What it’s Really Like to Live in Denmark with Kate Dahl

What it’s Really Like to Live in Denmark with Kate Dahl
Kate Dahl

Episode Description

In this episode of the Expat Empire Podcast, we will be hearing from Kate Dahl. After growing up in a more conservative religious community in Michigan, Kate was ready to experience a totally different way of life in Europe. She moved to Flensburg, Germany for graduate school and then to Denmark to be with her husband. Following 4.5 years of difficulties adapting to the Danish technology startup scene, Kate has started Career Denmark to help foreigners better showcase their values and skillsets to Danish employers. Kate shares a lot about her upbringing and learnings from years spent in Germany and Denmark in this episode, so enjoy listening to her stories and advice in this insightful episode!

LEARN in this episode:

✔ The value of travel and seeing the world that can bring friends and family together

✔ The reality of what life in Denmark is like, especially in regards to working there

✔ Tips for finding jobs in Denmark and around Europe

FIND Kate at:

► Career Denmark: http://careerdenmark.dk/

► LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/careerdenmark/

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Video Episode Transcript


Welcome to the Expat Empire Podcast, the podcast where you can hear from expats around the world and learn how you can join them.

Hey guys, before we get to the interview, I want to remind you that we’re offering free 30-min consulting calls to anyone interested in moving abroad. 

Whether you’re thinking about retiring somewhere warm, starting an international career, or becoming a digital nomad, we’re ready to help you think through the next steps in your journey. 

Send us a message at https://expatempire.com to schedule your call today!

With that said, let’s start the conversation.


David McNeill: [00:00:46] Hey, Kate, thanks so much for joining us today on the Expat Empire Podcast.

Kate Dahl: [00:00:50] Thank you so much for having me, David. It’s such a pleasure to, yeah, talk to you. And I’m looking forward to have a good conversation of what it’s really like to live in Denmark. So, yeah.

David McNeill: [00:01:02] Exactly and it’s a place that I’ve personally really enjoyed visiting. So I’m super excited to hear about your thoughts on what it’s like to actually live there and, of course, how you’re helping people do that through your business as well. But before we dive into the Denmark portion, I’d love just to hear a bit about your overall story if you give it to us in kind of a nutshell where you’re originally from, where you’ve lived so far and where you’re currently living.

Kate Dahl: [00:01:23] Yeah, sure. So I am American as well, such as yourself. And I come from Michigan. I come from a very small town in the middle of nowhere. So if I give that name, no one is going to know. But if I say Detroit, everyone knows Detroit, so I’m going to say, so I’m from there and or I come from a small village in from Michigan. And yes, long story short, I’ve lived in Europe for about 13 years now. I’ve lived in Germany, currently I live in Denmark. I came to Denmark to be with the love of my life. Actually, Denmark was an accident, it shouldn’t have happened to be honest. I was studying abroad; I decided to stay in Germany to do my master’s. And then, you know through a mutual friend, I met the love of my life and decided to reinvent myself and come to Denmark.

I have my Master of Arts in Humanities within the European studies just means political science in the EU, in economics. And so and what I do now is I teach internationals how to communicate their value to Danish companies in a Danish cultural context. And what that just means is jobs or strategies based on my experiences. And I focus more on the cultural contexts and also just focus more on the practical side when it comes to job searching as well, because it’s my own story. It’s my own experiences. You know, I’ve had… before I’m doing what I do now, I was in sales in Denmark for four and a half years within a startup sales industry and had more than five jobs within four and a half years, which is a lot, crazier a lot, maybe too much. But, you know I wouldn’t be doing what I am today without those experiences. So, yeah, that’s really my story in a nutshell.

David McNeill: [00:03:21] Yeah. Amazing. Well, going back to the very beginning, starting, I guess, with Germany. So how did you end up giving the interest in moving abroad and to Europe and to Germany in particular? Maybe there’s a longer story there from, you know when you were very young or maybe it happened, at you know the snap of the fingers and you just moved over to Germany. So I’d like to hear about your beginnings and interest in living abroad.

Kate Dahl: [00:03:44] Yeah. So really, my experiences or wanting to move abroad, it’s always kind of been inherent. Like, I have just a very curious nature and I always want to know what was on the other side as being an American. You know, we’re always interested in our ancestry, like where do we come from? Right. And I have on my mother’s side, which is Polish and my dad’s side is German. And so I had that interest to want to do it. But it was always a bit suppressed because I come from a very conservative religious community in Michigan and, yeah, they don’t really understand the difference between communism and socialism. So that may or being a social democracy and that can actually work together. So they were a bit confused by that. But anyways, and really what kind of pushed me toward that edge of like, really saying I’m just going to do this. I don’t care what my family says. I’ve had two exchange students that came to my high school. One was a Dane and one was a German. And we did everything together in high school. And once they have confirmed my ideas and beliefs on life and how I want to live, they’re like, oh yeah, that’s totally, okay. And I was like, really? This is fine. Like, you don’t judge me for this. And they’re like, Oh yeah, totally. Like we’re totally rooting for you, like no problem. And then that kind of got me to, to give an excuse to come to Europe. And I came to visit my friend from Denmark and came to visit him back.

And, oh, my God, that was like, yeah, it’s been a long time now. It’s been it was like about 11, 12 years ago when I first came to Copenhagen. I was 18 and just went for it. And I loved it and said, you know what, I’m going to come back, and so I took Germany when I decide to study abroad when I did, my bachelors at Central Michigan University was because essentially it was cheaper at the time, the Euro was much, much cheaper than the Danish Krona. Now, the Euro and the Danish Krona are about the same in currency right now. It’s not that big of a difference right now, to be quite frank, probably because of COVID. But, yeah, that kind of pushed me over the edge to say, like, this is where I want to be. And then once I studied abroad and saw how Germany was, I was like, oh, this is actually really cool. I want to come back, and I knew that if I came back, I was going to come in, definitely. So then I went back, I did some courses I need to finish up for my Bachelors, came back to Germany and finished up my Bachelors while I was in Germany from Central Michigan University, was an au pair, applied for a master’s program in Flensburg. And I got in and then the rest is history, really, so yeah.

