Exactly one year ago today I took my 3rd attempt at moving to Denmark. I arrived on an overcast morning to a rather empty Copenhagen airport, trying to contain my excitement at being spoken to in Danish by airport security and at the same time fighting back thoughts of ‘what I have I done’.
I was hopeful, scared, anxious, excited, and motivated. And despite all the negative emotions, they rested on an unwavering, steadfast, solid foundation that I was doing exactly the right thing.
It’s that that feeling you get in your gut when despite all the craziness on the surface, the foundation is just right.
Moving to the comfortable stage
Living in a different country is like a relationship. Sometimes it’s amazing, sometimes it’s frustrating. At times it’s exciting and you think there’s no other place you’d rather be and other times you just want to throw in the towel and scream. You shouldn’t ever try and avoid these feelings…but don’t book your plane ticket back at the fist feelings of loneliness either.
In 2007 I was fascinated by this magical little place, charmed by the people and left intrigued from continual experiences of a way of life that was so different of my own.
From 2010 – 2011 we entered the ‘lets give this a go’ stage. I threw myself into life here as an au pair with a hope that my love would grow and we’d live happily ever after. It was rocky at first and I thought about giving it up, but after six months the honeymoon phase kicked in. I got an internship, I made wonderful friends and the Danish men had never looked better. It was crazy, full on, wild and adventuresome.
In 2012 it took on a more serious tone. Words like sacrifice, commitment and endurance took a leading role. Because when the parties die down, the city becomes familiar and you land a full-time job it’s a different ball game.
Back in NZ as grandparents grow older and friends begin hitting big milestones like getting married and having babies you question your decision to sacrifice doing life with them for doing it here. And as the quarter-life crisis hits you evaluate your goals in life, the direction you’re taking and wonder if this is the right path.
We’re just going steady right now.
And the reason it’s lasting – like all good relationships – is that there’s an underlying tone of friendship. In other words I ‘like’ this place even when it’s hard to ‘love’ it.
Every morning when I bike over Dronning Louises Bro I think it’s the prettiest city I’ve ever been in, or when I spend time every weekend with people from four different countries, speaking three different languages I’m reminded how richly diverse this world is.
Throughout this relationship, here are five things I’ve come to know to be true in Denmark
1. You’ll never find a better work-life balance anywhere else
Despite the fact that my job can be stressful, you’ll never find another country in the world that does the work-life balance as well as Denmark. Ever. And then there’s the pay. That alone would be enough to keep someone here. I hate to admit it but the pay is so good here that to move back home would mean taking a rather significant pay cut… And anyone with a student loan knows this is a major factor.
The working week is 37.5 hours and rarely would people work over this (Danes think you’re an idiot if you do) And that’s another thing. Danes don’t define themselves as much by their career, as they do by their free time activities. This is a luxury though that only a Scandinavian country could afford to have.
2. Great friends are precious
I’ve had great friends in this country since I was 19 years old. Without those friendships I doubt how well I would have survived here. Moving is tough enough and if you don’t have a great people to surround yourself with it can be very lonely. I love my friends here – they are loyal, kind, fun and inclusive. They bring colour to my life here and challenge me to see the world in different ways.
3. Traveling will always remain wonderful
It was her that opened my eyes to the joys of ‘couch surfing’. Because of her we drove to one of the most isolated palaces in the north to be met by our couch surfing host on the shore of a loch. In the pitch black, we drove across the lock in his tiny dingy to his house in a small hippie community on this beautiful peninsular. We slept in the cutest room in this simple wooden house with an outdoor toilet and awoke to the most stunning views of mountains and endless seas.
It’s those experiences I’ll never tire of, and living in Denmark makes it so easy travel to different counties and experience new cultures, people and scenery. Although I love my small island lifestyle (3 hours flying from the nearest country), I adore being so close to the ‘rest of the world’.
4. Sometimes you won’t be picked just because you’re a foreigner
Danish men just may not consider you an option purely because you’re a foreigner. This is hard pill to swallow. And one that I only realised recently. Perhaps it’s because Denmark in general is not a very romantic country or perhaps it’s because more Danes believe that ‘love doesn’t actually conquer everything’ but many men that I’ve talked to just won’t do it.
I wonder if we Kiwi’s do the same? My friends have all dated foreigners and it’s never even been an issue. However I think Danes are very much homebodies and to rip them away to an island at the bottom of the world would be tough. Plus their bodies would never adjust to living in poorly insulated houses.
5. Life is life
Well that thought came 3 years ago, and it hasn’t come back since.
The reasons you moved frequently get thrown into question and you find yourself in a weekly battle that leaves you questioning – is this really what I want?
I stumbled across a blog recently by an American girl living in New Zealand and I think she summed it up well when she said:
“Moving abroad is hard, it’s challenging and you don’t always find what you’re looking for. Modern media has romanticised travelling and living overseas making it seem both effortless and easy when in reality it can be the biggest pain in the ass.”
Now I’m not trying to give you all a dreary picture of what life is like, but in the name of authenticity I would be lying if I said it was just a life of cinnamon buns, white Christmas’s and parties with fascinating people.
From as young as I can remember I’ve been going into the wild. When I was eight years old and couldn’t watch my favourite television show I would pack my sleeping bag and a book and walk into the long grass in the front paddock and stay there until I got too scared…or someone found me.
Now I’m not about to make an outrageous link here and claim that living in Denmark is like living “in the wild”. Need I say more.
But it’s a challenge in the sense that this isn’t a road well travelled. It’s not a common road for a kiwi to take, unlike living in London or Edinburgh or Australia. It’s what Dr. Peck would call ‘The road less travelled’.
It’s very different to home, it’s far away from home. It’s challenging and it’s an adventure and frankly I wouldn’t want it any other way.