A very equal and democratic environment

Egle Zukauskaite, 25, comes from Lithuania. After studying economics for four years at the Vilnius University, she decided to go abroad to study for her master’s degree. “I found it a very liberal environment here, very equal and democratic,” says Egle. She chose University of Copenhagen, partly because the education is for free, partly because studying Environmental and Natural Resource Economics fits very well with her aims: To work with entrepreneurship and innovation in the fields of energy and waste management.

Egle Zukauskaite, international student at Environmental and Natural Resource Economics

Why did you choose studying Master of Science in Environmental and Natural Resource Economics?

I studied economics at Vilnius University for four years. And I was interested in environmental issues. I felt that this was the big topic of the future, and I was looking to find out where I could study that. Back in Lithuania I worked for a year in a electricity company, and we focussed very much on about Lithuania becoming more sustainable in energy production and so on. So I thought I would like to relate my studies to this.

I wanted to take my masters abroad, and I didn’t want just a master in economics … learning more about the same thing … I wanted more specific energy economics, environmental or resource economics.

Why did you choose Denmark?

That was because of my network and friends. They were either in Holland or in Denmark. And I knew that education here is for free for EU citizens, and that is a big advantage.

I’d heard about this programme in Denmark that was a bit more into science, and I thought, oh, it might be interesting to get more of a science perspective as well – not just the economic perspective. In Holland I couldn’t really find a master’s programme like that.

So you knew other students from Lithuania who went to Denmark before you came here?

Yes. I knew quite a lot – that’s one of the reasons why I came here. I could talk to them and ask them about everything. How are things working? How do you start? Where can I find an apartment? And so on. It was much easier.

In what exactly are you specialising?

We don’t really specialise – only when we are taking electives or core courses. Me myself, I have been focusing on management and entrepreneurship. I have all these compulsory courses in cost benefit analysis, economic relations, environmental policies … and in my electives I went more in the direction of business development, innovation, technology assessment and entrepreneurship courses. Focussing on how to innovate in this field.

I finished the first three semesters in January and right now I have no classes. Now I’m getting ready for my master thesis. I have time till September next year.

Do you know what your thesis will be about?

Not yet. But I really want to relate it to innovation. I would like to do the thesis with a start-up company or a growing company which is innovating something and sort of help them. It would be very good if it could be as practical as possible, and at the same time benefit a company which is innovative in this area and is developing at the moment. I don’t want to go to Maersk or Dong Energy and get some routine task. I want to be more involved.

Does the programme live up to your expectations?

It’s difficult to say. What were my expectations ... hmm … Because when I came here, I found it a very liberal environment, very equal and democratic, I would say. The teachers are at the same level as the students, and you just call each other by name, and you just write an e-mail to the teacher if want to … When I was studying in Vilnius there was definitely more distance between the teachers and the students. They were authorities with suits and ties – and students would say “Mr. teacher” and “Mr. professor” when addressing them. So it was a big difference.

Did you find that difficult?

No! That was fine. I really liked it. Could you really do it like that? But what else can I say regarding the studies … You have to work on your own a lot. And you have lots of opportunities to study – either here at the university library or at the central library. It’s a very good environment for you to get into your field. Lots of facilities for studying on your own or in a group. In Vilnius, the university buildings weren’t that convenient. So maybe I studied less because you had to go to your small dormitory room and sit there. Here you have all these facilities and everything, and maybe that makes me want to study more. Because it feels like it’s your job, it’s your profession.

Egle Zukauskaite, international student at Environmental and Natural Resource Economics

So you’re not disappointed with anything?

What I missed in the studies maybe, was this: you want to do something a bit new - an assignment or something – and then you work hard on that, but maybe you don’t get a lot of feedback from your teacher. I have missed that sometimes. And maybe I would like the teachers to do more new things. I think the teachers are used to students doing pretty much the same every semester, and they don’t have too many expectations of them. They just read your paper and tell you “Oh, that’s nice” and give you a 10 or a 7 mark or whatever. But maybe they should try to teach a little differently every semester and encourage students to do something new.

Has the study placed special demands on you?

