An Independent School • Grades 5-12

MacKenzie Ruoff '09: Food science and technology in Denmark

Graduate Student  |  Denmark

October 2018

By Paula Bock

Life Journey: After a month in Peru with Lakeside’s GSL program, I knew I wanted, at some point, to live outside the U.S. and experience a new culture versus just being a tourist. During college, I studied in Copenhagen for three months, and then was accepted to the University of Copenhagen for a master’s in food science and technology. I landed here knowing three people and haven't looked back; I have made amazing friends. 

Possible reasons Danes are often ranked  the world’s happiest people 

In Denmark, if you are Danish or an EU citizen, there are no tuition fees and you get paid $948 (USD) a month for being a student. Health care is provided by the government. There still is the stress of exams, but my friends are not stressing about student loans or medical insurance, or even if they cannot find a job when they graduate, as EU citizens can get unemployment benefits. There is a sense of security and safety in Danish society that I do not experience in the U.S. 

There is something called the Law of Jante, a group mentality where everyone is equal, but on the other hand, you never want to be above the group. It's a foreign concept to me, and I don’t pretend to fully understand it, but I am intrigued. As many Lakesiders might understand, I come from a culture rooted in individual achievement and drive. Doing your best is never enough; there is always something to work harder at. The Danes, who have been ranked the happiest people in the world, have a life perspective so different. They know how to take a holiday. Not just a week, but three or four when they do not check emails or work. Living outside the U.S. has changed my perspective on what a good life is.

My life goals are so different than friends who grew up in Germany/Spain/Poland/Denmark/Romania/Norway, etc. Living with people from different cultures really makes you think about why you have the goals you do. - Mackenzie Ruoff '09

On skills students need to be global citizens

To get off your phone and experience the world outside of social media, and don't do it just so you can post cool pictures. When traveling, I have the most fun after my phone dies and I am forced to be present in the moment, like trying to make it back to the hostel on the street name I don't know because I dropped a pin on Google maps and didn’t bother learning the address (true story). During my surprise adventure, I got to wander parts of the city I would never have walked through otherwise. Now I always carry an old-fashioned map.

Do not be afraid to be unhappy/sad/depressed for a bit. Everyone's life always looks better on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter, which sucks when you are in a new country and know no one. Make new friends. Learn about the quirks and soul of a new culture. The Danes love Christmas; it's beautiful to see all the candles in windows during the darkest days of winter. 

This article was first published in the Fall/Winter 2018 Lakeside magazine. Paula Bock is innovation and communications strategist for Mobilizing Myanmar, an initiative leveraging Burma’s smartphone revolution to connect women and the poor with economic opportunity. She’s the mom of a Lakeside 10th grader.