Living my best life
What started as a perfect place for an adventure is now the country where Shivangi is putting down roots.
Photographs: Alex Flutur - www.instagram.com/creative.flutur/
Text: Michaela Medveďová
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that when you first come to Denmark in the summer, you’ll like it.
Luckily, the good impression lasted - and a year after she followed her husband, who got a job offer in Denmark, Shivangi Shahi is well into building her career and starting a family.
A joyful marriage
“My husband Ritesh and I were family friends, we knew each other, but we never actually talked until I saw him in my Facebook friend suggestions and sent him a request. I found out we had similar interests, and we started talking. He used to tell me all about his Tinder dates and how he is disappointed,” laughs Shivangi. They’ve been married for five years now. “Neither of us knows how and when we fell for each other. But it happened.” Even now, they are first and foremost friends. They play pranks and tease each other a lot. Shivangi doesn’t expect Ritesh to bring her flowers. She would much rather he brought her a pizza. “We don’t need to hide anything or make decisions that don’t involve each other.”
In general, the Indian culture is very close-knit and family-oriented. If she were still living with her parents, even though she is 30, she wouldn’t be able to go out and come back late if she hadn’t informed them in advance. “And there’s a lot of nosy neighbours,” she grins. But she misses her family - even though she calls her mom three times a day - along with food and festivals. Shivangi is Hindu, so every month comes with special days to be celebrated with traditional clothing and meals - everything is more colourful.
Happiness… and convenient travel
It was a pleasant surprise that Shivangi took to Denmark so well and so quickly. The landing was soft - the issues came beforehand. “When I arrived, COVID was at its peak, so it took around six months for me to get my visa. I was in India, sitting at home. I had already resigned. It was all very complicated, and my husband was already in Denmark.”
Ritesh works in IT and has always wanted to move abroad. Initially, they were applying to go to Australia. In hindsight, it would have been better for Shivangi, as being a dentist in an English-speaking country would give her more options. However, Ritesh got the offer to move to Denmark and asked his wife if it would be okay. “To be honest, I just knew Denmark was the happiest country in the world. He also said that the living conditions were better in Denmark. So we agreed to come and explore. We came here just for the experience, to travel. It’s easier to do that once you live in Europe.” In the past year, Shivangi has been to 13 European countries. A city that particularly stood out in her memory is Prague. And the following country on the bucket list? Iceland.
But Denmark had also made a lasting impression, even when winter arrived. “I was told before - you will hate it. But it’s good I don’t let others’ opinions influence me.”
Death of the coffee dream
Adjusting to Denmark came pretty much without cultural shocks. “I grew up watching Hollywood movies and reading novels. So it was more like I was living a fantasy.”
Shivangi finds Denmark peaceful and secure. There’s no reason to worry about your safety or leave your belongings unattended. “Here, you don’t have to worry. I’ve been out running at 3 in the morning, and it’s safe. That’s the best part of living here.”
Although there is a sense of security, you cannot ignore Denmark‘s notoriously high taxes and expensive coffee. “The coffee prices are insane. So many people travel between India and the US, and everyone drinks Starbucks daily. So in my mind, before I arrived here, I thought I’d be doing the same. And then I arrived and went to Starbucks!”
Private life in Denmark provides a sense of comfort to Shivangi in contrast to India, where guests arrive uninvited. After moving here, using a calendar to make plans was the norm. “In India, guests would come to our house and say: Oh, we were passing by and thought, why don’t we stop for a cup of tea or coffee? And they would stay until dinner.” These boundaries are also visible in the work-life balance. “If you’re on leave, you’re on leave. Nobody bothers you. It’s very easy to adapt to that.”
Shivangi and Ritesh are building their little piece of Danish hygge in Aalborg. Despite being the country’s fourth biggest city, it perfectly fits Shivangi’s love for smaller cities. After all, she used to live in Delhi. Aalborg gives her options - when she longs for peace and quiet, the city can be calm, and she can opt for a scenic route during her walk. But if you want to party in Aalborg, there are places to do that, too.
“And people are friendly, always smiling, saying hi. So when I walked with Ritesh and everyone was greeting him, I thought, how does he know so many people? He explained this is normal here. At first, it was hard to get used to. I kept thinking, what are you doing? It was a little confusing in the beginning. When do I make eye contact? When do I smile? There was so much pressure. I remember walking with my head down for the first few months.”
"When we came, we didn’t know whether we were staying or not. My husband arrived with one bag, and I arrived with a single box. We thought we’d stay for a year or two. But everything here is much better than in any other country we could have chosen."
Back to the dental books
But, for an expat dentist, finding a job wasn’t easy outside of Copenhagen.
