Coming to Denmark - Our Stories

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Coming to Denmark

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Š International Community 2013 First edition August 2013

Published by International Community Project Editor Lucy Seton-Watson Editing Graphic concept Campfire & co Photography Hartmann Schmidt Fotografi Printed in Denmark

International Community Nordhavnsgade 4 8000 Aarhus C Denmark

Coming to Denmark

Our Stories work


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Our Stories


intro 07


work 12

Dagmar Fink

Tiny Maerschalk & Tine Horwitz

(Mis)understanding the Danes



A short introduction to the Dane

My Danish workplace

Dennis Nørmark



Andy From Irish bar to my brilliant career


Eugenio A PhD in Denmark


Heather My job journey


Damien You are expected to do what you like


36 68 72



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How to be happy, for international families

Into folkeskole

Go out and play!


68 You name it, there’s a club for it

Having a baby the Danish way

Living in Denmark: feeling you belong



The international school was our culture shock

Living in Denmark: the province of Jutlandia–Carolina






Franck We have more time as a family


Vivienne The girls had an easier time in international school








Karen It takes effort and energy but for me it was definitely worthwhile

Coming to Denmark

Our Stories work home time off

Rachael Northern Ireland Heather US

Lenore US

Jennifer US Eileen Ireland Vivienne US

Eugenio Mexico

Denmark Camila Brazil

Andy Scotland



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Foreword If you are holding this book in your hands, the chances are that you are thinking about moving to Denmark or are already living here. We hope that we can help you make your decision, or help you settle in more smoothly. After years of working with international talents and companies, we believe that Denmark is a very attractive country for internationals and their families. But we are not going to tell you about expat life in Denmark. Our aim is to inspire and guide you by having all kinds of international talents tell their own story. We have – among others – included stories from career expats, families, spouses, PhDs, and an international student who got a job after his studies. Basically, all kinds of talents from many parts of the world are here, sharing their sincere stories of living and working in Denmark.

Lizzy England

Eszter Hungary

Karen Belgium

Franck France

With Coming to Denmark: Our Stories we aim to give you an accurate description of life as an international employee in Denmark, whether you are here alone or with your family. The stories may not be what you expected, or what you experienced yourself. But they are honest and personal – and include the ups and the downs, the frustrations and the triumphs. The stories revolve around some of the most important themes to consider living in Denmark – Danish work culture, family matters, and free-time opportunities. You will find inspiration here for finding your feet in the Danish job market, a description of the Danish workplace, recommendations for schooling for your kids, advice on how to join a club or association or just gain a better understanding of Danish culture and society – and much more. We hope you find valuable inspiration in these stories, and we hope they help pave the way for your stay in Denmark.

Damien France

Tine Horwitz

Tiny Maerschalk

Consortium for Global Talent

International Community


“Danes need to be interpreted correctly, not judged prematurely”

A short introduction to the Dane “How long are you going to stay and why did you come to Denmark?” These might well be the first words that greet you as a stranger in the kingdom of Denmark, and though they might sound harsh or uninviting, I think they are anything but that. An inner doubt? These words, as far as I can tell, show a sincere interest in two things. First of all, I think the questions reveal a genuine astonishment as to why anyone would choose Denmark as a destination. Despite its peaceful environment, attractive work–life balance, generous and safe welfare state and all the other things that reputedly make Danes the happiest people on earth, many Danes still view Denmark as a rather unspectacular place. Flat, cold and unsurprising. Although for many of our international visitors it’s refreshingly different in many respects. The question about the duration of the stay probably relates to the above-mentioned slight inferiority


“Danes love it when someone has spotted them and noticed their existence”

complex. “Because you are planning on leaving, aren’t you?” But hiding in the question could be, that the Dane is looking for a sign of commitment. Are you here as a tourist, or do you plan to be part of this society – somehow?

ness and making deals (but not decisions …) is due to the fact that the general trust here is the highest in the world. The Danes trust people they don’t know, and means of control and supervision are very limited.

Be smart Another question that often follows these is whether or not the expat visitor is considering learning the language. Something that the Dane knows takes quite a bit of effort, but also something that clearly signals a willingness to stay. Why on earth would anyone choose to learn a difficult language with around 50 complicated vowel sounds, if it wasn’t because they were considering staying here for a reasonable time?

All this demands a lot of expats to live and thrive in Denmark. It takes cultural intelligence not to read the brute communication as impolite, it takes a proactive approach since the Danes often will leave you alone unless you ask for help and advice, and it demands that you return the trust and honesty and welcome the Danish preference for consensus, equality and conflict avoidance.

This is how many Danes come across. Direct, a little tactless, critical. At least this is my experience after teaching and training thousands of expats in Denmark over the years. But it is also my experience that the Danes are sometimes misunderstood, and therefore need to be contextualised in their own culture, not in the culture of their visitors. They need to be interpreted correctly – not judged prematurely.

You need to be curious about their habits and explore their culture. They might not be able to explain to you why they do this and that, but make the Danes elaborate on their values, norms and odd habits and they will respond at their best – and appreciate the interest. Danes love it when someone has spotted them and noticed their existence. They might be puzzled about why you choose this place, but deep down in their hearts they appreciate the attention.

The inner Dane The directness, for example, derives from the Danish value of honesty and the adherence to straightforward communication instead of having to guess the meaning from the context. In Denmark the information is in the words – so the words convey the meaning, and not much else. Polite phrases are skipped because information doesn’t need sugar coating – it’s for quick comprehension. Likewise, Danes can seem reserved but are probably just respecting the privacy of the individual. Denmark is a place for very liberal attitudes towards things that in other cultures would be considered immoral. In Denmark, as long as you don’t hurt others you can live your life as you please. Danes can also seem naive. The lack of control everywhere and the somewhat hurried way of doing busi-

So take the time to get some insight into the culture, take from it what you like, and meet them halfway. Don’t always wait for the Dane to take the initiative, but make the contact and explore Denmark with your Danish guides. You just might end up answering that question, “I’ll stay for as long as it takes to get to know you.”

Dennis Nørmark Dennis Nørmark is an anthropologist and chief consultant at Living Institute. He is the author of Cultural Intelligence for Stone-Age Brains: Working with Danes and Beyond, a book for expats living and working in Denmark.


Photo: Kim Wyon


“Denmark is not that easy to grab, because a lot of the information is only implicit”

Coming to Denmark

Our Stories work (Mis)understanding the Danes In 2006 the big moment came: I moved to Denmark. I thought I was well prepared. I had read all the available information about Denmark, I had a job, I had worked with Danes before, I had lived in four other countries. I expected the transition to be a piece of cake. That was my first big misunderstanding. Whichever country you move to you should expect to encounter challenges, and if you are lucky and don’t meet any – all the better. Our expectations so often lead us astray, and we are disappointed when things turn out not as we expect. It might have been easier to move to Japan – I would have expected cultural difference, not been taken by surprise as I was in Denmark.


Making sense of the incomprehensible Denmark is a very homogeneous place, and for this reason it is not that easy to grab, because a lot of the information is only implicit. For internationals, who lack the information that Danes have, life in Denmark can sometimes be completely incomprehensible. This is why I became very involved in making Denmark understandable to non-Danes. I started the series ‘Denmark seen with international eyes,’ explaining the DOs and DON’Ts of life in Denmark on the level of detail that newcomers to Denmark need. All this information is shared in my two books. The Worktrotter’s Guide to Denmark explains in practical detail the social rules of moving to Denmark and

“Be active and dare to get out of your comfort zone”

daily life here. My second book, Business-Dances with Danes: Decoding Danish Workplace Culture, explains the unwritten rules of the workplace – why Danes do as they do at work, and what non-Danes can do in the situations we meet.

Decoding Danish social rules Let me give you just a quick selection of the surprises I met in my first weeks:

· If you invite people at 6pm it means that you will

serve hot food; if you invite them at 8pm there’ll be only snacks and drinks. Be prepared for all guests to come on the dot and therefore all at once. You better be ready by the time you have invited them for.

· Mothers park their baby stroller – plus baby – in the backyard of the apartment block not because they don’t care, but because they feel secure and they think napping outdoors is better for the baby.

· Don’t stop on the bike path to read your map. This

is almost sacrilege. You will be made aware of your wrongdoing in a very direct way.

· Figure out the parking signs and follow them. I didn’t know what the signs in brackets meant. Guess what, I got a hefty fine.

Decoding the Danish office Okay, I thought, I may not know all the social rules, but I have worked with Danes before (albeit remotely), so at work I should be fine. Well, you won’t be surprised that I experienced the unforeseen there as well. Some examples:

· In my first days at work I noticed some green things

that looked like an A4 piece of cardboard with six holes. I had not the faintest clue what they were for. I discovered that when someone wanted a coffee, they would ask their colleagues around if they

wanted one too. They would then go and fetch the coffees and bring them back in the green thing. What a nice kind gesture! I learned that this was one of the facets of hygge at work – with or without the green device.

· When we interviewed potential candidates for our

growing team, my Danish colleague often said “Good enough.” I was completely amazed that “Good enough” was good enough for IBM, which claimed to want the best talents. I learned that this was a translation for “Godt nok”, which is almost the highest possible praise from a Dane.

· When I once told a Danish colleague in passing that

she looked great, she asked me what I wanted her to do for me. I learned that giving positive feedback to Danes is not always easy.

How to work around the problem You will meet similar situations yourself which are connected with Danish culture. The question is always what you as a non-Dane can do. Here are some examples:

· Considering that Denmark is such an egalitarian

society, how can you convince an employer that you are the best candidate for a job? Mentioning that you are an expert in that topic or that you were the best in your team will not go down well with the egalitarian Danes. What to do? One idea is to

Dagmar Fink Dagmar Fink is an expert on living and working in Denmark. She is the founder of the Worktrotter network ( and the author of The Worktrotter’s Guide to Denmark (2009) and Business-Dances with Danes: Decoding Danish workplace Culture (2012)



demonstrate your expertise by showcasing how you solved a similar problem in a previous job.

