My Relocation Story – Copenhagen

Today I thought I’d share another chapter from my book (My Guide to a Successful Relocation) about how I came to be here in Copenhagen.

Enjoy and if you fancy reading more you can get buy a copy directly from me if you live in Denmark, 100dkk including postage and packing ( saving of almost 50dkk from purchasing via Amazon), by sending me an email hello(at)dejligedayscommunications(dot)com. You can also get hold of it via Amazon if you are outside Denmark.

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My relocation story – Copenhagen

Back in 2007 my husband and I got married after twelve years together (clearly we didn’t rush into it!) and it felt like a new life was starting. I had been working for a not-for-profit organisation as Head of Communications for a few years. Over that time I had started to take control of my personal life (I lost two stone in weight, learnt to swim and got married) but my professional life was stressing me out. I had lost team members who were not being replaced due to budget cuts, office politics were reaching ridiculous levels and I was often in tears in the evening and waking at 5am unable to get back to sleep as I worried about the day ahead. This was no way to live.

For a number of years my husband’s employers had been tempting him with exciting jobs abroad but I had always been reluctant – I was building my career. But suddenly that just seemed to not matter. I was working hard but getting very little back and I could see no real change on the horizon unless we made the change. So we did. It was late summer when he asked at work about possible places we could relocate to and was given the options of San Diego (too far from family), Germany (no – how ironic) and Copenhagen. So we settled on Copenhagen without me ever having visited. I bought some guide books and the process at my husband’s work started. big beers in tivoli 2008

I joined him just before Christmas whilst he was in Copenhagen for a week sorting out his new role. It was the first time I visited the city and I fell in love immediately: big beers, delicious real Danish pastries and sparkling Christmas lights. Apart from the superficial things I also liked the kind of lifestyle I saw around me and, chatting to various people we met along the way, it seemed to make people happy.

Once it was a sure thing, I spoke to my boss and arranged to leave my job at the end of the year (as it turned out they were generous enough to let me work almost until I left the country, extending my notice period on a monthly basis).

I finished work at the end of February 2008, having negotiated a year-long freelance contract to start in the summer so I would have some money coming in when we moved. nyhavn-copy

At the start of March we headed out to Copenhagen for our home search. We were met at our hotel by our relocation consultant who had a bag packed full of information about the city and life here. We viewed seven places in one day, a luxury that is no longer possible with the tough market now, and we had to give him a top three by the end of the day. It is funny that our initial number one was soon relegated to number three. I hadn’t yet adjusted my expectations and had felt the modern apartment was the right one for us despite it being totally wrong. My husband gently talked me round to a beautiful late 19th century first floor apartment in Frederiksberg, which was of course perfect for us when we moved in.

Things moved quickly from that day – they accepted our offer and the moving date of the 31st of March was set. We then had to get rid of about a third of our belongings, which we sold at a boot sale and a garage sale, and put more things in storage. In hindsight I wish I had been more brutal about getting rid of things but at this point we were not sure if our Copenhagen adventure would work out. We then put our house up for rental and arranged for packers to come in and pack up the remains of our belongings.

I am something of a control freak so you can imagine how I felt when I was bedridden (on the futon in the chaos of packing) with very bad tonsillitis. In fact the packing was all done efficiently without my interference. I was sad to be sick as I missed seeing my oldest friend and her newborn baby before we left.

All of a sudden we were at the new terminal 5 at Heathrow, with a suitcase and carry-on ready to start our new adventure.

At the time I was sharing my new life on a personal blog and this is what I wrote about that first day:

Handover today went well, the flat is much bigger than I remembered so everything went in fine. The removal men turned up with the truck at about 11.30am and were unpacked  by 2pm even with unscheduled stops whilst our elderly new neighbour travelled down the stairs. If she was a better time manager she could have done all her errands in one go but at least it keeps her fit!

I visited our local Irma (a supermarket chain similar to Waitrose) several times in the day and made friends with the young manager, Peter, who was happy to help with my queries about the many types of cream they sold. He also welcomed me to the neighbourhood.

After we unpacked random boxes and the kitchen we went for a quest to find a DIY shop which took us miles only to buy the plugs in a supermarket having given up on the directions we had. On the walk back, about 2 yards from the supermarket, we spotted the shop. Sadly my current vocab doesn’t extend to DIY!

