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Moving to Denmark for love is not a walk in the park

Navigating the Danish landscape: Challenges for accompanying spouses.

Photograph: Pexels

Text: Luisa Geitmann-Mügge

When immigrating to a new country, most people find it easier to integrate and make meaningful connections through being part of an organisation or pre-set group. Often, this is their workplace or university environment. When it comes to accompanying spouses - who often enter the new environment without being immediately tied to such formal organisations - finding community outside their family or relationship can be challenging.

Whether you move together as a couple or join your partner in their home country, moving for love often creates more challenges for one of the partners than for the other. Many accompanying spouses are living in Denmark and taking on the challenging journey of finding meaningful personal and professional connections.

It is not unusual for accompanying partners to struggle with affirming and reinventing parts of their identity after moving to a new country, as they might feel like they've fallen into a vacuum. Having left most of their family behind and often pushed pause on their career, accompanying partners rely on their intrinsic motivation and individual networking skills in their search for community. This is especially true for the period in their immigration process where they have not yet found a job or joined other spaces fostering connections, which can be highly exhausting.

Finding your people

If you've ever been looking for a job in Denmark, you have probably been told you need to network. As well-meant as this advice might be, it is seldom followed by concrete advice on how to do this magic networking.

Their partners head off to their often demanding and time-consuming first weeks at their new jobs or study programmes - which come with built-in networking opportunities - and many accompanying partners are left to figure out how to navigate through new challenges and hop across several unexpected hurdles from the confining comfort of their couch.

Rachele moved to Aalborg with her partner, who had been accepted into their dream study programme. The couple has since relocated to Copenhagen. Rachele recalls holding a positive view of Denmark and being optimistic about her employment prospects as a trained architect before moving here. After all, coming from Italy, "a country where it's so clear that unemployment is a problem, I was hopeless. And then you move to a country that is clearly doing better. You think getting a job is easy, but then all these obstacles show up, and you're unprepared for them". She adds that adjusting to the networking culture in Denmark has been something she continuously needs to put a lot of effort into, as she describes herself as a rather introverted person and explains that while "there is definitely more (job and networking) opportunities in Copenhagen, at these networking events I am mainly meeting other jobseekers - most of them internationals". While she stresses that she enjoys meeting other internationals who can relate to her situation on multiple dimensions, it becomes clear from her remarks that she is not convinced that these are the kinds of networks that will bring you closer to your dream job.

Kati, who recently moved to Aalborg to be with her Danish partner, expands on this sentiment. She mentions her partner's father's good intentions to utilise his extensive professional network to her benefit. "He knows a lot of people, but unfortunately, it doesn't really overlap with my skills". Even though Kati describes her home country, Finland, as even more tight-knit than Denmark, she has not been able to build the same personal or professional relationships around here and has, therefore, not fully utilised either of her two professional degrees.

Not being confident in using Danish or plainly preferring English adds another dimension. Mathilde, who moved to Aalborg to join her partner who had immigrated to the country as a teenager, describes that, even though she speaks Danish at work and is relatively confident in it, she prefers to have international friends with whom she speaks either English or her mother tongue: "When I meet with friends, I want to relax, and I can't fully do that when I have to speak Danish - my third language".

Shifting directions

Compromises are critical, especially with couples where both partners want a career outside of the house. This holds true whether you are living abroad or not.

What is unique about accompanying partners is that it isn't rare for them to shift career direction to make the circumstances work for them, too.

Being faced with work cultures and labour market demands different to their home country, accompanying spouses often choose to follow a career path which departs from their previous experiences or goals. This can be short-term, e.g., taking on jobs to make ends meet, or a more long-term commitment to a new career, like taking on a new education.

As Kati has not yet landed a job in the game development industry, she took on a remote freelance job to contribute to the household financially. What differentiates the two: Rachele couldn't see a future for herself in Italy and has, since moving to Copenhagen, completed a master's degree outside of architecture. Kati, on the other hand, has a more positive outlook on her job opportunities in her home country: "I've actually done some game testing for a big gaming studio there. So maybe if I had stayed in Finland, I might have gotten something through there. Also because two of my friends were there".

It is these cuts of professional ties and the immediate lack of new ones in the new country that can have a significant impact on not just people's career prospects but also their self-perception.

Get yourself help

For many, moving to Denmark as an accompanying spouse comes with unexpected challenges and pressure to adapt to a new culture and find a fulfilling career.

Of course, it can be of enormous help to have a partner who is more familiar with the Danish language, systems and culture. However, whether or not that is the case for you, building your ties to Denmark will benefit you personally and professionally. As a first step, all interviewees emphasise the importance of getting together with people who can relate to your experiences. Connecting with others in a similar position might not be a one-way ticket to your dream job, but it will help you feel less isolated. Why not join others in the marathon run that networking in Denmark appears to be?

If you were reminded of some of your own experiences while reading this article and live in the North Denmark region, the Spouse Space programme run by the International House North Denmark might be right for you.

Not in North Denmark? Don't worry - many municipalities and international houses across the country offer programmes to assist accompanying spouses in finding a job in their area.

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