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An Irishwoman in Denmark: ‘Life here is good, safe. But a bit boring if I am honest’

The place has lots of positives. There’s just something missing: warmth, friendliness

I moved to Aarhus in Denmark last September to begin a master’s degree because it seemed like the best option at the time.

I was lucky to be awarded an EU scholarship to pursue a master’s in journalism, media and globalisation. It is an international programme, with 79 people from 42 different countries around the world participating. They’re all super cool.

We come from a wide variety of backgrounds – while many have years of experience as journalists, some are recent graduates like me. I donned my black-and-white gown to graduate from my law degree at Trinity College Dublin in November 2023.

I’m sure many can relate to the feeling of total confusion in the summer after finishing a degree. I was conflicted between continuing my law studies in Ireland and leaving it all to follow my dream of an international journalism career.

Feeling risky, bored and a little naive, I chose the latter option.

Over the past six months, I have huddled inside with friends from hotter countries, trying to beat off the Danish winter gales and the frozen-eyed stares of tall, blonde Danes.

This country has lots of positives, but there’s also something missing – a warmth, a friendliness and a general sense of people enjoying life.

I have no Danish friends so far. Our international cohort gravitated inwards in need of big smiles, relatable jokes and a desire to connect. I met my boyfriend, a Brazilian journalist, on the programme. Together, we are in awe of the ability of Danes to avoid any semblance of small talk, public signs of enjoying life, and working past 4pm.

We have tried to see the Northern Lights. And failed

Aarhus is a small city of 340,000 people, with a busy port and long stretches of sandy beaches. It has a great library overlooking the water, some nice bars and a range of date-night activities if you have extra cash at the weekend.

We have taken to playing board games and cards when the dark nights seem endless. I have sampled an amazing array of cuisines, from my international classmates and at the popular Aarhus Street Food. We have tried to see the Northern Lights and failed.

Many of my classmates have taken to Nordic bathing like ducks to water. I have joined them on occasion – that occasion being the sauna’s opening times. The Baltic Sea really is baltic.

Life is good here, safe. But if I am honest, a bit boring.

When the wind howls through the cobble-stoned streets and icy rain falls like a sheet, I sometimes look out my window and wonder why I left Ireland for a country with even worse weather. We’re told by rose-tinted Instagram reels that summertime in Denmark is the cure for all of our winter complaints. I can attest that once the winter coldness began to lift, the Danish summer is indeed the cure for all winter complaints.

Although I came here for a university education, I think, in reality, Denmark has taught me more about what I want from my life. What I really want is to find somewhere where I could belong.

Denmark has a history of being anti-immigrant towards non-Europeans and I can see how the Danish people close themselves off to “others”. The language barrier certainly doesn’t help – Danish is really difficult to learn. And while all the people here speak English when prompted, it is hard to penetrate social groups that communicate entirely through Danish.

Some of my friends have used online dating apps to meet locals and make some connections with the place. Most have found it easier to relate to the lives of other internationals in Aarhus. To date a Dane, you have to book in a slot in their calendar weeks in advance and be willing to go to bed two hours earlier than usual.

Next year I’ll be in a different city – Amsterdam – to do my master’s specialisation, with different cultural challenges to face.

It makes me sad though – and maybe I’m partly to blame – that I will be leaving this city with no compelling reason to return.

  • Laoise Murray graduated from Trinity College Dublin in law in 2023. She then studied for a master’s in journalism, media and globalisation on an EU scholarship in Denmark.
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