The One Year Anniversary Post

As of July 25th, we’ve been living in Denmark for one whole year! Yay! Of course, I missed this anniversary because morning sickness, so I never did a post for it. So I figured that would do that now.

Obligatory photos of us. I've been a really bad photographer lately and haven't taken any recent photos. I think this is of us on our way to the US in August.

Obligatory photo of us. I’ve been a really bad photographer lately and haven’t taken any recent photos. I think this is of us on our way to the US in August.

Also, I’ve been thinking that it may seem like from some of my blog posts that I’m a little down on Denmark. I have the habit of writing more when I’m upset or unhappy about something (which actually has many health benefits because science!). It’s a way of working through it for me. But when things are going well, I don’t feel as much compulsion to write. And the transition to living in a foreign country as a first time expat is rather difficult, especially for someone like me who is not always excited about big changes. So I’m worried that I’m not sharing the good, happy, and fun parts of our experience with you guys as much as I should be. Because we do have a lot of fun! And there’s a lot about this experience that I’m grateful for.

So, without further ado, reasons why I am grateful for Denmark and this experience:

  1. Brian can work and earn his PhD at the same time. This is a big one. This is the reason we came to Denmark and what makes it all worth it. In the US, this situation would pretty much be impossible. Companies and universities are not at all used to sharing information and copyright possibilities. But here in Denmark, they encourage industry and academia to work together (which really sounds like a good idea to me). So they have this thing called an Industrial PhD which allows Brian to work full time – and get paid – in a company while also earning his PhD, using the same work for both, basically. If it weren’t for this, Brian either would not be getting his PhD or we would be living on a PhD student’s and a librarian’s salaries, which I guess would have been an adventure all on its own.
  2. Denmark is a westernized country full of very proficient English speakers. You will have some expats who argue that it is a negative that so many Danes speak such good English (“you don’t learn the language as quickly”) or that Denmark is so similar to other Western European countries. These are usually the adventure hungry, wanderlust expats. Just to be clear, you will never hear that argument or complaint from me. I am so thankful, every day, that I can communicate in English. I just, I can’t imagine what it would be like to live in a country where that isn’t a possibility. Of course, we are both learning Danish, and I try to speak Danish whenever I can. But there are so many situations in which my Danish is not going to cut it. For instance, I had to call the insurance company today to figure out how travel insurance works. I just can’t have most of that conversation in Danish and know what’s going on. So, this is a big one that makes our lives here much easier. Denmark is just different enough, and I like it that way.
  3. It’s taught me to deal with being outside my comfort bubble. Ugh, it has taken me a while to see this one as any kind of positive or to be grateful for being forced soooo far outside my comfort bubble. The thing is, I don’t mind change or new experiences. I just like them a little bit at a time so I can adjust before moving on to the next thing. A lot of change all at once kind of overloads my system. This was especially hard for me with Danish, for some reason. There’s just something about learning a new language that makes you feel about 5 years old and 2 feet tall. But I have come to realize that it’s a necessary skill to have, to be out there and to be uncomfortable and to get on with what you have to do anyway. Recently, I think the baby-to-be has really pushed me through a big barrier, again with Danish. I’m always uncomfortable starting a conversation with Danes in English because I don’t want to be…I don’t know, the rude foreigner I guess. But as I said above, there are certain things that just work better for everyone if we all speak English. Doctors’ appointments, for instance. And recently there have been a few times where – due to baby-to-be – we’ve just had to get things done and I’ve just had to get over my weird hang ups and do them. And it all turned out OK. So I’m learning to not judge myself so much for feeling uncomfortable or for not being the perfect Danish speaking foreigner, for being who I am where I am on my Danish language journey.
  4. It’s taught me how to make friends. This has been a big one for me and probably is the thing that I’m most grateful for after #1 up above. I feel like after high school I kind of fell out of practice of making new friends. It comes so easily when you’re young, but it got a bit harder as an adult. You have less down time with random strangers, I guess. Everyone has their lives, and it takes more effort on both sides to build a new friendship. So when we moved here and literally knew no one, it was like back to basics in making friends. And the thing is, I actually really enjoy the process. It’s fun to meet new people who are going through the same things we’re going through. It’s fun to compare notes and share embarrassing experiences and complain about Danish. I’m hoping this all just continues when the baby comes and I start meeting fellow mothers. I’ve learned that in adult friend-making, it’s pretty important to have one big thing in common: expat, country of origin, mother, love of reading, etc.
  5. All the great new friends we’ve made! And thanks to my new found ability 😉 we have made some really great new friends. Since everyone in the expat community here is missing their support network, it seems like you bond pretty fast, especially with the people you meet when you’ve just arrived. And it is a HUGE help to have people that are going through the same thing who can share stories and resources. We are definitely grateful for our awesome friends.
  6. The ability to travel. This is also a really big one. Living in Denmark means we get to travel a lot more in Europe, which is usually pretty difficult for an American. So we get all these added bonus experiences, which so far have been totally awesome. It’s not as easy – or as cheap – as everyone tells you it will be before you move, but it’s still easier than coming all the way from the US for each trip. Plus, we get to go places we never would have visited before like Stockholm or some tiny dutch town. I think next on our list are Iceland, Finland, and Norway.
  7. Living on our own. Brian and I have always lived in the same city as our families. And we’ve loved it. There is so much to be said for living around family, and we’d like to end up back in that situation. But I do think that it’s good for us to have this time to try and figure things out on our own. It’s that last push into adulthood, if you will.
  8. The change in our perspective. Brian and I are pretty open minded anyway, but living in another country just further broadens your horizons and forever changes your perspectives on a lot of things. Suddenly you really see that there’s not only one way to do things or one way to live.

