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A foreigner’s attitude hacks for transitioning to life in Denmark

by Judy Wanjiku Jørgensen

For this article, I will highlight my attitude hacks that make transitioning to living in Denmark, or abroad, more pleasant and homely.

I was talking to this exchange student the other day in Aarhus about how I never thought I would return to Denmark after my studies.

I first arrived in Denmark in August 2009 on a two year Erasmus Mundus Masters program, which during my six months of studying in Denmark, I lived in an international student bubble.

By bubble, I mean that I neither felt the need to learn Danish nor was I curious about the values or social dynamics of life in Denmark.

My stay in Denmark then had been about intense coursework, term papers, and parties, at every fortnight

Fast forward to 2013; I returned to Denmark for love and family. Walking through the same streets that I was trudging as a student was now full of déjà vu.

I began to notice things, words, places that had never caught my attention during my study stint in Aarhus. I had stepped out of a comfort zone bubble into adulting.

My life now involved motherhood, being a wife, career inspirations, integrating, while also learning not so easy Danish.

Indeed, my life, since I moved to Denmark, has not been without obstacles that would typically be faced by anyone relocating abroad to a non-English speaking country nonetheless.

Being fluid

These challenges are part of the life of changing a known way of life into the unknown. From leaving the familiar, the security blankets and moving into a significant life event.

From being in-between a home culture that you once fitted into like a glove and adopting a new one, yet always feeling transient.

If you ask me whether I consider Denmark home, I will give a hesitant no. If you ask me if Kenya still feels like home, I will reply with hesitation.

I am beginning to feel like a foreigner in my own country too, a land that I am intensely patriotic towards. This feeling of being between the two culture is what I mean by being transient, fluid.

For example, I long for Kenya when I am in Denmark. I experience bouts of homesickness with a longing to sit and chat with my mum while basking outside in the hot Kenyan sun.

I miss attending Kikuyu church services or going to soko mjinga in Nyeri to buy fresh green bananas and all those tropical fruits that I crave.

However, after being in Kenya for a couple of weeks, I begin to miss Denmark. The order, punctuality, cosiness, freedom of individuality. I wish there were a way of combining the best of my two worlds, but all these are wishful thinking.

By adjusting my attitude, I am learning to appreciate the good in both countries, and count myself blessed for the opportunity of having two opposite cultures that make me grow in ways that I never thought possible.

Learn the basics

Learning tennis is an excellent example of the importance of learning the basics. Any keen tennis player will spend a considerable amount of time understanding groundstrokes. These are the basic swing patterns that separate an amateur from a pro.

The same analogy applies to building a foundation in Denmark. The basics of learning the language, understanding how the society works and being open minded are what will propel you to the next level of attaining what may seem like unattainable future goals.

Stay in the present

Moving to Denmark may feel like starting over, building up against so many odds. Where one once had a cutout career, they may now be forced to change into something that doesn’t quite fit into what their aspirations once were.

While it is easy to feel discouraged, it is essential to focus on what might be a plan B career move that will converge back into a plan A.

In a world of uncertainties and scaling daunting heights, it is only prudent to have a plan B that will keep you motivated, and sane.

Think along the lines of, when you don’t know what to do, do what you know.

Stay in the present, appreciate what you have, what you are learning, and the good of the moment. Worrying about the future will only breed negativity and anxiety.

Be social

Getting out and socialising or networking is a prerequisite for understanding Denmark, the Danish way of life and discovering work opportunities.

It is tempting to stick to the same familiar group of people, say from one’s country. However, to understand and integrate smoothly, it is wise to surround yourself with diversity.

Each person you interact with will provide some positive or negative insight that you might need on your way to carving the life you want in Denmark.

Conversely, drop the attitude of thinking that Danes are hard to befriend. Making solid friendships, regardless of where one lives, always takes time and trust.

Moreso, building solid friendships in adulthood requires skill and patience.  There is a jaded, fatalistic attitude, often stemming from past (failed) friendships that makes adults complicate the process of creating friendships in new cultures.

If you approach the idea of making friends with Danes as an insurmountable one, then that it is how it will become.

Instead of focusing so much on friendships, make situational friendships instead.  With time, these may grow into blossoming friendships.




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