David McNeill: [00:06:46] So how did you decide to pick the city of Flensburg to do your studies and to study that major in particular?

Kate Dahl: [00:06:51] Yeah, honestly, I knew I want to continue my studies with European Studies. I did my Bachelor of Arts actually as well in European Studies. But that was more like it was more a sociology, to be quite honest. And so I wanted something that was more political science, economics and more targeted, more about learning about the European Union and where European studies from my bachelor was more like culturally, I would call it cultural studies, more or less. And so I was looking into different programs, I honestly went to Flensburg because it was cheaper and it was a bit more academic and it was really tough because there were a few other programs that I was looking into. There was one in Breman that I was considering to do, and it was a one year program and it was definitely a lot more practical, but it was just super expensive.

And I just decided, well, I could do it in one year. But I also wanted to take the time to do my studies because I did my high school diploma in three years. And then I did my bachelor like within three years as well. And I thought, okay, well, maybe it’s okay to like instead of feeling like I have to like, speed through, like instead of going hardcore studies all the time that I’ve done in my life, I just decided that maybe I’ll just take this to really take the time to do it instead of feeling like I need to go through my life very quickly and wanted to really enjoy it. And also, I was really interested in the border studies. It was like I was pretty close between my two friends, one in Germany and one in Denmark. And so Flensburg was just kind of that nice middle city. And so I thought, you know what, like let’s go for it and let’s do it. I mean, I don’t regret it.

There are some… looking back, I was thinking like, well, I maybe could have done this or this, major, but I decided to go for European studies because really want to educate myself on Europe, and I felt that my education of Europe was lacking, especially within the cultural studies department, because, I mean, I went to a private school, a religious school, and I felt I had to relearn everything completely. And I felt that my education was lacking in a lot of ways because I was also taught…like, I’ll give you an example. As part of the religion that I grew up with, I was taught that the European Union was a sign that it was like the sign that it was like the end times in Armageddon. And it’s like really like that one first chapter of like, okay, this is the first step to like there being one world government, and then that’s the sign of the Antichrist coming and so on. And then they thought, oh my God, European Union, that’s the first step.

And so I just kind of did it to rebel. Oh, really I was like, well, I’m going to find out what this really is. And then once I studied it, I was like, oh, this is actually really interesting and I really like it. And thought it was an interesting concept. So it really was just more like reeducation, really. And so and that’s why I studied it, because it was what I genuinely was interested in. But like using my studies, like I never really, truly used what I did. I don’t regret it and not at all. Like, I really am happy that I did it because I went from like I had a plan.  And then my plan was to go to Brussels, work at an NGO and go forward with there. And that was originally what my plan was for my life. And then love happened and love kind of broke that plan a little bit. So you can’t like you can’t have everything control, like what you’re going to do, etc. Like sometimes you have to just go with the flow of life, you know?

David McNeill: [00:10:51] Yeah. Absolutely.

Kate Dahl: [00:10:52] And that’s why I did it in a nutshell. So…

David McNeill: [00:10:56] Yeah, makes perfect sense. And thank you for the more in-depth overview there. I’m curious if I could just take one step back on it as you looked at that program. And of course, it sounds like it was very different from what you were brought up to believe or your initial education. How did your family look at this situation where you were moving all the way halfway across the world and to study these different things, especially within the context of maybe especially in Germany, it sounds like part of your family was from there? So there was some history there at the same time, it sounds like it flew in the face of what you had been taught growing up.

Kate Dahl: [00:11:29] Yeah, it really…I think a lot of it I don’t want to get too much in detail of it, but a lot of it had to do with like my own personal life. My dad was a single father. My mother died when I was really small. And he had three kids to raise on his own, all under the age of five. So I think for him it was just something like being overprotective, I think, and maybe whether it was these from the religion or from his beliefs or maybe he said things to…how to put it. Yeah, just to kind of keep me in line. And I think a lot of it was because he really tried to protect me and shield me from certain things of the world that he was terrified of because he did not understand. And if you’re afraid of something right, if you are genuinely afraid of something that you don’t know or you hear about on the news or in media or like, you know wherever it is, wherever you’re listening to the news and to your information, that can be genuinely terrifying for people, I think.

And I think he just really want to shield me from those things. And I just really didn’t want to be shielded anymore. And I just want to live my life and have my experiences. And I didn’t want to be Daddy’s little girl anymore. No, it’s true. I want to be my own independent woman. And I wanted to make my own mistakes and really wanted to, like, be okay with that no matter what I did. Like that I was going to be okay and I had to, you know, break away from that. And honestly like, I didn’t have a relationship with my father, and for like I didn’t talk to him for seven years and that was a long time. And then it had to turn like my life turned around when I got engaged and got married. And now I have my six month old son, things have been turned around for the better. And he actually came to Denmark and realized, oh, like, these are not like I think he’s opened his eyes as well. Like when you come from a community as like conservative, as where I come from and then like, come to a country that you’re terrified of going to because you don’t know anything of.

And once he was here, he realized that I had a good life, that you know that things are good here and that my husband is a good person, you know and that he’s like, you know good people and knew that I was in good hands. I think he then started to accept it. He might not like it, I mean, who likes their daughter to be on the other side of the world? I don’t think any parent really does to be honest with you. But at least he accepted it and he accepted my life choices. And that’s all I wanted, you know from him. And now we have built our relationship. But a lot of it had to do with, you know the forces of nature, of him being married to another woman who pushed to have, you know, us to have a relationship again. Without her, I wouldn’t be, you know, I’m really like I generally owe her so much like without her, I would not have the relationship to my father like I do today. And now, yeah, it’s funny that, you know we’re just taking that step to travel and to open… And could open your mind to so many things, you know. So in that change and it definitely I think it changed him for the better. So…

David McNeill: [00:15:06] Yeah, I think it’s consistently shown, I mean among our stories, but also the people that we know and the people that we work with and our friends and family, that travel really can change lives. And so it’s awesome that we’re able to share that in this, you know together. But in this context of the podcast and I really appreciate, yeah you going into your story about that because I think that’s a really powerful message. So I guess going now to thinking back on your time in Germany, so you finished your master’s program there. You were able to get the studies that you wanted and a good university and a good program. So what was your thinking after that? It sounds like the plan changed from going to Belgium to work, you know to… love got in the way in a good way and things changed. But just if you could just walk us through kind of your path from there, what you did maybe the rest of the time in Germany and also, of course, how you ultimately made it to Denmark?