The area seems really nice with plenty of shops, bars and restaurants on Gammel Kongevej, the only street we have explored so far. It is very quiet in our apartment even though we back onto a school, they seem to do lessons in shifts as there always seems to be a teeming playground. Bizarrely the school bell rang at quarter to ten tonight. We can’t hear neighbours so I am hoping that they can’t hear us!

Other bizarre observation of the day – they leave babies outside shops and cafes unattended as ‘the fresh air is good for them’! cimg0197

From that first day onwards I felt a fizz of excitement in my tummy every morning. After a few mornings with our relocator, we were registered with resident numbers and he had taken us around our local big supermarkets, which at the time I thought was a strange excursion but it was a great thing to do to help me get acclimatised.

I decided to take a month before I started Danish lessons and took that time to explore the local area and dig into the city. We spent weekends exploring places such as Christiania (which I loved but my husband hated) and many of the touristy places. In those days there was no social media to guide us so we explored blind, and it was amazing. I felt like an explorer; every day I found new places, had new experiences and excitedly shared these with my husband every evening.

One afternoon in our local supermarket I heard a very clear English voice and I bravely walked up to a very statuesque woman and introduced myself. This was my first friend. She had also just moved to Copenhagen from the US (although she was from Ghana and had been at boarding school in the UK, hence the accent). We met for coffee later in the week and I noticed she carried a little leather bound notebook into which she wrote down recommendations and information she discovered. I liked this and her. We parted without making another date and I wasn’t sure we would meet again.

Fast forward a few weeks and guess who was in my first Danish class? We became good friends and even ended up having our sons within weeks of each other a few years later. I was glad I made the bold step of speaking to her in the supermarket.

I think I spent a lot of that first year in a constant state of excitement. I balanced my days with Danish lessons in the morning, some freelance work in the afternoons and a lot of exploring, often on a whim. I met people in class and soon realised which people I had more in common with, I got to know my neighbours and I found a feeling of peace that had been lacking for a long time in the UK. One May evening we sat eating our dinner with the windows open, birds singing outside and I turned to my husband and said how much I loved our new life, and he agreed.

I look back and wonder what made the experience so good. I think it was a combination of many things. The disillusionment with my life in the UK meant that I was open to a new experience. My parents had already moved from the UK to France so I didn’t feel I was leaving anyone behind (friends were more than happy to plan trips to visit). Our move was actually very stress-free, from the home search through to the actual move, and then the subsequent settling in period (a lot of which was helped by a brilliant relocator). I found that the Danish way of life suited me – being car-free was brilliant.

Moving in the summer so the days were long and we had great weather meant that we could explore a lot more. We did tons more things in the evenings than we ever did at home without the long car commute at the end of the day. We saw things were happening and we went along. We went to watch dragon boats racing at Island Brygge – it turned out to be a company team building event but we sat in the sunshine at 9pm and just enjoyed ourselves with no pressure. We went along to a free concert to hear Tina Dickow. We lived a lot more spontaneously than we ever did in the UK. We had more time together and life was more relaxed in general.

bump-in-tivoliAfter our first calendar year in Copenhagen we decided to start a family and we were lucky enough that I fell pregnant quickly (I always wonder how quickly this would have been if I had still been run ragged in the UK). A whole new journey started.

 

Living in temporary housing

Many people find that living in a temporary place whilst house hunting is an effective way of moving to a new city. Having done this a few times I shared some experiences and ways to make it easier in my book – My Guide to a Successful Relocationdsc01805

Here is a snippet from the chapter.


 

The benefits

The biggest benefit of taking a temporary rental is you are already on the ground and able to view apartments more easily than if you are only travelling for short home search visits. In a fast moving rental market you will often need to arrange to see an apartment within a short time to avoid missing out on it.

It also means you can start to get settled and explore the city, especially if you are unsure about where exactly in your new city you wish to live. I spent a lot of time in Berlin visiting different areas to see if they appealed to us. I would advise, if possible, taking temporary housing close to at least one of your preferred neighbourhoods so you don’t end up spending too much time travelling unnecessarily, and where you can easily experience the local area and community.

Another big benefit is that the apartment has the basics you need and will, for a cost, be cleaned for you, with bedding and towels provided. We lived for almost four months in temporary housing in Berlin and there were certainly benefits to this.

The downside

It can be stressful with no set time limit to living in a temporary home, especially if you don’t like the area around your place or it just starts to feel soulless and you yearn for your own space and things.

What can you do to make it a positive experience?

