Studying abroad was an experience that third-year McIntire student Abiola Ogunkoya knew she wanted to take advantage of when she got to college—even before she decided to attend UVA. The New York native had long wanted to travel and be immersed in another culture as she pursued her undergraduate degree. But she also wanted to ensure that an opportunity like study abroad wouldn’t be a financial hardship.
Ogunkoya connected with Fund for Education Abroad (FEA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing scholarships to students who are underrepresented among the U.S. study-abroad population.
“I found FEA to be an amazing program. They require their students to vlog weekly, and I knew I wanted to use my camera more when I studied abroad,” she explains.
After exploring the vlog (video blog) gallery of past student scholarship winners, Ogunkoya decided to apply for— and earned—the DIS Study Abroad Scholarship.
“Denmark was my first choice. I thought the business program was really well developed. It’s a sustainable country, and I thought I could learn more about their sustainability practices. I had also heard that the people were really friendly and Copenhagen was a safe city,” she says.
Since arriving in the country several weeks ago, Ogunkoya has settled into her apartment and started taking classes at the DIS center, a 20-minute commute away. But while the floor of her housing complex is composed of other American students spending the semester in Copenhagen, she says they do not have a “basecamp” like other international programs and her classmates from DIS live all across Copenhagen.
“We are integrated throughout the city and living on our own, so it has an independent feel. It’s forced me to be really intentional when it comes to making connections. I’ve done a lot of organizing with the people I meet—going to a library or trying out a new cafe.”
One of Ogunkoya’s goals in studying abroad was to develop long-lasting relationships with other students, and maintain an open mindset as she learns about their different backgrounds and perspectives. She’s accomplished that goal quickly; in addition to meeting American students from other colleges and universities, she’s also met international students who study in the U.S. “It’s been eye opening to have conversations with them about their experiences and how they are different depending on what state they study in, and to hear their feelings about now studying in Denmark.”
Academically, Ogunkoya is taking five classes through the DIS center: Human Trafficking in a Global Context, International Marketing and Branding, Designing Communication Campaigns, Photography, and a European business case study course.
She says the Photography class has inspired her to be more creative with her weekly vlogs, and she plans to apply new techniques and skills she’s learned, such as incorporating still photos into the final products while she documents upcoming trips to London, Mallorca, and Lisbon.
“I added the Photography course to my schedule because I felt like this was the perfect time to explore storytelling through my photography. I’m hoping to build upon that on my travels a bit more,” she explains.
The experiential learning opportunities abroad are limitless, and Ogunkoya says she is most excited about the site visits her European business case study class has had and plans to continue conducting at other company sites. Thus far, they’ve visited a local Danish microbrewery and had the chance to tour the Lego headquarters, where they learned about the toy company’s business strategy.
“The businesses here put people first,” she says. “The founders of Lego and the company’s current CEO emphasized to us the importance of building connections and building [the practice of activity within kids],” she said, noting the business’s commitment to becoming zero waste and using more ecofriendly plant-based materials.
At the microbrewery, she initially found it unusual that the owners built a space inside of the production process so that locals could gather each week for drinks and host events—until she realized the purpose behind it. “Every Friday, between 15 and 75 people get together. I thought that was a great way to not only sell a product but also create memories and experiences with the people who support the business. It’s an eye-opening experience for me to understand how the Danish people value relationships.”
Sharing New Perspectives at Home
When she returns from Denmark, Ogunkoya hopes to apply these newly learned business practices during her summer internship as a Product Manager at PayPal. She’s confident that her McIntire experience, coupled with her fresh outlook on global business that she’s gaining abroad, will allow her to develop different business strategies to improve products cross-functionally at PayPal.
“The goal of being here in Copenhagen is to understand where I can apply what I learn back home and incorporate it into my studies at Comm or in my professional endeavors when I graduate. I’ve seen an emphasis on trust, and it would be interesting to see how trust can work in a business in America, trust between a company and its consumers and between business partners. I also want to find ways to incorporate the Danish practices around valuing relationships.”
Ogunkoya says she intends to relay the importance of what she’s learned studying abroad with other prospective and current students as a Student Ambassador.
“I wish everyone could study abroad, and I think that would be a great segue for me to share my experiences with people who are wondering if UVA, McIntire, and studying abroad would be a good fit for them,” she says, pointing out that detailing the process is an essential piece of knowledge to ensure that potential students aren’t deterred by the financial aspect of opportunities such as these. “I want to be able to give hope and encouragement to others.”