Kate Dahl: [00:16:01] Yeah. So I really met my now-husband when I was getting my master’s degree in Flensburg. And so and at the time to support my studies, I was a freelance English teacher and thought, it was mainly children’s English. But I also like it. I did so many different things as an English teacher. And I think one of the most exciting things I ever did was teach the prison guards in Flensburg English. And I never felt so safe in my life, I knew if there was a prison break. I’m like, I’m surrounded by guards. No problem. I’m all good. So but it was really fun and I enjoyed being an English and I didn’t have an English, you know, teaching education, but I learned and was taught various methods by the companies that I worked for and it was fun. I really enjoyed it a lot, especially with the kids. And that’s how I supported myself. Then I tried to do my PhD at Kiel University and it didn’t work out. And then once my PhD wasn’t really quite working out the way I wanted it to.

It was mainly because of funding and couldn’t find funding it, my PhD was based on the Penn State minorities and what Penn State means is like the border region minorities. I was focusing on Hungarian and the German-Danish regarding this European charter for regional minority languages and how this charter impacted certain areas like education, for example. And so I couldn’t find the funding in Germany for it to do my PhD, it was bloody tough. I then lost one of my biggest clients at the time and it was just kind of like my world in a different way, was falling apart. And so I didn’t know, like what to do. So what I did was actually apply for a job in China. And it was because a friend of mine who was studying … I studied and decided to go to Germany from Central Michigan; he decided to study abroad in China and ended up staying in China. And then I remember talking to him and Mark was telling me like you should really come to China. You know, there’s a lot of English…you have English teaching experience. You might as well just go for it, like, you know just, here are some companies I recommend, like, apply for it. And I was like, okay, that’s fine. So I applied, I had the interview. I was offered a job at a very lucrative deal to go to Beijing if I remember. I believe it was Beijing at the time.

And so I was like, okay, this could be very interesting. And so I was considering accepting that offer. And I remember telling my boyfriend now husband about this and that I was sincerely considering it. And I remember that he went really silent and I was like, okay, so what are you thinking right now? Like, well. He was like, why don’t you come to Denmark and move in with me, and that really terrified me, like when he said that I felt like that was almost a marriage proposal. Not quite. But I was just like, okay, it felt to me at that time more foreign to move in with someone to another country, which was just…it was like for me like a 30-minute walk and I would have crossed the border of Denmark.  Right. And that was more foreign to me than going to China because it was like the next step of my relation… I’ve never lived with someone and taken the next step of our relationship and to live with someone. And that would have been, at least to some point, the more natural step. But I also knew, like, he did it because if we move…if I move to China, our relationship would have been over completely.

And I think he knew that, too. And so when he did that, I think it was kind of like a less like last offer resort because I think he knew that like he would have lost me. And so I remember one of the things that I did was to make a list and we make a list of pros and cons of like, should I go to China, should I go to Denmark? What should I do? Because I knew that if I went to Denmark, I wouldn’t have any, like I would have to look for something, right.  And I made this list about all these pros and cons, and it’s just like taking the list and just taking it back and like thinking and I thought about it for some days and then I thought, like a question that really like popped up in my head. And it just was like an epiphany. And I wrote on the bottom of this list, like, what would make me happy? And then I realized that the list didn’t matter at all, like not one iota. And then that was really what determined me to go to Denmark was just because I knew that he would make me happier than go to China. So that’s why…that’s the story of my whole journey of going to Denmark in some way, taking that step and not going to China. So, yeah.

David McNeill: [00:21:07] So was he already thinking about then moving back to Denmark or this was just like how was the timing kind of working out and how was it? Of course he’s from there I guess, so is that sort of what made the decision and did you move to where he was originally from, kind of how did it all work out?

Kate Dahl: [00:21:23] Yeah. So maybe to clarify, he was already living in Aarhus actually. So we met through a mutual friend from high school that I told you about earlier, from my high school in the United States. And so he and…how I met my now-husband or boyfriend was that we met at a party. It’s a cultural party in Denmark called Fastelavn. So it’s kind of like the Danish version of Halloween, so, you…how it is really it’s like if you take the Mexican fiesta and you put the American Halloween party, put it together, you have Fastelavn. And it’s in February, and so I was invited to this party and that’s how I met from my friend back in high school. And so I decided to go to that party in Aarhus which is like a two-hour train ride from Flensburg to Denmark. And yeah, and that’s how I met him. And he was studying in Aarhus ,so we were doing like a weekend relationship. So we were seeing each other at least like every weekend or every other weekend. Or when I was working in the summer, which was my high season, maybe I would see him for like a week or two in the summer, you know, and then go back to having.

But we did this for like, oh, gosh; we’ve been together since it’s almost ten years now. Not quite, but it’ll be ten years next year, February. So we’ve been together for nine. So yeah. So we were doing long distance for like five, six years, something like that. So like a long time, so we were…So it was like the longest relationship I think we both ever were in at that time. And so it was just that natural step. And he and we did talk about the idea of going for him to come to Germany, but his German wasn’t good enough to get something. And he was also studying in Aarhus at the time. And he was doing his master’s planning to do his PhD. And when I did the research about Denmark, I kind of realized that I could probably get something without being fluent in Danish and that that possibility was higher than him getting something in Germany, especially with his field because he’s a Physicist. So, yeah, and it just was like, yeah. So that’s one of the reasons why when he invited me, it was like over, it would have been the notch like this, the next step or the natural step since we were together for already quite some time in a long-distance relationship. So yeah.

David McNeill: [00:23:51] So it sounds like you had a chance to visit there many times over those years. So how was your perspective on life in Denmark and Aarhus in particular? I mean, can you walk us through your perspective going in and then what it was like in the first few months after you made the move?