· You want to build a social and professional network. Asking your Danish colleagues to go out for a beer will probably not succeed. Do they not like you? No, their not joining in has nothing to do with you personally. Most probably they have kids and as both partners work, they have to pick up the kids and go shopping so as to serve dinner at 6 pm. In addition, they like to keep their work life separate from their private life. So go for a coffee with them at work.

· Not knowing why Danes do certain things, we

often misinterpret the signals, which then can have consequences for how we feel or act with one another. I found that all too often expats act on guesses about Danish work culture – that Danes are similar to Swedes or Brits, maybe even Germans. Many people start working, as I did, knowing only the headlines: that Danes are very egalitarian at work, that there are flat hierarchies, that hygge and humour play an important role as well as the work– life balance. But as we all know, in many situations it is the details that count. So are you surprised that there are so many misunderstandings?

Dare to move beyond your comfort zone Now, being aware of the DOs and DON’Ts in both private and work environments is important, but even more important to making a good life in Denmark (and in fact anywhere else) is to be active and to dare to get out of your comfort zone. And yes, sometimes even to make a fool of yourself. I tried to speak Danish with my colleagues using common phrases from the beginning, talking more and more as my vocabulary increased. I cannot tell you how often I produced a good laugh. What I said was completely wrong, but it helped me to get in touch with Danes, and speaking Danish can work wonders. Right after my start in Denmark, I was given the task of being project leader for building the IBM customer centre for Denmark. I had never led non-software projects before, I didn’t know the organisation or


any of the leaders, and I wondered why my manager had given this task to a complete newcomer. Well, in Denmark people trust your capabilities and you get responsibilities early on. Looking back, in spite of all the palpitations that project gave me, it helped me to get in contact with so many IBM colleagues that Danish colleagues who had been in the company for years were surprised at how many people I greeted on the way to the canteen. I hope that my books and this article will help you to find your way more easily in Denmark and decipher faster what makes the Danes tick and how to get in touch with them. Sometimes the new situations will be challenging, but don’t give up. We all develop methods of dealing with the unknown – in Denmark or anywhere else. Your efforts will be rewarded, and you can make living in Denmark into a great experience. Good luck, and all the best to you in your new Danish home!

“In Denmark people trust your capabilities and you get responsibilities early on�

Photo: Casper Tybjerg



My Danish workplace

“Each day at noon everyone in the department sits down to eat lunch together for 30 minutes“


In the fall of 2010, I was a PhD student in public health at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where I was studying the effects of toxic cancer therapies on elderly patients. The research group I worked with had just begun collaborating with colleagues at Aarhus University, and they were looking to hire a postdoctoral fellow starting in 2012. When I heard about this position, my heart skipped a beat. I was looking for a different postdoc experience, one that would expand my professional network, provide access to rich healthcare data for cancer research, and allow me to explore a new country and culture. This opportunity had it all. So in February 2012 I arrived, excited about my upcoming adventure in Denmark but also with some concerns about what it would be like to live and work in another country. Reflecting back over the past year, I’ve been able to identify a few aspects of

“On a normal workday my office is buzzing at 8am, but after 4pm there is not a soul in sight”


working in Denmark that I have found to be very ‘Danish’ – unexpected, and perhaps surprising from an international’s perspective.

How to be time-effective One of the first differences I noticed working here was that people start early and leave early. On a normal workday my office is buzzing at 8am, but after 4pm there is not a soul in sight. It seems that the Danes value their healthy work–life balance. It means that my colleagues and I have time after work to exercise, see family and friends, prepare and eat dinner together, and enjoy hobbies and interests outside of work. This work–life balance is made possible in part because Danes tend to work very efficiently, and in my experience the workplace plays a significant role in that efficiency. The offices and meeting spaces at my workplace are bright, light and simply furnished, with clutter and distractions kept to a minimum. This helps people to be productive. Another feature of many Danish offices is the sit-down/stand-up desk. To avoid post-lunch fatigue or early-morning daze, I often stand and work at my desk – it’s amazing!

me practise my Danish or chat in English. And every Friday at 10am in our department we have fredagsbrød, where we all come together for bread rolls and jam and coffee for 30 minutes. I find it a great way to catch up with colleagues before the weekend.

Great colleagues But one of the most rewarding aspects of working in Denmark, in my experience, is my colleagues, some of whom I believe will be lifelong friends. I was warned before my arrival that the Danes tend to be reserved and not particularly welcoming to foreigners, but in my workplace I found the opposite. My colleagues were warm and generous and within the first few months I had been invited to the homes of five colleagues to meet their families and friends. Over this year, with my colleagues I have attended salsa classes, worked on a farm, experienced the julefrokost or Christmas lunch, gone to concerts, eaten out, gone for ice cream, and seen movies. When I leave Aarhus to move back to North Carolina, I know that I will truly miss my colleagues and my workplace in Aarhus – and especially my sit-down/stand-up desk.

A shared lunch every day Another distinct feature of my workplace is that each day at 12pm, everyone in the department – including students, postdocs, and faculty – sits down to eat lunch together. We lay the table with plates, cutlery and glasses, and for 30 minutes everyone enjoys some social time together. I’ve always enjoyed lunch because I’ve learned about my colleagues’ interests, hobbies, and families as well as about events going on in the city. The conversation takes place in Danish, but my colleagues have been more than happy to help

Jennifer Background: age 32 from Minneapolis, US • moved to Denmark 2012 Professional profile: post-doctoral public health researcher Family status: in a relationship



“I’d learnt from the last experience – I had a solid social network, a steady job and I already knew the language”



From Irish bar to


Background: age 32 from Scotland, UK • moved to Denmark 2005

my brilliant career My Danish adventure started back in 2001 at the tender age of 20, when I followed my girlfriend to Denmark from a small village in the highlands of Scotland. Thus began what is probably a very familiar scenario for a lot of expats in Denmark. With my limited CV experience I found a part-time job in an Irish bar by going bar to bar (the Gaelic connection helped), and later I got a full-time warehouse job through a chance encounter with someone I met in the bar. I joined a local football team because I thought it would be a good way to make friends, and I started taking Danish lessons. It was a slog. Danish lessons, work, and football left me pretty busy, and Danish is hard. That said, I’m extremely glad now I made the effort then, as this is one of the major factors that helped me to succeed when I came back to Denmark later. After nine months I’d completed the Danish course and I was thinking more and more about my future in Denmark. I’d been here nearly two years and I felt I was stuck, in a boring job, with no possibilities and with the ‘friends from football’ still not really working out. The relationship broke up and I headed home – vowing never to have a Danish girlfriend again.

Round two in Denmark Well, I ended up back in Denmark, with a new Danish girl. But during my time back in Scotland, I realised that I needed a decent education to be able to achieve my career aspirations. I knew the possibilities were good in Denmark, what with no tuition fees and my being eligible for a government grant through the tax I’d earned working previously. The difference this time was that I actively made a decision to come back to Denmark. That I had another Danish girlfriend was just a bonus – I wasn’t just following her over with nothing better to do.

Professional profile: communication & social media specialist Family status: in a relationship

“Build a network of social and professional contacts and use it”

Back in Scotland, football had taken a back seat and I’d started playing rugby. For those who don’t know the sport, rugby clubs are globally renowned for being welcoming and they are always good socially. One of the first things I did on getting back was to head for the local rugby club in Aarhus. There was a mix of Danes and other internationals, and within a couple of weeks I’d made more friends than I’d had in my previous two years in Denmark – and I managed to get an okay job, all through club contacts. I’d learnt from the last experience. I had a solid social network, a steady job, and I already knew the language. Now to figure out what to study…

Getting smart I was interested in marketing and advertising and wanted something I could see a future in, so I chose the business school. They had a course on marketing and management communication in English – perfect! I got in, the course went well, and I had a massive advantage in that I could already speak Danish, so I was in the privileged position of being considered an ‘expert’ in English while also being accepted by Danes on the course. I carried on afterwards to do a master’s in international business communication. I had only planned on the bachelor’s, but it was a lot harder to get a job (or a job I wanted in any case) with only a 19


“Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your friends and acquaintances”

BSc. It seemed that all the Danes were very educated, and the financial crisis didn’t help, so a master’s was the way to go.

Making it happen Coming to the end of my BSc I started to recognise the need to get some relevant experience – something that, along with networking, would turn out to be a massive help in securing a full-time job in the future. I was lucky enough to get a student job at Arla Foods in the last year of my BSc, and rather unwittingly I started a snowball effect of jobs and placements. Through the contacts I’d made at my student job, plus my experience and my degree, I was able to secure a six-month internship in the corporate communications department. This was great experience for the CV. Using some of the contacts I made there, I got a part-time project-assistant position while writing my master’s thesis. Then a chance encounter with a marketing manager at the Christmas dinner led to a temporary full-time position within marketing when I graduated. The right time, the right place, I guess. I’d managed to get almost a year of invaluable marketing experience directly out of uni, and all down to getting a student job in Arla and a chance meeting at the Christmas party. My contract at Arla expired, and I was competing in the overcrowded job market. After several months of application-writing and a couple of interviews, my network kicked in again, only this time from my studies. I’d kept in touch with one of my lecturers from the BSc who worked in the Alumni department at the university, popping in from time to time for a coffee and a chat. They had a new position opening, so I 20

went to their office for an informal chat about it and they said I should apply. So I did. I got the interview, it went really well, and I got the job. Now, I didn’t get the job because I knew someone in the department – I was qualified and I presented myself well at the interview – but it definitely helped that they knew me prior to the interview. And that’s where I am today.

