At midnight, almost a year ago, on a rainy spring night, my husband awoke me – straight off the plane from Copenhagen after interviewing for a job, crawled into bed and asked ‘Do you want to move to Denmark?’ If he’d asked me, ‘Do you want to leave your job, our closest friends, our community, the home we’ve created for our family and join me in a foreign country?’ I may’ve said no. I rather thought of weekends in Paris, skiing in the Pyrenees and sunbathing in Sicily, and offered a speedy ‘yes’ to his loaded question. However, within four months, we’d left our jobs, packed up the home we’d created, said goodbye to our friends and had flown from Vancouver to Denmark.
A few hours after arriving in Copenhagen, when I realized that my suitcase, with laptops, photos and passports, had been stolen. Tears flowed. What have we got ourselves into? How on earth am I going to learn this language? What if my kids hate it here? Are we ever going to make friends? And how am I going to ever get a job?
People move to Denmark for a variety of reasons: the social welfare system, a higher quality of life, and, for internationals, the offer of an appealing job. It didn’t take me long to look around and realized I wasn’t alone. I had officially joined the ranks of the trailing spouse club. Approximately 80% of us are women!
My first two weeks in Odense were pleasant: we visited the tourist attactions, attended the festivals and, wandered around the city centre. However, once the summer was over, the rain came and the cold set in, my honeymoon was over. Suddenly a wave of loneliness and depression (aka culture shock) hit me. After the initial excitement of hearing my children whine ‘Mor!!’ and the amusement of the interesting items in the deli aisle, it all felt so strange living here and getting up in the morning wasn’t as easy as it used to be.
These feelings are very natural. Psychologist Dorte Kongerslev refers to this as the ‘simultaneous stress model’ as there are various factors contributing to these feelings. The main ones are lack of employment, network and language.
Although English is highly spoken here, without speaking Danish, it can be tough to find a job. WorkinDenmark holds workshops for internationals as well as a six month mentoring program for expatriate spouses such as myself. They help tailor you CV for the Danish market, meet with you one-to-one and hold monthly workshops. Networking is incredibly important here. 70% of positions are not advertised! Meeting with people, reaching out and sending your CV to companies, even when there are no jobs advertised is crucial.
Through my husband’s university, my children’s school and our local church, we have already met some lovely people. Having a network and making friends in Denmark is a crucial factor in expats deciding to stay in Denmark. As an unemployed Mum, it has been difficult to meet other parents as 95% of women in Denmark work fulltime. I was so surprised when I first visited the playground in the middle of the weekday to find it completely deserted! However there are many organized expatriate groups, moms groups and international clubs that you can join. Additionally Danish clubs are very popular here: there is a club for every sport, interest or activity from bird watching to knitting and this is another area where you can meet people. I’ve found it so important to be open and extroverted. As Gabriel, an electrical engineer from the US commented, “try to avoid becoming isolated and being depressed, learn as much as you can about your new home and get involved in as many groups and outlets as possible”.
Everyone I have come across has said: you MUST learn Danish. Danes expect you to learn Danish and to integrate, you must. This is reiterated by the Expat study conducted by Oxford Research and the Copenhagen Post (2010) that “Expats and their families need more personal contact with Danish society so that they can act and feel as if they are part of it, and a pre-requisite to fulfilling this goal is to get an understanding and insight into Danish society.” Thankfully, newcomers to Denmark are offered free Danish lessons upon arrival. Institutions such as Laerdansk will teach you Danish and also provide a chance to network. Aside from organized lessons it is good to join a ‘Chat in Danish’ group. It is difficult when a lot of people speak English, so my secret is: find people who can’t speak English (in my case, my son’s friends so you will be forced to make your best efforts speaking and understanding Danish). However, in order to get a job in Denmark, you will need to learn Danish so it helps to get started with language school as soon as you can. “Try to learn the language as soon as possible, that helps a lot”, commented Anya, a radiologist from Germany.
According to the Expat study, there are four factors that affect your feeling of integration to life in Denmark. Firstly, having good Danish skills, giving it time (Expats who stay for more than three years feel more integrated than shorter stays), having children and a good salary! Moving to Denmark and being a trailing spouse is difficult but don’t be afraid to ask for help. The more people you meet through various networks, the more people can help you and give you advice. It is good to be realistic though, as Hanna, from Finland admitted, “The “adjustment” is never complete, and as a foreigner you will always be a foreigner… [however], Denmark is a good place to live.” One of the main reasons expatriate leave Denmark after a short time is because their spouse isn’t content. Therefore my mantra is: learn the language, make a network, try to get a job and be patient.
If you’re an expat living in Odense, feel free to join our facebook page!
Did you know?
- An expat is someone who works or studies in Denmark and, in some cases, bring their partners and children
- Typically they are a highly qualified or skilled worker, invited by an international or Danish company or has chosen Denmark for its many benefits.
- More than often they are European citizens
- Most do not stay longer than 3-5 years.
- There are approximately 60,000 expats in Denmark (2011, includes workers and students)