How choosing a life in rural Jutland stripped me of my identity.
Text: Kelly Kristensen
No matter who you are, you will go through changes when moving abroad. You get a new address, meet new people, learn a new language and even experience some culture shock. Whether the changes be more obvious or unexpected, they are inevitable for every international moving to a new country, and the experiences one person has is often different from another.
Some people have tv-worthy experiences living in picturesque towns, drinking their coffee in cafes with stylish and friendly locals. These people get by speaking a language that they already know and have active social lives. Though the idea of a smooth and pleasant transition is great on the tv screen, it is often very unrealistic to how life is for people who move abroad, especially for those who live in remote areas.
Why we chose to live in a small town
When we moved to Denmark in March of 2016, my husband and I made the tough decision to live in a small town that was closer to his work and at least a half an hour from any other, bigger city. We were looking forward to living a slower life with fewer people, immersed in central Denmark's culture and traditions, where our boys, then ages 3 and 6, could have a very Danish childhood. The only thing that I didn't anticipate was how hard the transition would be for me.
Losing my identity
Because my husband was Danish, and my children were learning the language and making friends in a carefree environment, they had much easier transitions. However, knowing only a few basic phrases and words in Danish while living in an area where English was seldom used, I began to feel invisible to many Danes in my town.
My difficulties in communicating shielded people from seeing the real me. They didn't know how funny I was or that I loved asking questions. They couldn't tell from my words that I was an intelligent person with many ideas and interests. They didn't know that I was highly educated and had a successful career in my home country because I had no voice to show them who I was. To them, I was someone's wife, someone's mother, a foreigner. Not only did no one know me, but I was slowly becoming unrecognisable to myself.
"Some people have tv-worthy experiences living in pictureque towns, drinking their coffee in cafes with stylish and friendly locals."
Recreating my identity
With my husband at work and my children in daycare, I started to take language classes in a neighbouring town of 40,000 people. I was a blank slate, needing to be rewritten. I went from being invisible to being an expat and language learner. I made friends with others like me and began to find my voice again.
Positive attitude and determination
It has nearly been 5 years since we made the move to Denmark. My language skills are still an issue at times, but I have not let that slow me down from enjoying life in a small town. I have strong connections with my neighbours because of my willingness to speak the language and interest in being more Danish, and I am starting to feel that they see me and care about me as a friend.
The real struggle that I hadn't anticipated was within myself. Getting over my own self-doubt was the biggest struggle, and with a positive outlook on life, I see more of the good that my small-town life has to offer.