Three things I wish I’d known So while there are many factors that play into my Danish adventure, there are three things that I wish I’d known from the beginning. First, learn the language. It makes things so much easier when making Danish friends, but also shows that you are making an effort to fit into Danish society. It’s a different country, so make the effort. Then, join a multicultural club or association. Meeting both Danes and internationals in an informal setting really helps to make friends and break down the barriers that sometimes exist between Danes and internationals. It also helps for a smoother transition into Danish society while keeping that international identity. Finally, build a network of social and professional contacts, and use it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your friends and acquaintances. Nine out of ten times they’ll want to help you, so why not let them? Just remember to return the favour if they ever ask for anything. I hope you enjoyed reading my story. If nothing else, it shows that it is possible to succeed in Denmark as a foreigner – even if it did take me two attempts.



A PhD in

Denmark “I learned that the Danes are like coconuts – with a hard shell, but really soft on the inside”


Denmark – an exotic land far away, where fairytales happen and it is always cold – was not a part of my life plan. But I am here, and I love it. I am a medical doctor from Monterrey, Mexico. I first worked in neuroscience on a community service research project just before I finished my degree. After two more years as I was thinking about specialising in neurology, circumstances pointed me towards taking a plane, leaving my country and looking for other available opportunities. I realised that doing a PhD was important for the way I questioned things and confronted my medical reality every day with patients.

Via Spain to Denmark So having sorted that out, I looked for an opportunity for an interesting neuroscience project in Spain. Through a Danish friend I got an interview with my future supervisor at Aarhus University. I was very nervous and was not sure what to expect, but thankfully I was invited to participate in a project to set up a new laboratory at the Centre of Functionally Integrative Neuroscience at Aarhus University. So in November 2010 I officially left my family, girlfriend, friends and culture behind me, and took on this new challenge in my life. I was warned that I should finish my medical training before leaving, but I had a hunch, and I moved to Denmark. I missed home, of course, but I was excited by the fascinating, unknown challenge that awaited me. And I was lucky. By the time I moved to Denmark, two good friends of mine were also doing PhDs at Aarhus University, six months ahead of me. I really felt their support when I arrived. They introduced me to people, some of whom are still friends, and also to Danish culture.

“I missed home, of course, but I was excited by the fascinating, unknown challenge that awaited me”


soon as I arrived – I think it is important for people who expect to stay a few years to try to learn the language. It helps you meet people and the Danes like it when you try, as they like to help. I get support from my Danish friends talking and sharing in their language, and I am very motivated to finish my courses. If I had to describe the Danes in two words, they would be different and fascinating. I was expecting to make Danish friends from the first day, but it was hard. I learned that the Danes are like coconuts – with a hard shell, but really soft on the inside. They are hard to get to know, but once you win their trust and friendship, you will feel you have won a true friend, a friendship that might be forever. Nowadays, I know that my Danish friends are people I can rely on if anything happens. The culture is different from mine, but something I really like is that the Danes respect you – respect how you think, what you believe in, how you do what you do. For me that is a very important value.

Next, the future And now my girlfriend has moved to Denmark to do her PhD too. I see a fantastic road ahead where I want to learn the language, finish my qualifications and, most important, feel at home. I believe I would like to stay some time here. I feel that I have two homes – Mexico and, now, Denmark.

And it was different The first surprising thing when I arrived was the weather. Coming from a city where it is warm and sunny most days of the year, I had real difficulty understanding that I was moving to the opposite. I arrived in dark, rainy November. I am still not 100 per cent adapted to this, but I am getting there.


I am still learning Danish. It is the most difficult language I have ever tried, though it’s not impossible. I started as

Family status: engaged

Background: age 31 from Monterrey, Mexico • moved to Denmark 2010 Professional profile: medical doctor & student in neurology



“The more people you know and the more people who know what you are good at, the easier it is to find opportunities through your network�



“Think about where you can create value for a company or organisation”

Background: age 28 • From Minnesota, US • moved to Denmark 2013 Professional profile: public health professional Family status: married

“I’ve realised that there is no single path to get where I want to be and that my journey will have multiple stops”


My job journey I first came to Aarhus in January 2013. The previous autumn my husband had been offered the wonderful opportunity to work as a postdoc at Aarhus University and, after some financial calculations, we decided it was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. I had just finished my master’s in public health and my job in the US was ending, so the timing was perfect. In the middle of winter in Minnesota, we packed up our lives, put most of our possessions into storage, and said goodbye to friends and family before embarking on our expat adventure. Before coming here, I wasn’t sure where or how to look for a job in Denmark, and I didn’t know whether the Danish workplace was anything like the places I had worked in the US. I knew I would have a lot to learn once we arrived.

There, I was introduced to the Work in Denmark spouse programme, which provides seminars for accompanying spouses and partners to help people like me learn about the Danish labour market. These seminars were very beneficial, because I learned the information I needed to better navigate the Danish labour market (like how to translate my résumé into a CV and how to approach companies about potential employment). It also gave me the chance to meet people who were in the same situation as I was. This was the first time I realised how important networking was because, for the first time, I found myself without a network to rely on. I had mostly been searching for jobs only using online job search engines. I found that given my professional field and with only limited previous work experience, these job engines weren’t very helpful.

The essential network Shortly after arriving, we went to the International Citizen Service to register ourselves in Denmark.

It became clear that the more people you know, and the more people who know what you are good at, the 25


more your name is circulated and the easier it is to find opportunities through your network. One unexpected, but greatly appreciated, source of assistance was my husband’s colleagues at the university. They knew some people working in my area and helped me to contact them. These contacts were helpful because several people were willing to meet with me and I learned more about the Danish public health system. Months later his colleagues are still enquiring about my job search and helping me think through new ideas for the job search and application process.

Finding a way in Another challenge I faced here was figuring out what businesses and institutions in Aarhus did work in my field. In this case, the job centre in Aarhus was helpful in giving me the names of organisations to research and contact, along with ideas for organisations that take volunteers through which I might have the opportunity to expand my network. A few times I have been able to meet with someone from a public health-related organisation. The frustration I have faced in these cases is that often the organisation says I have an interesting profile and they want to talk to me, but they are not sure how I would fit into their workflow and they would have to talk to their colleagues and get back to me. This happened especially when I was looking for an internship or volunteer work in my field, just to get a foot in the door. One would think giving away free labour would be easier! This has been the most frustrating part of my job search. Each time I felt I was making progress towards securing a job or an opportunity because I had been able to meet with contacts from interesting organisations, it seemed I couldn’t take that final little step to start working with them. But I’ve also learned, during these sometimes frustrating interactions, that it is essential you know what your strengths are and have thought about how you might fit into an organisation before you meet with them. Help them think about where you could create value for their company or organisation.

No single path One thing that has especially helped me manage any frustration I feel is managing my expectations. Coming to a foreign country where I didn’t know


the language and expecting to find a full-time job in my field within a few months wasn’t a realistic expectation. Accepting that finding a position in my field will take time and that taking other short-term positions outside of my immediate field, but still within my areas of interest, would also be beneficial to me was an adjustment I made in my way of thinking. It’s helped me to think of my job search as more of a job journey. Recently, I discovered a company in Aarhus through one of the contacts I met at a Work in Denmark seminar. They were looking for native English speakers for part-time telephone interviewing work, so I submitted an application. Soon after I was called back for an interview and hired the same day. This position has allowed me to become familiar with a Danish workplace and has expanded my network. I’ve realised that there is no single path to get where I want to be and that my journey will have multiple stops. By keeping this in mind, I have learned much about myself both personally and professionally, and have the confidence that I will get to where I want to be. And in the meantime, my journey continues.

“Expecting to find a full-time job in my field within a few months wasn’t realistic”



“Instead of blaming the Danes for not being how I expected them to be, I chose to follow my interests”

You are expected to do what you like My name is Damien. I’m French, and I have now been living in Aarhus for a bit more than two years out of a total of nine years in Denmark. I did a master’s in telecommunications engineering in Copenhagen, changed job a few times and ended up in Aarhus, where I now work for Vestas.

your destiny was to be received into an excellent job by a grateful employer. It was easy, in accepting that destiny, to move automatically towards a future that had been set long ago. That predestined future evaporated in another country, in Denmark. And here I learned to choose for myself.

After so many years in a country, Denmark really feels like home for me now. But it took time to feel at home, and I faced a challenge which I hadn’t anticipated, which I will share with you.

Part of a family, or choosing for myself

I grew up in an educational system based on hierarchy. If you got into one of the top engineering schools, 28

For example when I did my master’s, university life was a bit different from what I had expected. Back home, my engineering school was my home and my family. It’s the well-known esprit de corps: when you enter a school, it’s like becoming part of a big family, from student to retirement. But in Denmark, people

“I just started applying for jobs I really wanted to do, exciting jobs. And what a surprise – I got one!”


think of their studies as a personal thing that they own, not as a family that they need to fit into, and they make personal choices about it. It took me a whole year to understand that, by which time it was too late to do anything differently. If I were to start all over again, I would choose what I really wanted to study instead of doing it the classical, generalist way that is favoured in France. But though I thought I had learnt from that experience, I still had not quite got the point. When I started my job hunt I still had the feeling that it wouldn’t be a problem. My French engineering school was prestigious, so finding a job would not be an issue – I just had to pick the one I wanted. Yes, but in Denmark they had never heard of my famous school. And at job interviews – when I got one – I had a hard time explaining what I wanted to do and why I would love the job in question. At a time when unemployment was at a record low, it took me six months and a course in job-seeking to, finally, get my first job. And then, instead of applying for jobs I thought I could do, I just started applying for jobs I really wanted to do, exciting jobs. And what a surprise – I got one!

