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Sharing, listening and learning in social networking groups

Aarhus and Eastern Jutland is home to many internationally-minded companies and organisations contributing to this area's internationalisation. This month International Community gives the floor to Taylor Fitzgerald.

Photograph: Taylor Fitzgerald

Text: Taylor Fitzgerald

It was almost Christmas 2017 when my Danish partner won funding for a postdoc in Aarhus. There was no question I wouldn't join him; I was almost finished with my own PhD and had decided I definitely didn't want an academic career. Even though I'd been living abroad for most of my adult life, I was still worried about everything to do with the move—immigration, finding work, learning Danish, making friends, leaving the life I'd built for myself in the UK. However, everyone told me it would be fine: I'm American and highly educated, my partner and I were married before the move, and I'd have an 'in' with the Danes through him.

But after we moved to Aarhus in August 2018, my worst fears came true. I tried to focus on the positives—I had time to write fiction again—but it's hard to be creative and optimistic when everything else in my life seemed to be on hold. Danish classes were an expected highlight, and some classmates encouraged me to join the International Spouse Community. I realised I wasn't alone; others knew just what I was going through, and Aarhus began to feel like home.

Through such social communities, I began to meet more people. I even co-founded the 'Aarhus International Fantasy Book Club'. (My co-founder, Rishma Maharaj, gets full credit for the idea.) We meet around once a month to discuss a book. Each book is suggested by one of the members, so we get a wide variety of subgenres and a bit of old and new. It's great fun—especially when we disagree.

"Another positive about being social with no pressure to 'network' is that opportunities open up when you least expect them." - Taylor Fitzgerald

My least favourite thing about Denmark is the network pressure, especially when jobless—it always feels disingenuous to me. But joining social groups is pain-free networking because you're sharing and listening and learning; you just have to take the plunge if you're an introvert like me. One tip is to buddy up and go with someone else (even if it's your partner) so you know you won't feel like you're the odd one out—just remember to be open and try to join in other conversations, too.

Another positive about being social with no pressure to 'network' is that opportunities open up when you least expect them. I got my foot into the Danish labour market, first an internship and then a wage subsidy position, through chatting to my husband's wonderful colleagues at Aarhus University (and with support from AU's Expat Partner Programme and JobCenter Aarhus). Those experiences led to other jobs with AU doing what I love: working in a university administration role to support research and staff, especially with the language. I was lucky enough to be employed throughout all the lockdowns, and even when I'm in-between jobs, I can stay positive. My future in Denmark seems much brighter now. I don't just imagine a future in Aarhus; I want those imaginings to come true.

I try not to gloss over the less glowing parts of my Denmark story because what really helped me wasn't meaningless assurances that things would be okay but people who actually acknowledged the difficulties of my situation. So, if you're feeling this way, know that there are others out there like you. Join social networks (maybe even a book club!)—not because you think those people can do something for you or help you get a job, but just for the human connection. You can even use those connections and the large Facebook groups for internationals to find like-minded people to start your own group.

Love fantasy of all kinds?

Join the Aarhus Fantasy Book Club for book discussions once a month, selected from a wide variety of authors and subgenres. Past favourites have included City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty and A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R. R. Martin. Join us on Facebook to find out next month's pick!

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