‘Being a foreigner is actually a big advantage’

In the newest edition of our ongoing My Danish Career series, The Local met Mihaela Georgieva Mihova, a 24-years-old Bulgarian who came to Denmark six years ago to study, kick off her career and even write a book.

'Being a foreigner is actually a big advantage'
Mihaela Georgieva Mihova came to Denmark six years ago and now works for shipping company Torm. Photo: Submitted
Mihaela Georgieva Mihova, came to study in Denmark when she was just 18 years old. Now 24, the Bulgaria native has a Master's in International Business from Aarhus University, where she also received her Bachelor degree in Business Administration and Economics.
Mihova currently works for Danish shipping company Torm A/S in Copenhagen, following stints at Siemens Wind Power and United Nations. You might even say it is enough experience to write a book, which is exactly what Mihova has done. She has just finished her book on personal and professional development and the lessons learned in a foreign country and is currently looking for a publisher.
Why did you first decide to come to Denmark?
I chose Aarhus School of Business because it’s one of the 100 best business schools in Europe. There are also many good universities in the US, but I wanted to study in Europe. During the five years I lived in Aarhus, I received both my Bachelor's and Master's before moving to Copenhagen in January for a job with Torm.
What was the biggest cultural shock in Aarhus, compared with your hometown of Burgas in Bulgaria? 
I was very young when I came to study here and it was the first time that I lived abroad – I was completely on my own for the first time. I assumed back then that Danes would be similar to the other Europeans I had met, but at the beginning I thought that the people were somehow reserved, and during my first week I wondered whether something was wrong with me or whether I would fit here or not.
Fortunately, after I got used to the Danish culture, I got to understand why people were behaving the way they are and that it has nothing to do with whether you are a foreigner or not. They value their privacy and often are afraid to to disturb yours. When you get to know them, Danes are wonderful and I have made many great Danish friends here.
What is what you enjoy most of your job?
I like every task I do and there is a very steep learning curve in the shipping industry. I work a lot with business analyses, cost benchmarks, and project support, and I also work with planning and helping the senior vice president and his management team with different tasks and do many different things within the area of business development. I believe Torm is the perfect place for my career ambitions. I’m also completely in love with the city of Copenhagen and I felt at home from the very first day, and not only because of its beauty. I also liked Aarhus a lot, but Copenhagen stole my heart.
What's the secret to building a career in Denmark as a foreigner?
Top grades are very important, but they are definitely not the most important. Being proactive and doing a lot of extra activities, aside from your work and studying, is really essential. You should be highly driven and you should also not give up easily. Try to balance everything: a study-relevant job, your university studies, doing sports, and some extra-curricular activities that you are passionate about. You should also participate in network events and reach out to people for advice. High drive is your best friend abroad. Everybody can do it, it all comes down to strong determination and managing your time wisely. 
Besides English, Russian and Bulgarian, are you able to speak Danish?
I read Danish well and I can manage everyday speaking, but I do not consider myself fluent. I use English at my work, since it is the company’s corporate language, which is usually the case with big, global organizations like Torm. No matter what, I would strongly recommend learning Danish, because it definitely makes your everyday life easier, but it also depends on your ambitions for staying in the country. 
What is the best part of living in Denmark?
The best part is the good social system, and the fact that the country provides so many opportunities to young people. You can gain experience through study-relevant jobs and there are opportunities to join student unions, organizations and talent networks, as well as volunteer activities where you can meet many bright people with very different backgrounds. You can’t get that everywhere.
Tell us about the book you’re writing; what kind of experiences have you included in it?
I have recently finished the book and I’m currently editing it and looking for a publisher. It’s about personal and professional development abroad, but it’s not only targeted at expats. I wrote it for people who need advice or inspiration on how to handle obstacles and go after what they want in life.
The book is also about how to improve leadership skills and personal development, so it applies to every professional. For the past six years, I've learnt so many lessons that I wish I knew before I came to Denmark, and that’s why I wrote the book – in order to be able to share these with all the people who have had or will have the same dilemmas. 
What is the most powerful advice from your book?
Don’t think of being a foreigner as a limitation. This belief often comes from the language barriers, lack of local contacts or limited experience in the host country. You have to change your perspective. I believe that being a foreigner is actually a big advantage, and many companies search for that kind of out-of-the-box way of thinking. When pursuing your career abroad, be confident and take advantage of what unique experience, skills, cultural awareness, market knowledge and languages that you have. Be patient and don’t settle for less.

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