A GLOBALLY LOCAL DENMARK:
THE JOURNEY OF THOMAS KNUDSEN MULHERN, HIS COMPANY GLOBALLY LOCAL AND LOLLAND INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL By THOMAS KNUDSEN The education sector in Denmark has changed with the establishment of Lolland International School in Maribo, which has this month become the ﬁrst municipal international school in Denmark ever! To mark this signiﬁcant development, HKH Crown Princess Mary oﬃcially opened the new school on August 24! Its opening has greatly expanded the international school choice for international and Danish families. Lolland International school not only oﬀers a free, internationally certiﬁed program, but is also the third school in Denmark to oﬀer a fully bilingual (Danish/English) program to its families. 21st century Odyssey The fulﬁllment of a key strategic goal of my organisation Globally Local has helped me to reﬂect upon my own personal and professional journey towards creating a more globally local Denmark. I was born and raised in the United States, met my future Danish wife in graduate school, moved to Denmark in 2011 and became a Danish citizen on Constitution Day (grundlovsdag) in 2020. My story may sound very familiar for many expatriates who ﬁnd themselves in the home country of the one they love. I arrived in Denmark not speaking a word of Danish, with a limited understanding of the culture and almost no network. In addition, I was acutely aware of
EDUCATION GUIDE AUT UM N 202 1
shifting from a purely expatriate context to moving to the home country of my ﬁancé. This challenged my self-understanding and made me wonder whether I would segregate into the expat bubble, assimilate or perhaps integrate into Danish society. Bursting the bubble For me the goal was never to assimilate or, as I used to think, ‘become locally Danish’ in the way that I thought about it then. My goal was to authentically integrate into Danish society: to learn and grow, contribute, challenge the status-quo and ultimately make Denmark a more dynamic and inclusive place to live and work. This goal was and still is rooted in my ﬁrm belief that Danes and foreigners can inspire each other in order to help Denmark become an even greater society. For me, authentically integrating meant that I maintained my self-understanding as a global citizen, while still actively engaged in the local community. I found out quickly that this approach would require that I step outside of my comfort zone and face the fears of exclusion, uncertainty and sounding like a two-year-old speaking Danish! Persevere and prosper I knew that standing in the grey space between the expat bubble and full assimilation required vulnerability. I needed to persevere to emerge from the inclusion safety of the expat bubble and dare to learn a new language/culture, contribute as a full member of society and have the courage to challenge the status-quo.
My personal eﬀort would not have been enough to integrate if not for the wonderful Danes I have had the privilege of knowing, working with and calling friends, who themselves have been vulnerable enough to include me, and have given me the social permission to learn, contribute, challenge, fail and succeed. On my journey I was given the gift of learning the Danish language and an invitation to understand and contribute to Danish values that make the culture so great. The capital of trust When foreigners read about Denmark, it is often said that Denmark is the happiest country in the world, but this is merely a slogan. What Denmark came to embody for me was centered upon trust. In my opinion, trust is the capital of Denmark and Denmark is the world capital for trust. It’s both trust between people and a trust in institutions. This incredible asset is more than just the peace of mind felt when leaving a stroller unattended outside, it is the mentality that guides daily interactions. I love the trust level of Denmark and how it underpins the social welfare model. I love the democratic values, the emphasis on gender equality, freedom, hygge and equal justice for all. This is the Danish canon that I have come to learn and support. Inspirational, inclusive, innovative As a former international department head in Copenhagen, I worked to create the ﬁrst fully Dan-