Kate Dahl: [00:24:07] Yeah. So I really like I would say at the time, I had a really different perspective of Denmark than I do today. It’s like a 180 almost. I mean, I wouldn’t say it’s really it’s more of like a 90 degree, maybe not a 180 but it definitely I have a different perspective now than I did then. Then it was just more like, you know, I went there to party. I went because I had my mutual friend there; I would go there to see him. We would party there, you know I would also with my husband. We would also just…my boyfriend, I should say, at the time, my husband now. And I would say that my perception of Danes and it’s still maybe the same today, that I still find that at the time that Danes were very kind, very caring, willing to go all the way to help you. And I still hold to that today in that way that they’re most Danes are willing to go out of their way to help you. Like, for example, I remember when I would cross the border and, like, have my luggage bag that someone would always be coming to help, like almost anyone would offer.

And then when I would come back to Germany, no one would help me, like no one. It was just totally like different. And I remember like one time I got completely lost going somewhere, and like when I stopped, someone always helped me to ask for when I was asking for directions. I would get that sometimes in Germany, but I felt that it was more accessible, like if I felt like if I needed directions, I had to do it in German, whereas in Denmark I felt like I didn’t need to do it in Danish. You know, and I felt like I couldn’t just do that. And because everyone spoke Danish, like everyone speaks English fluently in Denmark, in Germany, it’s just I think it just depends on the area that you’re in. And Flensburg is like a smaller town, so you’re more forced to speak German, which is fine.

And I was okay with it. I mean, I like I thought I was going to be in Brussels or at least need a German if I was going to Brussels at the time. So it’s like, yeah, it’s a natural step to, you know learn this language. So when I came to Denmark, I never…when I came to visit, I never expected that I need to learn Danish, you know at the time. So and I yeah… I’m just trying to think of other perspectives, really I felt it was more accessible to me in a different way, where it was more about the language because I mean English everyone spoke English and I had a great…And I still have to hold that perspective of Danes being kind and caring and so on, to some degree, especially being friendly. But yeah. And then when I came to… when I moved to Denmark, I think some of those things changed completely. But I guess that will be your next question.

David McNeill: [00:27:02] Yeah. I mean, just if you could finish the thread that would be very helpful. Yeah. Because that’s kind of the big picture, there’s the sort of fun, weekend trip, tourists sort of experience and then there’s the real deal. So let us know the real deal.

Kate Dahl: [00:27:18] Yeah, the real deal. I would say that when I, I think it changed more dramatically within after a few years; it took a while to kind of realize the whole assessment or the situation, if you know what I mean. I never thought it would be so difficult to be with my now husband. In Germany it would have been easier for me to marry a German and get German citizenship. I would have definitely had German citizenship by now if I were to…if my now husband were German. If we were in Germany, this would be a completely different story. Right.  But I have known many friends who have found German partners, got married and they have German citizenship now. It’s not an issue, for me as an American having a child I never thought immigration, even then there was different rules now then and it made it easier. And I was one of the last people who had a green card scheme. And it’s different in the perception of what green card means in the United States compared to Denmark. And even this system doesn’t exist anymore.

Where I was able to work and or like to or have work in order to find something in my field. And that’s what I was trying to do. It didn’t end up going in that direction but I still like to contribute to the economy. I wasn’t working at like a pizza place; I was working on a good salary and decent salary, probably even better paid than most people within the industry that I was in to be frank. And yeah, and I felt that it was easy for me to get positions in Denmark and that, but I felt it was…I was a little bit surprised at how hard it was to keep one. And I found that it was because…and one of the things I learned was that Denmark was still quite an egalitarian culture. It’s a monoculture immigration; it’s still a new phenomenon in Denmark. You know, it’s only been since like the 60s or 70s. It’s the same similar history to Germany, where Germany invited Turkish immigrants and other immigrants to come rebuild Denmark after World War Two.

And in Denmark was the same but then I didn’t think that there would be racism and xenophobia in the same way, because you’d think that, you know, I mean, Germany has won that history. But if you’re on the right side of history, you don’t have to act that way. I think that’s how I feel is a little bit perceived and is and I feel like as someone who contributes to society, I thought I would be accepted much more openly. Like I think even having American having someone as an American working at a company in a startup, I felt like sometimes I was hired just so that then they can say, oh, we’re an international company. And I was the only international, like there were no other ethnicities other than a Danes and one American. And then they would say that. And I was like, really? Like and I would not consider you an international company because you have one American in your team and the rest are Danes.

And so I kind of felt sometimes I was used as a branding tool in that way. And I felt like the…I didn’t really realize about how different the work culture was like compared to United States. And it took me years to find this out. And I was always finding, like, what’s going on, like what’s wrong? And I think it goes both ways, like I think, of course, you can say like it’s all on them. Of course, some of it is on me as well. I’m not like I’m not saying I’m completely innocent in the matter. I think that there’s a lack of intercultural communications training, like the United States is way ahead. I mean, the United States is in a different place, right, because we have a different history as Americans or United States, whereas Denmark has a very different history and doesn’t feel that they need to do that. And they feel like we as internationals, we’re the ones that need to conform, not the other way around.

And so and I feel like it goes both ways. And I’m trying to think of another. Yeah, think it’s really just I mean, of course, the Danish language I thought would be easier for me to learn. I found out it’s much harder. I was more pushed to learn German, I feel, and I was fine with that. But it’s a lot easier to talk German because it has, it’s like English and in German has the same intonation when you go up and down. But I like to make the joke that Denmark, the Danish language is kind of like flat line, like it sounds like, you know, like that heart moderate when it goes flat. That’s how Danish sounds like. It’s like, you know, and maybe if there’s like a little blip, you know, like a little bit, it would be like very little. And it’s like when you make a joke and it’s like, ah, ah. And I’m like, where’s the joke? Like, I’m looking for the intonation and I can’t find that with the intonation for it.

