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EXPATS

Expat stories: How I made my closest Danish friend

Many foreigners living in Denmark struggle to make friends with born-and-bred Danes. We spoke to five who have successfully made the connection.

Expat stories: How I made my closest Danish friend
Fernando Secca (right) and her Danish friend Marie Peschardt (left). Photo: Private

Fernanda Secca from Brazil and her Danish friend Marie Peschardt 

When 32-year-old Fernanda moved to Copenhagen at the start of 2017, one of the first things she did was find a place to do pole-dancing, which had been her hobby back in São Paulo. Marie Peschardt, 29, was her teacher, and before long they soon realised they got on well.

“Coming to class a few times a week made us create a bond that was eventually taken to a personal relationship,” she remembers. “We now do everything together. We hang out several times a week. We go travelling together, we have dinner, we go to bars, we go dancing.” 

The two still train together at the dance studio. 

Fernando Secca (right) and her Danish friend Marie Peschardt (left). Photo: Private 

“I think the friendship was possible because we were both open to meeting new people and building connections,” Fernanda says, adding that she doesn’t think Danes are particularly difficult to become friends with.

“There is no secret. Danes are not aliens. I think finding something in common that you can bond around or relate to helps in the beginning, because people are more likely to respond to that than a random request or small talk.” 

“Also taking a chance, inviting a person you feel could be interesting for a coffee or a drink, can be something spontaneous or quick. Some Danes might even appreciate being spontaneous because no one here really is.” 
 
On the other hand, it is important for those from more free-wheeling countries to understand that Danes like to plan ahead, she adds. 
 
“Appreciate that they have their schedules and bookings weeks in advance and you might need to fit into that type of style as well if you want to build a connection.” 
 
 
Marcele Rask and her Danish friends Jasmine and Carina
 
Marcele Rask, 36, a manager at Danske Bank specialising in financial crime and sanctions, met her Danish friends Jasmine and Carina at her previous job because they all worked in the same department. She said the three of them shared a similar appetite for adventure. 
 
“One thing that connected us three a lot is the fact that we are all very curious and like to try new things. So we programme ‘adventure days’  where we go somewhere new, or that we like or something and spend some hours there or even the day,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be fancy, or crazy or anything, but something nice to know.” 
 
She said they tend to do this about once or twice a month, either two of them, or all three together.
 
“Just after Denmark started to open from the lockdown, we went to a Gavnø slot for their tulip festival, and afterwards we went to eat MacDonald’s by the harbour.” 
 
She says that both Jasmine and Carina are quite internationally-minded, which she feels made them more open to making friends with a foreigner. 
 
“Jasmin lived some years abroad and was an expat herself. Carina has worked on international companies and is used to the expats’ life, having herself another great expat friend,” she says. 
 
She said they now spoke a mixture of English and Danish together, but were speaking Danish more and more as her command of the language improved. She said she felt her own openness had helped her make Danish friends. 
 
“I think one thing that it is very important to be as an expat is open — open for anything and everything — and not just to sit around bitching about the country, the language, the food, and everything else.” 
 
 
Ashley Norval and her Danish friend Mia Garner 
 
Ashley, 31, met Mia, 28 almost as soon as she arrived in Copenhagen a year ago from Australia and the two were paired together for a group session during her university course. They have hung out together ever since. 
 
“I hear from her two or three times a week usually, and we do all kinds of stuff together,” she says. “We’ve travelled together, we catch up for dinner, we go to the movies, or just go to each other’s place. Sometimes we go walking or running, sometimes we just go and get an ice cream and sit in the park.” 
 
Ashley Norval (right) and Mia Garner at the Gisselfeld Klosters Forest Tower south of Copenhagen. Photo: Private
 
Ashley believes that many foreigners think, often mistakenly, that the Danish reluctance to impose themselves on others means they are not open to making new friends. 
 
“I think Danish people genuinely don’t want to encroach on your personal space and territory and I’m convinced that once you kind of invite them to something and show them that it’s fine, and that you do want to see them outside of your professional space or whatever, then it’s fine.”
 
She said that foreigners in Denmark needed to realise that they might have to make the move, and suggest going to see a film or get a meal. 
 
“If you make the effort to get to know any part of Danish culture, that is always well received with Danish people,” she adds, although she concedes that Danes might view Australians more favourably than people from many other countries. 
 
