Princess Marie opens Denmark’s first public international school

The European School in Copenhagen, the first public international school in Denmark, officially opened its new state of the art building in the Carlsberg district on Thursday.

Princess Marie opens Denmark’s first public international school
Princess Marie toured the school's science labs with pupils following the opening ceremony. Photo: Kristian Brasen

HRH Princess Marie and Copenhagen's lord mayor Frank Jensen cut the ribbon at a ceremony attend by parents, teachers and students.

The school, which is primarily attended by children from international backgrounds, originally opened in 2014 with four classes housed in converted containers in the grounds of the Skolen i Sydhavn school in the city’s southern harbour area.

Since then, the school has been located in various temporary premises in the city. As such, Thursday marked an important step with the establishment of its own buildings in the fast-developing and iconic Carlsberg district.

A ‘public’ school in the Danish context is a school that is part of the public system and thereby free to attend and provided by the municipality.

The European School is a public school financed by Copenhagen Municipality, Realdania, the Novo Nordisk Foundation, Nordea-fonden and the Danish Industry Foundation.

There are currently fifteen classes divided into two language sections, English and Danish and in the next academic year this will be extended to a French section too. In August 2019, eight more classes will be added to the school and, when it is fully expanded, nearly 1,000 students from kindergarten to secondary 7th grade will attend and follow the internationally recognised European Baccalaureate programme.

“We wanted to know how to make Copenhagen more attractive to international people and one clear way was to provide a public international school and we were delighted to support the first international public school in Denmark. We are so proud to have the European School here in the centre of Copenhagen,” Jensen said at the opening event.

Princess Marie, who has lived in France, Switzerland, the United States and Denmark, has been the patron of the school since 2014. She appeared visibly moved by the performance of We are the World by the second grade pupils.

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“The European School offers a wonderful learning environment and a unique school. More and more international families are enjoying life as Københavners [Copenhageners, ed.] and now they can send their children to a school that is both European and a Danish public school at the same time,” the princess said.

Presentations were made by Jensen, head of Copenhagen Municipality’s children and youth committee Jesper Christensen and representatives from the various foundations which support the school.

But the speech that captured what the European School means to the community came from two fifth graders, Harry Hansen and Alma Feldhütter, both founding students.

“Now we have finally moved into our new building and it feels good! There is light, lots of space and playgrounds on every level. The European School is special in so many ways as we have so many nationalities, cultures and religions here,” Feldhütter said.

“Since 2014 our school has adapted, changed and improved, and is developing into a school which is always open to trying something new and never giving up. We are lucky enough to have teachers and pedagogues who come from all around the world that support and care about us. One thing I have learnt whilst being at our school is that it is important to be curious,” Hansen said in his speech.

“I am really proud to be one of the first students in the school back in 2014. We’ve watched the school grow from just four classes in containers to the amazing school we have now,” Eva Hatting, another of the founding students, said.

Following the opening ceremony, Princess Marie toured the school with pupils showing her the new science labs.

Hanne Schmidt, Head of Primary, has also been part of the school since its inception.

“The students will have their own opening ceremony where they will be able to celebrate this wonderful new building. It is really about the children and I love to hear their pleasure in the playgrounds, see them making the use of the new classrooms and all the space we have here. This journey has been like a fairy tale, we had to overcome trials to get to the prize at the end and now we are here,” Schmidt said.

READ ALSO: Copenhagen to host first European School in Denmark


Meet the group building bridges between Danes and foreign residents

Moving to Denmark as an expat often turns out to be more difficult than you would expect. Snigdha Bansal, a student at Aarhus University's Mundus Journalism program, writes about the Facebook group trying to build bridges with Danes.

Meet the group building bridges between Danes and foreign residents
The group has six active admins, from both Denmark and elsewhere. Photo: Tine H. Jorgensen
Moving to Denmark as an expat, one looks forward to embracing Danish culture and getting integrated into one of the world’s happiest societies. However, it often turns out to be more difficult than you would expect. 
Established in 2019, ‘Beyond Stereotypes: Danes & Internationals’ seeks to facilitate interactions between expats and locals in Denmark
‘Difficult to integrate with the Danes’
Poulomi Deb Bose, 33, moved to Denmark from India with her husband in June 2019. She says Danes have been very helpful in everyday interactions – at supermarkets, or at bus stops, helping her find her way in English. However, it has been integrating with them that has proved difficult.
“My interaction with Danes is limited to my landlord or people at the local kommune. It’s even difficult to spot them around, unless at the gym, where it never goes beyond a smile. It is a lot easier to talk to other internationals”, she says.
A couple months ago, a friend told her about a Facebook group with not just internationals but also Danes. Up until then, she had only been part of the groups with Internationals and this was the first of its kind where both communities were encouraged to interact with each other.
‘Building bridges’
Beyond Stereotypes: Danes & Internationals is a Facebook group with over 2,400 members.
The group was formed by Tine H. Jorgensen, a 56-year old academic and practitioner. While it acts as a meeting point for expats in Denmark and Danes, members are also invited to share their own unique experiences of interactions within the community to inspire and help others.
The idea of the group was sparked in early 2019 by a conversation Jorgensen had after a radio show in Aarhus where she was performing clairvoyance on air. The host of the show, Houda Naji from Morocco, and Enas Elgarhy, another invitee from Egypt, told her of their experiences of getting married to Danes and settling in Denmark.
“They talked about how difficult it was to make Danish friends, how long it took to get a CPR number which was needed for basic things like going to the gym, and other issues that made me realise how ridiculous it was for internationals. I asked myself what I could do about this.”
She decided the least she could do was to start a Facebook group, and invited both Naji and Elgarhy to join her as admins.
As the group has grown, its “bridge-building” role has become clearer, says Jorgensen, as more International and Danish admins come on board. 
The group organises monthly meet-ups for members to interact. Photo: Tine H. Jorgensen
‘Challenging our own biases’
Marta Gabriela Rodriguez-Karpowicz is a 38-year old life coach from Poland who recently started her own practice after working at the Danish corporation Vestas for almost 10 years.
She recently became a Danish citizen after 12 years of living in the country and is also an admin of the group. She took on the role because she believed that it would be “a worthwhile effort to build bridges between Danes and Internationals, which doesn’t appear to be happening naturally.” She wanted to be a part of this initiative owing to her own struggles to integrate and her experience of having grown past that phase, using which she could help others. 
“I also wanted to identify which biases I still had myself, so I could challenge them and grow beyond stereotypes”, she says.
‘Overcoming challenges’
The group connects people across Denmark by organising hobby-based meet-ups, providing a platform to discuss travel stories around Denmark as well as social issues such as racism. Job postings and job-seeking posts are also welcome, which some would say is the biggest challenge. 
Both Bose and Rodriguez-Karpowicz accompanied their husbands who found jobs in Denmark, and did not expect the difficulties they would face while finding jobs for themselves.
Bose associates it with the trust factor that is deeply ingrained in Danes. “I have realised they can be quite rigid in trusting outsiders for jobs or with references”, she says. 
This is also an area Rodriguez-Karpowicz believes she can help members with, since she found it difficult to get a job despite being “highly educated and experienced”, but eventually managed.
Integration in a new country can be difficult, but expats shouldn’t give up, according to Jorgensen. 
She acknowledges that racism does exist in Denmark, but at the same time, there are a lot of Danes who are very welcoming, and that’s the Danish attitude she wanted to highlight.
“I wanted to do my little bit to bring that forward, and connect people in a practical way.”