Thursday, June 11, 2009

Denmark, here I come! My Experience with Continuing SLIS from Abroad

by Claudia Peters

In the beginning of 2008, my husband was offered a postdoctoral position at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. I am originally from Germany and was expecting my first child at the time, so I was very excited about the chance to move back to Europe to live closer to my family and friends again. As a SJSU-SLIS student, I was thrilled that I could continue with my studies from abroad. I thought I would switch to special session, keep taking online classes, and nothing much would change. Sure, special session is more expensive, but I thought we would start making Euros and life would be great. As it turns out, Denmark hasn't introduced the Euro yet, but is still holding on to its beloved Danish Krone (It is still higher than the U.S. dollar though!). But this was not the only surprise waiting for me in the new country. Little by little, I learned that there were quite a few things that made continuing the program from abroad more challenging than I had initially expected.

For instance, participating in Elluminate sessions can be difficult due to the nine hour time difference between Denmark and California. Most sessions are at around 3:00-4:00 in the morning my time—not exactly my favorite time of the day to listen to presentations or give a presentation myself. Because of this problem, I am now trying to avoid taking classes with mandatory Elluminate sessions. This is unfortunate because it not only reduces my choice of courses, but also gives me less of an opportunity to become comfortable with distance learning software applications.

Ordering course books has turned out to be more difficult as well. Naive as I was, I thought I would order everything from the Danish Amazon Web site. However, there is no Danish Amazon! Luckily, I found an easy solution to this problem. I now order my course books from the German Amazon Web site and have them shipped to my home address in Copenhagen or to my parent's place near Cologne, Germany, where I pick them up when I visit. (Many LIS titles are not available through Amazon directly, but only through "Amazon Sellers" who often don't offer international shipping).

Another problem that I have encountered is that I don’t have access to many print resources that are useful when taking certain courses. Last semester, for example, I had a hard time with my Reference & Information Services course because some standard American reference materials (e.g., Emily Post’s Etiquette) were not available electronically through SJSU King Library and I wasn't able to find print copies of them in any Danish library. I had to be more creative and spend additional time locating alternative resources in order to answer some of the practice reference questions the instructor gave us. Since I don’t speak Danish, assignments that require getting in touch with librarians or observing reference interviews have become more challenging for me as well. I am limited to a few libraries where most interactions between librarians and patrons take place in either English (e.g., Copenhagen Business School Library) or German (e.g., Goethe Institute Library). Language problems, of course, also make it more difficult for me to find an internship or part-time work in a library.

As a SJSU-SLIS student, it was particularly interesting for me to get to know the local library system after I moved to Denmark. Danish libraries don’t use Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress classification, which made it more difficult for me to find my way around in the beginning. But I also encountered some strange things about the Danish library system that really baffled me. For example, when I first went to my neighborhood branch of the Copenhagen Public Library to borrow some novels to read, I noticed that the blurb pages of all hardcover books were missing. For some reason not obvious to me, the library’s technical services had removed those pages when processing the materials for circulation. Now you wonder, how are you supposed to know what a book is about? Well, you don’t. You start reading a few pages and borrow it in hope that it might be interesting. It’s like a lottery, really. Let me assure you, though, that the Danish library system also has its advantages. For instance, Denmark has a very well developed interlibrary loan system. Patrons can order a book from any public library in the country online and have it delivered to the branch nearest to them. Free of charge!

All practical problems aside, the most significant change for me when moving abroad was more of a social and psychological one. I soon started feeling less connected to the school as well as the American library community. Before moving, I lived in Davis, California which is about 100 miles north of San José. I was able to visit the SJSU campus, including King Library, occasionally and meet personally with other SLIS students in my area to work on course projects or chat about the program. Now that I live abroad, that’s not possible anymore. Sure, there are many ways for social networking on the Web (e.g., SLISLife), but, for me, this will never really substitute face-to-face interaction. Living abroad and not knowing if I will ever return to the States, I’ve started to become less interested in what is going on in the American library community. I read American library science newsletters and blogs regularly, but feel that many things don’t concern me as much anymore (e.g., the impact of the current financial crisis on American public libraries). I suppose other SJSU-SLIS students who live outside the U.S. may feel the same way.
While moving to Denmark has been the right decision for me in my personal life, as a student it has been a difficult transition. Yes, we do live in a globalized, networked environment which provides many of us with new and exciting opportunities to live, work, and study anywhere in the world. But moving abroad can have its challenges as well and it is not always as glamorous as it may seem.

Claudia Peters holds an M.A. in History from Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf, Germany. She is specializing in Academic Libraries in the SJSU-SLIS program and hopes to graduate in Fall 2010. She currently lives with her husband and eight month old son in Copenhagen, Denmark.


  1. Claudia, I'm so glad to see your post! I'm just starting my MLIS through SJSU, and I'm very interested in exploring international options in librarianship. I live in the US, but my husband and I would like to get abroad through exchanges or some such thing in the next several years. Would you be willing to contact me? Thanks! Marie

  2. Hello Marie,

    I'll be happy to answer any questions you might have regarding studying from abroad. I'll be in touch with you via email in the next few days.