Following my interests Once I started to do what I really liked doing, I had my best experiences ever in Denmark. Instead of blaming the Danes for not being how I expected them to be, I chose to follow my interests. When I arrived in Aarhus I knew nobody, and I wanted to get involved in local life and connect with other people besides my colleagues, so I started to look into social volunteer work. I sent an application to an organisation running a drop-in centre for young people. In my early university years back in France I had had extremely good experiences with volunteering in various organisations, so I was sure this would work for me in Denmark as well. I started

to work there two years ago, got more and more involved, and finally I was responsible for the whole project, running under the Danish Red Cross Youth. As often in Denmark, there are a lot of rules in the associative world, but it is also very well organised: so apart from the usual shifts at the drop-in centre, all the volunteers get involved in planning activities for the users, management, PR, HR and activities for the volunteers. After a few months I had a huge new group of friends and was forced to turn down lots of invitations to social events that I could not get to fit in my calendar. I got heavily involved with the municipality and with other stakeholders the association has to deal with, like the social ministry and other associations with a similar target group. I got a refreshed picture of Danish society and how it works. I don’t feel like a Dane, and I never will. But with time, I think I made a few of their values my own. Here, you are expected to do what you like. So why not do it?

Damien Background: age 31 from Tarbes, France • moved to Denmark 2004 Professional profile: electrical engineer and volunteer social worker Family status: single • one son (aged 4)



71.1 %

of Danes do some kind of volunteer work. Denmark has a very strong tradition of volunteer organisations.

of Danish women are in employment. Denmark has had the highest employment rate for women in the European Union since 2004.

(Source: Statistics Denmark)

(Source: Statistics Denmark)

52-week maternity leave Mothers are entitled to 4 weeks leave prior to giving birth and 14 weeks thereafter. Fathers are entitled to 2 weeks at the time of the birth. The remaining 32 weeks can be divided between the parents.

Full-time = 37 hours The Danish 37-hour working week with 5 weeks of vacation provides the renowned Danish work–life balance.

Photo: Kim Wyon


Coming to Denmark

Our Stories home “If you pay attention to the realities of the Danish work and school systems, you can get on with building your future in Denmark�


How to be happy, for international families Coming to Denmark for a job you’ve already accepted is easy, and setting up a new home is fun. But it is what comes after that, the issues at the heart of the family – whether the spouse can actually build a new life here, and whether the children’s education is right for them and their future – that will determine whether the Danish adventure is a success. There are certain structural realities built into the Danish systems for work and school that will determine how you and your children do. If you pay attention to them, you can get on with building a future in Denmark, because the family will be happy.

Try folkeskole if they’re small The deepest, darkest fear in a parent’s heart is for the future of their child. If the international school does not suit you, there is Danish school – the folkeskole and the private schools. When we arrived in Aarhus after 15 years in Cairo, we didn’t want our children (who were 10, 7 and 5) to live inside an expat bubble, being driven to play dates all over the city. We’d had that. We wanted them to be part of a neighbourhood, to be able to bike round to their friends. So they went into the local folkeskole, a lovely place (so lovely that we bought the house for the school). Our seven-year-old went into first grade (after three years in international school!) and our little one went back to kindergarten. It worked, because they were young enough to join the classes while there was still room to manoeuvre and before the relationships were set in stone. I made friends with the class parents – something I couldn’t do with our eldest daughter,

who went into fourth grade. She made good friends herself, though she says it took her a couple of years, but for me it was too late. The close communitybuilding that is part of the folkeskole’s task was too far advanced. So if you go into folkeskole as internationals, go in at the beginning.

There are alternatives If you don’t like the folkeskole’s style, prioritising consensus-building and conflict-management over academic teaching, there is an alternative. There are more than 15 private schools in Aarhus, for example, and each one offers something different. A couple are academically demanding (very old-fashioned in Denmark), one prioritises foreign languages, one builds creativity through arts and theatre, and several are just smaller, more intimate institutions that will pay attention to your child and not expect them to fit a statistical norm. You make an appointment to meet the school principal, you see around the school, and you get on the waiting list. (Some of these waiting lists are long, so you have to be quick.) A great plus

Lucy Background: age 54 from London, UK • moved to Denmark from Cairo, Egypt, 2007 Professional profile: editor and translator Family status: three daughters (aged 11, 13 and 16)



“Now we’ve built up a network of family friends, and our children discovered their deepest friendships in Denmark”

is that private schools do not require your children to take the Danish as a Second Language reception class: they can just start school in Danish from day one and learn by total immersion. This takes about two months to basic fluency, and your children find their place in the class in the process. And because the state transfers most of your child’s school budget over to the private school, fees are low, at around DKK 1,500 a month. We finally moved our two younger children to a more academic private school because we felt they weren’t being taught enough. Of course, now their lovely local social life is a thing of the past. They have to bus across the city to school and to play dates, something they continually complain about. But it is safe and it works.

Make that good Danish As for us spouses, who stepped out of the world we knew and expected to build a new world, there are certain realities that we need to appreciate to be happy in Denmark, counter to a few myths that are still circulating. Making certain choices in your new life will open doors which will otherwise remain closed. Learning Danish is essential of course, but unless your field is something sexy and technical or you are lucky enough to find work in an English-speaking environment, your Danish needs to be good enough to persuade colleagues they can work with you. Don’t stop at the proficiency level – it’s worth taking the top level, the studieprøve.

Take a deep breath, and qualify – again And then, after two to three years when you’ve done that, qualify, over again, in Denmark. If you have a master’s already – take another (there are plenty in English at the universities), or take a basic qualification in the field you want to work in. Unlike Britain, where experience is far more precious than qualifications, in Denmark, not having qualifications will prevent you from using your experience. So don’t be proud. Take a deep breath, and qualify.


The lonely entrepreneur You can also take the self-employed route. This is very fashionable at the moment and there is lots of support in Denmark right now. Kind people will explain the remarkably simple process you should follow. But though this is a way to show what you can do, it is lonely being self-employed. It is more fun if you sign up to a shared office or fælleskontor, which will give you colleagues and a shared world outside the home. But while setting up your own business is good for your pride, it is less productive for the joint bank balance.

Build a base with other families like you And all the while, it is really, really important to build a base around what you are, with other families like you. If your language qualifies, send your child to the EU mother-tongue classes in your language (they are free) run by the municipality. I took a little job teaching those classes to English–Danish children (including my own), and suddenly we discovered a whole seam of like-minded families who loved to be English (or Irish) together sometimes. Now we’ve built up a network of family friends, and our children discovered their deepest friendships in Denmark. Those families are our lifeblood. The Dutch have Dutch school on Saturdays; so do the Poles. So find where your other nationals go, and link up with them. Don’t suffer for your culture on your own. Once these things are in place, you can get on with running a family. You can enjoy the glorious strangeness of the Danish cultural experience, marvelling as we did at the attraction of swimming in freezing cold water with jellyfish while camping, because the Danes feel too nakedly pagan about the great outdoors to stay in hotels, not to mention the national male preoccupation with do-it-yourself home improvements. But you will be happy, because the things that matter most are there.

“Build a base around what you are, with other families like you�

Photo: Niclas Jessen



“A mix of happiness and fright prevailed� 36 14


“In Denmark pregnancy was seen as the most natural thing in the world”

Background: age 36 from Brazil • moved to Denmark 2010 Professional profile: marketing professional Family status: married • one daughter (aged 1)

“My Brazilian friend said, You need to stop comparing!”

Having a baby the Danish way


My Denmark story starts 23 years ago, when a 13-year-old girl came from São Paulo, a huge, busy Brazilian city, to Copenhagen to spend a month in a family home. I met wonderful people, spent a warm summer full of activity, and was completely fascinated by the Danish lifestyle and how calm and organised everything was. Back in Brazil I thought, Denmark is definitely a place I would like to live! Well, twenty years later I spent a weekend in Copenhagen with a friend from that period (by that time I was working and living in Madrid). And that weekend I met the man who is now my husband. After some months of trips back and forth, we decided to be together for real. So I left pulsating Madrid, to live the beautiful love story that was just beginning.

A mixture of hope and fright I arrived in Aarhus in the cold, dark, silent November – completely different from that warm, bright summer

in Copenhagen. But I was so in love, so happy, that I decided not to pay attention to these details and determined to see the good side of being in a new city. In the first weeks everything was completely new and I was fascinated. I started at Danish language school, so important for meeting people and building a social life. After a time I had seen everything new, but things turned really exciting – because, after some months living here, I discovered I was pregnant. A mix of happiness and fright prevailed. How could I be having a baby so far away from my family and my doctor? I was very apprehensive about how the antenatal care was going to work out, how the doctors were going to treat me. I didn’t know much about the health system. All I knew about pregnancy was from my friends back home. And in Brazil, if you want good treatment, you pay for it. And as you are paying a lot for it, you are treated like a queen: the doctor is available for you 24/7, any time, any day. I had also heard that in Europe 37


“I was used to the 15-minute appointments and my good friend Google helped with every doubt”

many women have natural births. In Brazil, for a lot of reasons, natural births are very uncommon. So I was already preparing my speech to persuade the obstetrician to give me a caesarian section. There was no way in the world I was going to have a natural birth.

The reality Finally, my first appointment with the doctor arrived. I had so much to ask about my baby and how things were going that I prepared a list of questions. I thought, as in Brazil, I would have plenty of time to ask and discuss everything on my list. To my surprise, the consultation took 15 minutes. Just when I thought of getting the list out of my pocket, I was already shaking hands goodbye. At first I was furious. How come it was so fast?! But I calmed down, and my husband promised me we would Google the doubts later. Then, still not comfortable or confident enough about the health system, I decided to talk to a Brazilian friend who has lived here for seven years and has two children. That was a wise decision. Among all the good advice she gave, she said something I never forgot: “First of all, you need to stop comparing!” And then she calmly told me her experience. After our long chat, I could see that in Denmark pregnancy was seen as the most natural thing in the world – so it was treated accordingly.

The long-distance support group Other appointments came – not as many as I wanted, I have to say – and slowly I started to feel more comfortable with it. I could feel that the doctor and midwife knew what they were talking about. I was fascinated by their practicality and objectivity, so I decided to write a blog for my friends in Brazil. They were amazed at my posts and my stories. They couldn’t believe, for example, that I was going to have just two ultrasound scans to check on the baby. In Brazil mothers have at least six scans, and the more cautious have one every month.

