How to be kind to yourself when relocating

Relocation consultant Melanie Haynes offers up tips for making a smoother transition to Denmark – or anywhere.

How to be kind to yourself when relocating
Force yourself down to the neighbourhood cafe for some people-watching or a chat with the barista. Photo: Pikselstok/Iris
I had a very tough experience relocating to Berlin in 2011 and I can understand how much isolation and the lack of having a concrete place to call home can really bash you down. It is important to see that a relocation isn’t always roses and that some very simple things can help. 
Being kind to yourself is the most important thing. There will be people who find the move to a new place easy but even if you do there are some days that are anything but easy. Even the most well-adjusted expats regularly suffer from a feeling of isolation and it is easy to get into a spiral of isolation and loneliness. There are ways you can take control and fight this.
1. Get out of the house every day
When I first moved to Berlin I forced myself to go out everyday somewhere with my son — whether it was a walk in the park, a wander around the local market, a visit to a child-friendly cafe or simply running an errand. Getting out and about is essential for your health and sanity as it serves as distraction from everything that can be overwhelming you and gives you an immediate focus.
2. Join groups
Joining groups gives you a purpose and the chance to meet other people. This is an especially good trick for parents with small kids at home. We joined groups and went to music classes, and made efforts to make friends or at least speak to people. You may not make bosom buddies but you will get to speak to others.
There are loads of MeetUp groups in every city covering a multitude of interests – picking a couple to join gives you the chance to do something you like and also the chance to talk to like-minded people, at least for a few hours.
3. Ask for help
This isn't always easy but it is amazing how many people are happy and willing to help you if you ask. Sharing worries and problems really does make them easier to deal with – I know its a cliche but it is true. Speak to your doctor if you are feeling down and talk to your loved ones back home, they will want to help you even if they too are struggling with your move. Don’t box yourself in with your fears and worries. Let your partner in on how you are feeling, they will probably be feeling some if not all of the same emotions and you can support each other.
Talk to baristas in your local coffee house — sounds weird but these guys are usually friendly and have their finger on the pulse of your neighbourhood.
4. Take one step at a time but stay focussed
Here’s another thing that sounds cliche, but is nevertheless true. You won’t be able to do everything at once especially if you are struggling emotionally. Make a list of the top few things you need to do each day or week. This could include things that seem really trivial, like walking to the local supermarket to see what they sell. Go online and download public transport maps. Locate all the amenities you need in your local area and then spread this research further afield.
5. Do fun stuff
Sometimes when the going gets tough, having fun tends to fall by the wayside. But enjoyment also enriches your life, so do things that give you pleasure even if they may not seem as essential as finding a permanent home or unpacking boxes. Find a local museum to visit for a few hours (with kids or alone), go to a local coffee shop and order a big slice of cake and people watch.
6. Don’t give up!
One last cliche to end the list: ’this too shall pass’. Whilst at the time it feels like a prison sentence if you are struggling with a relocation, I promise you it gets better. It really does.
After a time things seem easier, more familiar and less daunting — you may still not like where you live but maybe you will hate it a little less with each passing day. For some this takes a few months while others might find its a gradual transition that takes years. But all of a sudden you will be looking back on the tough times as a distant memory and you won’t even see when the turning point was but it will come, I promise.
Melanie HaynesMelanie Haynes is originally from the UK and has lived in Copenhagen for eight years. She writes about life in Copenhagen on her blog Dejlige Days and after experiencing relocation to Copenhagen and Berlin, she runs a settling-in service aimed at helping expats called Dejlige Days Welcome. Her ebook, Dejlige Days: A Guide to relocation, will be published soon.

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Moving to Denmark: The emotional challenges faced by mixed-culture couples

If you are living in a new culture or are in a relationship that crosses between cultures, you might be facing challenges you've not met before. But there are plenty of ways to tackle them, writes our guest columnist Hanne-Berit Hahnemann.

Moving to Denmark: The emotional challenges faced by mixed-culture couples
File photo: Christian Als / Ritzau Scanpix

It’s hard enough being a couple in a world loaded with responsibilities and stressors about children, finances, work, family obligations, etc. As a therapist, I often see couples of mixed cultures who have to withstand the difficulties of one or both adjusting to a new life with numerous challenges, such as having to create new social networks, learning a new language, and adjusting to new cultural norms.

The many small social cues that we become so accustomed to we take for granted, until we find ourselves in a new culture where the rules are completely different. When we are thrust into new cultural situations, we often misread the signals. For instance, small talk is generally much less prevalent in Denmark than in the U.S. This we may perceive as people being inaccessible and unfriendly.

It is similar within the “mixed couple”. Couples with partners from different countries can find themselves struggling with some of the same issues inside their relationship.

Different native languages within a couple can limit the couple’s deeper understanding of each other. The feelings of alienation or being “other” in a different culture can be transferred to the relationship and feed misunderstanding and a lack of connection.

Consider – for instance – the ongoing effects on the couple which differs significantly on levels of independence-interdependence.

One aspect of interdependence is an assumption that our partner should understand and react to our needs without being asked. A more independent person, on the other hand, may assume that the only reasonable way of behaving is to clearly communicate your needs, and to then negotiate around how to get these needs met.

Such a combination of traits can often cause confusion and disappointment when you feel unheard or misunderstood. We tend to expect our partners to at least hear us, to at least try to understand what we are communicating.

In my practice, I often see that such frustrations can lead to anger and judgment of the other.

Over time, cultural differences can wear on a couple in ways that are quite unique to the mixed couples’ situation. Even slight differences in beliefs can cause couples to repeatedly argue over apparently mundane things, like who does the dishes or who picks up the kids from daycare. Or less mundane disagreements, such as those related to religious and spiritual beliefs. Culture influences us in ways we often are quite unaware of.


There is a significant upside to these difficulties, however. Much like living abroad, living with a partner from a different culture can help you open yourself up to new possibilities and a deeper understanding and appreciation of others. Mixed culture couples must discover that the set of rules they learned growing up is just one of many.

The effort and mutual respect it takes to successfully make room for the other person’s values is often rewarded with a closer and deeper relationship that can better withstand life’s trials and tribulations.

It does require work to get there. You must be willing to look both at yourself and your partner with openness to the differences and a willingness to explore. As an expat, perhaps you already have these qualities?

If you and your partner struggle with cultural differences, here are some things you can do. Being as aware of the conflicts as possible is really useful. Only when you have identified the problem can you do something about it. This means becoming aware of your own values, as well as your partners.

I often give couples the following homework: Set aside at least one hour a week to spend together without distractions. During this hour, you are to practice listening to the other without judgment or disagreement. So, you can ask questions, you can repeat and you can reflect. This means asking questions to explore and deepen your understanding, not to voice your judgment or disagreement. Repeat what the person said, but in your own words, then wait for them to respond and add more to their message. Finally, reflect on what the other person has expressed, and see if you can express this reflection without judgment or condescension.

It takes practice and effort, but with time you can begin to change the way you communicate!

Hanne-Berit Hahnemann has a Master's degree in clinical counselling with a supervisory license from Cleveland State University and many years of experience in private practice in the United States. As an expat herself, she specialises in internationals and the challenges that come with moving to another country. She sees clients at the MacFarlane Psychology Group, a Copenhagen practice offering psychotherapy in English.


READ ALSO: Why moving to Denmark can cause feelings of loneliness – and what you can do to feel better