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Lessons from a year gone by

I've been an expat pretty much all my life and while I count Denmark among my most pleasant experiences, it has also turned out to be one of the most challenging.

Photographs: Conrad Egbert / Céline Martin-Pedersen

Text: Conrad Egbert

Last month made it exactly one year since I moved to ‘Happy Copenhagen.’ Most of my time and energy over these past 12 months has been spent job hunting, acclimatising, listening to and learning from internationals who arrived here before I did, trying to understand the nuances of Nordic culture from our patient and lovely Danish friends and finally trying to accept and adapt to all of the above.

But after 52 weeks of relentlessly doing my best, day in and day out, including writing countless cover letters and updating numerous résumés, preparing for and then eventually hyperventilating over online psycho-analytical tests and finally tackling a couple of interviews like a mutant ninja turtle, I’m still not gainfully employed. I have a laughable collection of rejection letters sitting in my inbox, suffer from battered self-esteem and only recently discovered what I’ve been feeling these past few months, actually has a name – Imposter Syndrome. Yay!

No doubt times have changed for the worse since I began applying for jobs last year; Covid-19 has definitely foiled my chances of landing one, but the honeymoon period is well and truly over and even though I still don’t have all the answers, I do have a better understanding of how this most beautiful and equally bizarre country works.

"It's incredible how much more meaning you can give to your life when you tweak your perspective and see life for what it is - a one-time chance to be your best."

Is everything perfect? Nej. Is everything awful? Of course not. Is Copenhagen the happiest city in the world? Perhaps. But, according to whom? If the answer were ethnic Danes, I’d agree wholeheartedly. But for anyone else, I’m not quite sure. Almost every non-Dane that I’ve met this past year has not only been unhappy with his or her life in Denmark but also profoundly bitter about it. How is it possible that so many people have such similarly negative experiences, yet Denmark carries on as one of the happiest countries in the world. Good marketing? Possible. But there’s just that much marketing can do for one’s reputation. Eventually, Denmark’s going to have to throw open its books and cough up some real stats if it wants to hang on to it’s reputation as progressive and forward-thinking.

On the other hand, 2020 has terrorised the world and those of us living a Danish life also have a lot to be grateful for. How many of us living here have thought ‘thank goodness we’re living in Denmark, especially in these times’?

Last month a friend of mine took his own life at 41, and while it left me emotionally paralysed for a few days, it also slapped me back into a humble state of reality. A state all of us have no doubt been in at some point in our lives, but easily forget. We moan and complain about how unfair life is to us until we see what others don’t have. I also attended the 16th birthday celebration of a friend’s son last month, who since birth, has suffered from cerebral palsy. While turning sixteen is a right of passage for most of us, it was nothing short of a miracle for this beautiful young soul, who will never have a ‘normal’ life. Perhaps we’d all be better off focusing on what we already have, for there are those who will never have them.

So armed with this fresh state of mind, I return to university this month. I’ve also started volunteering for the Danish Red Cross and LGBT+Danmark. Time waits for no one, so I decided I could either mope around at home like a grumpy apartment cat or get out there and do something constructive. For those of you like me who need to make a difference with your time, I urge you to sign up for some volunteer work. It’s incredible how much more meaning you can give to your life when you tweak your perspective and see life for what it is – a one-time chance to be your best.

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