer or three with fellow academics, and Denmark is no different. The fredagsbar (Friday bar) is a weekly event on most courses: volunteers run pop-up bars set up somewhere on campus, usually close to where lessons are held during the week (or sometimes in large classrooms).

The bars are non-profit and beers are usually sold for the student-friendly price of 20, 15 or even as little as 10 kroner per bottle. Mixer drinks are also often available.


The bars usually begin in the afternoon on a Friday – as teaching is finishing – and start out as relaxing socialization before turning into something more festive as the evening wears on. They are often given weekly themes and it’s not rare to see bar volunteers in costume.

Despite their amateurish appearance, these weekly bars require considerable work to set up, with permits to sell alcoholic drinks, (alkoholbevillinger), deals with suppliers and permission from the university amongst the things required before they can get off the ground.

The biggest and most raucous student social event in the country is probably Aarhus University’s kapsejlads (boat regatta), which takes place at the end of April each year. Although kapsejladsen is technically a boat race, it couldn't really be much further from Oxford vs. Cambridge. 

Tens of thousands of people gather at University Park for the day-long event, in which different study disciplines pit their rowing strength, beer-chugging prowess and dressing-up silliness against each other in pursuit of a trophy called the gyldne bækken (golden bed pan). It has to be seen to be believed, quite frankly.


As a student, there are savings to be made. Look out for the magic words studenterrabat (student discount) to cut costs on everything from books to concert tickets.

To be eligible, you may well need a studiekort (student card) accompanied by an indskrivningsbekræftelse (confirmation of enrolment), usually a piece of paper which can be printed via the student log-in you will be provided with by your university.

You'll probably want to download payment app MobilePay if you have a Danish phone number and bank account: this allows you to send money to other app users, whether that's when you're splitting the bill with friends or buying secondhand furniture at a loppemarked (flea market).

The app is so widely used in Denmark that it has become a verb, as in vil du MobilePay’e mig? (can you send me the money via MobilePay?)

Spend any amount of time in the company of a Danish student, and sooner or later you’ll hear the acronym SU. It stands for statens uddannelsesstøtte, the second word a delightful compound with no fewer than four double consonants. The phrase translates to ‘state student grant’.

The grant is a monthly sum paid by the state to all Danish students in higher education and is just about enough (subject to personal opinion) to cover the most basic living costs. Many students take out a studielån (student loan) or work a studiejob (student job) to give themselves a bit of economic breathing space. Many complain about their tight finances, but the vast majority also recognize the privilege of a free universitetsuddannelse (university education).

Nationals of other countries can sometimes be eligible for SU when they study in Denmark. The rules for this are complex and we won’t cover them here (although we may in a future article), and are subject to political contention. You can start here if you want to find out more about this.



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