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Elena Hansen, Billund (Jutland)

Who am I?

I’m an open and curious Russian living in Denmark. Have an education in translation, linguistics. If you add new and growing interest in marketing + yoga, then you get pretty much a picture of me. This article will add up to it as well, I believe

Where, when and why did I move to Denmark?

I moved to Denmark in August 2012, because approximately five years ago in Russia I met my Danish prince charming. We met quite commonly, when I started working as his translator in Russia; and 5 years later he was back to Denmark, we got married and decided that Denmark should be our home. So, here I am.What challenges did I face during the move?

There were not really any physical challenges or obstacles for me to move to Denmark. Though there were some thoughts about how I’m going to fit in, what kind of job I’ll be able to find, how I’m going to manage without mastering Danish, etc. However, I did believe that I’d figure everything out and feel at home here. I wasn’t wrong! I haven’t found a job yet, but thanks to this I’ve become a much more active person and started doing new things I wouldn’t even think about before.

In our globalized world it’s quite easy to do networking which helps you overcome so many things including language barrier. So I went for networking and I didn’t miss. As for the Danish language, it turned out to be not that hard as some might think and much more fun than you could imagine.

What is my relationship like with Danes?

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Some might say that Danes are too cold, unfriendly, closed and are not striving to expand their friend circles. That is something I constantly read on blogs and forums. However, this is the 100% opposite to what I’ve experienced here. I’ve been here for just half a year, but have already managed to establish a meet-up group where most of us are Danish. I find the locals open and very tolerant. They always listen to what you have to say and are even more tolerant when they have to listen to our broken Danish. Surely people are different here like anywhere else, but I personally have experienced the positive part of Denmark and Danes. I strongly believe that if you stay open and curious, you get the same thing back. Be proactive and initiative. Believe me, you’ll enjoy it

What do I like about life in Denmark?

I might sound common now, but environment certainly is one of the things I adore here. The air is so much cleaner. It might be slightly more polluted in big cities like Copenhagen and Aarhus, but if you think it is polluted there, then go to Moscow or Saint Petersburg.

In Denmark everything is taken care of, even very small villages look nice and neat.

Another great thing for foreigners here is that after you’ve obtained your CPR-number (social security number) you’re entitled to have free three-year education! Part of it (or all, depends on your abilities to learn the language) has to be learning Danish.

Job centers of the local authorities do their best to help you integrate in the society, for example they can advise you on how to better approach the Danish labour market, write CV, a cover letter so that it fits the Danish idea of doing it. I, for example, have an extremely helpful “guide” at the job centre. Some foreigners here just don’t know how they can use this free help provided for us.

One more thing I would name is the size of Denmark. It’s so small that you can drive from one end to the other in a few hours! In Russia it would take days. Back home I lived 700km away from my parents. Here we can go and visit my husband’s family every day if we want to. Then, here roads are great, medicine is free, education is free. May be it is the same in your country and you can’t understand what’s so special about it. But it’s not like this everywhere in the world.

What do I dislike about my expat life?

Well, as always there is a flipside to anything. All these “free” things are not exactly free. Taxes here are unbelievably high!! I won’t go into details, but in general you pay around 45-48% of your salary in tax (compare to 13% in Russia)! I do not have a job here yet. But when I do, it’s going to be very strange to give away almost half of what you earn.

What is the biggest cultural difference I have experienced between Denmark and life back home in Russia?

Danes are so very punctual! If you invite people for dinner at 6, be sure they’ll come 10-15min in advance, because at 6 you’re all supposed to be seated and eating. The hardest thing for me to accept was that the same goes for friends. In Russia it’s much easier, you might be a little late and none will be irritated with you, especially if you call and say that you’re going to be late. Here it’s seen as almost a sin, together with eating “wrongly” (i.e. putting “wrong” things together on a piece of bread). It’s quite fun to learn all these new cultural things, those that are natural for locals. Though sometimes you learn it the hard way.

How does shopping (for food/clothes/household items etc.) differ compared to back home?

Food costs in Denmark are higher, which is due to the taxes, I guess. The biggest difference I’ve noticed here is that the prices do not differ that much all over the country. I would think the reason is that Denmark is quite an “equal” country, there is no huge gap between people here (i.e. the rich vs. the poor).

Another thing is that in Denmark most people plan their shopping, meaning they use brochures a lot. They look out for weekly discounts; some might go from one shop to another buying products on discount, instead of doing it in one shop.

What do I think of the food in my new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?

Sild med karry (herring with curry) and Ris a la mande (rice pudding with almond) are the first things that come up to my mind. I totally love them!

What my stomach and I couldn’t get used to at the beginning is Danish lunch. It normally consists of rye bread and different things you can put on top, like mackerel and eggs or sliced meat and cucumber, or pate and remoulade (some special sauce they have here). It was simply too dry for me. In Russia you would normally have some soup or some more “normal” food (like potatoes and some meat or spaghetti and eggs with salad, etc.). Anyway, my stomach and I got used to it and learnt to like it. The advantage to it is that it’s so easy to make a lunch box.

Definitely get prepared for your moving and living in another country! Read relevant books (write to me if you need a piece of advice on some good ones about Denmark), go and socialize with like-minded people on different online social platforms, forums, etc. Become members of different online foreigner groups related to Denmark. It’s all out there for you and for free. However, stay objective; avoid negative people and negative comments.

When in Denmark be open and proactive, and initiative. It’s quite unlikely that Danes will start talking to you first for ex. at a party. Be the first one to approach them; you won’t regret it.

Never humiliate your own culture / country and people from your country, be proud of your background and what you are. Though do not idealize anything from back home either. After all, it’s you who’s a foreigner here. Main point – just feel equal to Danes. They’re much more open when they feel they can talk to you as to an equal.

To better integrate get involved in one or a few projects here in Denmark, paid or unpaid. Volunteers, for ex., are very welcome here, especially in the social sector. It will also help you gain / improve your Danish.

To round it up, just stay open and curious. It will help you a lot!

You’re always welcome to write to me for a tip, support or just a chat. I know how it is, I’ve been there.
Blog: www.gotodenmark.blogspot.com
E-mail: elena.kand86@gmail.com
Twitter: @Elena_Hansen
LinkedIn: Elena Hansen

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