Living in Denmark

A vicious circle: you can only get better at Danish if you speak it daily – but you have to be good to be able to use it daily.

French trailing spouse Sylvie Reynolds had done what she was told to do if she wanted any chance of a job here; she had learnt Danish. But two years of hard labour taking Danish lessons later, she still seemed to be getting nowhere.

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By Bente D. Knudsen

Sylvie Reynolds had been there before- as the accompanying spouse. Her husband’s job had already taken her and her family to England for four years before the move to Denmark.

In England, Sylvie worked in a small English export business. She has a degree in international trade and speaks English and German, as well as her native French.

So, with 15 years of experience in exports, a language profile of French, German and English, as well as her newly acquired Danish level five (quite high), she thought her chances would be good.

But she was wrong – in Denmark, it’s not quite so easy to get a job, as she soon found out.

Her husband works in the Danish subsidiary of a French company and his career is thriving. Both he and the rest of the family really enjoy the Danish labour mentality where there’s room for a career and a family.

This made Sylvie’s lack of employment even more frustrating, as it was the only thing missing for the whole family to settle in and enjoy their life here.

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Even the right profile is not enough
Sylvie replied to a number of job adverts from small Danish export companies looking for someone with her profile. But in vain. Each time they replied that someone else had already taken the job.

“I think the small and medium-sized Danish companies were afraid to employ foreigners, thinking we don’t speak good enough Danish. But how can they know what my level of Danish is, if they don’t even ask me for an interview, even for a job, where they are actually asking for language competences other than Danish? “Sylvie asks.

She was certain that her Danish would improve quickly, if only she had the opportunity to use the language every day.

For Sylvie it wasn’t enough to be a stay-at-home mother. In the beginning, she had quite enjoyed the time to settle in, play a lot of tennis, and of course the intensive Danish course took up a great deal of her time too. But she missed being part of a social environment and the feeling of fulfilment the challenges of a job give.

In particular, she wanted to get to know more Danes.

She and her family live in a typical Danish suburb, about 20 kilometres outside Copenhagen, and although they have many nice Danish neighbours, everyone had a busy everyday life.

“Everyone works, so they are gone all day. Joining them for a cup of coffee when they come home in the afternoon is not really something they have time for,” Sylvie explains about her motivation for getting a job.

Becoming part of a social network through a job is an experience that had worked well for Sylvie before – she enjoyed her old job so much she has stayed in contact with her former colleagues in England.

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No help from her local Danish “Jobcenter”
Sylvie was quite surprised at what little help she received when she went to her local municipality’s recruitment agency, the Jobcenter. One of the teachers at her Danish course had told her that the Jobcenter could help her find a job or get a job with a salary subsidy.

A salary-subsidised job would enable a company to test her skills, without major costs to them, as the subsidy would cover part of her salary.

But her local municipal jobcentre told her they could not help her, because she was not receiving any social benefits, such as unemployment or social assistance. In short, she was “just” a self-sustained accompanying spouse.

As time passed, Sylvie became more and more desperate, thinking she would never get a job.

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Her network made the difference
Her children attend an international school in Copenhagen and through the school, she met other accompanying spouses and gradually built up a network. Another parent gave her a tip about a Danish language school looking to recruit language teachers for a new project; suggesting Sylvie’s multiple language background can be useful.

She contacted the language school at once but was disappointed to learn that they had cancelled the language project.

Instead, they offered her the chance to take part in a new course, “Kvinder for fremtiden” (Women of the future), a six-month full time (9.00-15.00) course for non-Danes.

It was an initiative for foreigners who speak Danish at minimum level three, so finally Sylvie’s efforts to learn the language paid off.

The aim of the course was to improve the participants’ language skills, enable them to take a Danish language test at the end, and help them find a job, working together with “Erhvervscenter København”.

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The chance came through the business internship
Sylvie recounts how, after the six-month period, one of her teachers contacted the Carlsberg Brewery to find out if they could use her in their export department. An interview was set up and finally Sylvie got to “show off” her Danish language skills.

She was offered a two-month business internship “virksomhedspraktik”. The internship was unpaid but gave her the chance to prove herself.

“This was really a great opportunity for me, I did not know that kind of placement existed, but it made all the difference. After the two months, they offered me a one-year contract in their export department. I speak English most of the day handling contacts with the Middle East, but my colleagues speak Danish. I feel much more confident in Danish now and I understand about 80 percent of what they say,” Sylvie explains.

Sylvie feels lucky that she finally managed to get a job she is qualified to do. She can see now, that the jobs she had applied for earlier were ones she would also have been fully qualified for, but they never gave her the chance to prove that at an interview.

“Danish companies have to realize that foreigners need the opportunity to practice their newly acquired Danish language skills in order for them to become fluent. If I had known about the business internship possibility, I would have tried to suggest that to some of the ones I sent an application to,” she adds.

Facts:

The business internship and the salary subsidised job possibilities still exist and are also available to so called selvforsørgende/ self-sustained accompanying spouses i.e.. people who do get any social benefits.

They may not be the focus of the jobcenter, however, if you find a business ready to take you on, the jobcenter will help you with the practicalities.

Read more here.

Since this article was written, Sylvie and her family have moved back to France.