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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Copenhagen, Denmark

Dec 19, 2017

Copenhagen, Denmark

An expat in Denmark talks about what it's like to move to Copenhagen. Meeting people and making friends isn't easy in Denmark, because Danish people are reserved and take time to get to know. He enjoys the fact that most Danish people are into fitness and healthy eating.

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?


Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

Yes, received cross cultural training from my company after I moved to Denmark.

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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

They speak Danish officially, but nearly everyone (95+% of people I have met) speak English, to a high standard (nearly the same as a native English speaker). Have not had to learn the language and besides a few phrases, do not plan on doing so, as my employer does not require it nor do any of my daily interactions.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

Yes, I heard the standard of living was lower than that back home in the States, and the cost of living in Denmark is much higher than most countries. Was also worried about how small the city was compared to other metropolitan areas I was used to.

How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

Very significant, Copenhagen definitely takes some time adjusting to. From an expat perspective, having a family definitely makes it easier, as some of my colleagues who came here solo have struggled to find people to talk to. Even with a family or an already existing network of friends, it is still quite difficult. There isn't a language barrier but culturally Danes are more reserved, they are quite nice and open once you become close with them but the process of becoming close with them is quite a tough one, so I've been told from many fellow expats.

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

The honeymoon phase lasted for a few months, having arrived in summer the weather was nice and there were many opportunities to go outside. The irritation phase started when seeing Copenhagen and taking it all in was over, and then I was done exploring the city but still did not adjust. At times I wished why I moved here (anger), and rejected the culture phase, but eventually settled in, although I most definitely recognize for me at least, this is nothing more than short-term.

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

Did have culture shock, but was not extremely sad or angry, more annoyed. Definitely homesickness though, but it gets better with time.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

I appreciate for one the Danish fitness aspect, the culture here is very much that which encourages a healthy lifestyle, as many residents of the city walk and bike frequently, as well as engage in other forms of exercise. Diet and nutrition are also important and many focus on incorporating healthy food groups into the diet. Danish culture is also very straightforward, which is good and cuts to the point. And of course: language, for an English native/fluent speaker, this is a safe haven, as Denmark is very good for an English speaker as almost all of the population speaks grade A English.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Definitely the closed off vibes that I got in general from the culture, it will be hard especially if you are loud and outgoing. There is hardly variety here, the same trends and produce and people, little multiculturalism.

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

Denmark overall can be summarized as a place where the cost of living is high, less variety of everything, and a reserved culture; however the culture is very proficient in English, and the healthy lifestyle is fantastic, along with the beautiful landscapes and strong Danish sense of humor.

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Expect to live in an apartment and not a home unless you have a very large budget for housing expenses. CIS and Rygaards are the only international schools I would recommend in any way. When setting a budget, double or triple it. And, lastly, rent through a rent manager and NOT directly with a home owner.

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