Packing up and leaving behind her beloved Ukraine was the first step for Olga towards her new life in Denmark. The International grabbed a few minutes with her to chat about her journey so far, and how she has built her career, friendships and gained cultural awareness in a country that is not always easy to fit it.
Photographs: Olga Yurchenko
Text: Lyndsay Jensen
In 2015 I was busy preparing documents for immigration to Australia. Halfway through the preparations, I unexpectedly fell in love with a man who was originally from Denmark. Choosing to follow my heart over a career in Australia, I chose Denmark. So, in 2017, I packed up and moved to the small town of Brande in Jutland.
Was it tough adjusting to life in a new country?
My first year in Denmark was quite easy and interesting - I worked a lot online with clients from all over the world, often travelling to Ukraine to see my parents and friends. My time in Denmark was filled with making new friends and exploring my adopted country.
Skip to the second year of life in Denmark, I really began to miss having my parents nearby. It became more difficult to work with companies from Ukraine when you aren't based there. I, unfortunately, had to pause many of my projects or close them. It was a period of professional and personal self-identification in a new country, I had to ask myself, "What do I want?" and "What can I do?". After a bit of self-reflection, a can-do attitude, I am more confident now than ever and achieving my dreams.
I'm happy I made an effort to get out of my comfort zone by leaving the house, socialising and getting to know my town a little more by joining a mountain bike club and signing up for some volunteering for Brande.dk and the International Society.
What cultural difference do you see between Denmark and Ukraine?
My first thoughts of Denmark when I arrived were: What a green country! How can I find cottage cheese in the supermarket? Service is excellent in the Government services! It's so cold, how do Danes survive with hardly any clothes? After three years of living in Denmark, it's the small things I've had to get used to. Summer holidays for one are taken very seriously here, it's totally normal for people to take 4-5 weeks holiday during this time, and all of Denmark grinds to a halt, in the Ukraine few can afford such a long vacation.
Danish humour is a tricky thing, it can be good-natured and playful, but it can also be dry, dark, weird, and occasionally passive-aggressive. Ukrainians like to share anecdotes, which very often are reflected in our Ukrainian traditions, but they also reflect modern problems: we like to joke about politics, celebrities, and each other.
Danes follow traffic rules and don't park their cars on the pavement if they are stopping for a quick break. That's something we don't do in Ukraine - we tend to ignore the rules a bit and park everywhere, even with the threat of a fine.
The Danes love and are really experts at cooking, and will happily invite you to their homes for dinner. In Ukraine, we are used to going out and eating in a cafe or restaurant, and it's more affordable too. Since moving here, I've learned to enjoy the weather and spend time actively in the forest or visiting a zoo, even when it is raining outside. While in Kiev, for example, during the rainy season, you will rarely see people on the streets, walking in the park or cycling. The biggest shock for me was the apparent coldness from some Danes, but after getting to know them as a culture better, I've discovered the distance is also a form of respect. They respect your space and will take time to get to know you - this makes for lasting relationships.
"Brande is a small, but international town thanks to the presence of two large companies such as siemens and bestseller."
What challenges did you have when you started your business, and what inspired you?
My home, Crimea, was annexed by the Russian Federation in March 2014. At that time, I lived in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, worked in a large engineering company, and had four years of experience in the field of human resources and training. Many friends began to leave Crimea and asked me for help finding a job. From the experience of helping friends, I decided to join a volunteer organization as a career consultant and helped more than a hundred people locate work. Volunteering revealed my passion and where I could realize my potential.
After that, I continued my education in searching for the niche in career counselling, working with companies as a consultant, and launching a project revolving around LinkedIn. I loved what I did and who I collaborated with. I decided then and there this is I wanted to focus and improve on. My plan now is to grow my project, continue helping internationals to achieve their career dreams and goals. I also plan to create a video course about LinkedIn for Russian speakers. I currently have an interesting job working for Siemens, and I hope to find a work-life-my project balance through this and am open to whatever the future will bring me.
Tell us what you love about living in Jutland?
