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Valerie Khan (Handout)
Valerie Khan (Handout)

My Career Abroad

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

What’s your name and job title?

My name is Valerie Khan and until June 28, 2013, I was the Nordic recruitment manager at Royal & Sun Alliance Insurance (RSA) overseeing recruitment and employer branding for the Nordic regions, covering Denmark, Sweden and Norway. My responsibilities were to set the strategy on how to attract and retain the best talent to support business growth. I returned to the RSA Toronto offices July 1, to take on expanded responsibilities as the global head of talent acquisition.

Why did you move to Copenhagen? What spurred you to make that change?

I transferred to Copenhagen on a two-year international assignment through RSA. My husband and I love to travel and experience new cultures. As parents we want our children to experience new places to broaden their horizons and perspective. The timing felt right as my children were six and 10 at the time, plus both my husband and I had come to a point where we were looking for the next step in our careers. I raised my hand at work and there was an opportunity in Scandinavia that fit my skills and expertise.

Why was that location the place for you to be?

Copenhagen is a fantastic city to raise a family. It has the all of the offerings of a big city with amazing restaurants, concerts, sports activities and events, yet the pace of life is more relaxed. In Scandinavia there is a focus on family and you can truly achieve a good work-lifestyle balance.

For example, if I needed to leave work to watch my children’s school assembly then it was perfectly acceptable to prioritize family over work. Our family felt safe and secure in the city, giving my children much more independence then they have in Toronto. My 12-year-old could take the train on her own, go to the mall or amusement park with her friends – something that I would not feel comfortable with her doing in most cities.

The transportation system in Copenhagen is excellent (although sometimes you can hear the Danes complain if it is running late or delayed. They don’t know how good they have it!). You can take your bike anywhere with proper bike paths, even in the country. Plus, you can easily travel almost anywhere in Denmark by train, even to your summer cottage.

What were you worried about before you left Canada?

We were most concerned about how our children would transition, although in the end they were more adaptable and settled in much faster than my husband and I. Before arriving in Denmark my daughter was upset and asked, “why do we have to move to ‘Dumbmark?’” Then she didn’t want to move back to Toronto.

We were also worried about whether my husband would be able to find a job. Copenhagen is one of the most expensive cities in the world and it was important that he not only keep busy and continue to build his career but we wanted to make sure we could afford to enjoy living in Scandinavia.

How was the transition? Any amusing stories?

The first few months were a much bigger adjustment than anticipated. My husband arrived a month after me with the children in July. We had imagined it would be the perfect time to integrate, meet people, head outdoors and get the children into some camps. Little did we know that most of Scandinavia takes the entire month of July as a holiday so not many families were around. My poor husband became the 24/7 playmate for my children – he certainly improved his soccer skills!

I arrived in June, 2011, so I could get settled in my new job. A month was the longest I have ever been separated from my family. The first week was a luxury but I soon found myself bored and lonely.

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