By: Lotte Smith-Hansen, Representative of Danes Worldwide
Meet2Talk is all about sharing all your valuable knowledge and having a safe place for asking questions about new locations, network, job, schools or anything else in the world, people out there have first-hand knowledge about and you need information about. This summer and autumn we are running a series of interviews with Danes Worldwide Representatives from different locations in the world. Lotte Smith-Hansen, who is Danes Worldwide Representative in Boston has been so kind to share her interesting thoughts about her city – Boston!
Thank you, Lotte.
Lotte Smith-Hansen: Boston is a great city. It may be the only place in the U.S. I can live. It has the European old world feel with old architecture, old beautiful churches, etc., and interesting history related to the American revolution which separated this new nation from the old world.
At the Old State House, you can see the balcony where they read aloud the Declaration of Independence. Every July 4th, I read the declaration and get a little emotional. But Boston is a great modern city as well. It is among the most highly educated, international, and politically progressive places in the U.S., so it feels very European in this way too. It has so many colleges and universities which attract people from all over the world. In this way, it is a true American melting pot.
When people arrive in the U.S., I think there is a tension between socializing with other Danes vs. non-Danes, and between staying in touch with Danish news, politics, etc. vs. immersing yourself in the new place. It is importance to stay mindful of this and to find a balance that works well for you. Of course, it depends on how long you’re going to be here, and the balance will change over time.
Connecting in Boston To connect with other Danish folks, join Danes Worldwide which has wonderful resources related to Danish courses online, as well as assistance with all the official things related to living abroad. In addition, look for local Danish organizations. The Danish Society of Massachusetts hosts a Christmas party and church service (julefest and julegudstjeneste), a children’s costume party (Fastelavn), and a midsummer celebration (Sankt Hans), and has play groups and Danish classes for children and adults at the Scandinavian Living Center. On Facebook, you can connect with the Danish Society and with other relevant groups, such as Danes in Boston – Danskere i Boston, where people share practical advice as well as invites to happy hour (glad time).
The Innovation Centre at MIT is a collaboration between the Danish departments of research and foreign affairs, and is a great place to connect professionally. And of course we have the Danish Pastry House in Medford! To connect with non-Danes, don’t be shy, just ask your fellow students or coworkers to get together socially. People are much more reserved in Denmark than the U.S. Especially in a big city like Boston, most people are from somewhere else and trying to make new friends.
If you are looking for events to go to, look on the websites of the major universities (Harvard University, Boston University, Boston College, etc.), the smaller arts schools (Emerson, New England Conservatory, Mass College of Art, etc.), the major hospitals (Mass General Hospital, McLean Hospital, etc), the various museums (the Museum of Fine Arts, the Science Museum, etc.), the Boston Public Library, the local radio stations (BPR and WGBH), the local newspaper (The Globe), and Boston.com. And of course we have all the sports teams (The Patriots, The Bruins, etc.) To connect professionally, put aside the old Danish shyness and Jantelov. Put yourself out there. Tell people what you are good at and what you are looking for. Directness is highly valued in the United States and particularly in New England and Boston. Join the Facebook group Danes in Boston – Danskere i Boston. Here you can post your questions about what to pack, how to find a place to live, how to ship your boxes, how to bring your dog to the States, how to find a great cheap bike for purchase, how to adjust to life in the Boston area – and of course where to buy rugbrød!
So many people move abroad intending to be there a few months or years, but end up staying longer. They venture out as an exchange student, au pair, study abroad student, or they get stationed somewhere for job purposes, and intend to stay on a temporary basis. But so many people end up falling in love with someone or something, i.e., a person, a job, a place, a project, a way of life, and end up staying longer.
The tricky thing is that they make the decision to stay a while longer in one small chunk at a time, but don’t realize that over time this adds up to years and decades, and all of a sudden they have in effect immigrated permanently without ever really deciding to immigrate permanently.
Literary critic James Wood was born and raised in England, and left when he was 30, thinking he’d live in the U.S. for a few years, perhaps five at the most. After living here 18 years, now married and with two kids, he wrote about this in his essay On Not Going Home: “What is peculiar, even a little bitter, about living for so many years away from the country of my birth, is the slow revelation that I made a large choice a long time ago that did not resemble a large choice at the time; that it has taken years for me to see this; and that this process of retrospective comprehension in fact constitutes a life – is indeed how life is lived. Freud has a wonderful word, ‘afterwardness’, which I need to borrow, even at the cost of kidnapping it from its very different context. To think about home and the departure from home, about not going home and no longer feeling able to go home, is to be filled with a remarkable sense of ‘afterwardness’: it is too late to do anything about it now, and too late to know what should have been done. And that may be all right” (excerpt from Wood, 2014). My advice to people who leave Denmark is to be aware of this process upfront so they can decide with more intention and awareness.