In terms of studies, it was pretty demanding at first. We had econometrics of which I knew very little from my background – quite complicated stuff. And that’s the first thing you meet when you come! So I studied very hard and finally got a good grade, and I think I got the idea about econometrics … haha. So … one should be prepared that it’s quite a tough start on this programme. In the beginning I thought that I wouldn’t make it. But I did.

How about the social life?

I came here together with my boyfriend, who came along to look for job opportunities. He used to study at Copenhagen business School, CBS, so he already knew the system and how it worked and had a fine network. So I had a lot of friends compared with people who came alone. I didn’t have the need to integrate a lot, so for me it was pretty easy.  But I also really wanted to connect to my study mates, and it was like ok. We were going out and having dinners and everything. And I found it very interesting, that in Denmark it’s so popular to have all these dinners or lunches in connection with Christmas and other holidays. There is a lot of socialising. But in Denmark in general – I have now been here for two years  – it’s not that easy to connect with Danish people. There’s of course a language barrier. Danes are friendly to each other – but as a foreigner it can be difficult to get close and find close friends among the Danes. Of course everybody here speaks English, it’s no problem for the Danes, but … I have developed very good relationships with people from other parts of the world ... for instance from Australia. But then they went back home, so …

Are the Danes shy or …?

It’s a small country. Danes really like their culture and their language - they are proud of it. And that’s fine. They like to talk with exchange students about their culture – but they just don’t want to get  close friends with you. It’s because of the language, I think - your culture is very strong. In my country it would be more or less the same, if you were an international student. The language is very much a part of a small country’s identity.

How about your living conditions?

When we moved here, we were a bit challenged to find a place, because the prices are so high compared to what we are used to. And it is very difficult to get an apartment, so we contacted the housing office at the university, which provided us with a place, but it was very expensive. A small room and it cost us a fortune. Then we got another one – it cost pretty much the same, but it was better. We paid 7000 DKK for a big room – and we got 1000 DKK in support from the state (boligsikring). We lived there for 10 months. And now we have an apartment that we actually got through a class mate – we were very lucky. It’s a very good place in Vanløse and it’s very cheap. For a lot of students it’s not very easy – they have to change apartment every 6 months because they are subletting. So every six months you have this problem – oh, where can I find a new apartment? But now we have a long-term agreement and pay around 3,500 DKK for a two-room apartment including everything.

Do you have a student job?

It’s very expensive here, especially when you come from Lithuania and don’t have any savings.  You just have to find a job straight away. I found two jobs in a few weeks. I work in a clothes store, Abercrombie and Fitch. It’s an evening job, where we are folding clothes, fixing the store and making it look nice. It’s very well paid, actually. Now I’m only working weekends but in the beginning I was working 3-4 evenings a week. And my boyfriend did lots of different jobs. He also wants to be an entrepreneur and is looking for opportunities to start his own business here. He has skills in media and filming..

Since February I’ve had a student job in CIEL (Copenhagen Innovation Entrepreneurship Lab) which is a collaboration between three universities. So I’ve got two jobs, and feel very integrated and relaxed about my financial situation. I have lots of opportunities and a big network. Right now I haven’t got any courses, so I’m full time in my student job. I’m also running the University of Copenhagen Entrepreneurship Club (UCEC). So I’m very busy. It took time for me to start doing all this. I was very much concerned about studying and finding out what to do in my life. But it changed. Now I know what I want to do.

What do you want to do?

I want to be an entrepreneur, initiating projects with starting companies. Maybe as an independent consultant, maybe as an employee. I’m not that much into theoretical models and calculating things – I’m more like having the vision, understanding the concept, the situation etc. I’m interested in waste management – food waste and recycling, that’s my main interests.

Would you recommend the programme?

It depends what they want to do and who they are as people. I would recommend it because of the study environment, and because it’s an international environment. I will recommend it to people who want to get involved in environmental issues and want to do something to solve environmental problems. . And there are lots of research possibilities. But be critical. Don’t just read and learn – but think of how you can apply it every day. Make your choices – and relate it to what happens in the world. It’s not about the grades. You have to find out how to use your knowledge. Because some of the things we study here are too theoretical – and you don’t really have to learn all about that.