International life in H.C. Andersen’s land
Text: Aina Masood
Is it always dreamy and picture-perfect to live in one of the happiest countries in the world?
Denmark is a country full of opportunities. It is H.C. Andersen’s land, the author of the famous ‘’ugly duckling’’ and ‘’the little mermaid’’, is the birthplace of Lego and a pioneer in wind energy. It is also one of the happiest countries to live in, but it’s no easy feat being an international here. Before I moved to Denmark, I did not know much about the country other than it being one of the happiest countries in the world. I wanted to be in this happy country and see what makes Danes the happiest people. In addition, I wanted to know how it would impact my mental well-being.
After moving to Denmark, I could see the “how” and the “why” for the happiness index. But was there more to it? I feel it gets trickier for internationals because the challenges are multifold, and the psychological and emotional needs remain unaddressed. As the British author, Michael Booth said in his book ‘Almost Nearly Perfect People’, the happiness survey is done in Danish, and there is a high likelihood that internationals living in Denmark were not taken into account when declaring Denmark as the happiest country in the world, which was somewhat belief-shattering for me. Social media platforms like Instagram reflect a perfect life in Denmark by photos of vibrant streets, nature, street art, museums, Viking heritage, gorgeous skies, and so much more! However, being an international in Denmark can be more challenging than the narrative portrayed by social media.
While my friends back home pictured my “dream life” in one of Europe’s happiest country, I found myself struggling in a country where I did not speak the native language. I was hopeful that I could overcome the language barrier, but the challenges I faced along the way were daunting. I invested all my energy in learning not just the language but also the culture and the customs. I had to adjust to a new environment, find a job, get my education approved, and build a support network for myself all over again - something most of us take for granted until we leave the comfort of our home countries. I learned to put myself out there and make friends. I am sure most internationals have gone through a similar journey, or as I like to call it, self-re-discovery.
Being new in an unfamiliar country isn't easy. Before we move, we are so focused on the opportunities coming our way that we forget to acknowledge all that we must give up to be here. It seems natural to find a job and build a whole new life, but we forget how moving across continents affects a family.
"If you are an international reading this. You are not alone. Be kind to yourself and surround yourself with people who can empathise with your struggle."
No matter where you go, you are provided a handbook on “how to survive” in that country. I feel it is important to emphasise the psychological and emotional aspect of the transition. No handbook can teach you how to make friends in a country where people have a close-knit social circle and prefer to hang out with their life-long friends. You cannot learn from a handbook how to navigate the Danish supermarkets, and the language barrier does not make it easy either. I had to try for three weeks before I finally found breadcrumbs! No one can teach you how to cope with the dark winters and how loneliness can easily creep in during the long winter nights. Hardly anyone talks about how hard it is to be an international looking for jobs when many jobs are not advertised. All these problems have dire consequences to psychological well-being.
To address the somewhat neglected aspect of the move, I started my company in Denmark called R.A.I.N. that helps organisations take care of their international population (and the local population too). I focus on building skills that people can use every day and have a well-balanced life. In addition, I provide people with a space to learn, share and grow. Being an international in H.C. Andersen’s land is no easy feat, but it is doable with support.
If you are an international reading this. You are not alone. Be kind to yourself and surround yourself with people who can empathise with your struggle. If you are a Dane, I urge you to reach out - it is not easy for us, but we never forget those who are there for us in these transition phases.