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Life in Denmark
Stories from new locals
Liz Steele is an English independent consultant who works with development, humanitarian aid and global advocacy. Liz and her husband relocated to Roskilde, Denmark in 2020.
Susanne Stilling Frederiksen has been her support in learning the Danish language as well as learning about culture during her first year and a half of living and working in Denmark. Here, Liz tells a bit about why she recommends Susanne’s warm, funny, and effective motivational learning method.
Art talk in Danish
I love painting and I wanted to find out more about what was going on in the artist community in Denmark. How people are doing art, where they have exhibitions, if there are any art clubs. I was also thinking about building an annex in my garden where I can do some artwork. And DING! There came Susanne with her amazing network and said “Oh, I think I know someone you might want to meet.”
She organized a meeting with an artist who has an annex in her garden. And we did it all in Danish. I think that Susanne does it very well. I feel that she is my teacher and I feel at ease with her. When you’re learning a new language in a new country, it can be quite stressful talking to someone you don’t know in their own language.
It is hugely positive that Susanne motivates you by saying “Of course you can do it, let’s go and talk to her.” I felt completely comfortable. I made some mistakes but that doesn’t matter. I expressed myself, had a wonderful conversation and gained a lot of knowledge. It was very helpful.
Sankt Hans bonfire and local traditions
Last midsummer we went to the Sankt Hans bonfire at Veddelev near Roskilde. It was impressive and beautiful. Before we went there, Susanne taught me some traditional midsummer songs.
Unless you have someone to help you understand the local context and culture it can be hard to understand. Why are they meeting and singing songs? Why are they burning a big bonfire? What does this mean? But it is obviously an important thing in Denmark. Having that insight into history and culture and being able to join in helps you being more integrated.
As a result, this year my sister is coming over with her family and we will go to the Sankt Hans bonfire, and I will be able to explain what it’s all about and maybe teach them a song.
We also talked about a lot of practical things like where we park and how we find our way around there. And now I know. Susanne’s help makes things a bit easier, makes you feel more at home. All the fantastic support that Susanne has provided helps you get on with life at your new place and enables you to enjoy being here in Denmark.
It is not Susanne’s job to integrate us here, but she gives you the tools both in terms of the language and of understanding the context and other cultural issues and putting you in touch with others. Networking is invaluable when you come here because you can feel a bit alone and unsupported when it is all new.
When foreigners come to Denmark the focus is very much on the language – which is important. But all these other bits are what makes life enjoyable and liveable and enables you to feel a part of society. And sometimes we maybe don’t think about how difficult it can be. I really can’t thank Susanne enough for being much, much more than my Danish teacher.
What is konfirmation?
Recently I got invited to my neighbour’s son’s konfirmation. I know it’s a very important celebration in Denmark, but we don’t have it in the UK. You wouldn’t know what it means and what you might do there.
So, I asked Susanne about it. What do you wear and what about presents and so on? Having that insight helps me feel OK. Now I know what kind of event It will be, how we should dress or what we could bring. It makes me feel more at home and it helps me do things that I might otherwise say no to. But now I am sure it will be a great experience. I can’t wait.
Susanne’s support and motivational learning method really makes it fun and challenging in a good way. You don’t realize that you’re learning – you’re just living. The secret to all language learning is using the language in a real life setting and chatting to people.
But real-life situations can be difficult to find by yourself. Where do you go, who do you connect with? But when you get there, you really see the use for it. And you also understand the cultural context because it is not just the language that adds to your understanding of living in Denmark. So, when people refer to local things you can think “Aha, I know what it is all about because Susanne talked about it. “
It should not be so difficult to become a part of Danish society.
Motivational learning helps you to integrate into society
I will recommend Susanne to so many of my friends who maybe get a little bit disillusioned with formal language lessons. She is doing the motivational learning and she’ll find out what you’re passionate about and before you know it, you’re learning a whole bunch of new words and some grammar along the way as well. And it’s lots of fun.
If Denmark wants to encourage more people to come and work and live here it is so helpful to have this kind of support. Relocating to another country is not just about moving and all the practical stuff. It is also about how you feel in a community in general and particularly how you can feel integrated into it.
And that’s priceless because it means that people will stay, make friends, have a network, and feel at home. It is important that the whole family feels at home and is thriving here. If not, then they will soon move back.
I will recommend families coming to Denmark prioritizing and taking time to understand where you are now living, and hopefully find someone like Susanne who can open those doors to you. Then obviously it is up to you to take the step through the door. But you can do that quite easily when someone is standing by you and enabling you to see what kind of wonderful opportunities there are.
Summer experiences at Bornholm
This year we were on summer holiday at Bornholm. Susanne had some recommendations which could be put into a historical context, and which might as well be put into a lesson. And we even met on holiday, so she gave some really good tips on places to go and visit. Susanne really influenced me which I was very thankful of. Susanne mentioned the famous artist Oluf Høst. And because Susanne knows me so well, she was able to point it out to me at say “You might enjoy this”. So, the boys of my family went off to the war museum and I went to the art museum, that I really wanted to see. That was great.
Susanne also taught me about the famous Bornholm culinary speciality smoked herring and we went to see a smokehouse in Gudhjem. So even though Susanne is not particularly fond of smoked fish, she likes to help people experiencing it and all other Danish cultural, culinary, and historical treats. And I had the opportunity to host a wonderful barbecue to Susanne and her family. We do quite a lot of things that are far beyond traditional lessons and it really trains you in Danish language as well as culture ant it just helps you get along and finding your way in Danish society.
I keep my fluency through conversations with Susanne
I came to Denmark in 2016 and I initially followed the Danish classes that are organized by the state of Denmark, and I learnt sufficient Danish for everyday communication, but after I finished those courses, I wanted to continue practicing my Danish to improve further. It is important to be good at Danish because I supervise students in Danish and meetings and e-mails are often in Danish.
As I was looking for a way to improve my fluency in Danish, I met Susanne at a social event she organized where international students and employees meet and talk Danish. I liked the concept very much and asked her if she could teach me some more Danish. For two years now we have met an hour once a week to practice Danish. Sometimes we meet online but mostly it is here at campus. RUC generously supports my lessons with Susanne financially.
The meetings with Susanne consist of conversations about different relevant subjects rather than lessons. At the same time, we also focus on pronunciation and vocabulary. We talk about many different subjects. Current politics for instance. Sometimes we read a text – a newspaper article or something we found on the internet, for example on the websites of DR or Altinget. And we’re also looking into university politics and what is going on in my world here at the university. They are all real-world texts, and the same sources Danes would read, and they are at a high level in terms of language, content, and complexity. One example of a resource we use are books from the series Tænkepausen. These are small books that contain popularized knowledge on different academic fields written by academics but aimed at a wider audience.
Susanne helps me improve my fluency as well as my knowledge of Danish culture and society. And she helps me prepare for situations in which I use Danish at the university, for example in meetings or when I am supervising students. My classroom teaching is in English, but I also supervise and communicate with students in Danish.