Moving from a large city like Kiev, where five million people live, to a small town with a small population was a real challenge for me. Brande is a small, but international town thanks to the presence of two large companies such as Siemens and Bestseller. It's also famous for the annual Art Festival and Wall Paintings (Gavlmalerier). I lived in Brande for a few years, where I spent a lot of time outdoors enjoying nature, more than I ever did when I lived in Ukraine. I've come to appreciate the simple things in life, like taking long, leisurely walks in the woods with a camera, whereas before, I was focused on going out and experiencing city life.
It was in Brande that I found a close friend from Ukraine, or more precisely, she found me. She just came up to me, said hi, and we were instant friends. I then became an active member, and eventually a board member for a local organisation International Society for the Herning, Ikast, Brande area. They provide a warm and welcoming place where internationals can come together and make new friends from all over the world.
In January of this year, once again, I made another big step and moved to the beautiful city of Vejle. It's a small city but large enough to fulfil everything I need to live comfortably and without missing out on anything in particular. I especially love being close to the sea and nature every day. I also took advantage of the opportunities of the city to get back into playing tennis, one of my favourite past times.
I'm looking forward to exploring Vejle and the surrounding neighbourhoods, and feel I'm found a very special place to live, where I have a real connection to the city.
We hear a lot about regional differences in Denmark, what has been your experience with this?
There is certainly a difference, such as a kind of love-hate relationship between Jutland and Sealand. Jutlanders call Sealand The Devils Island Djævleøen and often make jokes about the whole island being Copenhagen or even a part of Sweden. Some of my friends from Copenhagen think of Jutland as a distant land full of dim-witted farmers and prefer to visit Spain than other areas of Denmark. But after living here a few years, nothing could be further from the truth! Danes often remark it's difficult to understand the different dialects in Jutland. Unfortunately, my level of Danish is not tuned in enough to hear the differences. But I often go to Copenhagen, and after two years of living in Brande, I see that the speed of talking and generally life is a lot faster. Over here, people are calmer and laid back stille og roligt as the Danes say, and that's something I've learned to adapt to.
Did you fall in love with the language, or is it still an ongoing process?
I must admit that I did not immediately fall in love with Danish. Moreover, I was very sceptical about the need to learn a language spoken by only 5,5 million people. The biggest issue I had was that as soon as a Dane would hear my non-native accent, they would switch to English. It's very sweet for the locals to do this, but not helpful if you're trying to use the language in everyday life. I know many native English speakers living in Denmark for more than 10-15 years who don't speak any Danish, so it is indeed possible to live here without Danish - but doesn't really help you immerse yourself in the culture. It can also be a struggle to land a job without knowing basic Danish, it's trickier to make Danish friends, and it's impossible to fully immerse yourself in Danish culture and tradition.
Since I work in an English-speaking environment, I became a member of local Danish clubs such as the tennis club and hiking club (Fodslaw) to hang out more with the locals. I've set myself a goal over the next two years of actively learning the language, and will one day be confident enough to conduct my workshops in Danish.
What are your top tips for adjusting to life in Denmark?
There will be negative experiences from locals, it's important not to dwell on those, or let it get you down. One unpleasant experience I had was the misconception that all foreigners are here to abuse the social system, and they fail to understand that we are highly qualified and experienced people, and we want to make a good life for ourselves in Denmark. The Danish government is starting to recognise that they don't have all the skilled workers they need in Denmark and have to recruit from other countries. It takes time and patience to integrate into a new culture with different social and workplace rules, so it's important to be patient. Here are some tips to help you on your journey: #1 Have fun, learn Danish and try not to compare Denmark to your home country, just enjoy it for all that it offers. #2 Try to leave one foot in your home country and the other in Denmark. The key is to adapt without losing your identity. #3 If you're from a warm country, ditch the sandals and invest in several windproof jackets and some good quality rubber boots.
Career with Olga Yurchenko is a professional, personal growth coaching & LinkedIn coaching service. Olga has supported clients in building their careers since 2015. She works with a diverse range of ambitious professionals at all career stages.
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