Some expats are lifers who have traded in their home countries and often their careers for a new start in Denmark, typically because they've fallen for a Dane. Others are here more short-tern, often on a work assignment that lasts just a couple of years. Jason Heppenstall falls somewhere in between.
The now 44-year-old Brit spent his 30s in Copenhagen, where he worked a number of odd jobs before getting a journalism career going and becoming deeply interested in peak oil. A bit burnt out from reporting dire news, he packed a backpack, fitted up his walking boots and took a “Scandinavian soul journey” by foot to Sweden, which he documented in the newly-released 'The Path to Odin's Lake'.
We spoke to Heppenstall about his time in Denmark, his book and what's next for him.
How did you end up in Denmark and how long were you here?
I met my Danish wife-to-be on a dive boat on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in 1995. We lived in England for a few years and then moved over to Denmark on September 12th 2001. We left again in 2013, and had a three-year hiatus in Spain, so it was about a nine-year stint all in all.
What was the best thing about living in Denmark? The worst?
For me, Copenhagen was what I enjoyed the most. I’m not really a city person but I fell in love with the laid-back atmosphere, the cycling culture, the beaches and the lovely bars and restaurants. Conversely, the worst aspect about living in Denmark was the feeling that I was always doing something wrong. There are so many petty rules and regulations and people wagging their fingers at you… It’s enough to drive you mad. I had a bit of fun with this in my book.
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You’ve built a career using your English skills. How is your Danish?
I’m not a natural linguist so it was a long slow struggle to learn the language, but now I’m pretty fluent and even work as a translator. My family still speaks Danish together, so I can’t really escape it.
Why did you write this book?
I was writing an entirely different book about peak oil and economics, and I was handed a two-week mini-break from modern life, which I chose to spend walking from Denmark to Sweden. Because of what happened along the way the book changed out of all recognition and turned into what I call a “peak oil spiritual travelogue”, for want of a better description.
Your book touches on consumerism and a focus on endless growth that threatens our planet. Sounds like pretty heavy stuff. Who is the book intended for?
The book is intended for anyone who is interested in looking for better ways in which we can live. It’s becoming increasingly obvious to most people that we can’t just go on living the way we have been doing, and my book tosses some ideas into the arena. Ironically, for a book that deals with themes such as ecocide and depression, most people who have read it say it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. That’s what I intended – and it has its funny moments too, like when I got thrown out of Field’s shopping centre for photographing their plastic cows. Nobody likes a stuffy book.
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What’s next for you?
Well, I left Denmark two years ago and now live in the west of Cornwall, England. I bought a small forest and spend most of my time working in it, doing things like making charcoal and growing mushrooms. I’m writing my next book, about running an alternative newspaper in Spain, and have just had some science fiction published in the US. I also work as a film extra, a cleaner and a forestry labourer… anything to earn money really.
What’s your best piece of advice for someone who wants to move to Denmark and build a career here?
I’m probably the worst person to give career advice, but I’d say that unless you arrive on some kind of fast track for a big corporation, ‘making it’ in Denmark is incredibly tough. I spent literally years working as a cleaner, a rickshaw driver and being unemployed – despite having three degrees and some solid career experience in the energy industry. Eventually I found work as a journalist and a copywriter, and life became a lot easier, so my advice would be “Don’t give up”. Oh, and learn to speak Danish, however badly.
Jason Heppenstall's book, The Path to Odin's Lake: A Scandinavian Soul Journey, is available in paperback or as an e-book through Amazon.