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International in Aarhus: I have found a place to call home

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Marie-Catherine Virginie Le Gall moved to Aarhus to study four years ago and decided to stay. Today, she has a strong network and high enough proficiency in Danish to call the doctor without breaking a sweat (almost)

After a 13 hour drive from Senlis in France, I had finally made it. To Rønde. Yes – my first month “living in Aarhus” I actually lived in an AirBnB in Rønde, because I was not prepared for how difficult it would be to find a place in Aarhus. It is scary, moving to a country you’ve never been to and don’t know the language of. I learned that four years ago when I moved here to study for my master’s degree. I came in with no expectations, and besides being scared, I was also filled with excitement to discover this new city. Today, I’m still here, and I am happy to share my experience as an international in Aarhus.

Arriving without knowing anyone, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to go outside of my comfort zone, and so I signed up to be a volunteer bartender at the Student House and at Fairbar. This was probably the best decision I have ever made. Becoming a volunteer has allowed me to meet people from all over Denmark and all over the world, as well as build a network of friends and professional connections. When people ask me how I learned Danish, I can proudly tell them: “From behind the bar!” My volunteer colleagues and newfound friends helped me learn the language, and the customers encouraged me to keep trying through my mistakes and my shyness at speaking it.

Since the beginning of my volunteering career in 2017, I have met many people who have influenced my life in Aarhus. Having a strong network (both professional and personal) is so incredibly important. My network has helped me understand how Danish taxes work, what should be in a rental contract, where to buy essentials, and how to advance in my career.

I had heard all about the stereotypes: that Danes are cold and unwelcoming, that they do not like internationals, and that it would be extremely difficult to become integrated into the Danish society. However, all of these stereotypes have been proven wrong. I have a friend I call my “resident Dane” whom I go to for questions about important paperwork and other “longing in Denmark” practicalities, and I have my colleagues from the Student House to help me with questions about my a-kasse (unemployment insurance) or how internships work when you are looking for a job. I learned that I should not be afraid to ask, because there is always someone willing to help. I do not think I have ever lived in a place like Aarhus where I can always find someone willing to lend a helping hand, no matter what my question is or who they are.

Moving to Aarhus is not easy, but it is worth it

Aarhus is such a vibrant city; it offers events for everyone, so it is not surprising that so many people move here. The city also offers so much help in English for internationals on all levels. There are a multitude of organisations and groups catering specifically to international residents, regardless of why they have moved to Aarhus. In my case, my a-kasse and the Job Centre offered meetings and courses in English to help me in my job search after graduating.

But although Aarhus is a lovely city and I have a wonderful network, it has still been difficult to move and stay here. There are many confusing things that you have to figure out, and I am still leaning all the intricacies after four years.

For example, knowing Danish is absolutely an advantage when staying in Aarhus (and in Denmark in general). Although there are many places that can offer help and guidance in English, Danish remains the main language used. All types of contracts I have read and signed have been in Danish, and calling Skat’s English line is not efficient. In the few experiences I have had with them, they either did not understand my questions or gave me contradictory answers due to the language barrier. Even the Aarhus University English website isn’t without its faults; some information was only present on the Danish version of the website when I was a student.

Today, I am working in a company where the main internal language is Danish, I sing in a choir where I have Danish friends, I still volunteer at the Student House alongside Danish and international volunteers, and I can call the doctor in Danish without stressing out too much about it. All of this has been possible thanks to the support I have gained and the network I have made over the past four years.

If anyone is thinking of moving to Aarhus or staying after finishing their studies, I can say with certainty that they would be making a good decision. Despite the hurdles, there is help to be found for internationals, regardless of how much Danish they speak. And after many moves, I feel as though I have finally found the place I can call home. I will never get tired of the sights, the Christmas lights when it’s dark, the museum, and the kind people. I hope internationals both new and old can enjoy discovering the City of Smiles just as much as I did and still do.