We learned a lot from living in corporate housing and there were a few things we did, or could have done in hindsight, to make the experience better:

Technology

Something of a no-brainer but make sure you have a laptop or tablet to connect to the Internet as this is essential for entertainment, research and keeping up with people at home, especially as you may not be able to get a phone contract easily at the start. However, the Internet access may not be great if you are living in a large complex – we had to sit in the kitchen pressed up against the wall in our place to get any decent connection!

 

Bring your essentials

Although the places will be furnished and equipped you still should pack a box of essentials from home before you pack up and move to the temporary housing, and have it sent to arrive when you do. We moved in the autumn to Berlin and hoped to be settled quickly but this didn’t happen so I was pleased I had shipped a box of our winter essentials. Other things to consider sending in a box are: favourite toys and books (if you have children) and a change of season clothes if you are moving towards the end of a season.

The kitchen in our place had a very basic selection of utensils. I bought some cheap things from the supermarket such as a cheese grater and measuring jug. So be prepared, if you like cooking perhaps add some of your kitchen essentials and basic cooking utensils like a measuring jug, measuring spoons (basically anything that measures!), a cheese grater and a tin opener to your box you send from home.

Capsule wardrobes

As you will probably be travelling quite light at this stage, be prepared to be sick of the small selection of clothes you bring by the end of the stay. Don’t bring anything you love too much. There were washing facilities in the block we stayed in and they needed tokens, which could be bought from the management office on certain days of the week. As the machines are used by lots of people, they are not the most efficient in the world. Unless you want to buy a drying rack, make sure all the clothes you bring are dryer friendly.

Keep positive

Living in temporary housing and searching for a home can start to become emotionally draining. It can feel like a never-ending jail term if your home search is longer than you hoped, but the main thing to keep in mind is that this is temporary – this is not your ultimate home and you will have your own things again.


If you found this interesting and/or useful you can buy the book to read more and the rest of the book, of course.

{From my book} Managing a relocation consultant

I thought I’d share another chapter from my book (My guide to a successful relocation). In the last month or so I have spoken to a number of expats who are just finished with their initial relocation to a new country and many of them have shared not so positive stories about their relocation consultant experience. I was lucky with one relocation to have an excellent consultant but with my second a below average experience. I learned a lot about how to handle a consultant. I know that on one hand people who get a relocation consultant offered to them by their new employers are lucky as not all people have this but even if they are not paying for the service out of their own pockets, someone is and the consultant should be offering the best service they can. Anyway onto the chapter below….dsc01792Managing a relocation consultant

Depending where you are relocating to and the level of the new job you may be fortunate enough to be offered the services of a relocation consultant, or at least decide to use your own.  There are enormous benefits to using a relocation service, especially when it comes to finding somewhere to live that suits you and your budget. Having the inside track on life in the new city, from the culture to the bureaucracy, is also really useful.

The relocation company will be chosen by the new employers hopefully because they have been successful in finding people suitable accommodation. They will also often handle registrations and opening bank accounts in your new country. However, not all relocation consultants are created equal and there are certainly a number of ways you can make sure you get the most out of their services.

Being Clear from the start

You need to be clear from the outset what your relocation consultant can do for you within the package offered by your new employers. There may be a maximum number of properties they are permitted to show you, as was the case when we moved to Berlin, and if the market is tough you may get through your allocation pretty swiftly.

Find out from the start what is offered within the package and perhaps renegotiate the terms before the process starts. It may be the case that you will want to do some things yourself and keep the areas where their expertise lies in reserve.

Think about your budget carefully

One of the first things they will ask is what is your budget for rent. For many people moving to a new country this is a total guess. Make sure you ask your consultant for honest advice on what you should expect to pay for your desired level of accommodation before you think about this figure. You should also consider other associated costs such as heating and TV which may be added to the base rent price but will need to be paid.

It is important that you set a reasonable budget, but it is also useful to set an absolute maximum as you may find that your first figure is not enough for what you need or what is available. You don’t want to have to scramble about doing calculations. Tell your consultant the first figure but keep the other one in reserve.

Take the initiative

To a certain extent you can’t be totally reliant on your consultant. Use property rental websites to get an idea of the type of accommodation you are likely to be looking at, both in your budget and desired location. In our case when moving to Berlin our consultant gave us a login to the rental portal she used so we would browse ourselves and also make notes about places for her to see. Making notes about properties is essential as after some time looking you can forget which property was which and why you liked or didn’t like one. Also, if you see a pattern emerging of reasons why you are rejecting places you need to make sure your consultant is aware of this.