I take the initiative After some months, I was confident and happy. Everything was going perfectly, I was used to the 38 14

15-minute appointments, and my good friend Google helped with every other doubt. But I was still very worried about the natural birth. Of course I tried to talk to the midwife about a C-section, but she literally changed the subject every time I mentioned it. It was clear that it was not an option in my case because things were going so well, and sooner or later I had to get used to the idea. So I decided to get as informed as I could. I bought all the books, read all the blogs, watched all the programmes about it and even did pregnant aqua yoga. As the due date got closer, I read my friends’ encouraging messages on my blog. For them what I had been experiencing was so amazing that they were waiting for the grand finale. And so was I. And then, in less than three hours of pain, emotion, fear, and all the most amazing feelings, I gave birth to my beautiful little girl Maria. Yes, she was one of my achievements here. The best one I can say, but for sure not the last.



“We believe that English is the key that opens the door to the world“

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“Yes, this is it, this is twenty-first-century education!”



The international school was our culture shock One day my husband came home and said he had been offered a job in Denmark. I said immediately, “Let’s go, why not live for a while in another country?” It would be an adventure for the whole family: we could see more of the world, and the children could go to an international school and learn English. So we visited Denmark for the first time in our lives in the spring holiday. It was windy and rainy in Aarhus, much colder than Budapest and so much smaller, but Legoland was just an hour away, it was light till 9pm, and the seashore was wonderful. Somehow, from the first moment we fell in love.

From book bags … It was not an easy decision to make. My husband and I had good jobs and a comfortable life with our two children in Budapest. The kids went to a traditional state school in the heart of Budapest and received a traditional education. By this I mean there were 30 children in each class, they took heavy backpacks to school every day filled with books, they had regular tests and marking started from age eight. There was no question that the children would go to an international school. One reason was that their mother tongue is Hungarian – not a widely spoken language, to say the least – and we believe that English is the key that opens the door to the world. Another was that they would meet other cultures, become internationally minded and experience a more modern, less traditional education. I have to say that it was the international school that was our true culture shock – in the best sense – moving to Denmark.

…to iPads We visited the international school in Højbjerg that spring holiday. It did not look like a school so much as a kindergarten (which at that time it was, as the rest of the school was about to open). Walking among the miniature chairs and tables, we were not convinced that this was the school for our children. Then we talked to the school principal, and our jaws dropped. As she told us about the International Baccalaureate primary years programme we felt, yes, this is it, this is twenty-first-century education! The kids work on iPads in school, there are no textbooks or grades in the primary years up to age 11, the curriculum is structured around units of enquiry, and instead of doing exams the children have to do presentations on projects. The children are assessed on an individual basis, so even if they come from different schools and different countries, they are judged by their progress during their studies.

But what about English? This all sounded perfect, but what about the kids who don’t speak English? How would they learn anything at all at school if they didn’t understand what was

Eszter Background: age 39 from Budapest, Hungary • moved to Denmark 2012 Professional profile: sales and marketing professional Family status: married • two children (aged 9 and 11)



“It took them three months to start speaking play English, and another three months to understand the lessons” going on? How would they make friends? We were assured that they would be fine: the teachers had experience with students who don’t speak English, and anyway there would be English as a Second Language (ESL) lessons every day to help them. So on 15 August 2012 there we were, all dressed up in uniforms, and I had a heavy heart letting Artúr and Nóri into their classes. And all my worries were nonsense. They had a great time from the first day. In the first weeks they sat and listened all day. They were exhausted. Just try sitting all day without understanding or speaking a word! But I was prepared for that: I was patient and gave them support and was their best friend until they found their own. It took them three months to start speaking a kind of play English, and another three months to understand the lessons. ESL helped a lot, and socialising with the classmates was just as important. When I went into 42 14

school at the end of half term to watch my son giving a presentation in English, I almost cried. How could he do that when it had taken me nearly ten years to learn English to an acceptable level? My daughter, a happy little fish in the big ocean, just decided to go with the flow. So she made friends with everyone in class, went to a dance club, went to a badminton club and, to our surprise at the end of the half term, was elected to the student council – all without being able to express herself well yet in English!

And now, my turn … So now that the children are settled and their education is on the right track, it is time for me to face the next challenge: finding a job – without speaking Danish. Wish me luck!



“The germ of the idea was the quality of life�

We have more time as a family I had known my Danish colleagues for some years when we came to Denmark. I had visited the company regularly while working in the sister company in France, and that was how I caught a glimpse of a quality of life which was the germ of the idea. We already speak two languages at home (my wife is Franco-Spanish), and we had always thought that we would like to try living in another culture. So we packed our things, left our home town and arrived in the summer of 2012 in a village in Jutland, 20km from the nearest big town.

44 14

“Now the children speak English and Danish with their friends”


For my wife and for the children it was a bigger change than for me. The children went to a private international school in Viborg on the recommendation of the company. We made this decision so that they can complete their education in a similar school anywhere in the world, even if we move to another country tomorrow. Going to school in English was a big step for the children, but they agreed to try it. And although they were a little stressed on that first school day – new people, new friends, a new place, a new language! – they came home happy at the end of it, and all was well. Our eldest child had already studied languages at school, so after only two months he was up to speed in English. He says now that he feels equally at home in Spanish, English and French! For our middle child it took six months, as languages were new for him. Now the children speak English and Danish with their friends. The children like the rhythm of their Danish school. It feels practical and very stable, and they feel very free with a shorter school day. They have time to flourish here.

My wife had never set foot in Denmark before For my wife, coming to Denmark was a very great change. She had never set foot in the country before and had a full and active life in France. We had to wait for Théo to turn three before he could go to kindergarten and she could start language school, but now she is taking Danish class in town. She cannot wait to learn Danish and enter into Danish society.

My colleagues immediately welcomed us into their lives and helped us from the very beginning. Now we have friends who are Danes and friends from all over the world.

We have more time as a family We absolutely do not regret our decision to come. We definitely have more time as a family. We play games, we go exploring together in search of special destinations. And it has been a great life experience to discover another culture, another way of thinking. Our children have gained a new window on the world. If life smiles on us, and if the family continues to do well, we will stay in Denmark.

“Our children have gained a new window on the world”

Franck Background: age 46 from Metz, France • moved to Denmark 2012 Professional profile: injection tools engineer Family status: married • three children (aged 3, 12 and 14)



“We moved them to Danish folkeskole the following year”

The girls had an easier time in international school 46 14

We are a truly international family. I am American (from California) with my heritage from Indonesia and my husband is Danish from the west coast. We move around quite a bit: from California to Michigan to Japan to Holland, and then to Denmark three years ago, following my husband’s job as an engineer. But this is something I am used to, as I grew up in Rhode Island, New York City, and Southern California. And with this in mind, we raised our girls as internationally as possible. Both speak fluent Danish and English and have picked up Dutch, Spanish, German, and French, as well as a smattering of Japanese.


“It was better for our elder daughter to continue in international gymnasium”

Background: age 45 from California, US • Moved to Denmark 2010 from the Netherlands Professional profile: marketing consultant Family status: married • two daughters (aged 14 and 17)

“The girls struggled to be part of a group that had been together since they were six years old”

I did not come to Denmark as a green inexperienced expat, and our experience in Denmark is not quite an ordinary expat story. I have been returning to Denmark for the last 25 years with my husband to see his family, so I have seen the many changes here, and I got over my culture shock years ago. Plus we have lived in various other countries and learned our lessons well. My husband returned to Denmark after 20 years abroad to help his parents out. His father had been ill, and my husband also wanted the girls to know what Denmark was and to connect with his family. Of course I agreed as we were on an international path anyway, so whether I was in Holland or Denmark, it didn’t really matter.

success. Luckily, with their background in the rigorous programme of international school, they could focus on language rather than the curriculum. Both found the classwork very easy, and it was a repeat of most classes for both of them. But our elder daughter struggled with the writing and grammar and was faced with the ninth-grade exit exams. She finished out the year and convinced us it was better for her to continue in international gymnasium (which luckily had just opened that year).

So it wasn’t really culture shock. I saw all the improvements and the many changes in the country over the span of 25 years. I saw all the progress with international people and services. All very good things. What I was not prepared for was the isolation.

Our younger daughter had fewer problems jumping in scholastically, but she had a more difficult time as there were peer issues within her class that were never resolved by the teacher or by the staff of the school. She changed that first year from being a very friendly and happy child to becoming very withdrawn. We finally moved her to private Danish school, with a more international group of students, and she is back to being happy again.

Into folkeskole – and out again

I was not prepared for the isolation

In the beginning there was a lot of work to do, for the family, for the children, learning the language. The kids started at the local international school, but it was very small compared to the ones they were used to, the after-school activities were non-existent and the hours were extremely short. They were used to being at school until 4 or 5pm with sports and arts programmes afterwards. Coming home at 1pm left a lot of time, as they did not know any of the neighbourhood kids. We moved them to Danish folkeskole the following year, as they spoke Danish, but it was not a

As for me, language school brought a lot of new faces and friendships. It was good to finally learn Danish after 20 years. However, I can say that had I been younger, it might have been much easier to learn all the odd sounds. After 18 months, I finally stopped at level five and tried to enter the job market. I have a degree in communication and had worked in marketing for the last 15 years, although sporadically since moving abroad. I was not prepared for a tough market. I was not prepared for the isolation. I spent most of the day by myself. The children no longer needed a driver or 47


a chaperone for their activities. There were not many people in the neighbourhood to talk to. The only people I saw were the ones at the grocery store or the post office or the bank. My friends from the language school are all international. I see them occasionally, as we are all busy with everyday life. Other than the few parents of my children’s friends and my husband’s family, I do not know many Danish people. After a long two years of looking for work, I ended up looking outside of Denmark. I now work part-time for a Japanese telecommunications firm teaching English online to Japanese business people. I also work as a freelance copywriter for a localisation company and as a freelance web designer/graphics artist. I am attempting to construct full-time work out of many part-time jobs. I learned that it’s not possible to use your marketing skills here when your primary language is English and not Danish. And yes, I am still primarily alone most of the day, other than the online presence I maintain with my Japanese students and English-speaking clients.