Camila Witt and her Danish friend Emilie Møllenbach
 
Camila, 36, met Emilie over the coffee machine when they were both working for a Danish payments company, but bonded over their academic interests. “Emilie and I had a I have a very strong academic background, so we just started to talk about different theories: physics, science and this kind of thing. And we connected over that and I think that the relationship grew from that.” 
 
They go for walks together, make chocolate together, go for dinner, or a cup of tea at a café. 
 
“Nothing really fancy, to be fair, just being each in each other’s companies and I think that both her and I share this perspective that we like we were there for each other and not to be on our phones.” 
 
Camila believes a lot of foreigners wrongly think that when Danes say they’re busy or booked up, that that means they aren’t open to a friendship. 
 
“Danes require more planning. I think that something we need to understand if we come from countries where you’re used to spontaneously say ‘let’ go out tonight, let’s go out after work and just have a beer’. 
 
“It’s really important to you know, proactively invite them and not take them saying, ‘I don’t have time this week’ as them shutting you off because in all honesty, many times they are booked. So it’s about finding that slot of time. It can happen in three weeks, but it will happen you know.”
 
 
 

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EXPATS

For internationals, ‘reliance on social media is sometimes greater because we are more disconnected’

Over-reliance on social media can cause stress and loneliness, and is a particularly easy trap to fall into for those dealing with life in a new country, writes psychologist and The Local guest columnist Edita Petojevic.

For internationals, 'reliance on social media is sometimes greater because we are more disconnected'
If you're already feeling isolated, reliance on social media can make things seem worse. File photo: AP Photo/Jessica Hill/Ritzau Scanpix

Do you go about your day feeling overwhelmed by thoughts? Do you catch yourself feeling constant high level of anxiety, without being able to shake it off? Do you struggle to stay grounded in the here and now?

If you’ve answered yes to the questions above, know that you are not alone. The period we live in makes it difficult to stay still for any length of time, not to mention quieting the noise inside of us. We are constantly bombarded with information that creates pressure to keep up and that interrupts our focus on more meaningful things.

The fast-paced lifestyle, however, doesn't allow for deeper reflection. Instead it pushes us to scroll through feeds on our phones mindlessly. There is a near constant pressure to stay informed and updated, and a fear of missing out (FOMO) when we try to put our phones away.

As a psychotherapist based in Copenhagen who mostly sees internationals, I have spoken with many clients who experience these difficulties. The virtual world that we spend so much time in is causing people stress and loneliness, and often the very sense of disconnectedness we seek to avoid.

The purpose with this article is to bring awareness to the correlation between the digital world and mental health issues.

Moving towards good mental health requires that one is in touch with one’s own physical, emotional and intellectual needs. It doesn't necessarily mean that these needs are always met, but it indicates an awareness of them and an intention to meet them. This means tuning in to and striving towards taking care of oneself.

We live much of our lives in a digital world where the focus is on external validation. For instance, when you see something you want to take a picture of, it is less about engaging the subject and remembering, and instead is all about showing and sharing. The need to be seen by others and to share with others is immense and it forces an unhealthy focus on external validation.

Sharing with others has become more important than taking time to nurture ourselves. The focus is on informing the external world rather than being present and enjoying the moment.

You might be asking yourself, ‘Why can't we do both?’ Here's where the true dilemma lies.

When we try to think about who's liking our post or whether we received that email, while at the same time trying to be grounded in the present, we wind up with only a superficial level of attention on any one thing. Furthermore, due to splitting between thoughts and states, we seldom get to be in the moment and never truly allow ourselves to relax.

READ ALSO: The link between international relocation and depression

Katarina Gospic, one of the leading brain scientists in Sweden, explains it well by talking about the need to check our phones as a natural part of a system of rewards. Our brains are seeking the reward we get every time we get a like, a positive comment or anything that makes us feel good in the moment. It's an instant reward, an external validation that we are liked and okay in the world. However, these rewards are short-lived, so we keep checking our phones, hoping to receive another positive reassurance, again and again. 

It's all part of an “intermittent reward system”, as Gospic so well explains it. 

