Magellan Scholar Visits the ‘Happiest Country in the World’

Created: March 9, 2015
Last Updated: July 14, 2020

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WASHINGTON, PA (March, 09, 2015) — Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) student Megan Barclay ’15 spent three weeks doing research in the summer of 2015 in what has been called the “happiest country in the world”: Denmark.

Barclay, from North Apollo, Pa., is a psychology major with a gender and women’s studies minor. As an extension of her Spring 2014 independent study on the happiness of American college students, she decided to visit the three major cities of Denmark; Copenhagen, Odense, and Aarhus and compare the two countries.

The Colombia University Earth Institute World Happiness Report has named Denmark the happiest country in the world for the past three years, but when Barclay arrived, it was not what she expected.

Upon arrival, Barclay immediately found that getting information was going to be much harder than she originally thought, due to the language barrier and social customs of Denmark.

“Happy does not equal friendly [as Americans define it]. Although Denmark may be the ‘happiest’ country in the world, they are definitely not the most welcoming … Danish individuals are very introverted people who keep to themselves. They rarely speak outside their friend groups and do not make even the smallest conversation with strangers,” Barclay said.

However, she overcame the social challenge by continuing to approach Danish college students to collect the information and data she needed to complete her research on happiness. She grew more confident as she met more people who agreed to participate in her survey and opened up to her. Her findings showed the many differences between American and Danish culture.

Barclay said her experience through the Magellan Project gave her confidence, which will not only benefit her now, but also in the near future when she plans to attend graduate school to obtain a doctorate in clinical psychology.

“I was able to complete my yearlong independent study thanks to my Magellan. I was able to learn a lot about cross-cultural differences between Denmark and America. I also became more confident in myself after traveling abroad alone for three weeks in a foreign country that does not predominantly speak English,” Barclay said.

After collecting information in both Denmark and America, she successfully presented her project at a poster session last fall at the W&J Psychology Department’s poster session.

“I would like to thank Dr. [Timothy] Klitz and Professor [Cathy] Petchel for their help in planning my research and my entire Magellan, as well as the Psychology Department for teaching me everything I needed to know to complete this project,” Barclay said.

About the Magellan Project

Established in 2008, Washington & Jefferson College’s unique Magellan Project extends liberal arts learning outside the classroom by providing scholarship funding for students to spend the summer pursuing independent projects and internships in the United States and abroad. Learn more about the Magellan Project on the W&J website.

About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work.

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