PHOTO: PRIVATE

The originals (part 2 of 2)

A group of former expat children from all over the world formed a special bond in 2002 when they met at the Danish Summer School, which in many ways changed their lives forever. (Part 2 of 2)

PHOTO: PRIVATE

By Theresa Nguyen, Freelance Journalist. The article was originally published in DANES 2, 2019.

Dealing with culture shocks together.

Adding to the language barrier, moving to Denmark as an adult is bound to cause culture shocks no matter how Danish your family managed to stay while living overseas, Céline Raffel says.

“Personally, I was born and grew up in the south of France, in Nice, where the culture is completely different. When I arrived in Copenhagen at the age of 19, it surprised me how quickly everybody matured here, how quickly Danes become adults. Most 19-year-olds already knew how to cook while I had no idea whatsoever. The girls also seemed a lot more experienced with boys, for example, and this was a complete culture shock to me. It was the same with the Danish sense of humor – because people are so sarcastic here. Jokes in our group are delivered in English, so we’re used to a different kind of humor.”

With mixed international backgrounds, the group finds solace in each other’s company, as making new Danish friends has proven difficult.   

“Danes tend to stick to their old groups of friends from school or whomever they may have grown up with. I was under the impression that nobody needed a new friend like me, or at least there was no interest in building up new friendships,” says Céline, who has lived in Copenhagen for nine years.

Summer School baby

The group of summer school alumni now meet up several times a year. Close friends within the group communicate on an almost daily basis, which makes settling in a lot easier, particularly for those whose families still live abroad.

“Having each other in our everyday lives makes life in Denmark so much better and less frustrating, as we’ve all been on the same journey moving here. Having a network means a lot, especially when you’re figuring out new systems in a foreign society or looking for work. Coming here, many of us thought that our multiple languages would create opportunities, but we’ve come to realise that a lack of network is more challenging than we anticipated.”

Thanks to the combination of social support and the being part of a group of people who understand what it means to identify as a Dane despite having a different international background, every member of the group now resides in Denmark, except for one person who discovered that he felt more Japanese than Danish.

“None of us have turned 30 yet – this is also something we’ll experience together, but we’re of an age where a lot is happening. Some members of the group also started dating and are now couples. We even have a Summer School baby,” says Céline Raffel with a smile.

Different kinds of Danes

Although Denmark is now home to the French-born Dane, this was not always the case.

“For a long time, Nice was still home to me, but after a couple of years of living in Copenhagen, this place became my home,” the 28-year-old says.

“I wanted this so much – I wanted to make my move to Denmark successful because I wanted to belong here. I’ve always felt more Danish than French, more connected to the Danish mentality, and I think that I’m a better match with the Danish way of living.”

As for the entire group, the common bond holding them together, despite being individuals nurtured in diverse, far-away environments, is their Danish roots, which took form and began to develop during the Summer Schools.

“We all feel a connection to the Danish culture, like every time we visit Tivoli or hear Kim Larsen, we’ll sing along and be reminded of the Summer School, which created the foundation for us to define ourselves as Danes. These common experiences mean everything to us as a group, and today, as we grow older, we’re comfortable in our own, individual ways of being a Dane – because there are many ways of being Danish,” says Céline.


This article is part 2 of 2. You can read part 1 here.