To get a license to practice as a dentist in Denmark, she’ll first have to learn Danish and pass a specific language level with the highest marks. Then, she has to pass an exam at the University of Copenhagen. “It’s been a year, and I’m finishing Modul 3. And then two more to go. So I think I’m doing okay. I’ve already started studying my dental books again so that I can start as soon as possible.”
In a way, this feels like the first time she needs to learn a second language. She has studied English since she was a kid, and it felt natural.
But the difficulties of Danish will be all worth it when she gets her license. “Dentistry has always been fascinating to me. A few of my relatives are dentists, so I looked up to them and went to clinics to see their work. Plus, being a doctor feels good.” Shivangi sees a fundamental difference between dentistry in India and here. “If I compare the dental prices, it’s costly to get dental treatment.” In India, she used to work with adults - in Denmark, and she’d like to work with kids and have a placement at a folkeskole.
The spirit of volunteering
Following her husband’s career in a brand new country initially put Shivangi in a difficult position. “In the beginning, it was fascinating - you get to travel. It was summer, and I was happy to be here and exploring. But after a month in Denmark, I was thinking: Okay, what am I supposed to do now? Wake up and watch Netflix, is that all life has to offer me? I got bored.”
So on top of focusing on learning the language, Shivangi did quite a few part-time jobs, including working in a dental clinic. She’s also been volunteering with Røde Kors. After all, in a country like Denmark, there’s no scarcity of volunteering options. “I work with old Danish colleagues, so it’s easy for me to practice my Danish - that was my motivation. Everyone in my class said to find someone or somewhere to practice. But I like this second-hand store culture in Denmark. In India, we don’t have that - having second-hand clothes is frowned upon. The culture of recycling and sustainability is outstanding in Denmark.”
Another venue for volunteering for Shivangi was her starting position as an Aalborg Social Media Ambassador - now, she is the Head of Social Media at The International. “I’ve always been active on Instagram. I think it was only my first week in Denmark when I was approached by the Expats in Denmark page to do a takeover. It was through that page that I got to know about The International. So I approached Lyndsay, our Editor, asking how I could apply.” The position suits her. She gets to learn a lot, and, above all else, she gets to interact with people.
Building a network and gaining experience is increasingly essential for Shivangi now that it is more evident to them that they are staying in Denmark for the foreseeable future. “When we came, we didn’t know whether we were staying or not. My husband arrived with one bag, and I arrived with a single box. We thought we’d stay for a year or two. But everything here is much better than in any other country we could have chosen. So we have decided to stay and make it work.”
Ritesh has just signed a contract for his new job at a company in Copenhagen. The interview process caught him by surprise. “He likes it more here than the interviews he had in India. You have extensive interviews where you have to study and answer theoretical questions about your field of work.” In the Danish interview process, the focus is much more on personal fit and employee aspirations. “He was shocked when he said he doesn’t know something, and they replied: It’s better you don’t know - you can learn!”
The job would probably eventually see them moving to Copenhagen - but with their first baby due soon, it won’t be until next year.
But when their baby arrives, they know their child will grow up in a great country. “It’s so safe. I live right next to a school, so I see little kids going to school independently without their parents dropping them off. You don’t have the same freedom in India – and the education system is so different."
A happy life
“It’s exciting - we never actually discussed being parents. We said: we’ll see, we’ll see. But then, when we were here, everything worked out the way it should, so it’s good.”
And so far, the experience of being pregnant in Denmark is very different from what it would have been in India. Her midwife trained in India and often discuss and laugh about the differences. “In India, you can get as many ultrasounds as you want - there is no limit. You are just constantly asked to gain weight and eat for two. You can’t go for a walk without being interrogated with questions like: How the hell are you still walking? Why are you still going to the gym?” It differs from what her doctor told her in Denmark - she has to swim, cycle, and walk - she shouldn’t start anything new. But if she is already lifting weights, she should continue to do so. “I can guarantee that nobody would tell me to go and lift weights when pregnant in India, and I have to explain this to my Indian friends and family constantly.”
Expecting is both exciting and scary. There’s a lot that will be put on hold - like travelling. Or sleeping at night. “It’s our first child. Do we know how to navigate parenthood? Do we even know how to hold the baby?”
But when their baby arrives, they know their child will grow up in a great country. “It’s so safe. I live right next to a school, so I see little kids going to school independently without their parents dropping them off. You don’t have the same freedom in India – and the education system is so different. Homework is not as important as play and interacting with the world around you. As a result, kids get the time to discover what they are good at. In India, it’s the opposite - children are constantly being tested and pressured to perform.
Ritesh puts it perfectly: I don’t care if my kid studies or not. At least my kids will be happy.”