So I think those are the big ones. I am also, of course, grateful for little things about Denmark, like the awesome public transportation system, the bike paths, living by the sea, the weather (yes, apart from the darkness I do quite like Denmark’s cool, mild climate, come to St. Louis in August and then we’ll talk). It’s nice to go through this list every once in a while, especially when I’m feeling frustrated about something having to do with being an expat in Denmark, and remind myself why this experience is actually quite positive and why we decided on the move in the first place.

Well, one year down, two more to go!

Bestået! (Passed)

I’ve passed my Danish Module 1 test! Woo!

The test was really not bad, as everyone had promised. But my entire class was so nervous about it beforehand. The nervous energy was definitely high as we all waited in the classroom for our specific test time, pretending to pay attention to the teacher who was similarly pretending to teach her excitable class.

I think a lot of the nerves came from the fact that it has been many (many) years since some of us has had a test, especially an oral one like this. We all knew it would be fine, but the mere fact of the test was making us jumpy.

The test itself was totally fine. Mine quickly turned into a conversation rather than me giving a presentation followed by questions, which I preferred, actually. The lady seemed very nice, and she seemed to understand what I was saying, which was a great boost to my self esteem! (At least until I got back into Danish class and realized that I could only talk competently on a few very limited subjects…) She asked me some fairly complicated questions, like, “What is the process to adopt a baby?” And, “Why do you think they sent a woman to judge if Mie and Henrik were capable of adopting a baby?” These were on the topic of the book that I had read, but I had certainly NOT practiced the answers. So I bumbled my way through, and I’m pretty sure I heard her say that my answer to that second complicated question was very well said. (Though it’s possible my brain was making that up in an effort to stop me from panicking so I could finish my test.)

The only really annoying thing was that I had to wait in a hallway 45 minutes past my given test time because LærDansk is a little disorganized, which did nothing for my nerves. But I got in and I got through.

Well, and the other really annoying things is we don’t get a grade or any feedback or anything. We got a paper yesterday with a single word on it: bestået. I’m totally happy with it, but I’m the kind of student that thrives on feedback, so I kind of wish the tester had at least written a little note to me, like, “Well done, you.” Or, “You’re the most well-spoken Module 1 student I’ve ever met!” Hah, if only.

So now it’s on to Module 2, which our teachers are telling us is a lot more writing and frankly seems much more difficult than Module 1… Fingers crossed!

Danish Module 1 Test, Here I Come

Keep Calm and Learn Danish Already!

Keep Calm and Learn Danish Already!

My test for the first Danish language module is coming up on the 21st, so as I study I thought I would take some time to write about learning the Danish language for those who are interested generally and for those who might find my blog because they’re thinking of coming to Denmark themselves. Now, all of this is based solely on my experiences (and some of it is based on hearsay) so take it with a grain of salt. This is just what I’ve been through with the language and what I’ve heard from other people.

This is actually the last year that the government is allowing 3 free years of Danish language education to foreigners. I think they decided that it’s too much to fund, so they cut it back to 1 year free education. I’m sure you can continue on after that, but you’ll have to pay yourself. Brian and I are grandfathered into the 3 year system because we started this year. Whew.

Each municipality does the language education in their district a different way. Here in Aarhus, everyone goes to the language school LærDansk. They’re also used in Copenhagen and I think many other cities in Denmark. They’re OK. My teachers have been really fantastic, and I’ve had a fine experience at LærDansk, but I know some people who have had more trouble with them. They have a bit of a reputation in the expat community for being disorganized. For example, I emailed them about changing classes more than a week ago and haven’t heard back yet. They also let you know when you’re starting classes literally the day before they want you to show up. But then, think of how many students they have to deal with, students who are constantly changing their schedules and going on vacation and moving to or leaving Denmark. It must be an administrative nightmare.

To start language classes, you have to send an application to the Jobcenter and get an official referral from them. They then communicate with LærDansk, and you should hear back in about 2 weeks about when you’re starting class and what class you’re going to be in. You usually have three choices: a morning class that meets 3 days a week from 8:15-11:45 am, a day class that meets 4 days a week from 12:25-3 pm, and an evening class that meets 2 days a week from 4:30-6:40 pm. They’ve recently added an online component as well. However, you only get up to 12 hours of instruction per week for free, so you can do the online class by itself or combination it with only the night classes. I think LærDansk has a special program set up for students at Aarhus University.

