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Finding your support network

Moving to another country is a significant adjustment, embracing a new culture and language and, most importantly, leaving your family and friends’ support structure - so how do you cope?

Photographs: Pexels

Text: Jane Elgård Petersen

The reasons for moving to another country like Denmark often vary. Often it is because of a job offer, but many choose to move because they want a change in lifestyle and the infamous work-life balance that Denmark offers. The reason can also be that they want to start a new business.

No matter the reason, they all leave their families and friends behind.

The first period after moving is not necessarily difficult because there are so many practical things to focus on. If the move is because of a new job, you will spend a lot of time focusing on the new job and being a part of a new organisation.

If you haven’t already found accommodation before you move to Denmark, you might be focused on that and also the paperwork of settling in Denmark. If you have kids, you might be enrolling them into kindergarten or a Danish or international school. Also, trying to be confident with the Danish way of living is a challenge and can cost a lot of effort.

Other questions might arise once you have handled the logistics of the move and every family member has hopefully happily settled into their new daily life.

For example, who can we turn to when kids are sick or who can take care of our kids if the job also calls for excessive travelling? Or who can we count on when the parents need a much-needed night out? These are all critical questions if both parents work full-time and have no family support network - this can be challenging if both are expats. They might have had grandparents, good neighbours or friends nearby in their hometown to help. Now they must build up their support structure again in an unfamiliar culture.

So, what’s the solution? Where do they find a substitute for a grandparent? In Denmark, we talk about “reserveforældre” (reserve parents).

Many expats get jobs in international companies around Denmark, and they will have colleagues from many other countries who might have the same questions about how to take care of kids when travelling or evening/weekend arrangements with colleagues or customers.

I assume there will also be many retired employees who still live in the local area. This group will have an excellent knowledge of the companies, maybe worked there for years before retiring, and haven’t moved out of the local area, so it will be a great idea to connect with them to hear if they would be interested in helping newly arrived people.

My idea is to get help from this group of retired people. As I see it, they will have a lot of knowledge about working in the organisation, might have had the same jobs themselves, or at least know the company’s culture. They know what it means to travel extensively and be away from their families. They also know the local area very well. As native locals, they have had the benefit of having their family and friends nearby, opposite the expats, knowing the importance of this help.

Another way to get this initiative underway is to contact the company’s HR people and get their help reaching out to retired individuals to hear whether they are interested in participating. The expats will need to meet these retired people to ensure they are the right match to take care of their kids. It is a huge responsibility.

However, when the match is cleared, and everyone is happy, parents, kids, and retired colleagues - the job can start. The primary job description will be to take care of kids while parents are travelling, but other scenarios can come into play. Occasionally, kids can get ill and need someone to care for them. Of course, trust must first be built between the children, parents and the retired couple. It is good to first meet regularly, either for a walk, in the playground, or to help with homework. Additionally, they can assist the kids with Danish language training.

Finally, do not underestimate the value of making friends with the locals. People you can go to when any new situation might arise, and your kids can also ask about local activities. What a great opportunity to create a new friendship network with whom you can share your new experiences.

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