A tougher expat experience Is this situation any different from the other expat experiences we have had? Somewhat. The girls had much easier times in international schools. The other kids were all from somewhere and they had moved schools as well, so they were very quick to make friends. Both of them had problems here at the local schools because not only were they new, they are half foreign. They were teased for being odd. They didn’t quite fit, and struggled to be part of a group that had been together since they were six years old. The isolation issues were also not a question in other locations, because all the expat moms got together every day when they had to do the morning drop-off and afternoon pickup. This changed for me here when the girls started riding their bikes to school. I saw none of the moms. And although International Community was great about arranging events, there are only so many tours one can take. Plus now I was in the position of having to find work here. So yes, now I somewhat have work. It’s not an ideal situation. I would prefer to work full time with one company and

48 14

possibly have colleagues and friends to talk to, rather than cobble together freelance work all alone.

Making room for someone new and different I took a course on Danes and their culture at Aarhus University and learned that Denmark truly is a clan or family, rather than a country. It is pretty close-knit, with a homogeneous background. And although it can be very positive to be so similar to one another, it can also be a negative trait for foreigners in that there is hardly any room for someone new and different. People tend to keep within their extended families and long-time friends. Although everyone is polite and very nice and helpful, it doesn’t go further than that. Overall, it has been quite an experience for us. We have each of us found our way, and each of us has a life. It’s been tough, and will continue to be tough for some time. Denmark is only at the beginning of expanding into being international. I have seen the many very good changes over the years, and I look forward to seeing the many more changes I expect to happen. I hope that these observations will help in furthering those changes for the better. I am no longer just a visitor to Denmark as I was before: I am a part of this world now.

“What I was not prepared for was the isolation“



“I felt helpless with my lack of Danish” 50 14

Rachael Background: age 42 from Northern Ireland • moved to Denmark 2011

“We knew that was the best way for them to learn the language, make friends and be part of the community“

Professional profile: marketing professional Family status: married • two sons (aged 8 and 10)

“In my experience, Danish school is like a cross between school and an American summer camp”


Into folkeskole My husband got a three-year post at Aarhus University in January 2011, when our two sons were five and eight. From the outset we were fairly sure we wanted them to attend a Danish school, as their education was only beginning and we knew that was the best way for them to learn the language, make friends and be part of the community we would be living in. Before we left for Denmark our friends were either aghast that we were taking the boys away from their school and their life in England, or assured us that children were so flexible and adaptable they would adjust easily and learn the language quickly.

Danish from day one

We briefly considered the international school in Aarhus but were put off by the fees, which we knew we would be hard pressed to afford once we factored in moving and set-up costs and the general cost of living in Denmark.

Though we didn’t know it, we had actually moved out of Aarhus municipality into a local authority with a completely different policy for integrating non-Danish children in the school system. They simply started school and learned Danish as they went, from day one. There was no special language school, and from

I moved to Denmark with the children in May 2011, when my youngest son turned six and was eligible to enrol in the Danish school system. My husband found us all an apartment just 15 minutes by bus from the university in a very pleasant neighbourhood. He visited the local school, which said all the children had to do was turn up on 1 June and start. In this particular school the children start school the month after they turn six, rather than at the start of the school year in August. This is not the norm for Danish schools, but we accepted it, as it gave the boys a bit of a trial period in school before the summer holidays.



“They get to do all sorts of woodwork, bonfires and wood carving in school that they would never be allowed to do in England”

the first weekend the boys were being invited to school birthday parties and played after school in the SFO facility (the after school club).

rely on in all situations. It was heart-breaking at first, though over time I have adjusted to my new role as friendly mum with bad Danish and with limitations.


A completely different perspective on life

Despite these advantages, though, it wasn’t all plain sailing. Our first six months proved to be a very challenging adjustment period for us all. My youngest son in particular struggled. He had already been at school in England for two years, but in zero class in Danish school he was back to being youngest in school again, and what he experienced on a daily basis bore very little resemblance to what he knew of school in England. School runs from 8am to 1pm, followed by several hours playing after school in SFO. He found the constant choice of what to do in SFO confusing, and of course learning Danish didn’t come instantly, so he experienced a lot of frustration. After several months, during which he made very little progress in Danish, I finally persuaded his teachers to stop ‘helping’ him in English, and within weeks his Danish started to flourish.

Some of the best things the boys have experienced at school in Denmark are the freedom to wear no uniform and the very relaxed approach to health and safety, which means they are able to do all sorts of woodwork, bonfires and wood carving in school that they would never be allowed to do in England. They can also safely bike to and from school on their own.

Our older boy was very resilient to the changes we had made, but sorely missed his friends in England. He was disappointed when classmates wanted to play with their friends and wouldn’t include him, and struggled when he could no longer read like his peers.

‘I had lost my role as a mother they could rely on’ It was very difficult for me watching them go through this process. I felt helpless, struggling to help them with new friends because of my lack of Danish, and feeling that I had lost my role as a mother they could 52 14

In my experience, Danish school is like a cross between school and an American summer camp! I still worry that their academic progress is not what it would be in England, and I still find the Danish educational approach difficult to accept, but they have learned another language (both are now fluent speakers and are catching up with reading and writing), have become part of our local community, and have met many internationals from among our friends in Aarhus. They have also experienced a completely different perspective on life. They too have noticed the relative quietness of Danish children, but as they see it, “It’s a quiet country, Mum, but that’s okay.” At times I have doubted our decision to put our children through Danish school, but I am not impressed with what I have seen of the alternatives available in English in Aarhus. So if I had to do it all again, I would still choose to send them to Danish school.



“I can argue and discuss, laugh and cry and ‘brokke mig’ in fluent Danish” 54 14

“Finally I had the feeling of belonging in a community, that I could form my own network in Denmark”



Living in Denmark: feeling you belong I met Sven-Erik in Dublin through mutual friends in 1993. We were young, life was sweet and we fell head over heels in love. As modern European citizens, we quickly adjusted to travelling back and forth between Heidelberg in Germany, where Sven lived and worked, and Dublin, where I did. Sven moved to Ireland in 1994 under a contract for a German firm and we quickly settled down together.

So cute, so sunny, so clean At the time I was working as a solicitor, dealing with probate and property sales. We both worked over 50 hours a week, and often at the weekends. Mostly we ate dinner at work, or else bought takeaway or a pub dinner. Sven mentioned that it was a stressful and relatively unfriendly family work culture in comparison to Denmark. In 1995 we spent our summer holiday visiting Sven’s family in Viborg. I loved the friendly atmosphere, the small streets, the tall, smiling, tanned Danes, the white-headed children, the beautiful beaches and the green forests. Everything was so cute, so sunny, so clean. Everybody spoke excellent English. I was caught – hook, line and sinker.

miserable in the November rain, packed into buses, or hearing them slam the door to their apartments when I opened mine. I was a bedraggled specimen those first months in Denmark, a chicken without feathers. Getting a job as a lawyer in Denmark was totally out of the question: I had hardly two Danish words to rub together. Luckily, Sven has a warm and close-knit family, and there was a flock of small children to read goodnight stories to and go for walks with, and family Christmas and birthday traditions to celebrate. Sven’s family saved my skin in that first year, when I was a shadow of myself. Who cared if I loved English poetry, or that I’d lived in New York for a year? Can you be a lawyer if you don’t have anybody to debate with? Are you an adult if your boyfriend has to pay all your bills and has to ring the hairdressers and tell them how you want your hair cut? After a few months I got a job minding two small children in their own home. Their mother was an American living in Denmark, so she became my new best (and only) friend. We had long chats and swapped books and recipes. I took private lessons in Danish from a school teacher. This was a necessity for

So we moved to Aarhus in November 1996, after Sven’s contract in Ireland expired. I took a year’s leave of absence from my job, and we sailed across from Harwich to Esbjerg with happy hearts and high hopes.


A completely different kettle of fish

Background: age 44 from Dublin, Ireland • moved to Denmark 1996

Let me say at once that Denmark in November is a completely different kettle of fish from Denmark in August. Gone were the tanned, smiling Danes with excellent English and big smiles. My contact with Danes was reduced to seeing them huddled and

Professional profile: solicitor • public health manager Family status: married • two daughters (aged 9 and 13)



me, a talkative and outgoing person. I had quickly realised that Danes will speak in English for the first few sentences, but it is an effort for them, and they will quickly revert to speaking Danish to the others in the group (thereby losing the foreigner). I made steady progress with Danish, with the real challenge being speaking and hearing Danish. Just take the Danish word ‘Jo’ – does it mean Yes or No? I finally figured out that it is a positive answer to a negative question. For example: “Vil du ikke have en kop kaffe” – what do you answer if you do want that cup of coffee?

The neighbours streamed in with cakes and baby gifts We bought a house in a little village in the north of Aarhus in 2000. The weekend we moved in, the town was holding its annual festival: the streets were decorated with Danish flags and a brass and wind band paraded through the village. Our neighbours came by with a cake and flowers. They questioned me about everything you can imagine about Ireland, from geography, history and the price of milk to the strange way Irish people knit. Our first daughter was born in September 2000 and our neighbours streamed in with cakes and baby gifts. Finally I had the feeling of belonging in a community, that I could form my own network in Denmark. I was invited to join a mothers group, and here I made new friends my own age and in the same situation as myself. Suddenly I had phone numbers in my address book, and we started going to gym classes together, giving and receiving invitations to dinner and coffee, swapping books.

