Towards the exams…

Almost two months have passed since my last post and they have been two very intense months. During the Easter break I went back to Italy to see again my parents, friends, Angela and also the places I am more familiar with. Silja came with me as well, in this way she was able to visit Venice and other cities.

When coming back I knew that the “normal” Danish university life was waiting for me. Indeed it was like that, and I spent the weeks with numerous assignments and projects. Except from karate, my time has been all spent for university. i worked hard to find some free time in an handful of occasions.

The most relaxing days have been between the 26th and 28th of April. In the first two, I went to visit Odense with Tana. We would have liked to meet all the other friends from the EILC course living there, however unfortunately Rosanne and Róisín had other obligations, so we met again Jakub and spent a nice evening all together. Odense is a nice city and I suggest you to visit it if you can. We saw only the Hans Christian Andersen museum and the railways one, for reasons of time, but many other touristic attractions are available.

On the 28th of April I went to Legoland with the trip organized by ESN DTU. The park is nice, and even if we had only five hours we had fun. After a minute all the group was already dispersed in the crowd, however I went around the park with Matteo and except for his refusal of high roller coasters, all went well. For this reason, if the purpose was that of creating new friendships between international students I would say it failed, if instead it was that of spending a funny day I think it has been reached!

On the next day Justina was in Copenhagen and we organized a dinner together with Henrik and Sergio. Fantastic evening, notwithstanding the “Hawaiian pizza” (I removed the pineapple before eating it, of course!).

Talking about May, I had to work for the university as usual. The only “amusement” moments have been the dinner with Xin Yee and her friends at the Campus Village (to celebrate the end of the Optimization Using Metaheuristics project) and obviously the kata seminar of JKA with Bura Sensei, taking place in Helsingør last Saturday. I am happy of being able to live a nice day of aggregation by practicing karate here.

Yesterday even I finally finished the last homework I had to do, and tomorrow will be the last day of lessons. After that, only the exams are left. Looking back, I am satisfied because this is what I had to do in this semester:

  • Error-correcting codes — 4 assignments and 1 “small” project
  • Optimization using metaheuristics — 1 “big” project with a detailed report and not much time for doing it
  • Social data modeling — 3 assignments and 1 final project
  • Computer science modelling — 3 assignments
  • Computer vision — 11 weekly exercises, each with a small report

When I was living those days I wasn’t sure to be able to do everything on schedule, but step by step all went well. It’s more or less the concept I wrote in the last post. My exams are between the 21th of May and the 3rd of June, after that I and Nanouk will go for 5 days to meet the girls living in Aarhus (always met at the EILC course, obviously!) and to visit the city.

Finally the return: I will take the plane to Venice on the 20th of June. 🙂

Audentes fortuna iuvat

I arrived to half of the semester. Looking backwards it doesn’t seem that two months already passed in Copenhagen. Almost three in Denmark. University here is different comparing to Italy, during the year many assignments are handed out and the workload is high. In Italy instead usually you follow the lectures and you study at the end for taking “big” exams.

Keeping regular is not very easy, however it can be done and up to now I managed to do it. The sentence I put in the title means «fortune helps the brave», and I like to keep it in mind when I think that there is always something to do or to study. Yesterday was the last day of lessons and in the afternoon we had a laboratory of Computer Vision. Doing the homework (even if not mandatory) every week required time, but it allowed me to finish the exercise of yesterday in 3 hours instead of 4: I felt happy!

During these days I also met again Henrik, Justina, Sergio and Johanna (on Sunday) and Silja (yesterday — and with her I will also go back to Italy to be a “tourist at home”). Even if I had a lot of homework I did my best for keeping the Sunday free, and it was a wonderful day.

On this point I was thinking (and I still think) that the Erasmus is nice and I study interesting subjects, I like it. But there is a “but”. 😛 If I have to evaluate the value of this experience abroad for sure the 80% goes to the EILC course. You can’t compare, and I am not surprised that Tana defined it «the best thing that ever happened to me».

I am happy with how it is going here, including the fact of being still able to see sometimes the friends from the Danish course. I can guarantee that this is a great fortune and so I can feel brave! 🙂

PS: I put here a gallery with some pictures taken during the first part of the semester, many are of Copenhagen but if there is something in particular that you would like to see, ask!