Different people have different theories about which class is best to take. I’ve heard that you learn the quickest if you take the day class because it meets the most often. But really, I think it just depends on your and your preferences. I’m currently in the day class, and I’m finding that it’s just too much Danish. I’m glad I took it for this first section so that I was able to quickly build a good foundation in the language, but I think I’m going to dial it back a little bit. And I’ve met some expats who have decided to not take Danish lessons at all. They know they’re only going to be here for a few years and would rather spend their time doing other things like socializing, networking, traveling, etc.

LærDansk has different divisions for each class, meaning that they try to put you in a class with people with similar educations and abilities. From their website:

The three Danish courses requires different levels of knowledge, which means that your educational background plays a role. Your amount of resources and energy also play a part in your ability to learn Danish.

Danskuddannelse 1 is for you who have not learnt to read or write in your mother tongue or who is not familiar with the Latin alphabet.

Danskuddannelse 2 is for you who have a school education from home perhaps with some vocational training on top.

Danskuddannelse 3 is for you who have higher education from home.

Danskuddannelse 1 will give you the linguistic and social knowledge to live and work in the Danish society.

Danskuddannelse 2 and 3 will also give you the opportunity to educate yourself further at both vocational and academic Danish educational institutions.

So usually what happens is that the night classes are filled with highly educated foreigners who came to Denmark for their jobs and the days classes are filled with their spouses or students, divided by current level of education.

The syllabus is then divided into 6 modules, and you progress from one module to another with a test at the end of each. I’ve heard most people go through Module 3 or 4, at which point you should have all you need to live your day to day life in Danish. I think above that is more like prep for University level Danish. I’m just about finished with Module 1. During this module, we’ve learned to introduce ourselves and talk about our family, we’ve learned to talk about our homes and the food we eat, and we’ve learned about present and past tense and some beginning grammatical things.

After each module, you take a test to make sure that you’re on track and learning what you should be learning. Our teachers have been telling us that the test, especially Module 1, is really no big deal, that it’s less about us and more about how much funding the school can get by keeping their students on track. But still, you get nervous.

The Module 1 test consists of 5 things you have to prepare: you have to be prepared to talk about yourself and about your family, and you have to read 3 easy reader books and be prepared to talk about each one. During the test, you’ll pick a card that tells you which of these 5 topics you talk about and then monologue on that topic for 2 minutes max. Then the teacher asks you questions about your topic for 1-2 minutes. Then, you ask some questions about a picture for 1-2 minutes. And that’s it. The test is 10 minutes max with all the getting settled and picking your topic and everything included. So like I said, no big deal. Once you get into Module 2, I think you’re tested on writing as well.

So that, in a nutshell, is how you learn Danish in Aarhus.

I’ve felt that just going through Module 1 has been a huge help in our day to day lives. I understand a lot more than I did beforehand, especially if I can see it written down (so when I’m shopping or at a restaurant). There’s still an amazing amount of vocabulary that I don’t have. It really feels like the more I learn the more I realize I don’t know, and that part is frustrating. And I’m no where near being able to understand most spoken Danish or to pronounce the language correctly. If you ask any expat here in Denmark talk about the language, they will tell you that pronunciation is the most difficult thing about learning it. Plus the Danes aren’t that used to hearing people mispronounce their language, so they usually don’t have very forgiving ears. But I’ve been able to get through some exchanges at the grocery store in all Danish, and it’s been a HUGE help learning all the numbers.

I’m choosing to look at the language as something that will help us more and more as we’re here to integrate and to get around. But it’s not something that we absolutely need to live and have a good time in Aarhus. Many people here speak English (really almost everyone), and that’s even more true if you move to Copenhagen. When we were just there and hanging around the Center, I feel like employees in restaurants and shops would greet everyone in English first because it’s so typical to have tourists and international people there. In Aarhus, being a smaller city, you’re always greeted in Danish, but everyone is very accommodating and will switch right over to English.

So choosing to learn Danish isn’t a matter of survival so much as it is a matter of integration. I think I’ve come over a little to the side of thinking that I don’t want to spend quite so much of my time learning this language if I know we’re leaving in 3 years. But I’m glad that I have this opportunity to learn a new language in its home country.

And really, Danish is quite fun. It has some wonderful words – like selvfølgelig (of course), lejlighed (apartment), chocolade (chocolate), flødeboller (a typical Danish candy, like a chocolate covered marshmallow) – and some crazy sentences like, Jeg tog to toge (I took two trains). (There’s some debate between Brian and I about whether or not the plural of train means you add an “e” to the end of “tog” because if you do then it changes the sound of the word and the sentence is no longer as fun. Ah the fun of learning Danish.) I really really really encourage you to type those into Google Translate and listen to how they’re pronounced. It’ll blow your mind.