Being someone again When Clara was a year old, I started studying at the College for Occupational Therapy in Aarhus. It was an old dream of mine to work in public health and health promotion, and I felt lucky to be able to pursue this dream and be paid a government grant at the same time. With the one other mature student besides myself – I was ten years older than most of my class, though they were sweet to us – we wrote our bachelor’s project together and are still very good friends today. Another little daughter arrived in 2003, and at this stage I compared myself to my girlfriends in Ireland, who were starting to leave the workforce to mind their small children because of a complete lack of support for families in the workplace. I felt privileged

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to be working 30 hours a week and to be able to come home and collect my children from daycare every day at 3pm.

Feeling you make a difference is essential I have always had a drive to help other people and to make a difference where I can, so I joined parent and sports groups at all levels, my enthusiasm often leading to me becoming both chairman and secretary! We have a very active parent group in our village, Spørring, which works untiringly for better conditions for young people in the village. Over the past ten years we have developed the child-minding facilities in the town, held fundraising and sports events and sleepovers for the young people in our Børnehus. We sought funding for a fantastic playground, and we have organised many working weekends in the public areas in the village. We can boast of some wonderful results, but the most fantastic thing is how much fun we have together, forming and building our own community. This feeling of belonging and making a difference is, for me, essential to being part of a community. I feel I am fully integrated into Danish society now – I can argue and discuss, laugh and cry and ‘brokke mig’ in fluent Danish. I dream in both languages, and thrive in both cultures. I have learned to accept the Danish winters and love the Danish summers. I am thankful for the quality of life my children have here, and after a nasty round in the boxing ring with cancer in 2004, I am eternally grateful to the Danish health service for their professional and competent treatment.



“My husband’s family comes from a countryside that my own grandparents would have recognised in some fundamental way”

Living in Denmark: the province of Jutlandia–Carolina

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“We’ll always live here, even if we do move back to the States” I moved to Denmark from the States in 1997 at the age of 27. To make a long story short, I came for love – my boyfriend Peter (now husband), a Dane whom I’d met at graduate school in Baltimore, had just finished his PhD, and he was forced to come home to Denmark by his restrictive student visa. We’d been together for a couple of years at the time. Everything about that decision was provisional, even makeshift. I knew next to nothing about Denmark. Nothing in my background or plans for the future (however vague) made coming here an obvious next move. But when faced with the choice between enduring the tedium of my failing dissertation project alone and leaping off a cliff together, I took the only option open to my heart.

Two suitcases and a mountain of books We moved to Aarhus, the city where Peter had done his undergraduate work, with little more than two suitcases and a mountain of books. I held on to the myth of my brilliant academic career for a year or so – and the idea of us both returning to the States for a little bit longer. But Peter found a job at the local university, I started learning Danish – and here we are still, fifteen years later, with two boys, ages ten and twelve. We’ve lived in the same neighbourhood since before our eldest son was born. The language of our family life is Danish. It’s a long time since I’ve experienced myself as foreign to the culture I live in. To put it another way, it’s been a long time since I’ve encountered a Danish linguistic or cultural situation I found myself unable to decode.

A kind of nest Sometimes I try to imagine what our lives would be like in an alternative reality, one where Peter had moved to the States to be with me and we’d set up house and started raising a family in one of the towns I lived in in my pre-Danish life. This allows me a glimpse of the foreignness I otherwise have such a hard time bringing into focus.


of our life in Denmark with the worst aspects of life in the States (which I actually know very little about first hand, because I’ve never been a parent – let alone had a real job – in America). This version makes it easier for me to live with the constant low-level sense of missing my own extended family, old friends, and beloved places. If we lived in the States – or so my story goes – our boys wouldn’t know their father as well. He wouldn’t have taken paternity leave with our youngest, for example. In fact, all four of us would spend less time together – and less quality time with each other, because we’d never have any vacation. We would sit in endless traffic jams eating super-size portions of junk food on the way to the mall or our kids’ sports activities (there being no bike paths or sidewalks). Our kids would have stress-related stomach pains from worrying about their grades. Life would be chaotic, unstructured, exhausting – too many choices, too much variety, too much diversity. In this mood, I see the densely woven network of habits, conventions, rules, holidays, foods, and attitudes that bind Danish culture together (or at least our provincial

Lenore Background: age 43 • from North Carolina, US • moved to Denmark 1997 Professional profile: translator and language consultant Family status: married • two sons (aged 10 and 12)

What I see depends a lot on how I’m feeling about our life here. In one version, I juxtapose the best aspects 59


suburban corner of it) as a kind of nest. Our children experience their world as reasonable, predictable, structured by values and experiences they share with most of the people they know. In this mood it seems to me that our daily bike ride to our kids’ school and on to work is worth everything they – and I – are missing out on back in the States.

A kind of cage? At other times – disgusted by the racism of one of the minority parties, or the complacency of the closely clipped hedges in my suburban neighbourhood, or the insular tedium of Danish cuisine, or my own ever-increasing provincialism – I worry that this nest is actually a kind of cage. That the sense of security that my children experience here is false, and that they will someday find themselves unprepared to embrace the diversity, unpredictability, and dynamism of the American reality – which, to be perfectly honest, is still the reality in my eyes. I feel that I should somehow be able to give them all of that – and that maybe I should be working harder to make America real for them.

The realities of family life and history But these reflections, as important and unavoidable as they may be, are based on abstractions and

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generalisations about national identity and national character that can’t do justice to the concrete realities of my family’s daily life and history. The America I come from – provincial western North Carolina – is not so unlike the Denmark my family actually lives in, provincial east Jutland. My husband’s family comes from a countryside that my own grandparents would have recognised in some fundamental way, despite differences in climate, language and architecture. We live in a space – the province of Jutlandia–Carolina? – with two official languages and whose boundaries are fluid, defined only by love and memory. We’ll always live here, even if we do move back to the States.

“We live in a space with two official languages whose boundaries are defined only by love and memory”


Emma & Victor


are the most common names for Danish newborns. Peter and Anne are the most popular names in Denmark.

was the year when Denmark pioneered same-sex civil unions (registered partnerships). Gay marriage was fully legalized in 2012, allowing same-sex couples to get married in churches.

(Source: Statistics Denmark)

Photo: Anders Hede


30.7 years

The Danish welfare system provides a number of services to citizens free of charge, including the health and educational systems.

is the average age of first-time mothers in Denmark, and the average number of births per woman is 1.76. (Source: Statistics Denmark)

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Coming to Denmark

Our Stories time off “Take up a hobby and you will end up making friends�


“You all share the same fate in learning something new through making mistakes and celebrating successes”

Go out and play! Making new friends in a new country is in many ways like your first day at school. You know no one, and that is daunting, to say the least. And you desperately want to make friends, because that will make you feel at home. So there you are, excited, unsure of yourself, perhaps a little afraid. I came to Denmark in August 2010. Life had started again after the holidays, and I threw myself at it. I joined a choir and a hacker space (a cosy computer club) within a month of arriving. You cannot expect to pluck friendships hanging from a tree, but you can build yourself a social life, and by joining these clubs I had made a start. Actually, I felt that I had hit the ground running.

That was quite an eye-opener for me, but it also made me sad. Did this mean that the window of opportunity for meaningful friendships slammed shut at the tender age of sixteen? Doesn’t anybody older than that stand a chance of being friends with a Dane? Well, Yes and No. Yes, because the ideal of friendship as described above is one way of looking at it. It goes together with the life people lead when they stay put in one place all their lives, and that excludes us internationals. But also, No. There are many Danes who move away from home for school, university, work, love or divorce, and so they will find themselves in need of making friends in a new place. So let’s take the Danish friendship ideal with a grain of salt.

Take up a hobby A social life is the seedbed for friendships, as I found out. A frequent mistake by internationals in Denmark is to try to make friends at work. That may be the rule all over the world, but not in Denmark (although there are exceptions). I asked a Danish woman who had spent many years of her adult life outside Denmark where Danes made friends, if not at work. “Well,” she said, “Danes make friends at school. From the age of six to sixteen they are in a class with the same people. These will turn out to be the people that you have, almost literally, known all your life. That is a powerful bond.”

Inger Stokkink Background: age 51 from Netherlands • lived in Italy and Germany • moved to Denmark 2010 Professional profile: journalist Family status: married


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Coming to Denmark

Our Stories time off

The same woman who told me about Danish friendship also gave me a recipe for finding Danish friends: “Join a club. Take up a hobby and you will end up making friends.” That, without knowing it, was just what I had been doing, and I found that my social life was (a) thriving and (b) Danish, to a large extent.

they will get as tired of listening to your baby-speak as you are tired of speaking that way. So there you are, locked up on a boat with strangers for company – now what? All of you just have to communicate, there’s no way around it. Your baby Danish is all you have, and all they have, so it’s take it or leave it. Take my word: they will take it. Most of them, most of the time.

The comfort of the familiar There is a lot to be said for picking up an old hobby in a new country – like singing, in my case. First of all, it is comforting to do something familiar that gives you pleasure. It is also nice to do something you are good at. After being a choir member for many years I know that I am a useful alto, and I can read music. Another important thing is that Danish is not always the big stumbling block it can often be in daily life. Things can be communicated in other ways, such as by showing or imitating. In the choir we also sang Danish songs, and although I didn’t know Danish at the time, I just made the sounds my fellow choir members were making and trusted that these would pass for Danish. Which they did, most of the time. In other words, you share a common enthusiasm which very often overcomes the obstacles that the language lays in your way.

Then try something new But I also started a new hobby in the spring of 2011: I started learning how to sail. A new hobby has lots of other advantages which make it easy to make friends. First of all, there’s the language again. Danes will like it if you make an effort to speak Danish, but very often


Then again, many things you do not learn through words, but by doing them. Learning how to tie a bowline knot is much easier done by looking over the shoulder of someone who is tying one and then by trying it yourself, time and again, than by someone explaining it in words. Likewise, learning how to steer a boat, to ride and roll with the waves is something you have to experience, that has to become part of your motoric memory – and something that transcends language and culture. And finally, a very important aspect of sailing in splendid isolation on a boat (but more broadly speaking also of any learning experience) is that you all share the same fate in learning something new through making mistakes and celebrating successes. That too is a powerful bond – one that is within reach of grown-ups and does not require a Danish childhood. And most important: it works. So go out and play!


