People are usually surprised to hear me speak fluent Danish as an international student until I explain that I have studied it during my bachelor´s studies. Then, an inevitable question follows: "So, why did you pick Danish? "
My meeting with the language of Hans Christian Andersen
I have to admit that my first recollection of Danish were fairy tales of H.C. Andersen like "The Little Mermaid" and "The Emperor's New Clothes" that my grandma used to read to me. Later on, being interested in environmental protection, I learned about the effort that Scandinavian countries are putting into innovation, sustainability and green energy. I wanted to know more about these welfare countries, so I signed up for the Department of Scandinavian languages at the University of Belgrade.
Needless to say, the first year was frustrating - learning intricacies of Danish grammar and building my vocabulary and yet not being able to properly express myself. My first breakthrough came when I got the Danish Government Scholarship under the Cultural Agreements for highly qualified exchange students and young researchers. I got this amazing chance to study at the Copenhagen University for 3 semesters and finish my B.A. in Denmark covered by a full scholarship, which is a rare opportunity for non-EU citizens. I felt a bit discouraged in the beginning as Danes would switch to English as soon as they would hear my accent, but I bravely kept on insisting, making mistakes before I started mastering my Danish. My persistence has proved valuable in developing a local network. I charmed a couple of Danes with my limited knowledge of their language, who later introduced me to their friends. There is a quote by Nelson Mandela which I consider relevant for language studies in general:
" If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his native language, that goes to his heart. "
I also started volunteering at AIESEC in Copenhagen to gain some experience for the CV, but it led to having a great insight into the Danish workplace culture characterised by a flat hierarchy, teamwork, flexible working hours and proactivity. Through this volunteering experience I’ve met many local and international friends, who are very dear to me and whom I am in touch with to this day.
Working for Denmark
Shortly after finishing my studies in Copenhagen, I noticed a job posting by the Royal Danish Embassy in Belgrade for a “Danish speaking Administrative Assistant”. Practicing my elevator pitch and interviewing during my volunteering years paid off in my first real job interview. I landed my dream job promoting Denmark and the Scandinavian model in Serbia. The network of people I was able to acquire within the diplomatic community and the skills I developed helped me immensely to later get a job at the United Nations, where I worked in HR with recruitment and selection, training, development and promotion of volunteerism in Serbia.
Being a student in Denmark again studying Culture, Communication and Globalisation
I took a bit of an unconventional path when I decided to abandon the career I had kickstarted in Serbia in order to take up academic challenge. Last year I came back to Denmark, as I was admitted to M.A. in CCG with focus on International Relations. Early on I started applying for student job positions. However, initially the response was not as positive as anticipated. Nevertheless, I got an interview with Arla and Grundfos which was a huge experience in itself. I have learned about the importance of doing a background research on the company and about their recruitment processes. I have also met a valuable contact for my master thesis as well, so I felt that my efforts were not in vain.
During the first semester, I joined the Young Professionals in Denmark programme and showed initiative to assist the organisers with different activities. I found this quite interesting, so I was about to send an unsolicited job application to AAU Career, when I discovered that there is actually a job opening for a student assistant at the AAU job bank. I took the time to tailor my CV and craft a good application, which landed me a job interview. I believe that my previous engagement in the programme, knowledge of Danish and a network of people within the organisation who referred me to the employer definitely came in handy to eventually getting a student job relevant to my studies.
My advice to you - If you are looking to pursue a career in Denmark
LinkedIn is tool used very much for recruitment in Denmark. Make sure you have a good summary, overview of your relevant experience and a professional picture. I have been headhunted by Danske Bank and Nordea with job offers through LinkedIn.
Keep in mind that it is of course possible to find a job without having a reference but starting to build a solid network as soon as you move will surely help. In case you have free time on your hand, I would highly recommend a volunteer job. Apart from developing your skills, you´ll learn about the Danish working ethics and culture and if you are lucky, it might even lead you to a real job. Also, check out places like International House of North Denmark and sign up for programs like Young Professionals in Denmark. They’ll give you a platform to meet company representatives directly, to learn how to brand yourself and explain what your appeal is as an international student and what you can offer that the locals might not be able to.