First Week Cultural Shock


Almost all of us have a reason to study in Denmark. Some of us desire to benefit from the opportunities of universities which are placed near the top of the best ones, while others are interested in its long history dating back to the Vikings or the best living conditions in the world. We create a legendary country in our minds and almost nobody considers how to cope with the difficulties within the culture shock after getting here.

You are probably going to meet a great number of new friends after a little while. But, what if you cannot escape from culture shock in a short time? Getting over it may take a little bit, but you have to settle down in your new life in a quick way and thoroughly enjoy it to get the best out of it. So explore the city and integrate yourself into society to get rid of it. After discovering the surroundings, you are frankly going to say: what an expensive city! And if you are not very lucky, you will not able to get a bike in your first week. But never give up!

I come from Turkey, a non-European country. Here in Denmark, people have a variety of habits that I am not used to. I have faced quite a few compelling situations here due to cultural differences. Of course there is no specific way to prevent them because each individual is influenced by culture in different ways. But how to decrease the effects of culture shock in your life is up to you.

I experienced these situations especially facing Danish language (that I have never heard before), finding different kind of food without pork (because I am Muslim), experiencing comfortable lifestyle with an individualistic touch (Danes like spending time with themselves but in Turkey I think collectivist culture is likely to be more present so people prefer to hang out in groups), having walks in a totally new city (it is my first time here, I don’t know any place and I am eager to explore each district).

To adapt to all these situations takes time but if you want to take in consideration these pieces of advice about challenges, I hope you will find your way more quickly. Here, there are some challenges that I experienced myself in order to adapt to the city and society. With my suggestions, I hope you can decrease the effects of culture shock in your first week.

Challenge 1: Language

– Solution: Speak English – Or learn basic Danish words

I think that Danes are best nonnative English speakers in Europe but in my opinion they don’t like speaking it. Undoubtedly, they try to impose their language on all other foreign people. I have met some Danish people who can speak English but persistently continue to speak Danish while I am with them. That’s why I am thinking that they strive to impose their language on strangers.

Even though I have been told that everybody likes speaking English in Denmark, I got shocked after coming here because of the dominance of Danish language in supermarkets, shopping malls, classes etc. Most of them have no signboards with English translations despite the great number of international people living in Denmark, especially in Copenhagen. This is actually a huge negative impact that triggers the culture shock.

As a solution, I will not advice you learn Danish because it is quite difficult language to understand and speak, if you are just staying for a couple of months. After a while, you are probably going to join a Danish course and I am sure that it will be beneficial for your daily life. If you are planning to stay here after your studies, learning the language is the key to integrate into the society and it would give you an edge in the job market. Otherwise, it does not make sense. So the most useful way is to use translation programmes or ask people the meaning of the words. Last but not least, if you learn some basic Danish words in your first week, the Danes will warm up to you, owing you respect, admiration and appreciation for their language and your effort.

Challenge 2: Food

– Solution: Ethnic restaurants

Traditional food in Denmark includes a lot of meat,especially pork, beef with potatoes and roots (and beer!). Local and organic food vegetables and fruit are so important to store a great portion of energy. Although these products are very familiar for people from most of the countries, they may not taste the same here in Denmark. Due to the high prices and different climate, you may also face this kind of situation.

Luckily, there is a wide choice of restaurants that offers ethnic traditional products from foreign countries. The best solution of course is to find one of those restaurants. You could even meet people from your same place. Good food from home and nice compatriots are the best relieving feelings ever 😉

Challenge 3: Danish Lifestyle

– Solution: Be open-minded and don’t judge

I could immediately realise that Danes have a different variety of characteristics and customs than what I am used to. I might have thought that they are so self righteous people. The differences may apply to the popularity of having the best living conditions all around the world. But, the solution is to be open-minded towards different cultural structures. Trying to understand Danish culture is likely to be a bit challenge due to their unusual behaviours. Don’t judge and curiously try to learn their lifestyles by asking them. You might see that they are very approachable, friendly and helpful. The social atmosphere among Danish people is often described by the Danish term ‘hygge’, which is a sense of coziness and comfortable feelings. It is always cool to branch out and have friends with different activities from your previous social life. It definitely makes you happier and richer.

Challenge 4 : Don’t know where to go

– Solution: Sightseeing

If you don’t want to be bored in your room, draw up a calendar of your first week and implement it by using a map! In doing so, you might create an opportunity to talk to a great number of people in the street. Even if you know the answers, you could ask questions in order to practice your English (if you come from a non-anglophone country). Don’t hesitate to speak since it provides you with quick integration processes in the society.

Getting to know the environment you are going to experience for months is the best way to get used to new life. So start exploring the city with these recommended popular places in mind. Most of these places are free of charge. I am sure that you will go there again and again while you stay in Denmark. But the first days in Cph are unforgettable!

Nyhavn: A recommended first stop on your first week agenda should be Nyhavn which is considered most recognizable view of Copenhagen with a great number of brightly-coloured town houses. It is a waterfront canal and a touristic district to have an enjoyable day. There are a lot of cafes, bars and restaurants in which you may meet a lot tourists. You can also catch a canal boat tour from Nyhavn to look at the city with a different perspective.

Little Mermaid: It is one of the most popular attraction and symbol of the city. It is said that a trip to Copenhagen would not be complete without seeing The Little Mermaid. This bronze sculpture displays a mermaid in the transformation process from fish to human. When I saw it, I felt disappointed since she is much smaller than I have imagined. Even though it is very small, the place gets extremely crowded with people taking selfies. So just take a selfie with her and send it to your friends:)

Christiania: If you are studying around Copenhagen, a trip to Christiania is a must. It is a free town inside the city and it is amazing to see how there is a whole weed-selling community that has guaranteed their autonomy from the local authorities. Make sure you read their rules before you enter there because they have pretty strict restrictions in the area. You do not have to be a smoker to go there, just grab an organic beer and hang with the young/old hippies, and enjoy colorful graffities over the walls.

National Museum: Denmark’s National Museum has exhibitions and amazing collections from the Stone Age, the Viking Age, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and Modern Danish History. If you are interested in Denmark’s long history, it is an informative opportunity for you. The Vikings were portrayed differently in Denmark than other countries. Therefore, this could be the best experience of your first week in Cph. Don’t forget that having historical knowledge about the city you live in speeds up the integration process.

Free Walking Tours: Everyday, 11:00 at Raadhuspladsen.The guides in Free Walking tours are working as a team. It is likely to be a long way in making a quick knowledge of the city and 6000 years of Copenhagen history in this tour. It provided me with experiences about Danish culture, history, food, lifestyles, architecture and so on. I had the pleasure of being part of grand tour of Cph arranged by Rosie who was very energetic and friendly. These tours are useful also to have suggestions on what to do, where to go, how to get there, in and around Copenhagen. So have a walk and enjoy the city.

Hopefully, you are going to get over the culture shock in a short time but if not, don’t worry, just follow these suggestions and have a nice semester!

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