The top 10 applications for exchange students

Being students means to have to handle many things and all different: it is necessary to coordinate studying and amusing and being able to do it in a simple and fast way. This is especially true when you are abroad and there are more things to do than usual.

As you know I spent January in Aabenraa in order to learn a bit of Danish, and now I attend the university in Lyngby. In these two months I have been able to observe some tools that are used by my peers, as well as to talk and exchange tips about that.

I noticed that virtually all of us use more or less the same programs for our students’ routine because the laptop is a fundamental component not only for studying, but also for communicating. What matters most is that most of my friends don’t study IT, so I saw with my eyes the “normal” use of the computer as a tool and I decided to write this list of 10 applications.

As you will see, they are almost all web 2.0 services, for productivity or communication. The list is a “mix” between what I have seen to be used by everybody and some tools that I use and I would like to suggest. Put these 10 programs and services in your virtual luggage and you will be perfect exchange students. 😉

The common aspect of all the points in the list is only one: convenience. The average student does not have much time to waste, doesn’t need super-advanced features, wants to manage everything with a few clicks. For sure you already know some of the things I will list, but I would like to know why and for what we use them.

1. Ubuntu

ubuntuIt’s true, I start immediately with something that not everyone uses, but in my opinion it’s a pity. 😛 Ubuntu is an operating system alternative to Windows or Mac OS X. It’s fast, free and without viruses.

I think it’s ideal for students because it’s modern interface is designed for the daily tasks that all students do: surfing the net, chatting, writing documents, creating presentations, listening to music, watching a movie. All of this in an extremely covenient way and with the possibility to install thousands of software with a click. Try it!

Official site
Guided tour

2. Google Chrome

chromeThere are some browsers that are more widespread than others, but I was surprised to see that 90% of the students I have met use Google Chrome. It’s a quite high percentage!

I have always used Firefox, but I tried to think why Chrome is so common. Finally I understood that it’s because of its convenience. The fact that Firefox is more powerful and extendable for specialized tasks is not important, what matters to many is just that the browser loads quickly.

The fact of having an integrated PDF reader is another advantage. Personally I started to use Chromium because it is its open source version, but now I have installed Chrome for its PDF support and the flash player that works a bit better.

Official site

3. Dropbox

dropboxThis web service gives 2 GB of free space in the cloud, that can be easily extended by inviting friends to join. You can have access to your files safely using the web interface and automatically synchronize them with the client for all operating systems and for mobile devices.

In addition to synchronization, it also gives you the automatic backup of files up to 30 days before: if you delete or edit a document by accident, recovery is just a click away! Also, the sharing features are very useful. The best thing to do is simply creating a University folder in Dropbox and saving everything in it.

Official site

4. Evernote and Clearly

evernoteIt’s difficult to exactly define Evernote. It isn’t only a website in which you can write notes, but it also includes a client software for Windows and Mac (under Linux I use the web interface and I am fine), apps for phones and tablets and extensions for the browser. Notes can be divided in notebooks — for instance one for your documents and one for every class you follow — and labeled with tags.

The real potential of Evernote shows up when you use it along with the two official browser extensions. The first is called Web Clipper and allows you to “clip” a part of a webpage and save it with one click inside Evernote, when it immediately becomes indexed and searchable.

clearlyThe second extension is called Clearly and allows you to have a readable and distraction-free view of any articles you find online. The extension isolates the important content and eliminates all the rest, allowing also to save the page in Evernote and automatically deciding the most relevant notebook.

The Evernote extensions for Chrome work a bit better than the Firefox ones, and it’s one of the reasons for which I switched to Chromium at the beginning. I use them to save all the documents related to my Erasmus, as well as pieces of Wikipedia pages or other information that can be useful for studying. Probably I will write a more deep article and I will give you more details. 😉

1 month of Evernote Premium for free
Web Clipper

5. Wolfram|Alpha

wolframalphaAt first sight it may seem that this computational search engine is useful only for people studying maths, computer science or engineering. It’s true, You can perform very complicated computations with it, but that’s not all!