Think realistically

I know this is something I will keep coming back to but realistic expectations are essential. This is another area your consultant should be able to help you with.

Before you start working with the consultant you need to do some clear thinking of your own about how you see your new life. Do you want real city living in a central apartment or a more suburban lifestyle in a house? We downsized from a four bedroom detached house in the UK to a 100square metre, four room (excluding kitchen and bathroom) city apartment, but we loved it. The space was perfect for us at that time. You need to think about how many rooms you really need. When we were just a couple we wanted a second room which could be used as a guest room for the few weeks of the year people visited, and it also doubled up as office space. But you need to think about how important that extra room is, and is it worth the extra money in rent.

Set your priorities honestly

Setting your priorities is important, but you need to be prepared to be flexible. We were advised to think of our top three priorities for our new place. Was location very important? Was the number of rooms and size of the apartment an issue? Do you need an elevator (a dream in some period apartment buildings in Northern Europe)? If so, and one isn’t available, then what is the highest floor you are prepared to trek up to? Are you bringing a pet? Do you have a car? Parking can be an issue in some city areas. Do you need your own laundry room or washing machine, or are you happy to share a communal one (as is often the case in Copenhagen)? There are many things you may think are important, but what are the real deal-breakers? You need to be realistic but at the same time flexible, as what you normally expect from your home country may not be possible.

Location, location, location

I truly believe that location is the most important thing that can make or break a new relocation. I really think you can make an average apartment work if you are living in a great location; it is harder to make a bad location work even if the apartment is perfect. Think about areas of your new city you think you might like to move to, and again order them in priority. Usually this is dependent on the location of your new workplace, especially if you want to keep commuting time to a minimum, but you may be prepared to compromise on this for your perfect location or to find somewhere that fits your budget. Research beforehand is helpful, but so is asking your consultant for an honest view, and perhaps arranging a time with her or alone to visit some second choice areas. You can explore the areas around your potential apartments to get a feel of the local community. Also, take a look at Google Maps and Street View. It might not be immediately obvious what is close to you and potentially disruptive or disturbing if you were living there – like a school or a late night bar.

Communicate

I cannot stress enough the importance of communication – both ways – with your consultant. You need to be sure that they understand your ideas so they can give you relevant advice. If you feel really strongly against a place they have shown you, tell them and explain why. It will save time in the long run as you will avoid seeing more of the same. If you are very new to a city, get advice from your consultant about the areas they recommend in light of your budget and priorities. Also ask them if your priorities are realistic. I realise that time is often a luxury when relocating, but there is a lot you can do virtually to help aid your decision and maximise the time you do have with your consultant.

You are the boss

Remember they are working for you; be confident but open to advice. If you are really not happy with the service your designated consultant is offering you, ask if you can have another one. I know no one wants to offend anyone, but once they are off the scene you can then be stuck in a situation that is wrong for you in the long term.

Give feedback at the end

You will probably breathe a huge sigh of relief once the final box is unpacked in your new home, but it is very worthwhile to share your experience with the relocation company. I am a big believer in giving feedback – both good and bad. Once you have found your home and registered and your contract is over with the relocation consultant, make sure you give feedback about the service you received. If things worked well, tell them, and if others didn’t, say this too. If there were things where you could have used help or more assistance, tell them this too. All of this will help the next people.


If you enjoyed this chapter you can buy the book either in paperback or for the Kindle here.

Lessons in being kind to yourself (taken from my book)

Following the section about my move to Berlin taken from my book , this is the positive things I learnt from it (amongst many others)


From my tough experience in Berlin I can understand how much isolation and the lack of having a concrete place to call home can really bash you down. It is important to see that a relocation isn’t always a bed of roses, and that some very simple things can help. Being kind to yourself is the most important thing. There will be people who find the move to a new place simple, but even if you do there are some days when things are anything but easy. The feeling of isolation is one that expats regularly suffer from, and it is easy to get into a spiral of isolation and loneliness. There are ways you can take control and fight this.SONY DSC

Get out of the house every day 

I forced myself to go out somewhere every day with my son – whether it was a walk in the park, a wander around the local market, to a child-friendly cafe or to run an errand. In hindsight, when we were living in temporary housing in Berlin, I pushed myself too much and this led to some of the exhaustion I suffered, but I still believe that getting out of the house is essential and once you are in a permanent location helps you find your feet in your new area. It is essential for your health and sanity as it serves as a distraction from everything that can be overwhelming you, and gives you an immediate focus.

