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Creating an identity

Santhi Maniam from International Community Aarhus shares how she's created her own identity in Denmark, and built a network in the international and danish market.

Photograph: Santhi Maniam

Text: Santhi Maniam

When I first moved to Aarhus from Malaysia in 2011, I decided to focus on raising my family and found joy in painting. I started exhibiting my works through their initiatives through my involvement with The Creative Women's Club Aarhus in 2016. That is when I decided it was time to get my paintings out of my home and set up in a gallery. Through the Creative Women's Club and Spouse Community Aarhus, I felt that I could create my own niche while finding a place for myself in my new home country. A place far away and very different from Malaysia where I come from.

My gallery opened in 2016, and since then, I exhibit my own works and showcase other internationals. In 2018, I had my first solo exhibition at Aarhus Harbour HQ in collaboration with Spouse Community Aarhus. Apart from exhibitions, I also do HeART talks which introduces aspiring artist and art classes. I have also facilitated art workshops and events for Spouse Community Aarhus, Aarhus Mini Makers Fair and Red Barnet Ungdom.

Having over 12 years of experience working with leading global organisations in leadership, management, and change. I'm blessed to be able to not only pursue my passion for art but also for sharing my professional knowledge as a coach, facilitator, and communications skills trainer.

As a team member in the Curation Team of TEDx Aarhus, I volunteered as a coach and speaker trainer. I organise walks and talk on communication skills through my Present Your Way Forward sessions, and I share my thoughts on communication and leadership on LinkedIn. Currently, I am finishing up my education as B2B Digital Business Student at the Aarhus Business College.

A sense of belonging

My first few years, I did not feel Aarhus was very international. I had created my own international network with mothers from childbirth class. Having a sense of belonging, whether to a group or community, makes a difference when you are new to a place or city. However, now, there are more options for networking and thanks to social media, internationals are more connected.

"The greatest challenge is creating a Danish network, it takes work and effort to get to know Danes." - Santhi Maniam

The greatest challenge is creating a Danish network, it takes work and effort to get to know Danes. With a better command of the language comes the confidence to mingle and get to know the locals, we need a chance to get to know each other. Society here is based on connections and networking. Building a strong network with locals and internationals is essential, and I have invested a lot of energy going to coffee meetings and building up my LinkedIn Network. I feel the time you invest in connecting with people makes a huge difference and helps create your identity and sense of belonging.

Many internationals have been successful in creating their own niche, and it can be very challenging with highs and lows, however with resilience and perseverance, you can move forward. Some find it challenging to continue what they were doing in their home country and have moved to creative endeavours like photography, fitness, training, and personal coaching. Personally, I feel growth comes in many ways, moving to a new country, your outlook, how we perceive and value things, and feel better suited to do something different from what we were doing before. Be flexible and listen to your inner inspiration.

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