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“I sure wasn’t going to sit at home feeling homesick and sorry for myself”


“I would definitely encourage others to pursue their interests and meet like-minded people”

You name it, there’s a club for it

time off Moving to another country was not such a big deal for me. It takes some people a long time to make that decision, if there are things like family and career to consider. But I was offered a fantastic, perfectly timed PhD studentship with a great company in an area of biology I really wanted to work in, and for me it was one of those go-withyour-gut-instinct decisions. I was single and had just finished university in the UK, and I had nothing to hold me back from doing whatever or going wherever I wanted. When I saw that Denmark was reputedly the happiest country in the world, I was totally sold.

I saw it as a challenge Both my two older sisters live abroad in Spain and Australia, so my poor parents, by now quite used to being abandoned, were incredibly supportive and helpful when I told them I’d been given an amazing opportunity to move to Denmark. I wasn’t even nervous about moving; I saw it as a great challenge. A challenge to experience new things, learn a new language and meet new people. I had been travelling a lot in my teens, so I had already seen different cultures and ways of life. Denmark is very similar to the UK culturally, so there was no culture shock apart from the odd quirky Danish thing (whoever thought a sandwich could consist of just one slice of bread?!). In fact I have found the Danes to be incredibly friendly and welcoming to me – definitely more so than the Brits.

Make the effort to go out and meet people Despite this, I would advise newcomers (especially those moving here without a spouse or partner) not

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just to expect to make friends instantly and easily: you need to make the effort to go out and meet people. On the rare occasions that I meet someone who isn’t enjoying their time here so much, it’s always the same reason: they don’t feel they have made friends outside work or class. And why? Because they’re not part of a club or group, so they haven’t found anyone they have something in common with. There are so many opportunities to meet people in Aarhus. The obvious ones are language school, International Community and the Aarhus Internationals Meetup group (a great relaxed social gathering of internationals). However good they are for meeting new people, though, you’re obviously not going to meet many Danes there. Don’t get me wrong, the International Community is full of really friendly and open people, but why move to Denmark and then interact with only internationals? You’re not going to get a feel for Danish culture unless you interact with the Danes. There are so many other clubs in Aarhus for a wide range of sports (Aarhus 1900 is a group of about 20 different sports clubs, really with something for everyone). But if you’re not the sporty type, I’ve also come across groups ranging from photography, to

Lizzy Background: age 23 from Southampton, England • moved to Denmark 2012 Professional profile: PhD student in bioinformatics Family status: single


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“If you make the effort, you will always find people who are just waiting to meet you and welcome you into their group”

knitting, to winter bathing. You name it, Aarhus probably has a club for it.

me and make sure I understand everything. I can’t wait to bring my bike over from the UK next year so I can compete in races and represent the club.

I was looking for a triathlon club When I moved here I made the decision to live in a shared apartment rather than on my own, so that I could meet and live with Danes. I share with two Danish girls who are lovely and both speak English very well, and they’re a great help when I hit a mental block with my language-school homework, or reminding me about upcoming music festivals. I started training for triathlons at university in the UK, so I was looking for a triathlon club from the moment I knew I was moving here. And of course Aarhus had the answer. The Aarhus 1900 Triathlon club has been perfect: there is some kind of training session every day, and it’s all located near where I live (so there is no excuse for me not to attend). The coaches are fantastic, and always give advice or explain things to me in English. The other members of the club all know that I don’t speak much Danish, so they always translate the programme for


Just ‘man up’ and get out there Of course it was daunting the first time I went training. I didn’t know anyone, didn’t know whether I was in the right place and definitely didn’t speak any Danish. One of my friends from home said I was ‘so brave’ when I told her I joined the club. But what else was I to do? I sure wasn’t going to sit at home feeling homesick and sorry for myself. I have ended up making many good friends through the triathlon club, so I would definitely encourage others to pursue their interests and meet like-minded people. If you feel a bit nervous the first time, just ‘man up’ and get out there. Don’t move all the way to Denmark to sit at home not enjoying yourself. If you make the effort, you will always find people who are just waiting to meet you and welcome you into their group.


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“I felt very welcome at the club”

It takes effort and energy but for me it was definitely worthwhile After finishing my studies in English and Danish in Brussels, I came to study at Aarhus University for a year in June 2000 in order to improve my spoken Danish and to experience Danish culture. Back in Belgium with my family and friends, I missed Aarhus – it was out of sight, but not out of mind – and a year later I was back. I fell immediately for this lovely city. It is not too big, and there is a lot of nature. It is easy to get around on your bike, and people are very nice and helpful.


“Through the club activities I quickly got a pretty extensive network in Aarhus.”

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Hanging out with the Danes

And a new addiction

It helped that I could express myself in Danish from day one – not fluently, but enough to be understood most of the time – but even so, Danish was quite a challenge. The Danes swallow most of the sounds in the words they speak, and it took me a while to figure out what people were saying to me and to learn to practise myself. I wanted to work on my Danish, so I spent my free time with Danes rather than international students. I have played basketball since I was young, so I got in touch with the university basketball club to hang out with the local Danes. It was a good decision. I felt very welcome at the club and was immediately introduced to habits and customs, Danish irony, expressions and idioms, julefrokost and Fastelavnsfest parties, and more. My friends explained the Danish festivals – Great Prayer Day, Constitution Day, mortensaften, Sankta Lucia – political parties, history.

Then six years ago, I decided to learn to sail. I signed up at Aarhus Sailing Club and I learned that sailing is addictive. Again, I was warmly welcomed. I spent time down at the harbour, I learned to get around Aarhus Bay and all the other harbours in the area. It was exciting. At the moment I am an instructor in the sailing school, I sail races in one of the club boats, and with a friend I am in charge of the club website.

A pretty extensive network Through the club activities I quickly got a pretty extensive network in Aarhus. This was very useful when I needed help or advice. My dentist, for example, is an old team-mate. Although I don’t suffer from dental anxiety, it is nice to see a familiar face as you sit in the dentist’s chair. I was club president for two busy, exciting years. Needless to say, all this was very eye-opening experience – meetings with the board, with Aarhus municipality and the Danish Basketball Federation, organising the club annual general meetings. Being with Danes at practice, on the road to matches all over the country, at parties and at meetings teaches you everything you need to know to settle well in a community.

It takes a lot of effort and energy to get so heavily involved in clubs, and it is time-consuming. But for me it has definitely been worthwhile. It helped me to understand the Danes and got me closer to them. On top of that, I got the opportunity to develop other skills – to be club president, sailing instructor, webmaster… Changing country doesn’t mean dropping what you do in your free time – on the contrary, it can make it more exciting, more challenging. It can open the door to a totally new hobby. In my case, a new passion – an addiction.

Karen Background: age 36 from Belgium • moved to Denmark 2001 Professional profile: conference organiser Family status: in a relationship


A positive experience 89% of people in Denmark say they have more positive experiences in an average day (feelings of calm and contentment, enjoyment, etc.) than negative ones (pain, worry, sadness, boredom, etc.). (Source: OECD Better Life Index)

2 million

out of 5.5 million Danes are members of at least one of Denmark’s 14,000 sports clubs or associations. (Source: Statistics Denmark)

79.8 %

An 8,500 km coastline

of Danes are members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark but only 45 % of the population has participated in a church ceremony during the last year.

No site in Denmark is more than 52 km from the coast – the whole country can be considered as a coastal zone. (Source: Danish Nature Council)

(Source: Statistics Denmark Š Gallup Institut for Berlingske Tidende)

11,000 km by bike It really is biking heaven for the cyclist in Denmark, with over 11,000 kilometers of designated bike lanes. (Source:

Photo: Niclas Jessen

International Community – a network of opportunities International Community’s aim is to make you feel at home and to give you the best possible experience of living in Denmark. International Community is a broad network through which you can share experiences with other internationals and Danes and access practical, professional and social advice. We are based in Aarhus, where we offer a wide range of events and seminars as well as an online platform with a focus on practical information on living and networking in east Jutland. More than 2,300 members have already joined us. Membership is free. International Community was established in 2008 by Aarhus Business Network (Erhverv Aarhus) and is today the leading platform for international

Inspirational seminar on entrepreneurship for spouses

employees and their families in Denmark. Whether you wish to establish a professional network or to socialise, International Community offers you and your family a wealth of opportunities. Take part in seminars, sports events, cultural activities, social gatherings and much more while networking with other internationals and Danes. Events and seminars Expand your network at our many events and seminars where you can learn about Danish culture and traditions, the political system, the welfare system, daily life in Denmark, and much more. Spouse Community Join Spouse Community, be introduced to cultural and educational

institutions at social meetings, and attend seminars on writing your CV and job applications, entrepreneurship and much more. Practical assistance and support Visit our website for practical information on life in Denmark and stepby-step guides to practical matters. Find the latest news and events from International Community and from our network. You can also seek personal support if you visit us at International Citizen Service in Aarhus. Weekly newsletter Sign up for our weekly newsletter with updates on International Community, invitations to events, and suggestions for what to do in your spare time in and around Aarhus.

Visit to a local scouts association

Facebook Follow us on Facebook for International Community’s daily updates and to connect with other internationals. On Facebook we post pictures and videos from recent events, share Danish insights and relevant articles, and much more. Read more and become a member at Membership is free.

We look forward to meeting you!

Summer event - beach volleyball

First Tuesday – monthly networking event

Expat Reception at Aarhus Festival

Moving to a new country is a challenge in every area of life. Coming to Denmark: Our Stories presents the honest and inspiring personal stories of expats about their experiences living and working in Denmark.

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