Have recently come across this wonderful site. After 5 months of living here, our apartment is still mostly empty. We need to add things but we probably are choosing to spend our money on life and travel right now so the house is missing out. Still, I like to be inspired and while I’ll never be as cool as these Parisian parents, I’d love to think that I could at least try to be!
Over this Easter Weekend it has been a good time to rest, remember and to reflect. We have lived in Odense for 8 months now, in 2 houses, started new jobs, started school or preschool, met many people and made new friends, struggled learning the language, have had moments of laughter, tears, fun and disaster. Being an expat isn’t always easy but it always is exciting! Speaking for my whole family, I’d love to share 8 highlights of the last 8 months.
1. The summertime. We arrived in August and it was warm, sunny and beautiful. The days were long, we purchased our first bikes and spent our days exploring our new city, enjoying the beautiful parks and gardens, festivals and outdoor cafes.
2. The twice a week, all year round Farmers Market. Definitely a favourite for the husband. He cannot get enough of the huge, free-range eggs he purchases each week and has ‘his’ vegetable guy who picks out all the best potatoes for him. We love the abundance of produce, the dirt still left on the root veggies, the wide varieties of cheese, the colours, the atmosphere and the 1 minute bike ride from our apartment!
3. WE”RE IN EUROPE! As two Australians and 2 mini-Canadians, anything built before 1800 is pretty darn old – so that includes much we’ve seen here in Odense. People often ask us: Why Denmark? Why ON EARTH would you leave Australia/Canada? And our answer more than often is: Europe? Duh! We love how OLD everything is, the history, the stories, the cobbled streets, the quaint buildings….
4. Travelling around. Following on from the last highlight, we love that we are in such close proximity to other awesome countries, fantastic cities all with different language, cultures and religions. In the last 8 months we haven’t done as much travel as we would’ve liked but have enjoyed seeing a bit of Denmark (Legoland twice – see below), Sicily and the north of England. We look forward to more travel this year to Italy, Germany, Israel and perhaps Portugal. I’m so thankful for this opportunity for the boys to see so many places and gain such great experiences at such a young age.
5. A Danish education. We’ve been so thankful for #1′s amazing school and #2′s preschools. Their teachers have been so wonderful and they’ve made the most lovely friends. It has really helped in their transition to Denmark and already they’re picking up the language faster than we are (no surprises there). We’ve had to be more open to a freer, more laid back and less structured education where school hours are spent outside wandering the streets of the city whether it be in pouring rain or snow or where music is the main source of learning. We’ve had to learn to follow their lead rather than forcing them (eg. to read, pee on the potty) to progress when we think the time is right
6. Time with family and friends. While we’re a pretty tight family unit, we can’t do without our friends. We’ve been so blessed with the new friends we’ve made through work, the international club, #1′s school, at church or simply by meeting in the street (?) – it really makes settling in so much easier if you have some other shoulders to lean on on those tougher days! And family: oh how we miss you! It’s been wonderful to have my parents visit and hopefully soon more family will visit and it’s been so lovely for me to live closer to my Mum’s side of the family to be able to spend some time with them.
7. Festivals. Not much goes on in Odense, but when there’s a festival, this town sure knows how to celebrate. For example Christmas: it was amazing. The town was covering in lights and there was this warm, fuzzy feeling when wandering the streets, even if it was below 0 degrees.
8. Cycling and the views from my bike. When I asked what #1 loved about living here, he immediately said: ‘I love riding my bike everywhere”. We really have SO enjoyed cycling and viewing the world from our bikes. As much as I dislike the snow (especially when it’s Spring and it’s snowing!), I cannot dislike the beauty of a snow filled forest on the way to work. I adore the exercise, the fresh air, the ease and the convenience of bike riding.
What about you? What was your first 8 months like living in a new country? Similar, different or completely the same? What makes being an expat so easy, so difficult and yet so exciting?
PS and I HATE to be a whinger but for those oh you who want to know, my lowlights of living in Odense have definitely had to be the SNOW, the WIND, the RAIN, missing certain foods and learning Danish (sorry!!)
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)
Apologies for the major photo drop, it has been a busy few months!
Family cycle time, #2′s favourite things: ipads & his beloved Uncle Rob (also an avid reader of SSM!), snowy strolls in England, #2 charming his Grandma and Great-aunt, “snakking” with my Uncle, my travelling companion, funny British signs, me and my sick little man , brothers wandering home from school, date at my favourite coffee shop, my 5 1/2 year old (he’s getting so big!), candlelit dinners and quality time with our English relatives!
My kids will never say never to a good excuse to dress up and be someone else for the day. Halloween has got to be one of the most popular North American holidays and when we left Canada we thought we may be saying goodbye to it. However last October, #1 was excited to see that it is indeed celebrated here and enjoyed dressing up as a pirate and indulging in sugar for a day.
Fast forward to February and we found out that there is yet another opportunity for kids to dress up – this time it’s a truely Danish tradition called Fastelavn aka Carnival. It is generally celebrated on the last Sunday before the start of Lent and most school’s schedule a celebration day into the school week. The children dress up in fantastic costumes and the highlight of the celebration is the smashing of a barrel (similar to a piñata ) which contains – yes – you guessed it: candy (well actually at both my son’s schools they’ll be empty…. instead they’ll be scoffing down hot dogs and cake for lunch!) The child who succeeds in smashing the barrel is called the Fastelavn king or queen – and everyone shares out the candies.
Back in the day, they would put a live cat inside the barrel (this wouldn’t pass animal rights these days?!) and once the barrel was smashed, the poor feline would be chased out of town hopefully ridding the town of its evil spirits. Today, the kids decorate the barrel with pictures of cats, masks and bats. Oh and don’t forget, no Danish holiday goes by without some sugary bread. At Fastelavn, they eat Fastelavnsbolle, a very sweet round bread roll filled with whipped cream. You don’t hear me complaining…
2nd image c/o scandikitchen.typepad.com
An imperative activity in an Australian household, even in the back alleyways of Vancouver campus housing.
Me: Sunnies: found, H&M dress: thrifted
#1: Hand-me-down hat and shorts, borrowed t-shirt
#2: Laundry room t-shirt, thrifted pants, thrifted Crocs
And a convenient time for some outfit poses!
linking up to Lollipop Cards!