Wolfram|Alpha includes search functions for many other fields: statistics, geography, chemistry, music, linguistics, astronomy, earth sciences, medicine… the list of examples is very long. I have been using this site from where I was in the last years of high school and I can guarantee that it is very useful.

Official site
List of examples
Guided tour

6. DuckDuckGo

duckduckgoWhat would you think if I told you that my favorite search engine is not Google? Just so, most of the times I use DuckDuckGo, a very convenient search engine that gives a very useful feature: the instant answer.

When you search for something that can cleary be found on Wikipedia, StackExchange, Wolfram|Alpha, Twitter or many other sites, DuckDuckGo shows it to you as the first result in a highlighted box. This saves a lot of time.

Also, if you don’t like DuckDuckGo results you can simply ask to search using another service: just add a “!bang” to the search query: for example !google, or !yahoo, or !maps, or !youtube, or… well, you got it. 😛

Official site
Introduction video
List of !bang shortcuts

7. Facebook

facebookSome love Facebook, others hate it. Many use it to “waste time” between games and funny pictures. The reality is that this social network reveals its real usefulness when you are abroad, I noticed especially after the Danish course.

Facebook is fundamental for keeping in touch with friends in your country and the “colleagues” that then spend the Erasmus in other cities. By living abroad you will end using Facebook for silly things (if you are already members) and you will start to use it for what it was designed: communicating, staying updated about events and handling your network of friends.

Official site

8. Skype

skypeOf course going abroad means keeping in touch with people in your own country. There are many VoIP services, but Skype is for sure the most famous of all. It allows you to perform free chats, calls and videocalls through the Internet using a computer or smartphone.

In addition to this, if you are in need, it gives a low cost call service to landlines and mobile phones. Ironically from when it has been bought by Microsoft it has had a more updated Linux version, not bad!

Official site

9. Spotify

spotifyGiven that it recently launched also in Italy, I think it’s the best moment to talk about it! Spotify is a music application that combines social features with a huge songs library. The best thing is that by using the program and an Internet connection you can listen to millions of tracks for free.

There are some limitations on how much monthly hours you can use and some advertisements, but they absolutely don’t give hassle and you can exactly choose which songs to play, skipping from one point to another in any moment. if you are in one of the 24 countries where it is available, try it and you will not regret!

Official site

10. Rejseplanen

rejseplanenThis application is dedicated to those living in Denmark, but I am sure that there exist some similar in many countries. In general, you should search a service that allows you to search the trains and buses you need in the country where you study.

Rejseplanen allows to set two arbitrary addresses of departure and destination and shows some suggested connections, with the possibility to see the tariff zones in which Copenhagen is divided. If you don’t live in Denmark you can try the site and the application of the German railways, containing the routes of all Europe.

Official site
DB Bahn (trains across all Europe)


It’s obvious that everyone chooses and uses the tools that he/she likes most, but I tried to write a generic list including applications and web services that can be useful to the majority of exchange students. What other tools do you suggest? Write them in the comments. 😉

Report of a week of lessons

My first “real” week with the lessons ended recently. I’m not as good as Nanouk or Tana so I don’t keep track of what I do day by day, but I want to tell you a bit how the lessons and all the rest went.

Let’s start from the academic side: I had to change some classes immediately, in particular I removed Mobile application prototyping because there is a 40 places limit and the priority goes to full-time students. I added Social data modeling and Computer vision instead. Officially I sent the request for the changes today, but I have already started to attend the lessons. At the end my courses are these:

  • Error-correcting codes — Maybe the most mathematical class of all. The teacher explains very well and it’s interesting. I will have to review linear algebra a bit but at least it’s a topic that I have already met a bit in high school.
  • Optimization using metaheuristics — It’s a more exciting side of operations research. It’s taught for management courses but in my opinion it’s more oriented towards people studying computer science and knowing programming. The lessons are clear, the activity in the lab a bit less sometimes, but I like it.
  • Social data modeling — The most practical course of all. There is little theory but a lot of experimental work with Python and the APIs of some web services. Not bad at all!
  • Computer science modelling — It’s more or less the equivalent of the formal languages part that I studied in Venice. Even if the topics are not new I have the impression that the lessons are very fast paced, maybe a bit too much. But perhaps it’s only the first impact.
  • Computer vision — For this I will have to learn how to use Matlab and review linear algebra but it’s a class of a not very high level, so I shouldn’t have much problems.