So I think that’s what makes it so difficult is that I can read, I understand, I can you know have some sort of basic conversation, but I still, even to this day, being in Denmark for five years, I can’t talk the way I used to talk in German where I can have a political discussion and to have that and that’s still can be quite difficult in that way. And I think it’s because Danes don’t push people hard enough like they do to some degree. But I think it could be done in a more gentle way with it. And everyone does talk about, yes, you need to be fluent in Danish to get a job, I think is true to some degree. But I think it just depends on the field. I mean, I got something in Denmark without needing to be fluent in Danish. And I think if one becomes fluent in Danish, it not only increases your chances of getting a job excuse me, also just to be accepted and be promoted, there’s so many different things.

But I think it’s talked about by everyone just because everyone speaks English so well. It doesn’t feel it’s pushed as heavily as it should be, if you know what I mean. It’s hard to explain in that context. And I think the other thing is I didn’t realize like. Living like compared it was five years ago, I mean, it’s become now more. It’s right now, especially with the political parties and with the local election coming up in this fall, it’s not about who can be the most hardcore on immigration right now. But at the other hand, Denmark is screaming for like highly educated people and they say, yes, we want people, but then they want to be more hardcore in immigration. So I’m thinking to myself, well, if you want to attract people, especially highly educated, maybe make it a little bit easier when it comes to your immigration.

And I never really would have thought like that I would have experienced especially like sexism, because like Denmark is like there’s so many great things in Denmark as well. I’m being a little bit pessimistic right now, but I will talk about some of the positive things, like I love the welfare system. I’m a huge advocate of it, and I think it’s great. I love digitalization. I love that everything is super centralized. Everything is digital, it’s one of the most digitalized countries in the world. I love, you know that the idea of the social democracy and , yeah these are the things I love with Denmark, you know to be able to pay it forward because like, for example, I love that my taxes can help, like people who are, you know disabled or so on, because it’s like in Denmark, it’s the best country in the world to be disabled and to be handicapped. 

And because I have my husband’s family, they have muscular dystrophy. And so they wouldn’t be able to have the treat or the care, they wouldn’t have the wheelchairs, they wouldn’t have the handicapped helpers, they wouldn’t have the cars to be able to get around like, you know and that’s subsidized and that helps them. And so I’m really happy to do that. And also to know that my son, he will be one day have a free university education system, and that’s great.  And I know that he will have that chance to have that education unless they change the laws in the next 18 years, hopefully not. But and I think those are great things but I know one of the things that will really bug me is that I know that Danish society will never accept my son, who is half American, half Dane, and that they will not consider him a full Dane because he’s born from, you know, an American. 

And they even have this term of like half Dane in the language, and it kind of gets under my skin a little bit. I mean, he is Danish. He will be a Dane and he will be an American. But also it’s about how he feels at the end of the day, and so and to give him that choice and not have society put a label on him. And also it’s just like, yeah, with the immigrations and the phobia also Denmark has now recently is taking away some of Syrian refugee status where they will…Yeah when it comes to residency, some residents will be sent to detention camps and will probably stay there because Denmark, does not have a Syrian embassy. So that’s like a huge deal right now that the UN and the EU has criticized that Denmark is now allowing to take away some of the Syrian refugees residency statuses.

So, yeah, and also there is still, in my opinion, some sexism, especially with my experiences working with startups. I never thought sexism would happen because it’s like also Denmark has a great maternity system and also paternity. I mean, my husband’s going to be on paternity in a month from now, and I’m so thankful for that. So I can go back to work and be able to have a co-working space and have a studio and everything instead of the background I have now, you know. And yeah, it’s just like, you know, these are the things that I never expected to experience because you’re like especially when you come to Denmark or when I was studying about Denmark, I was like, oh, it’s such an open country. You know they accept me, like, you know, when I’m at a party, things are like this and it’s like and the welfare state, it’s all. And I really imagine Denmark to be all unicorns, butterflies and buttercups. And it turned out to be a different story. And I do love Denmark. There’s so many great things of Denmark I love. But at the same time, it also has its baggage that I really hope one day these issues will be fixed. I mean, when it will ever be fixed, I don’t know. I mean, every country has its own issues. But I really there’s some things that I would say I’m very disappointed in because I thought I really, truly thought it was something completely different than I expected. You know. So…

David McNeill: [00:38:58] Right. Do you feel like that’s something that has been rising since the time that you moved there or has this been the case, and it just has really good marketing? I mean, I’m trying to dive in a little bit, if possible, underneath the surface to see why is the marketing and if you want to call it the image of Denmark and what you thought going into it so different from what you’ve actually experienced. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Kate Dahl: [00:39:22] Yeah, I think it has been something within the last five years that has been growing and it’s mostly has been because of the Syrian refugee crisis. I remember when I first came to Denmark that was when the refugee crisis happened of the Syrian refugees coming from Syria and immigrating and starting to move north into Scandinavia. And that really started, in my opinion, started some of the xenophobia. I mean, it’s always kind of been there, I think especially and we’ll also call it Islam phobia. And this has been, I think deep down has been there. But I think it’s also been triggered, you know. Looking back a little bit from the Muslim cartoon of Mohammed back, I can’t remember how long ago it was most definitely before the Syrian refugee crisis. And I remember when that happened, it kind of, you know, and then the whole world started or the Muslim world started to criticize the Danish newspapers for this. I think Denmark has started to really resent and started to really take this stance on immigration and so on.

It affects everyone and also even the upcoming policies and change of Danish citizenship and things like this that will affect everyone, you know. And I was also really surprised in some ways because. Yeah, you know, it’s about freedom of religion, freedom of speech. And now in Denmark promotes this and is like part of the Danish values and also Danish democracy. But now with some of the rules that are changing with the citizenship, it will make things more complicated. And I’ll give an example of what I mean. So one of the rules of I understand that will be changing in Denmark is regarding the citizenship test. And you have to when you take your citizenship test; you have to ask, you know, you have to know questions about culture, about history, like very similar to how you take a citizenship test around the world. However, they will be adding five more questions and so they will be targeting more about what your values are. And so these are considered right values. 