In my therapy practice, I have noticed that the number of clients who rely on their phone for repeated daily rewards is growing. As mentioned above, my clients are primarily internationals living in Denmark, and this appears to be making their over-use of social media even worse. Our reliance on social media for comfort and validation is sometimes even greater because we are often more disconnected. The outcome, however, is the opposite. Our clients report feeling more isolated, depressed and anxious when seeking connection in these ways. 

In treating clients with an overuse of social media, we gradually expose them to whatever might be difficult for the client. In this case, we create a treatment plan that helps clients engage more with people in person, and spend less time seeking the short-term rewards on their phones.

We have noticed a direct link between the use of the phone and avoidance behavior. The more we avoid engaging in real life, the more we retreat to the use of the phone, which results in more negative feelings.

In fact, the use of the phone resembles the use of alcohol and drugs in the sense that we use it to get an instant reward and to escape the reality we are in. This explains why more and more digital detox camps are being set up all over the world.

Another part of this reward system is the thinking process behind it. Every day we hear our clients share how they compare themselves to others on social media and the pressure they feel to meet the social expectations of good looks and successful lives. For some, there is a constant race to become better, prettier, and more successful, and those who don't pause to reflect get caught up in trying to meet these impossible and imaginary goals, slowly but surely moving the focus from thinking about what is important to us, and instead buying into the ideals we see around us.

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

 
 

A post shared by Copenhagen Travel Guide (@travel2copenhagen) on Nov 8, 2018 at 3:21pm PST

Furthermore, the virtual world often presents filtered versions, where the majority focuses on sharing only the most beautiful and most successful parts of life, leaving many who already have low self-esteem to become ever more insecure and stressed.

For some, it even leads to comparison and competition rather than sharing in other’s happiness or good fortune.

Externally, we are chasing to get more and internally we have never been lonelier.

READ ALSO: OPINION: A foreigner's attitude hacks for transitioning to life in Denmark

What can be done?

We have more ways to connect and communicate than ever before, yet we have never been more disconnected. The need to be heard, truly and deeply is huge. So, how do we get back to our true selves? Is there a way to find a balance between the external and the internal world? We believe there is. If you have read up to this point, you might be one of those who realizes the problem but lacks the tools to change the current state. If so, you are off to a good start.

Here are some specific steps you can take to begin finding the balance you need:

  • Awareness is the first step. Before we can make any changes, we need to acknowledge the problem.

  • Secondly, write down your individual needs. Try to make time for every single one of them during your week. Talk to your partner or friends or anyone who you trust about this process. Change can be hard as it requires you to challenge old ways of thinking and to step out from your comfort zone. Sharing with someone allows you to get support and to hear your own thoughts and feelings.

  • Limit the time you spend on your phone. For this, consider using one of the apps that reports back to you how much time and what you have used it on. Then set achievable goals.

  • Try to use the phone with intention rather than for mindless scrolling. Have set phone times and stick to those boundaries.

  • Spending less time in the virtual world will lead to more time in real life. Think of the things you have wanted to do for a long time but didn’t have time to do. Here is your chance! Read, study philosophy or astronomy, explore your local environment, develop new friendships, attend evening classes, learn to meditate.

  • Pay attention to all the things you get done when you limit the time on your phone and notice the effects it has on your mental health. Notice how you feel.

  • Evaluate before and after. Write down the results gained from restricted phone use and more time spent on your personal needs. This can be done as soon as a week after you start out.

One of our most profound findings from restricting phone use is a more peaceful everyday life. Freeing yourself from the need of external rewards allows you to get in touch with your internal needs. Once you become aware of your needs, you will also start thinking of ways to meet them. This opens the door for healthy habits such as physical activity, meditation, reading, playing and so on. 

We’ve also noticed a sense of regaining control over daily life once these boundaries were implemented. Our clients report a feeling of freedom to plan their days and follow through with activities, rather than getting sucked into talking or scrolling on the phone. There was an overall increase in satisfaction with the time spent.

To conclude, we would say that by not escaping reality, we are given the chance to notice what is going on around us, and to begin to more readily face some of the many challenges many internationals face when starting life in a new place.

Edita Petojevic has lived outside of her home country for most of her life. She received a B.A. in psychology from Jacksonville University in Florida, United States and an M.A. in Integrative Psychotherapy and Counselling from Roehampton University in London. She sees clients in English and Swedish at the MacFarlane Psychology Group, a Copenhagen practice offering psychotherapy for internationals.

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