Advice from an Ex-Student Expat. 

Author: Nikki Hueng, Cph. Sept. 2022

There are two types of expat students: those who study abroad for the experience, and those who intend to stay longer term. However, these identities consistently flip back and forth throughout the whole education, and they are not mutually exclusive. The same question repeats itself every time you meet someone: what are your plans after Denmark? And, depending on which number beer you have in your hand, your answer varies from “I have no fucking clue” to “I like it here and I wanna stay!”  

My journey was a unique one, having gone through a two-years masters program during the beginnings of the pandemic. I had one semester of normalcy before the lockdowns ensued. However, even with some setbacks, I still experienced the emotional rollercoaster within that first semester, finding myself in love with the country, hating it, confused by it, annoyed by it, enamored by it. With the pandemic, I felt like I was trapped in a country that seemed to take better care of me than my home country. But, how long would that last? And, the daunting question: would the country keep me? With an expiring student visa, what were my options? But, did I even want to stay in the first place?

I still firmly believe that people don’t go abroad to study in Denmark with the pure intention of wanting to live there for the rest of their lives. After their studies, my friends and colleagues have found a job, found love, or found themselves just being used to living here. And, so far, people are content with their lives here in Denmark. I, luckily, am in that category, but I by no means found myself in that situation as a student. So how did I get here?  

Through trials and tribulations, I have heard the stories and made my own stories being a non-student expat. And, if you find yourself staying here after your studies, here is some advice I can give to you. Please also note that these are not a 100% guaranteed way of having the smoothest transition into “adulthood,” but rather suggestions if you find yourself in a rut.

  1. Find your group. Remember what you were passionate about, or what you enjoyed doing. Whether that be board games, music, dance, sports, or what may have you, do those hobbies again. Even if the Danish culture is drastically different from what you know from back home, there are guaranteed non-Danes that are part of these groups who may also be in the same boat. Meet new people who enjoy what you do and have conversations about it. This eventually leads to more personal conversations, and voila, you are networking and/or making friends. 
  1. Hang out with people other than your coworkers. This goes for outside of Denmark too. Reach out to your old friends back home or in other countries with the magic of the internet. Also, if you have found a job in Denmark, it’s very easy to hang out with the coworkers in the coffee break room and Friday bars. This ties back to point number one, and find a group or a couple of friends that you can hang out with, so your life in Denmark does not end up only being purely work related. 
  1. Know the visa rules. The Danish immigration laws are constantly changing, whether you’re from the Nordic countries, the EU, or outside. Keep up to tabs on them, and understand the conditions of your visa. If you have recently graduated, you are granted another 6 months of living here to find a job if you wish (at least that is the rule as I am writing this). There is the option of an Establishment card for non-EU citizens if you do not find a job, but you must apply for this in good time during the 6 months. If you have found a job, see if they will sponsor a work visa for you. 
  1. Find grocery stores with ingredients from home. This may sound silly, but hear me out. If you’re planning to live here for a longer period of time, that could potentially mean less frequency of home foods. If you were too busy studying as a student, there’s now time to explore around Copenhagen to find stores that sell ingredients from outside Denmark, maybe even outside Europe. Some Arabic stores also sell goods from South America or Asia, and there are also a handful of Chinese stores that also sell Thai, Japanese, and Korean goods. You may even find that random Polish boutique in Christianshavn. You never know where you would be able to find goods!
  1. Social media is your friend. As much as that sucks, social media is very prominent in Denmark, especially Instagram and Facebook. Find groups or accounts that gather people from your homeland (i.e. “Americans in Denmark” or a Whatsapp group for Brazilians in DK) and learn from other people’s experiences. Ask questions to people who have already been expats in Denmark for a long time, and help those who are fresh and new to the realm of Hygge. 

Maybe, after following some of these suggestions, you find your crowd and the social aspect of being an expat is now a bit more bearable. Maybe, now that you’re a bit more content with being an expat in Denmark, you would like to stay here longer. What would that mean for your working life? How would one obtain that work visa? In a country so dependent on networking and LinkedIn, how do you get yourself in that system? Stay tuned for more advice from an ex-student expat on how to  thrive, survive, and stay alive in the seemingly tumultuous Danish workforce.

Nikki is a Taiwanese-American expat living in Copenhagen, who has learned to enjoy the Danish hygge, the Law of Jante, and the use of biking as a means for transportation. She works as an Administrative Assistant and Content Creator at Expat Hero, where she works alongside psychotherapist Nanna Hauch, and manages the social media of the company. She also works as a part-time lecturer at DIS, where she teaches the Psychology of Adolescence course to American university students studying abroad in Denmark. 

Expat Hero counsels and advises expats, globally mobile families, and businesses with ensuring psychologically safe transitions.