Archive for April, 2011

It’s amazing how fast time has passed in my time in Copenhagen as a Fulbright student.  I’ve been here for 9 months and have learned so much about myself, about Denmark and perceptions of the U.S. on a global level.  I’ve now pretty much decided to stay in Denmark a bit longer.  First, I would like to finish my education and hopefully get a job.  I’ve been battling this decision for quite some time in light of all the media attention about immigrants coming to Denmark.  Every time I’ve read a new article, it’s been something about immigration in Denmark, whether it’s about non-Western immigrants taking advantage of the welfare state or how the new points system is unjustly weeding out skilled workers that Denmark actually needs. Undoubtedly, the media plays a large role into what we are informed about but also how we might react to what we are informed about.  I have mixed feelings about the Danish points system but I digress from really taking a stance on it.

I’ve spent much time, looking through the Immigration Website to see what are some of my options for extending my stay/moving to Denmark and it can actually be quite confusing.  You are either stuck between the feeling of being in a society that does not want you here or being afraid of applying for the wrong type of permit and ultimately losing a decent amount of money, especially for a student.  So after checking the website, I decided to check things out for myself and visit the Immigration Service Centre to navigate through some of the confusion.

Upon entering, I noticed all types of people and most appeared to be non-Western immigrants.  But that was only from my own biases of what someone who belongs to the non-Western immigrant group might look like.  I mean sometimes, I’ve been even classified as a non-Western immigrant (not that it is a bad thing to be called a non-Western immigrant, as it seems to carry a negative undertone sometimes in Denmark) until I’ve said I’m from the U.S.   But I can say, most were not people who would be perceived as ethnic Danes.

From the picture that the media has depicted of the Immigration Services and all the controversy, I really expected rude customer service and people who probably wouldn’t be that helpful because they just want to get foreigners out of the country.  But from observation and experience alone, I experienced something completely different.  The customer service representatives were friendly and helpful to everyone.  The guy at the Information desk basically walked me through what I was and was not eligible to apply for and then gave me the correct forms, as I watched him do the same for every person before and after me.  This also applied to the other lines that I could see or the Danish that I could understand.  The guy even cracked a joke, dredged in typical Danish humor.

Maybe it was the combination of expecting something only to have a completely different experience or that I just wanted to feel welcomed despite everything that the media keeps saying about the state of immigrant affairs in Denmark.  We can easily blame the media but we must also keep in mind that the media is not a monolithic force, it can very much be a reflection of society, be it some or most of society.  That part, I am definitely not ignoring.  I do know that I experienced friendly and helpful Service Centre Representatives at the Immigration Office and that totally made me feel a bit more at ease about the Danish society compared to what I’ve been constantly reading about in the Danish newspapers.  I only hope this continues to be characteristic of my experience as I continue through this process.


Yesterday, I walked into a Danish sandwich shop and at first I thought I’d just order it in English.  But I’ve been to this sandwich shop before and I promised the person fixing my sandwich that the next time I came by, I would order in Danish.  So, I walked in and she had actually remembered my promise from about 2 months ago.  At first, I was a bit hesitant but it was about time that I put, “Jeg vil gerne have” (I would like…) to use.  So, I went for it and what transpired was actually a good moment.

I was actually able to order my sandwich and work my way through the payment, all in Danish.  We didn’t switch to English and I didn’t get a “Hva’” or “Hvad siger du?”  This may not seem like a big deal but for me it was truly a confidence booster. At this stage of learning Danish it’s all about learning the grammar, definitely the pronunciation and listening, but most importantly building confidence.

After the year 1864 in the Second War of Schleswig when Denmark suffered a series of defeats and territory losses that reduced it to its current size now, Denmark has been strongly focused on preserving its culture, its national identity, its welfare state and most of all its language. When putting the population size into perspective, Denmark is a country of about 5.5 million people and maybe 95% of the people speak English.  Danish only really needs to be learned if you plan on living in Denmark for an extended period of time.  So you’re constantly battling with the question of, should I even learn Danish?

My reply is, yes.  I think learning Danish is a gateway into the culture.  Danish is a straightforward language riddled with dry humor.  Compared to English, I don’t think Danish has that many words.  But, when comparing English to Danish, I think English is quite metaphorical and can sometimes tend to not be as straightforward or specific. For example, the Danes have four different words for “to think”, (at mene, at tro, at tænke, and synes).  I mean how specific can you get?  And trying to distinguish between the four verbs can sometimes be quite challenging.  I think when I figure those four words out and how to effectively use my glottal stop, I will have mastered Danish.  🙂

What yesterday’s experience taught me was that many foreigners learning Danish could benefit from more Danes that are willing to give them the opportunity to practice.  Many foreigners learning Danish actually love to practice but keep encountering Danes that keep replying back in English or have the belief that one should either speak Danish 100% correct or don’t speak it at all.  I’m sure many of the foreigners that are learning Danish have experienced, the notorious “Hva’ ” or “Hvad siger du?”, that just makes you feel like you are never saying anything right.   But as one that is actively learning Danish, I’ve learned 3 practicing tips in helping to build confidence in this stage of learning.

