As a Dane, I Thought it Would be Easy

Author: Claus Offersen

Moving Abroad

At age 21, after years of planning and preparation, I found myself in the airport surround by those I love the most. While the emotional moment included both tears and excitement, I was now ready (as ready as one could be) to move from Denmark to Los Angeles in pursuit of an international business degree and my personal goals. 

About 14 hours later, there I was, touching the grounds of what would be my home for the next five years. With my eyes wide-open; taking in the views of the busy LA airport, the feelings of being foreign, not knowing, and uncertainty started to surface. All I had was myself, my suitcase, my list of personal goals and the address of the university where I was going to live. 

Despite the challenging beginning, the moments of missing family and all the personal sacrifices, the five years I spent living in Los Angeles both as a student and as a business professional have been some of the best years of my life. While the experiences, learnings, and lessons I gained professionally, about myself, culture and much more are invaluable, the best part of my journey is the incredible people I’ve met – and I think most expats feel the same way. The work, the weather, the education, and the development are all great and essential elements of being abroad; but it’s the people we meet, who make a journey like this and life in general rich and fulfilling. 

Coming Back to Denmark

Just as the moment at the airport when I left Denmark, I again found myself emotional and excited. The most significant difference between this moment and when I first said goodbye to my family wasn’t the location, the airport, the weather or anything like that; it was me. Those five years had such a significant impact on me as a person – big and small, all my experiences, the people, the challenges, the success, the failures; everything helped shape me into the person I am today. With that in mind, I was now excited to return home and bring all my new skills and experiences to my next venture. However, little did I know or expect what happened next.

Just as I felt foreign upon my arrival to the United States, the same feeling rushed through my veins upon my return back to my home country, Denmark. Sure it was great seeing family, friends and participate in all the birthdays and the events I missed while living in LA. However, after talking to everyone, I felt like I was in this bubble. I’ve heard of the expat bubble but being a Dane, I thought it would be easy to move back to Denmark. On the professional side, I was even more shocked. In the US, I received several job offers and opportunities every month yet in Denmark I had a hard time landing a job, which left me to question whether or not moving back to Denmark was a great idea. 

How come I didn’t feel like I belonged here? Why were the Danish companies not interested in me? Why did moving back to Denmark become so emotionally complicated? These and many other questions started to take up more and more of my energy. While I felt frustrated, I knew I couldn’t blame Denmark, the Danish companies, the Danish culture or anything like that. It was me; I was the person to blame. Why? I wasn’t prepared for the return, and that led me into a battle with reverse culture shock. 

Lessons & Advice

Getting through the reverse culture shock (although I sometimes still feel it), I now see five things that I could have done to prepare myself better:

1. Start planning the return months in advance 

Just as we plan when moving out, it’s necessary to plan our return. In most instances, you know when your visa expires, so make sure you plan in advance. This could be a career plan, a personal development plan, or similar assets to help guide you as you return and reintegrate. Most important, having a solid plan in place will also help you cope with the emotions and expectations of “coming home.”

2. Understand that reverse culture shock is real 

Reverse culture shock is real and comes with a whole set of negative and challenging emotions. Being a Dane doesn’t mean we don’t have to plan on “entering a new culture” when reintegrating into Denmark. Make sure to recognize the cultural nuances and approach your return with an open-minded, friendly, and understanding approach – just like you did when you went abroad. 

3. Focus on expanding your professional network

One of the most critical elements for both expats and repats is networking. Every culture is different, but in Denmark, one of the best ways to network is through groups, organizations, and international communities. For me, I went to meetings with Stambord Aarhus, which is an international forum that meets once a month; here, expats and repats gather to share their experiences and to help each other. Through a search on social media and Google, you’re likely to find these groups – make sure to use these networks and even more important, make sure you contribute and share your helpful perspectives as well. 

4. Learn how to communicate your new skills and experiences

This lesson is the one I needed the most! I knew I could do the job and deliver excellent results; however, I wasn’t good enough at communicating my values and skills to the Danish market. The way you “sell yourself” in a foreign country is not necessarily an effective way to do it in Denmark. If you have a hard time landing a job, there is likely nothing wrong with your skills and experiences, but the way they are communicated. Make sure you reach out to professionals in HR or hiring managers and get their feedback. In other words, be proud of what you’ve accomplished but make sure you communicate yourself and your values in a way that’s tailored to the Danish market and work culture. 

5. Understand that it takes time

One of the elements that make reintegrating so challenging is time. As when you went abroad and gave yourself time to adjust to new cultures, new ways, new methods, and new surroundings; understand that the same should be true for your return. The approach of your return and reintegration process should reflect many similarities to the mindset and expectations of when you ventured out. You’re a very different person compared to when you left; allow and give yourself time for the new version of you to reintegrate back into Denmark.

On a final note, while there are challenges both when moving out and coming back, if you ever get the chance to go abroad for an extended time, DO IT, you’ll not regret it!