“The workplace is not where you socialise in Denmark, so you need to find other places for that. And I found them by joining a choir and lots of other different clubs. That’s where the action is,” says 51-year-old Inger Stokkink, a freelance journalist who has lived in Denmark since 2010.
When her husband was given a permanent position as a professor of political science at the university in Denmark’s second-largest city, Aarhus, the couple sold their house in Holland and bought a house in a small village outside Aarhus. One of the first things Inger did in the new country was to join a Danish concert choir. “I sang in a choir as a young girl and realised from relocating in the past that it’s a great way of meeting new people and becoming integrated in the local community. Singing in Danish also taught me the music and pronunciation of the Danish language,” she explains in fluent Danish.
Making friends at the sailing club
In Denmark she’s also realised a childhood dream by learning to sail. As she lives close to the sea, she joined the local sailing club. Then after taking sailing lessons she bought her own boat, and now has a large network of other sailors at the club. “I’ve learnt to sail with no one but Danes I didn’t know. But when we’re aboard a boat on the open sea, we have to talk to each other. It wasn’t easy to start with but today I know a lot of people at the sailing club. Sharing a hobby makes you feel you belong.”
Chatting in the sauna and hacker space
She is also a member of a club for ‘winter bathers’. During the six months of winter, the sea around Denmark is close to freezing point and many Danes enjoy the chilly thrill of jumping into the cold water and then relaxing together in a lovely hot sauna.
“My winter bathing club has a declared expectation that members must be open to getting to know other people. Danes can seem rather reserved and rarely make the first move to engage in conversation. But they thaw out when they’re sitting in a hot sauna.”
The club usually holds parties too. For example, the sailing season is celebrated by hoisting the sailing club flag and every year clubs hold Christmas parties.
Inger Stokkink has found this a great way of learning Danish traditions and customs. However, it’s also demanding and she’s looking forward to the next meeting held by her computer club “Open Space Aarhus”. “As a foreign national, being outgoing and adapting to a different culture sometimes wears me out. Then it’s nice to go to the computer club in a nerdy environment where people understand that it’s OK to be different and not always do things the Danish way,” she says.”
Networking after hours
“When your family has settled in Denmark, it’s important to work on your network,” says Tiny Maerschalk, project manager at the International Community in Aarhus. She offers the following advice on how to build your network: Join clubs, societies and networks in your local area and participate in different kinds of events. The Danes are a little reserved and most of them go straight home after work to spend time with their families and engage in their recreational activities. That’s why it’s a great idea to join clubs if you want to meet Danes in a natural way. Meet other people who are in the same situation as you. A number of international clubs arrange social events where international families can meet and learn more about Denmark and Danish culture.
Create your own profile on relevant websites. This will help you get in touch with other international families or Danes interested in meeting families from abroad. It may also put you in contact with new professional partners or other expats who share the same interests as you. Learn Danish. Even though you might find it difficult to begin with, it really pays off.
Involve your partner in your social activities. Since many partners don’t have a job, they often feel isolated. There are lots of communities that help partners get into networks or charity projects – and some also help people look for jobs or find relevant project work.