In any case I think it’s normal to have some doubts when you start with new subjects. It’s a matter of time. 😉

From the “practical life” point of view, after a complicated beginning, we managed to buy step by step all we need to eat with variety, as well as some snacks and drinks. We got the laundry card (fundamental!) and I’m getting used to the public transport here in Copenhagen. today I got my residence permit and in the next day I will go to ask for the CPR.

The little mermaid: despite being surrounded by people she is staring into space, like as in the deep of the heart she is missing something
The little mermaid: despite being surrounded by people she is staring into space, like as in the deep of the heart she was missing something

Regarding the social aspect, I didn’t manage to know danish students, but I know that it’s difficult. 😛 However I met other international students with whom I will be able to make groups for the various classes.

Then yesterday it was a fantastic day! 🙂 For the first time I went to visit the city center, joining a tour organized by ESN Copenhagen. but the most important thing has been telling Henrik, Sergio and Johanna: the same morning they decided to come and so we could met after about 10 days!

It made me feel good, like it makes me feel good keeping in touch with almost everybody. 😉 I often chat with Tana (who turned out to be a great friend), but in different occasions also with Henrik and Sergio, sometimes with Johanna, Eva, Justina, Bettina, Wojtek and sporadically with the rest of the group, because I miss them all!

In the next weekends I should meet again Róisín, Bettina, Tana and some others. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to it! 😀

New life

It had to happen. It would have been useless to think the opposite and probably it wouldn’t have helped: the EILC ended on the 30 of January and with it my experience in Aabenraa.

I believed I was perfectly ready for the new chapter — the real Erasmus — but I felt the initial shock. It may seem stupid but I found myself to cry, in particular on friday evening, and I don’t know if it is only for the first impact or also because I miss the people of the group. But I suspect it’s the second one because I was ironing the T-shirt with the signatures of everybody in order to make them permanent and if I wasn’t careful to stop I would have burned it for how much I desire them to remain.

Now it’s a bit better.

The trip was a bit messy. On the morning on the 31st I woke up and had the last breakfast with Henrik, Johanna and Sergio for saying goodbye. They were kind enough to come with me to the bus stop so I didn’t get lost and it was easier to bring the luggage.

After confusedly talking with the bus driver, I managed to get to my stop. At that point I lost more than 10 minutes trying to find my aparment at the Tåsingegade Kollegiet. I was keeping SMS contact with my roommate who was waiting me for going to the DTU in order to apply for the residence permit.

His name is Piotr, and tough I was epically late, he was very kind and let me leave my bags. Thanks to the fact that he already knew how to move around it was easy to get to the DTU. I’m happy to have him as a roomie.

For lunch I tried the internal kantine and I liked the presence of different kinds of food. The first lunch was a wok! Then I picked up my linen bag and in the evening I went to my buddy’s house while having to carry that very heavy burden. This trip was long, too, but the evening was pleasing.

The next day there were three presentations and the most important thing: Piotr and I went to the grocery store given that we were without food. In the evening we had dinner at the university with all the international students.

The apartment is big and not bad, even if the toilet is not the best: currently without light and with a “shower” which is a bit incomplete. Also there is no electrical outlet inside. However I think that the worst thing has been suddendly finding myself in a completely “empty” place and having to manage everything.

Now that we went to the stores three times, a bit of stuff at a time, I feel better. I believe that also putting the clothes on the shelfs and sleeping in the room a couple of times helped. Yesterday we have also experimented the tradition of having dinner all together in the common room.

It’s a bit uncomfortable for the timing and because there are all different sorts of chairs and tables, but I think it’s a fantastic idea for the “social” aspect: I like it!

In these complicated days up to now I’ve took very few photos and up here I have put only three. From these five months I expect to be able to take a lot more and to live many news experiences. But I don’t forget what it was before and I’m looking forward to meet again the EILC friends. 😉

Breaking a puzzle

When you’re working to build a puzzle — no matter how big or complex — you would never want to stop. However the moment arrives when you have to unmake it. It can be because it’s finished, or simply because you have no more time to continue.