Join groups

Especially if you are a parent at home with a child, joining groups gives you a purpose and the chance to meet other people. We joined groups and went to music classes, and even though I wasn’t my normal self I made efforts to make friends or at least speak to people.You may not make bosom buddies but you will get to speak to others. There are loads of Meetup groups in every city, covering a multitude of interests. Picking a couple to join gives you the chance to do something you like and also the chance to talk to like-minded people, at least for a few hours.

Ask for help

I am terrible at this but the Berlin experience made me realise I need to be better at it. It is amazing how many people are happy and willing to help you if you ask. You may find some people will be less willing to help, but most will.

Sharing worries and problems really does make them easier to deal with – I know it’s a cliché, but it is true. Speak to your doctor if you are feeling down and talk to your loved ones; they will want to help you even if they too are struggling with your move. I made the choice to hide how hard I found our move to Berlin from loved ones far away, but I should have been more open and got more support. Don’t box yourself in with your fears and worries. Let your partner in on how you are feeling. They will probably be feeling some, if not all, of the same emotions and you can support each other.

Join online groups for other expats or parents in your new city. Talk to baristas in your local coffee house – sounds weird but these guys are usually friendly and have their finger on the pulse of your neighbourhood, and will always have a smile for you. No matter how tough it seems, you need to get out there even if it is only in a virtual way at first.CIMG7692

Take one step at a time but stay focused 

You won’t be able to do everything at once, especially if you are struggling emotionally. Each day or week make a list of the top few things you need to do, things that must be done even if they seem really trivial, like walk to the local supermarket and see what they sell. Get hold of something you need to make daily life easier, for example, go online and download public transport maps. Locate all the amenities you need in your local area and then spread out this research further afield. Think: local hospital accident and emergency department, local taxi firms, supermarkets that open longer hours, pharmacies, hairdressers that speak your language, florists for brightening up your space, DIY stores, local playgrounds, parks, coffee shops. This research also helps get you out of the house but equally can be done online. It also means you if you need this information quickly you are not rushing to find it.

Do fun stuff 

Sometimes, when the going gets tough, the fun things fall by the wayside. Enjoyable activities enrich your life, and although these things may not seem as essential as finding a permanent home or unpacking boxes they will make you more comfortable in the long run. Find a local museum to visit for a few hours (with kids or alone), go to a local coffee shop and order a big slice of cake and people-watch. Buy some magazines that interest you. You may not be able to read much if you can’t speak the language, but the pictures are fun to look at and you get an idea of the new culture you live in, especially when it comes to fashion.

Don’t give up!

There is a cliché, ‘This too shall pass’, and whilst at the time it feels like a prison sentence if you are struggling with a relocation, I promise you it gets better, it really does. After a time things seem easier, more familiar and less daunting – you may still not like where you live but maybe you will hate it a little less all the time. For some this takes a few months, for others a few years, and it is gradual. All of a sudden you will be looking back on the tough times as a distant memory, and you won’t even see when the turning point was but it will come, I promise.

Dejlige Days – My Guide to a Successful Relocation is now available!

On Friday my first book – Dejlige Days – My Guide to a Successful Relocation – was available to buy on all the Amazon platforms (links here US, UK and Europe (Germany and France). I was sitting my  co working space when I got the news and I must admit I felt a little tearful. It was almost 5 years to the day since we had moved to Berlin, it felt right that this was the bookend to that.dsc01776

This book has been in my mind for over four years and this year I finally pulled together all the chapters dotted around my hard drive and the yet unwritten ones in my brain. It’s not a huge tome but it covers all the things I have learned over the years of relocating to Denmark and Germany. Things I wish someone had told me and other things I realised I wish I had known. The book is personal and has a lot of me in it – it is my voice and my thoughts (as well as a chapter with advice from other expats). People who have read the sample chapters and the few people who read the full manuscript said that it was like a friend sharing their advice and thoughts through the page.

There are a two very personal chapters, one which I still feel emotional when I read it, where I share how I felt during the two major relocations and these stories feed into why I wrote this book. I will share an excerpt later in the week from the Berlin chapter.

The book aims to help people when they are right at the beginning of their relocation journey through the first six months to a year. My hope is that it is a book that readers can go back to when they reach different stages of their relocation for more advice and help. