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Finding your feet during a pandemic

Aarhus and Eastern Jutland is home to many internationally-minded companies and organisations contributing to this area's internationalisation. This month International Community gives the floor to musician Stephen Whale.

Photograph: Matthew Giobbi

Text: International Community

2020 was a year of much change owing to the pandemic, of course. But for me, personally, the previous year was also the year my wife and I decided to move to Aarhus. She was fortunate to be offered a long-term job at Aarhus University, and I decided to accompany her. We arrived in Aarhus in January 2020, before COVID-19 was an issue, with high hopes and great expectations for this great leap of ours.

Life of an accompanying spouse

Pulling up stakes and moving to a new country is a big decision, but we’re both glad we did it. Although the pandemic struck immediately after our arrival and not having any concrete plans concerning my job situation, it’s been a good move. I have come to the understanding that most accompanying spouses are women, in Denmark at least. Being a ‘minority’ among accompanying spouses has not been a problem for me as Denmark is a very progressive country regarding gender roles. A reasonable amount of attention is given to male spouses and accompanying spouses in general, and I feel at ease and very welcome here.

"My advice to other internationals and accompanying spouses, exercise patience." - Stephen Whale

Get out there and make your mark

It’s essential to make an effort when moving to a new country with a different culture than where you’ve come from. For me personally, I am pretty accustomed to settling down in a new place. Originally from Australia and having lived and worked in New York City and Helsinki, I firmly believe it is worthwhile to join a club or an association, engage in some activities with others, and learn the language to feel more integrated and welcome.

As for the latter, doing Danish classes is very useful for understanding the Danish culture, personalities and traditions. Danish classes have practical benefits as well. Even though plenty of information and advice is available regarding housing, finances, employment etc., in English, there is often more details in Danish. Danish classes can also be a great way to meet other internationals. They can bond over common challenges of learning the language, and you can meet people from a large variety of cultures and professional backgrounds. Although my language classes have been almost all online due to the pandemic, I have got to know various internationals with different backgrounds.

Music - my passion and work

My profession is teaching music – more specifically, I teach piano. However, at the beginning of my job search in Aarhus, no vacancies as a piano teacher were available. This meant that I had to be creative by reaching out on Facebook to post private piano lessons. Shortly afterwards, I got my first students, and after some time, I was offered a part-time job as a piano teacher at an international school in the Aarhus Region – an offer I jumped at.

Besides teaching the piano, I also play music professionally. Being a musician, there were good chances for me to network and make myself known to people since Aarhus is well-known for its great culture and music life. Making a name for yourself in the music business is demanding and requires a strong network. Unfortunately, networking was quite challenging because I had not met many Danish musicians before coming to Denmark.

However, after some time trying to get to know people in the music business, a cellist contacted me last summer. The result was that we performed three concerts together in late November and early December, just before the second lockdown came into effect. Recently an established clarinettist, who is from New Zealand but has lived in Denmark for seven years, contacted me about starting a floating chamber music ensemble to perform concerts in Aalborg, Aarhus and other parts of Jutland. My struggle with teaching and performing just goes to show that patience is rewarded eventually. My advice to other internationals and accompanying spouses - exercise patience.

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