Greete shares with The International readers how she's fulfilling her dreams and goals in a country she now calls home.
Photographs: Zane Hartmane
Text: Lyndsay Jensen
Tell me a bit about yourself, and where you grew up?
I’m from Tallinn, Estonia. I grew up in a very sporty family – my mom, sister and myself played basketball and my father volleyball. They played it at a professional level and were part of the Estonian national team. Even though I played for about ten years and was a multiple-time Estonian champion, I was more drawn to singing in the choir, which I began at the age of three.
After I came back from a high school exchange year in the US, I didn’t have time for both and decided to continue with singing. I was a proud member of one of the best girl choirs in Estonia, called ‘Ellerhein’ with whom we won a Grammy in 2004. I was lucky to travel the world and represent our country both nationally and internationally.
I feel that ‘Ellerhein’ played a huge part in forming me as a person. Strict rehearsals, competitions and numerous concerts taught me commitment, independence and to be goal-focused while juggling high school at the same time. After years of basketball, I’d say nothing shows you more ‘team-spirit’ than a team sport – I love it, and still today I prefer working in a team setting in all aspects of my life.
All the long summer vacations (in Estonia it’s almost three months) I spent at our summerhouse, which is surrounded by lots of forests and is close to the sea. I have so many amazing memories from there, growing up and hanging out with my three cousins.
What brought you to Denmark?
I came to Denmark in 2010 to study Marketing management in Aarhus. I planned to stay here for two years, yet ten years later I'm still here.
"I think it’s important not to lose yourself. It’s crucial to adapt and be flexible, yet you shouldn’t compromise on your values and beliefs."
Was it difficult to adjust to a different culture when you moved here?
I think back then, being a student, it was more comfortable as I automatically went into the ‘studying bubble’ for two years. ‘My life triangle’ was home-school-work, cleaning job in the evenings and weekends and then studying at night on weekends.
The first culture shock hit me at school: I remember my marketing teacher eating carrots during the class – this would’ve never happened in Estonia. Now, it’s funny to think back about these experiences and laugh about it.
I was lucky to find a 10 m2 room to rent from a former Estonian student and also got a cleaning job in my first week of Denmark. I didn’t have a plan for how to economically support myself (back then internationals didn’t get SU), but I knew one thing – I wouldn’t ask my parents for money every month.
I came here with 2000 DKK in cash my father gave me, and luckily, by the end of the first month, I got my first salary – it felt amazing! I remember the first trip to the city, where I had to buy essentials as a monthly transport card, some kitchen utensils etc. – this is when I realised that this 2000 DKK wouldn’t last very long – Denmark is so expensive! By the way, I still have that colourful bowl and a coffee cup I bought from Søstrene Grene on my first day in the city.
How does the culture in Denmark compare to where you grew up and other places you’ve lived around the world?
I would say there are more similarities between Estonia and Denmark. Estonians and Danes are both very closed at first, but once you get to know them and ‘peel off the layers’ they’re curious and helpful people.
Danes celebrate more public holidays with specific dishes and traditions than we do. Even though we have many of the same holidays in Estonia they’re not celebrated as much – a holiday in Denmark is often a day off (public holiday), where in Estonia it isn’t.
My favourite Danish holiday is Christmas and December generally. It starts with making lots of yummy treats like vaniljsekranse, pebernødder and julekonfekt (marzipan covered in chocolate). On Christmas Eve, I enjoy singing and dancing around the tree, and of course all the great food like caramelised potatoes and ris a la mande – it’s hard to control yourself!
I’ve lived in the USA, Australia and Tanzania and I’d say without a doubt, Denmark has close similarities to where I grew up.
I was surprised though that Denmark has no sauna culture as its also part of the culture in other cold, Scandinavian countries. I often compare it to Danes having bicycles – if every Dane owns one, then almost every Estonian owns a sauna (or knows someone who does) - saturday is a sauna day and there is a saying that all important topics are discussed in the sauna. That’s one thing I miss in Denmark, including proper spa-hotels.
I have a Danish partner, and we have a very tight-knit big family and see each other often, I consider them also my family. I think this has also made my integration smoother and more understandable. It was my mother-in-law who pushed me to start speaking Danish which helped me a lot. Ten years later after numerous personal and professional experiences, I’d say I’ve ‘cracked the code’ to Danes and Denmark, and I can now comfortably call Aarhus home.
Tell me about your career and experience?
Last year I changed my career and decided to follow my passion - to help people, especially internationals finding a way into the Danish job market.
It’s not easy, I’ve been there myself a couple of times and as I discovered many ‘unwritten rules’ and ‘exceptions’ which is why I decided to share my knowledge with others. I always knew that I’d work with people, and this was the time to do it.
Since January 2019, I have created weekly content via Linkedin regarding job searching, I organised ‘job walks’, workshops, and am a job facilitator at Linkedin Local Aarhus. All of these experiences have resulted in many invites to present at workshops in Denmark. Recently, I was teaching ‘Employability’ for international students at the Business Academy Aarhus, and have created an engaged community via Linkedin with more than 2500 supportive followers which I am very grateful for and proud of.