And so and if you answer them wrong, then they’re not Danish values. And what the critique is, is that these questions are more targeted towards Muslims than they are toward white friends or those who are not Muslim.  Right. So and this is what is considered like, you know, breaching freedom of speech and freedom of religion and to like and to be critiqued or not being able to get citizenship because you have certain beliefs and so on and religious. Yeah, it’s very complicated, you know story. And I think this is definitely within one since I have been there, since I have been here, it’s been harder and harder and harder. And I’ll give you an example, now in order to get permanent residency in Denmark; you have to work full time the last three and a half years, within four years, and being in Denmark the last four years of your residency, three and a half have to be working full time. 

So that affects me in a different way because  you know, and that’s, I think one of the reasons why I’ve always struggled because I’ve had so much pressure in order to have the residence. To keep this residency I used to be like four to five or four out of five years instead. Now they’ve changed it to even to be a little bit tighter and stricter in that way. So I was always under this pressure to be full time and to keep a job.  And that was so. And I was always wondering, like, what the hell, like what’s wrong with me, you know, at the end of the day. And so and then and actually what it caused depression and it caused me to break. I mean, it literally caused me to break because all I’m trying to do is just like try to be with my boyfriend now, husband and you know fiancée. And that’s why one of the reasons I started, like I do what I do now is because I just said, screw it, I’m just going to be happy. 

And that’s what matters and that no one should be determining what that happiness should be. I am working, I am contributing, and if this is not considered full time to the Danish authority. So be it, you know I’m working hard to support and contribute to my family, to the relationship, I’m paying my Danish taxes, you also whether what I do is, you know, and I don’t and that’s why I understand is having this business does not and probably will not prove that it’s full time. You know. So and that’s so difficult to prove. So that’s why I just said screw it, because it’s going to change again within because the rules have changed so much within five years and it’s getting harder and harder and harder. And it’s always like, you know, and I remember having a debate, actually, and I’ve been in a lot of political debates recently because the local election is coming up here. And one of the politicians that I was debating with was saying, well, you know isn’t like the fear that you have because I was telling him about my fear.

I always have fear that one day they will be so strict that, yeah I will one day…you probably hear the happy noises in the background right now with my baby. But like it’s true that I am sincerely terrified that I will be separated from my very cute son, where you can hear cute noises in the background.  Right. And I’m genuinely terrified that the rules will be strict, something happens and that they’re going to say sayonara, like, okay the baby is left with the husband and we’re just going to send you…yes you’re married. We don’t care. We’re just going to send you to the United States. And that is something that terrifies me. And I remember the politician was like, well, like, isn’t that just a fear? And I’m like and not the reality of the situation. I’m like, well, the reality is, like you’re making it …like it’s a fear because you’re making things harder and harder and harder, right.  If you’re making things harder and harder, that could be a potentially a reality for a lot of internationals. It’s not just me, it’s just for a lot of people, you know who contribute. And so.Yeah. And so, yeah, it’s a long answer to your question, but it’s a real concern, I think, for a lot of people here. So…

David McNeill: [00:46:02] Yeah. If you could talk just a bit about your experience there as working in sales for these different startup companies, it sounds like that was a rough road for you. And I mean, I only say that because I’m also coming from a very similar experience in Germany myself. I had three jobs in three years. So, I mean, we’re pretty much on par job wise. So I’d love just to hear a little bit about what that experience was like, maybe some of the challenges that you faced and of course, then how it led you to now starting your new business.

Kate Dahl: [00:46:34] Yeah, so I would say that, like I mean, maybe to be clear about maybe the different reasons why they told me I was let go. Some were actually, some the positions were temporary positions. I had temporary contracts. So that’s the obvious reason for one. Others were company mergers. I mean, if you work in a startup, I think if you do work in the startup industry, it is just a volatile industry in general to be in, especially in sales. And so a company merger, you know change in strategy. I would say the last position I take responsibility for or I own up to because I took a strategy I thought would work. It didn’t and it cost me my position. And that’s fair enough. But I would say I mentioned one of the frustrations was that I think that they…I think it’s more of the culture is something having someone exotic in the way of like that is someone who is not Danish.

And the attractiveness of wanting to be an international company or saying that they have international talent.  Right.  And sometimes I think, like when they hired me, they just were a little bit surprised and back because I am a very, very definitely when you meet me, I’m like a very stereotypical loud American to some degree. And they and I think also, like, I’ll give another example what was really tough. There’s this philosophy in Denmark called Jante law or this law of Jante. And it’s a philosophy from the mid 20th century and this idea of being humble and not boasting or bragging. And I think as an American, like when you work in an American workplace, you always want to be praised and you want to be accepted. And that you’re told, oh, good job. Like, not in the superficial sense, but there’s a lot more like, you know, encouragement in the American workplace, at least from my experience.

And when I was in Denmark, it was just like; okay this is your job. You’re expected to do this. And if you do a good job, like they don’t say it and they just like you just do it. And there is no reassurance, and that was really tough, especially in sales, because I was doing …like one company I was breaking like I was the only sales person and you know that we were doing like, really well, like breaking sales, revenue records and doing really well. But I didn’t like…it was tough because I was also told like one time I was told by my boss that I was like a bit much and that like, you know, because I felt like I always had to talk about my achievements because I really just want to be like to be told I did a good job. And that’s all I wanted is that, and I think like that was one of the very, very and because I was seeking this out, they thought that I was maybe an attention seeker and also that I was breaking this. And it’s a law of Jante and like boasting and bragging and so on.

And it’s funny because there’s a lot of Danish companies who or even the company I was working at for the longest time for like a year and a half to two years, they were like, oh, yeah, in the Jante Law  it doesn’t apply here, but in reality, it really does. And they don’t really realize it themselves, how much this philosophy applies or how much it’s integrated in the society. And it’s just…they really don’t know , they don’t really, like they don’t realize to what depth it really goes down to or how much this philosophy has influenced the Danish culture in the workplace. Yeah, I think that was just one of the biggest challenges, I think, for me that I didn’t even realize until much later. And yeah, I mean, there were other reasons. I think that was mainly the main reason is just like both sides just not understanding the work style or like the different work styles that we’re used to because I wasn’t used to that. And it’s funny because everyone in Denmark is focusing on, like, personality tests and like it’s about being the right fit and that this is more important than even if you have more experience in the skills and the competencies to do that.