  1. If you want to avoid, a “Hva” or “Hvad siger du?”, try to speak up a bit more.  Sometimes when you think you might pronounce the sentence incorrectly, one has the tendency to speak softly.  Therefore, it might not always be that you have said the word incorrectly.  Sometimes, speaking with confidence helps build confidence.
  2. Don’t always feel bad about speaking slowly; the rule of thumb has been it’s better to pronounce the words correctly than to try to just say them quickly to prove your proficiency.  What I’ve discovered is that although Danes know English they are usually pretty self-conscious when they have to use it.  So, putting this into perspective, you’re just two self-conscious people trying to find the best way to communicate with each other.
  3. Until you have built up your confidence start with, “Jeg vil prøve at tale dansk….” which means “I will try to speak Danish…”  This helps prepare the Danish person, so they can know that you’re practicing Danish and most find it quite exciting that you would even take the time out to learn their language.

Overall, this is just a beginner’s advice as I am only in Studieskolen, Module 2.2.  Of course the obvious key to all of this is to practice as much as possible but I think often the confidence building part of learning Danish is sometimes missing.  Even as I am giving this advice, I still have to remember to apply it to myself. J

Last Saturday, I attended an event called, “Matchmingler” and no it wasn’t a dating event.  Matchmingler was an event with about 160 students and post-graduates all interested in startups & innovations divided into the four categories: Computer Science & Technology, Business & Social Science, Natural- & Life Science, Design & Media.  Throughout the day we were given speeches and the opportunity to network, share and develop our entrepreneurial ideas with each other.

Here is a recap of the day.

Anne Skare Nielsen: Be Open
Chief futurist of the futurist company, Future Navigator
Anne’s talk was about not doing what other people do, but about being yourself and following your heart.  Her belief was that we are in an era of constructive visions.  Life has become not about having more but about how can we make it better?  She discussed how we can transform our minds.  We have the social mind, the narrative mind, and the transformational mind.  The social mind says: “World is out of my hands”, the narrative mind says: “I am playwriter in my own life”, and the transformational mind: “What can I do with what I have, every time something happens in my life”.  What we need to all do is strive to reach the transformational mind and to realize that it doesn’t always take a long time.

Nicolai Moltke-Leth: Commitment and Risk
Former Special Forces Soldier
Nicolai began with the quote, “The greatest danger for the most of us, is not that our aims are too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” Therefore, his speech talked about unleashing our inner power.  He thinks that what differs among people is not our abilities but the quality of our mindset.  Therefore, what are you willing to sacrifice to reach whatever you like?  It could be that you are focusing on the wrong thing.

A stable foundation for what you want is believing in yourself.  Therefore, you have to step  out of your comfort zone into a zone of development.  The key to doing that is tackling your fears!  He thinks we think and act within 3 levels, a green, yellow and red zone.  Now imagine this circle in three layers, in the middle or core is the green part and this is when we have the most control, the yellow part is the caution zone and the red zone is the zone that is on the furthest to the outside of the circle, it is the zone dominated by our fears.  What we must do is focus on increasing the green part or the core so that we eventually push the circle to its outer limits thus eliminating or greatly reducing the yellow and red zones.

Alex Farcet: What can I do for you?
CEO Startupbootcamp
Alex’s speech focused on networking.  He asked the question: What type of networker are you?  Are you an open, active, or closed networker?  Therefore, he explored the networking tool, LinkedIn and gave 5 tips for how to maximize usage of LinkedIn.
1)       NEVER use the default invitation text, personalize it when asking someone to join your network.
2)      WORK on your summary section, people read this and rarely scroll down unless interested in what your summary has to say.
3)      Keep your STATUS updated, maybe even link your Twitter page to LinkedIn.
4)      HELP Google by filling out the “Additional Information” section of your LinkedIn profile.
5)      JOIN groups.  This helps you meet people with similar interests.

After the speakers we had a networking session in which we got to discuss our ideas with each other through a walk through Frederiksberg Garden.  We finished off the event with a 3 course dinner in which after each course we had to switch tables and meet someone new!

Denmark is a knowledge-based society and this program was definitely one of the indicators of why Denmark thrives from people with innovative and creative ideas.  It’s a small country with a loud voice.  If it is to survive within the era of globalization and the recession, it has to continuously produce people that can generate new ideas and create more businesses that focuses on making what we already have, better.  Think of the co-founder/creator of Skype, Janus Friis, who is actually Danish.  Before Skype, there were instant messaging programs such as AOL and Yahoo, but Skype took the idea of those programs to an even higher level.

Most importantly, this program affirmed that people with a business background aren’t the only people who can be entrepreneurs!  If you want a desired result or outcome in your life, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, share and enhance your ideas with other people.  Success is not always a solitary act.  At the same time, find your own originality and don’t be a standardized product.  One of the keys to overcoming your fear is realizing that many share the same fear and thus that you are not alone in your fears, particularly the fear of not being good enough.  When networking, find people who resonate with what you want, desire or like. We are social creatures and thus a strong social network is highly beneficial in the development of your ideas and even yourself.

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