The puzzle I was making this morning with Tana (but actually it was already started by many people)
The puzzle I was making this morning with Tana (but actually it was already started by many people)

Today is the last day of the EILC in Aabenraa. In the afternoon I’ll take the train and I’ll move to Copenhagen with four friends and in one day everybody is going to take their own path. During this course I didn’t have much time to write in the blog, or for using the PC in general. I would have liked to post more, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

I’ve lived with a fantastic group of students: Silja, Henrik and Johanna from Finland, Róisín from Ireland, Sergio from Spain (my roommate), Rosanne and Nanouk from The Netherlands, Wojtek from Poland, Bettina from Austria, Eva, Lada and Jakub from Czech Republic, Winnie from Hong Kong, Tana from Belgium and Justina from Lithuania.

It’s been a good surprise to know that I’m not the only one to have a blog for the Erasmus. You can also read those written by Nanouk, Tana (both in Dutch) and Bettina (in German). They’ve worked on them and written more than me on this experience, it’s worth reading! 🙂

Awesome people with whom I felt very well and we did a lot of things, including: organizing an Italian evening — with the help of almost everybody and my supervision for the pasta and a great Tiramisù made by Bettina (nominated Chief Executive Officer of Tiramisù), Nanouk, Tana and Silja; making the Finnish buns all together coordinated by Silja; organizing a lot of pool matches changing the rules every time; trying to dress like Danes with very few and bizarre costumes at our disposal; etc. 😛

Sure, There have also been some less funny moments. I’m sad in some ways because in a bunch of occasions I’ve not been friendly as I wanted to, sometimes finding myself in trouble with Danish or embarassed during the “amusement moments” I’ve closed myself a bit and I felt very bad for offending a person without intention, even if this person understood.

I would have had a bit more time, I’m a bit afraid I’ve shown a not exactly nice picture of me, but I hope that at the end the other students have enjoyed this very busy days spent together as much as I enjoyed them. I believe we’ve truly felt the Danish concept of hygge, a very nice word but it’s hard to translate. 🙂

The puzzle is complete by now, maybe I can consider this post as the last tile. The photos I’ve inserted as gallery at the bottom of the post are other tiles, but there are a lot more.

In a few hours I’ll have to put back everything in the box. But the good side is that when you put away a puzzle the table frees up… and you can start a new one without forgetting the previous. 😉

What I wrote

Note: this is the transcription of a short page we were asked to write in the first days of the EILC at Højskolen Østersøen. It was not required to let other people read it but I like to put it here in order to being able to make a final analysis after and find the differences on how I see this experience.

I left for the Erasmus two days ago, without knowing what to expect until the last moment. Actually the only thing I really expected was to find myself out of place in new situations that I would have to handle without knowing how. At the airport I started to feel that something “was not working” in the opposite sense of the word.

What I mean is that I’m living — in some ways — all the “first impact” aspect in a quiet way, nearly passive. The fact of having to spend all the time speaking in English in a place still new for me, with “new” home responsibilities, doesn’t particularly worry me. I would have never expected this type of reaction.

About the life in the Folk High School, it’s not bad. Sure, it’s a bit strange to find your self at morning and at evening singing (a tradition of the school that reminds me the scouts a little bit, but it’s OK anyways) however it’s a very exciting environment.

We are allowed to use the dining room for meeting, and also other rooms. We have some free machines for fruit juice, milk and coffee at our disposal: it’s not Italian coffee, but the juice is good.

Our group is very unite: we are 5 boys and 11 girls. May be the fact that we talk in English, may be living all together in the same place, or whatever else, but breaking the ice required less time than what I expected. Although not very accustomed to be with “many” new people at the same time, it all goes well.

I don’t know how, I don’t know why, but it simply feels natural. And honestly I don’t want to really ask myself for the reason: it’s enough to know that it’s OK this way.

EILC in Aabenraa

Two days ago I arrived in Aabenraa and I started the EILC. Days are actually full, and I still haven’t written a “big” post to tell you everything. However I want to post a thing that was told by a girl studying with me. I don’t remember the exact words, but it was more or less like this:

Do you know what I noticed? I didn’t check much my Facebook profile here because there is no time. It’s a bit like being able of “truly control” your own life.

The secondary blog of Andrea Lazzarotto