But I think in some ways that’s a bit flawed because they might have thought of me as being the right fit personality wise, and not that I didn’t have the skills for it, but they just like everything, is based on gut feeling. Right.  And they…but they never…and it was I felt like a good cultural fit or in the way of like personality. But then you don’t take into consideration the different culture styles and they don’t understand where, how I used to work, even though when I was in high school, you know, that this is how , like I’m used to working verses, you know. But also, I’ll be fair, like I think like when I worked in Germany, I worked with mainly Americans when I was a freelance English teacher. So I was used to already working with the Americans. And then when I go working with Danes, it felt like a different country, because in Germany I wouldn’t say that I had German colleagues in the same way because I worked with American companies mainly for teaching English. So it was almost like as if I were working in the United States to some degree, now.

David McNeill: [00:52:00] Right. If I could ask more about just then, how did you decide that ultimately you wanted to then build your own business and frankly, to help other people to come to Denmark, other internationals, because you’re talking about all the challenges that you had . Granted you can tell them about those challenges, you can inform them, you can talk to companies; help them to be more accepting. But is it difficult to be like, hey, look at this really difficult time that I have? Are you ready? You know, how do you give that information and how do you support and motivate people knowing how difficult to do, especially if they’re not fluent in Danish or they’re not familiar with the culture?

Kate Dahl: [00:52:39] Well, that’s a really good question. So the story of maybe first we should go on the story of how I got into doing career in Denmark. It was a few years ago, I was also currently working at a company. And I remember I was complaining I was really unhappy working there, but I was just doing it to get the permanent residency, right.  And I remember just talking to a friend and like just kind of complaining about the situation at the time. And he was like, well, like how many jobs have you had? And I’m like, oh, know, at that time I think I had maybe like four or three or something and within like two years. And he’s like, well, have you thought about doing your own business? And I was like; I don’t want my own business. Like, no, I’m not a business woman. I said I want no part of it; he’s like, I’ll tell you what, kid. And here’s the reason why you should have your own business.

He’s like, you are relatable. You have had more jobs than most people in Denmark have. He’s like, and you don’t even speak fluent Danish. He’s like, you have something, you have a teaching background. You could definitely take your methods and apply them to help other internationals in getting a job, you should sincerely consider it. I was like; I will think about it, you know, I didn’t mean it. At the time, I was like, okay, I’ll think about it, and then I remember I was sitting in Danish class and there was that girl, this is, you know, a while later and telling her about my situation. And she’s like, well, you know, you’ll get something, Kate, don’t worry. You’ll find something, and she didn’t really mean it, I kind of felt that. But I was like, you know, its fine. She’s also American, too. And then it was like, not kidding like within a few weeks I was like telling her that I got a new position and, you know, I’m looking forward to this one. And hopefully this is the one that’s going to stick.

And she’s like, okay Kate, I’m going to admit to you right now, I didn’t mean anything, I said I didn’t think you’d get something within two weeks. And she’s like; I have a Ph.D., am also American. I have been trying to get a job in Denmark for a long time now, and I have not gotten anything I would kill to get to be in your shoes, even having a lucrative like sales position. How are you so good at getting positions in Denmark? She’s like, seriously, I don’t even know anyone who is as good as you, and I thought, well…. And it really made me think because at the time, because I didn’t really. Yeah, it made me really think hard because I didn’t really…like I didn’t think anything of it. And that was just kind of another seed that was planted. And then I like I thought about it after a while and talking to various internationals who have had a really difficult time in getting a job or even any job for that matter. And I said, okay I’m going to do a motivational talk, I’m going to tell my story.

And I said on the point, I met with an organization and then I talked to them and said would you be willing to do this or interested in doing this? And they’re, yeah, sure. And this was before COVID and also the second biggest city in Denmark. So it’s not that big. I can’t I don’t know, on the top of my head, it’s not like as big as Copenhagen, you know. And more than 80 people showed up and it was like super packed, people were standing to hear. And like 80 people in the room is like, it’s still a lot of people. And that’s what it was counted. And I was like, okay, I said, there must be something in this, right. So and then I started doing workshops and they were packed, like every time I would have like 50 people in a room doing a workshop. And I was like, okay, I saw the need, can this be done? And so and then after I lost my most recent job after doing this because and I was like, okay, I said, this must be a sign and maybe I should just do it.

And I became official of March last year. I was doing it for like two years ago. I was just kind of doing it to test the waters a little bit and found that there is potential in it. And last year did really well for career Denmark and really like yes, I do like my one on one coaching, but my goal has always been to get my courses free to internationals and working with municipalities, with unemployment insurance companies here to work with various organizations and then seeing this success on what I do. And yeah, and that’s really the story of having my own business, because you’re right. Like having a lot of positions looks bad in a lot of ways. But I decided to not like to not focus on the negative and focus on the positive, because I just realized that there are so many people here who are struggling, who are highly educated and who are working in cleaning jobs. And there is no way that someone in I.T. who has like who does front end education or software or who is an engineer, none of these people should be working cleaning jobs at all because they should be doing these educated jobs that are in high demand. Like it is in demand here and engineering is in demand.

And I’ve been seeing like a huge results on how to communicate and how to work in a way where it’s more about like my methods, more about or helping them, and not only to teach them how to communicate their value, but also to help the way they communicate, to help Danish employers open their eyes a little bit to why they would be valuable and why they should hire them. And to and even if they’re closed minded, that then they’re able to have that conversation to become more open minded. It doesn’t like… My methods more like, you know, if you there’s a saying American saying that you know, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force it to drink. It’s the same like, you know, I can, I teach them the method that to help the Danish employer to go to the water. But to help them understand. But it’s up to them, to the Danish employer to decide whether to take them or not, you know and it’s also the way of how I teach things are how to put it in a way where it’s also still like my style or like…It’s still some American influence.

