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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Life + Arts

A day in the life of an international student


Junior Paw Soerensen (right) and senior Zeljko Peranovic (left) traveled from Aarhus, Denmark to study marine engineering at UH. | Courtesy of Paw Soerensen

Sloppy wings and little sliders at Buffalo Wild Wings were not what they had in mind. Nor was the disappearance of their car and the long cab ride to the outskirts of town to a dark, seedy tolling lot to reclaim it. Nor was the appearance of a shabby stranger at their car window — though the stranger just wanted change.

That was their fifth day in Houston. It was scary, but now, three weeks later, it makes an interesting story.

Junior Paw Soerensen and senior Zeljko Peranovic are marine engineering exchange students from Aarhus, Denmark. They said they were on a quest to find big, hunky, tender Texas T-bones because they heard Texas has big, tasty steaks.

When Peranovic and Soerensen ordered a chicken fried steak instead of a hearty Texas-style steak, they realized their mistake.

“The day after we went in town to find steak, it was a mission failed,” Soerensen said. “But the day after we found Saltgrass, we got those 24-ounce. It was very big, good steak.”

Soerensen and Peranovic are students at Aarhus Maskinmesterskole, which translates to Aarhus School of Marine and Technical Engineering. Their school is one of the 16 foreign universities UH has partnered with to allow students to come here as foreign exchange students.

The two had an option to study at three universities but, of the three, chose UH.

“I have to pick between Michigan and Houston. We also have one in Australia, but I really want to go to the U.S., because I’ve always have looked up to the United States. I think it’s a great country,” Soerensen said. “And Houston is a big city, and it was in Texas.”

The two are already making a list of things to do and places to see while here: the Space Center, maybe the Rodeo, the party scene. In fact, Peranovic said in Denmark the party doesn’t end until 7 a.m. He was surprised that bars here close at 2 a.m.

Another difference they noticed was the education system. In Denmark, college is free. Soerensen said because of this, sometimes Danes take college lightly compared to students here. They’ll get a degree in a field simply because they’re interested and then go back and get a degree that will find them a job.

“I think one of the good things (about the fact that American students) have to pay — the people are maybe more serious. They come to every class. But for lower-class families, I think it’s difficult to get an opportunity to get a higher education,” Soerensen said. “It’s something about the good in Denmark is everybody has an opportunity to do what they want; if they work hard enough, they have a chance.”

AAMS is paying for their tuition. They only have to pay to live on campus, but they don’t mind at all. Most Danish colleges do not have dormitories.

“I like staying on campus. We have a lot of time, and we don’t need to use time to travel. I like the idea that students live on campus and then we could have fun together,” Soerensen said.

Peranovic said living on campus is an interesting way to learn about other people, an opportunity he couldn’t really get at AAMS, where the student population is roughly 800.

“I like staying on campus. It’s a nice school, nice people, friendly people too,” Peranovic said. “It’s almost like a big city, but I like it. Denmark is multicultural, too, but not so much as here. So it’s good to see people sitting together and talking together of different cultures.”

Peranovic is returning to Denmark in May, but Soerensen and another Danish friend plan to go on a road trip in the summer to Yellowstone.

“The most difference between the U.S. and Danish food is breakfast,” Soerensen said. “In Denmark, they eat oatmeal with milk. It’s a very big breakfast here.”

In all, the two said their entire time here will be exploring the places and cultures here.

“So when we go back to Denmark, we’ll be 10 pounds bigger or something,” Peranovic said, laughing.

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