By Madalina Paxaman, photos by Judy Jørgensen and Greg McQueen
Internationalization is, it seems, the story on everyone’s lips these days in Denmark, from politicians, and journalists to everyday people. And while this is a very complex process, the questions are always the same: is it worth having foreigners in Denmark? Do they actually contribute to the growth of the country? Are they or can they be integrated in the society? Most of the times these questions are left unanswered and give way to a stereotypical perspective. In reality, in a majority of cases, internationals are very resilient, have the ability to reinvent themselves and are a positive factor in the society.
Kate Dahl managed to build a career in Aarhus and to give back to society by helping others do the same. I met her at one of her fully-booked seminars about job searching in Denmark. I already knew that she was involved in many activities helping the international community in Aarhus understand the dynamics of the local job market, so it did not come as a surprise that so many people showed up to hear her speak.
Kate left her home-country (United States of America) looking for a place that will allow her to have a fulfilling life. After studying and working in Germany, her pursuit of happiness brought her to Denmark. She fell in love and, instead of choosing a career at a company in China, she decided to join her future husband in Aarhus.
It sounds like a fairytale but it was not always so. “I come from a very conservative, very Christian, very right-wing country (…) And some people are born a certain way. I was born liberal”, she laughs. Her way of thinking was not representative of the society she was living in. It was the meeting with two exchange students, a Danish and a German one, who shared her ideas that helped her to feel not so lonely. While her family was not supporting her views on life, during her enrolment at Central Michigan University, she saw a silver lining under the form of a scholarship to study European Studies in Lueneburg, Germany. She loved the place and the entire experience.
However, after some time spent there, she had to return to United States, where without the financial support of her parents, she had to work multiple jobs in order to raise enough money to return to Europe. After a lot of hardships, she managed to secure a sum that allowed her to come back to Lueneburg and finish her bachelor degree. She was admitted to Master studies at Flensburg University, where she also worked and improved her language skills. But life had some more surprises to offer: “I met my husband through a mutual friend who was the exchange-student at my high-school. He was in Aarhus and he invited me to Fastelavn (…) I don’t really believe in love at first sight but it almost was. I just knew. I knew he was THAT person. He is the most kind, most generous person.” And after all the challenges of living in Germany, being involved in a long-distance relationship, and contemplating accepting a job offer in China, she decided to follow her heart and moved in with her boyfriend in Aarhus.
Here, a new set of provocations waited for her. “I was thinking about looking at my [professional] options. I had to think about reinventing myself. I had to think about what can I be good at. I had this degree [European Studies], it was great but I really had to think outside the box.” This meant reassessing all her previous working experience, even from early years, and identifying the skills that made her attractive for the Danish job market thus securing her a resident visa. Her previous experience in sales and negotiations were sought after here, so she started to apply for various positions. “As soon as my visa came out, I got a job, like almost instantly. But it was also because I was prepared for it and really knew what I was going into. I saw a need and a niche in the market.”
For the past three and a half years, Kate has been working in customer success with different Danish companies from Aarhus area. During this period, she had both positive and negative experiences and, sometimes, bad luck. Some of the organizations were very welcoming, inclusive and supportive, some were more rigid. Job searching in an unfamiliar environment also implied a lot of self-questioning.
However, all this did not discourage Kate. In fact, it helped her gain a deeper understanding of the local working environment and the paradoxical situations most foreigners face while searching for jobs in Aarhus: while there is a demand for work force, seldom it is recruited from the internationals living here. Rather the companies prefer to employ and attract more people from outside Denmark. Furthermore, according to Kate, many foreigners do not know how to search for a job or how to present themselves in order to be attractive to the Danish companies.
This is one of the reasons why Kate decided to use her acquired knowledge. She organized a series of seminars in cooperation with, amongst others, Erasmus Mundus Association, Studenterhus Aarhus, LIMA, ActionAid Denmark aimed at helping internationals navigate through the Danish job market and working environment. “One of the things that can be done is to have courses provided for internationals to learn how [to search for jobs]. There is not enough information going up there.” she explains. There is a great demand coming from both the international community and the business environment “to teach internationals how to sell themselves, or how to do it the Danish way or the right way because it is not like, you know, where you go and sell your skills. In Denmark if you have your CV and cover letter, they know you can do the job. When you are at the job interview, they just want to know whether you are the right fit. And this is such a different mentality and a lot of internationals don’t know how to go about it” she adds.
The new year found Kate very busy with her new position at BotXO. She is still committed to helping those who are hunting for jobs and has, in cooperation with FO Aarhus, started a series of courses on “How to land a job in Denmark”.
For more information about Kate Dahl, visit her profile on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/katelynddahl/.