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Valerie Khan (Handout)
Valerie Khan (Handout)

My Career Abroad

Move to Denmark requires more ‘sparring’ at work Add to ...

Here’s an amusing story: Arriving in Denmark, the first thing you need to do is buy a bike. I bought a typical three-speed ‘lady cruiser’ – comfy, but it is like riding a tank. It was a few days before my husband and children were arriving and at the time I had no car to buy groceries. I miscalculated how much could fit in my basket for the ride home. I overloaded my bike, putting me quite off balance.

As I turned a corner, I managed to crash my bike, scattering my groceries across the road. There is little patience or politeness for bad bikers so I scrounged on the ground to pick up my strawberries, bread and milk. The only person who came to my rescue was a 10-year-old boy. Thankfully I had only injured my thumb and lost a few eggs and strawberries.

Here’s a not so amusing story: Danes religiously follow the rules. For example, if the red man is flashing (do not walk) every Dane will patiently wait and never, ever jaywalk. My husband managed to rack up almost $1,000 (Canadian) in fines in the first month in Denmark, ranging from a speeding ticket on the first day we got our car (for going four kilometres above the speed limit), a parking ticket and a train fine (for having the wrong ticket in their strange zone system that not even the Danes understand). My advice: follow the exact rules (even though they can be a mystery to non-Danes) or you will get some expensive tickets.

How was the experience for your family?

Thankfully my husband was able to find a job in his field of IT security. This gave him a network of friends beyond the moms at the school. My children adapted well to their new lifestyle abroad and at their international school they met children from all over the world. They are eager to learn new languages as most of their friends were fluent in two or three languages. We were fortunate to travel around Europe and experience history coming to life.

What things did people notice most about you? And what were people’s receptions to you?

First, I look Scandinavian so I easily blend in, which can be a blessing or a curse (some people didn’t believe I do not speak Danish and simply repeated themselves several times). Danish tradition and culture plays an important part in Danish society so I was always asked about Canadian traditions or food. I always find this question difficult to answer, being a Canadian, where we have such a blend of traditions and are a ‘newer’ country by comparison.

People were friendly but at a distance. It can be difficult to integrate yourself into Danish society as an outsider, since you don’t know the traditions or small nuances.

One interesting thing to note is being a woman on an international assignment. When meeting people with my husband they would typically ask him what he does and why he came to Denmark. Then we would explain that it was through my job and career that we transferred. It is disappointing to see that it is still rare for a female to take the lead and move with her husband.

I also didn’t realize the challenge in meeting and connecting with people. I am a social person and outgoing person but found it hard at first to meet people. Many of the mothers at the international school don’t work so they quickly would build relationships and at times I would feel like an outsider. At work, my colleagues were friendly and I enjoyed working with them but these friendships rarely extend outside of the workplace.

If you have a family, you head home to your family after work and not for a quick drink on a patio. My Danish colleagues have many friends and family in Denmark so they don’t necessarily open up to invite you over to their house for a BBQ.

What things struck you about your location?

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