Adjusting to a new culture: Internationals reflect on their life in Aalborg

by Celia Sánchez Morrón
Věra
Věra

When you go for a walk in Aalborg, you realize two things: It is a city full of faces from everywhere, but also a cozy place where you can recognize most of them.

A lot of these faces reflect a story shared by thousands of people in Aalborg. They made the city their new home at some point in their lives.

Some to study, others for work, love, fun or to feel safe, but all these internationals came to Aalborg for good reasons, and here you can read the experiences of some of them. 

A student and volunteer 

Věra is from Czech Republic and studies Language and International Studies, English, at Aalborg University (AAU).

During her three years in Denmark, she has learned Danish, joined organizations as a volunteer, and after working as a cleaner and housekeeper, she’s currently working on an EU-financed project at AAU.

Beyond these experiences, Věra keeps in mind small anecdotes about her very firsts days in Denmark.

Věra

“I needed to buy a few carrots, not the entire 1kg bag, so I just got some loose carrots and went to the cash register.

It turned out that loose carrots had to be weighed and marked, so I had to leave the cashier and my groceries and go do that.

The problem was that I didn’t know the Danish word for carrots. (…) Even after googling it, I just couldn’t find it on the scale! (…) So I just pressed a random button and hoped for the best.

Of course, it was still wrong, but the cashier luckily just let me go, seeing that I was almost in tears. That’s another reason you want to learn Danish, people!” Věra says.

Coffee and love from South America

Ilma fell in love with Peter long ago.

She was born in Mérida, Venezuela, in 1973 and has been in Aalborg for the last 22 years, living with her Danish partner.

The memories of Ilma collecting, cleaning, and roasting coffee with her parents and Peter’s dream of having his own shop made them open La Casa Latina in 2012.

Currently, they sell fresh coffee from Latin America, good rum, and tobacco. After eight years of hard work, this shop receives curious customers of all types who all want to have a small taste from the other side of the world.

Ilma, Peter, and Nelson Hernandez with the owner of Mortens Kro, Morten Kok Nielsen

Ilma describes her experience as an international and owner of La Casa Latina as “an opportunity to know, integrate and work in Danish culture, and the opportunity to express and share a bit of Latin American culture through products and events.

I had the opportunity to organize an exclusive event with the restaurant Mortens Kro, in which we invited one of the best rum masters in the world, Nelson Hernández(…). It was a combination of working together with Danish and Latin culture, and an unforgettable time,” she recalls. 

From Egypt to Denmark – new home but wrong apartment

Another story started in January 2014 when Hammam and his wife, both from Egypt, landed from El Cairo to start a PhD program at AAU.

“The first thing I did was to open the wrong apartment, and then when I opened the right apartment, I found that there was no bedroom,” Hammam explains.

That day, Hammam learned two things: In Denmark, first floor is called “stuen”, not “1. sal”, and a “one-bedroom apartment” means a studio, not a house with a bedroom and living room.

In those years of the PhD program with his wife, plenty of experiences flooded their lives, good and bad, but all memorable.

“A newly married international couple expecting their first child, signed up for a PhD degree (…), a country with weather nothing alike our home… (…) All that mix was very stressful to digest. But things started to ease down a little by the end of the second year,” Hammam says.

Hammam at Aalborg University during his PhD graduation

After eight years in Aalborg, Hammam feels blended and integrated inside the community of Aalborg and spends his free time with family and friends in the fjord or at coffee stores.

Tasked with giving a piece of advice to new internationals, he remarks to make sure to have a plan for three years ahead and to make as many friends as you can: “The larger your network, the more you’ll feel at home.”

As one can tell from Věra, Ilma, and Hammam’s stories relocating to one of the happiest countries in the world does not necessarily equal a nice and easy beginning.

However, at the end of the day, these stories are all accompanied by a big smile and happiness that their paths led to Aalborg.