I can confidently say that first, there is a huge need for ‘Employability’ courses for students (including Danes) to help prepare them for the job market. Secondly, internationals in Denmark need help on how to get closer to the Danish job market – I get messages from people almost every day asking for help.
Tell me about your involvement in working for companies in Denmark, has it been tough and what advice can you share?
Back in 2014, it was tough to find my first job without having a grasp of the language, a lack of experience, and no network. I found my first job through my network after 15 months of searching, this early experience opened new doors.
I’ve worked in many different companies, both large corporations and small start-ups. Danish employers want to know that you understand the culture and how Danish society works. It’s vital to have local experiences – whether it’s volunteering, interning, or a student job - it doesn’t matter. The local employer expects you to take the initiative, ask questions and deliver excellent results on time. Often they won’t tell you how to solve the task, and you have to find the solution, but it’s also okay to ask for help along the way.
“Frihed under ansvar” is a very Danish concept, meaning you get ‘freedom while you have the responsibility of delivering high-quality results on time”. Be prepared for lots of cake and humorous Christmas parties!
What are your plans going forward Greete?
I’ll continue growing my brand and network as a job consultant while creating content, events etc. My dream is to work for an organisation to help people further in their job searching process. I do have some plans in the pipeline, however, it’s too early to talk about it - so watch this space!
Tell me about what you love about living in Aarhus. give us a tour around your city?
Where should I start! Aarhus has it all - beaches, forests, fantastic food, culture and great corporates.
I love that the city is compact so you can walk anywhere. In 2018, I lived close to Vejle for ten months, and I missed Aarhus, and I couldn’t wait to get back to the hustle and bustle.
The fact that one can go 10-15 minutes from the city and already be outside and enjoy nature is incredible. There are not many places in the world where you can do that. I love my 20-minute bike rides to the city with a view of the sea – this is priceless!
My network and friends are in Aarhus, and I’ve lived in Denmark all of my adult life - Aarhus is my home. As Tina Dickow sings “Du kan tage pigen ud af Århus, men du kan ik’ ta’ Århus ud af pigen” which translates to ”You can take the girl out of Aarhus, but you cannot take Aarhus out of the girl.”
Can you share an experience you have had here that made you feel it was going to be a challenge to adjust to life in Denmark?
I think it was back in 2014 when I finished school, and I was eager to start my career. I soon realised it was way more difficult than I thought, I felt that I had some sort of network, and I was reaching out to people, yet it seemed impossible to get started. I thought to myself: “Am I only good enough to be a cleaner?” Now, after everything I have experienced, I know I had a completely wrong approach.
What is your advice to other internationals living here? Top tips on the best way to fit in and feel more at home?
First, start networking on day one – I kid you not! Network, network, network – I cannot stress it enough how important it is. Jobseeker or not, everyone needs a network, especially as an international here.
I think it’s important not to lose yourself. It’s crucial to adapt and be flexible, yet you shouldn’t compromise on your values and beliefs. You should also celebrate and do the things you’re used to from your home country while finding a comfortable way for you to integrate, step by step.
The best tip I recently heard from a podcast from another international was to take the first step with Danes. They are curious and interested in other cultures, yet they don’t necessarily make the first move.
Back in 2015, I was volunteering at an event where I had a couple of shifts together with a girl named Camilla. We started speaking, and after the event was over, I invited her for coffee. We’ve been friends ever since. Take that first step and see what happens.
Tell me about the language barrier, how difficult or easy is this to overcome? Did you find it difficult making social connections with Danes, and what advice do you have?
I went to Lær Dansk after five years of living here so I already understood a lot, yet I could not speak it fluently – I knew words, but I couldn’t put sentences together. Once I started slowly speaking with my in-laws, it came fast and naturally.
I would say, find out what works for you – watching movies, reading or listening to podcasts, or rapping along to Danish songs - experiment!
Find a Danish person who is prepared to meet up with you once a week – this can do wonders! For example, Swap Language has helped many of my friends.
Start to speak with kids or older Danes, they’ll more likely want to talk to you, and don't fall into the trap of swapping over to English! If that happens (Danes are excellent at English), let them know that you want to practice Danish. Danes are very proud of their language and find it charming when an international makes an effort and speaks to them in their native tongue.
What differences are you noticing in Denmark since the lockdown, and how can you reinvent yourself during these times?
I feel that people have come together to help the more vulnerable in society, and people are also spending more time online. They are using this time at home to develop and grow in different areas, and I can hear and see people talking about changing direction in their careers and finally going after their dreams!
I think now is the perfect time to analyse your life, goals and dreams and see what you can do. Are you happy, or do you feel stuck? Think differently and reframe your possibilities. Anything is possible if you put your mind to it – hard work, consistency and persistence can take you far. Go for it!
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