Like, for example, I’ll give an example of like one of the things that’s a little bit backwards is here in Denmark is like there are still career advisers who teach internationals to put their nationality and their birthday on their CV. I’m not kidding you, and it’s something that United States you would never do, like you never put in your nationality, never, and like most English speaking country especially UK, well, of course, it’s also because UK and the United States have a different history, right. So and Denmark has not had that history, and so they’re teaching these things because in a Danish perspective, they’re saying, well, it’s because we want to see your personality. But what happens is that it’s not about showing your personality, it’s just of giving an excuse to the Danish employer, why they should not be hired. And it’s because either the Romanian or Bulgarian or whatever. And I’m telling internationals, take this out because this should not be the focus. The focus should be about the value that you can give, not about your nationality, not about how old you are.

You know, this should just mainly be focusing on the skills and competencies that you can bring to the company. And that should be the most important. And I’m already seeing a difference. And for me, like, you know, it’s not so much like I would love and I really hope Korea, Denmark is going to do well. And I firmly believe it will, and I have faith it will. But it’s also for me more about just making an impact and impact to make change and how things are done, because and I’m seeing results. And trying to get people to understand that like this, that there is still racism in Denmark, there’s still sexism in Denmark, and that especially in recruitment and that certain changes need to be made. But it’s only like I can only do so much, right. So it’s also like I’m trying to make things on a bigger scale to say, look, this is what’s happening and this is why things should be taught in a different way. And then hoping one day that people will be open to that and have an open perspective, especially municipalities and different organizations but again, they have to want to drink it, man, drink it if they want it. You know. So much.

David McNeill: [01:01:17] Yeah, I think it’s amazing. It sounds like an awesome mission. You’ve had a lot of success so far. And I’m curious and closing up our conversation here, if you have any other particular pointers for people that are interested in moving to Denmark, maybe to work there, maybe through some other means, but, you know, where should they get started? I mean, where should they maybe try to find jobs or even just try to make this move happen? If you have any parting words, it would be great to hear.

Kate Dahl: [01:01:41] Yeah. So one of the things you need to know before coming to Denmark is to know how much you really want it. That’s the most important thing. And I’m serious because a lot of people don’t understand, like how I came to Denmark in the way I got to Denmark doesn’t really exist anymore. It’s a different system than how I did it. And it’s completely outdated in that way. So really, the only way you can come to Denmark is to get a work visa. And unless and even a lot of people think, oh, I can find a Danish girl, to come. No, that’s like you’re not guaranteed, like you know go to another country if you want like if you want something like that. Denmark is not the country for you then if that’s the case, to be quite frank. You really need to look at something called the positive list. The positive list is a way for I mean, there’s a lot of different ways to come under a work visa. But the best way for anyone to come to Denmark is to look at the positive list, which is based on every six months from the Danish Ministry of Integration in immigration.

If you check it the first of January and the first of July, updates itself every six months. And what it is, is basically the Danish government saying this is what is in demand in the market right now. They have analyzed the Danish labor market and saying that we need engineers, we need I.T. people. We need…I’ve actually seen preachers and I’ve seen organists, like I’ve seen like really bizarre stuff like what Denmark needs in the labor market. It was like, oh, if you’re an organist, you can come to Denmark. No problem, you know. So and it’s just basically what the positive list means is like that they will process your visa faster because you have a specific educational background. But then you still need a sponsor, meaning that you need an employer to say that we’re going to hire you and that they’re going to pay you a fair salary. They have to meet certain conditions, and then, yeah, then you can come to excuse me, come to Denmark. No problem.

And that is really like the advice that I have is like to really analyze the market. Look at the… it’s called NYI Denmark; I’ll send you the link for you to put it in the description below for people to look at. And it’s in English like almost everything when it comes to Denmark, you can find a lot. When it comes to job portals, you need to like, yeah, for one thing, even before you even think about job portals, you need to know like not only that, your fields and demand. That’s one way to go about it is from the education system. But you can also do research on like what portals are best for you. Like if you are an engineer it would be workingindenmark.dk , if its sales it would be jobindexed.dk and you need to find the portals that work for you and your field and industry because Denmark likes to specialize. Like what if you’re in a specific field.

 Like, for example, if you want to be a teacher in Denmark, then you need to use a different job portal, like to be a teacher otherwise or like if you want to be a pharmacist or whatever, like you, you need to find the right portals for you because some portals, like don’t work for everyone. Even if job index is one of the biggest ones, they still have issues with keywords. And you’ll get really random [email protected] And you can do it in English, like don’t matter. Like just do the research and find out, okay, even if it’s not on the positive list. Is there any possibility that I can get a position where a company is interested in sponsoring me, you know? And if you’re an EU citizen, it will be so much easier for you if you have that EU citizenship passport. But if you non-EU, you need to like really work hard and just like, of course you can hire someone like me, but like, you know, you can find things on the Internet too. It’s not the same as hiring someone who has the insight, but there’s also information out there and just do the research but if you want like an insider training and so on, so then just go through the website and so on the website portals. So, yeah.

David McNeill: [01:06:07] Thanks so much for that great information, really helpful stuff. I’m sure our listeners want to find out more about you and what you’re doing. So if there’s any where they can find you online, please let us know.

Kate Dahl: [01:06:16] Yeah, definitely. Just go to careerdenmark.dk and look and see what I have to offer if it looks interesting for you, I also have of course, this podcast is going to be on my website, but there’s like I’m on a ton of podcasts. I’m on a ton of YouTube videos, like a ton of articles that are out on like if anything, even if it’s not to book a session, check out my website for all the content. Follow me on LinkedIn, my Facebook page, you know where there’s content as well, coming in to learn, get some tidbits and so on. And yeah, just make sure to follow me on the Facebook and LinkedIn platforms or just check out my website if you want to have me and have my time. So…

David McNeill: [01:07:02] So sounds good. We’ll definitely put the links in the show description. Thanks so much for your time today. It’s been a pleasure and I look forward to keeping in touch.

Kate Dahl: [01:07:11] Definitely David, have a good one, guys. And thank you so much, David. Have a good one. 


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We help people to move abroad through our personalized consulting services. For more information, visit https://expatempire.com.

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As the founder of Expat Empire, David McNeill is focused on inspiring people to move abroad and showing them how to do it. David started Expat Empire because he has a genuine passion for living abroad. He left the United States in 2014 and has since lived in Tokyo, Berlin, and Porto.