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Exploring the edge of Danish culture

Photograph: Ethenia Aastrup

Text: Ethenia Aastrup

Ethenia Aastrup experienced culture shock at first sight but offers great tips to help you fit in.

Summer, autumn, winter, and spring. Multiplied by six. Looking back at the past six years I have been in Denmark many things have changed. I still remember quite vividly how I landed in Copenhagen and took a small aeroplane to Aarhus. It was in August 2014, summer but 18 degrees. It was not warm, and when windy, I had to wear my gloves. Climate adaptation, used to be difficult back then, as I came from Indonesia, which has temperatures of 28 – 33 degrees all year long.

Apart from climate shock, culture shock was a daily occurrence in the beginning. The people, the system, the food, the shops, the language, so many things were different. However, before I went to Denmark, I already had some knowledge about Danish pastries and Danish butter cookies as they are quite famous in Indonesia. I realised that there were many similarities between Denmark and my home country of Indonesia, especially the sarcastic humour. Many Indonesians, especially from my area, have the same sarcastic humour of the Danes.

I moved to Denmark because I was granted a scholarship by Aarhus University for my Master’s in Corporate Communication as a non-EU student, which I am forever thankful for - that scholarship has changed my life.

Aarhus, Copenhagen, Tønder: crisscrossing Denmark

After finishing my Master’s, I worked as an internal communicator at IKEA global office in Malmö, Sweden, and as a project manager in ECCO HQ in Bredebro, close to the Danish-German border. Having worked at some of the biggest Scandinavian global companies within the design area indeed has given me different perspectives of Scandinavian lifestyle and work environment.

Finding a study relevant job in Denmark is difficult for most internationals, myself included. Lack of Danish skills is the biggest hurdle. However, when the job ad mentioned, no Danish skills were required, Danish applicants who knew the hiring managers would naturally go to the front of the queue. I hope, shortly, more Danish companies, regardless of their size, will be more open and interested in international applicants, as diversity allows more unique perspectives.

"Many Indonesians, especially from my area, have the same sarcastic humour of the Danes. - Ethenia aastrup

Fitting in

If there is one thing I could have done differently, is to have a better grasp of the Danish language in the beginning. Now I can speak almost fluent Danish, and I’m still learning. In my opinion, there is one significant difference between Denmark and Indonesia, which is still a challenge for me. In Indonesia, the country is very diverse, and we have more than 600 ethnic groups. I grew up being a majority in Indonesia (Javanese), but my interests were often different than most of my peers and classmates. In Indonesia, when you are different but good at what you do, you will get a higher acknowledgement than if you are just ‘the same as everyone else’. We like uniqueness and admire brave people.

Joining a local club is a great way to integrate; however, most of the members are Danish, and if you just speak English, you might feel a little left out. The same can happen during lunch breaks at Danish workplaces, as they will naturally chat away in Danish to each other. Don’t let this put you off, join the clubs regardless, sit and have lunch with a local, but as much as you can try to speak Danish.

Being an international, especially in a society like Denmark, try to find as many commonalities as possible with the locals. This has proven to be an excellent way to make your mark, and you will receive a warmer welcome and feel less like an outsider in Denmark.

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