OPINION: Hacks for foreigners transitioning to life in Denmark

Judy Wanjiku Jørgensen
Judy Wanjiku Jørgensen - [email protected]
OPINION: Hacks for foreigners transitioning to life in Denmark
File photo: Henning Bagger/Scanpix Denmark

Moving to a new country can play havoc with one's sense of identity. But there are plenty of things that can be done to make transitioning to life in a place like Denmark more pleasant and homely, writes our guest columnist Judy Wanjiku Jørgensen.


I was talking to an 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 2009 for six months as part of an Erasmus Mundus Masters program, during which 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 every fortnight.

In 2013, I returned to Denmark - for love and family. Walking through the same streets that I once trudged 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. It felt a little like stepping out of the bubble, with real-world considerations both specific and non-specific to relocation.

My life now involved motherhood, being a wife and career inspirations, as well as integrating while also learning the not-so-easy Danish language - a far more permanent state than during my student days.

These challenges are part 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 also 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 cultures is what I describe as 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 this is 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.

Below, I have expanded some of the things I've learned into 'attitude hacks' that can make transitioning to living in Denmark, or elsewhere, more pleasant and homely.


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 cut-out 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 home 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 blossom.

READ ALSO: OPINION: My humbling journey into a surprising Scandinavian life

Judy Wanjiku Jørgensen is a Kenyan-born journalist, blogger, photographer and Mama to two Afro-Viking sons. Judy runs Memoirs of a Kenyan Mom Abroad, a blog which chronicles life and career abroad, motherhood, interracial relationships and race issues.

This opinion piece was originally published on Judy's blog and has been republished with the author's permission.

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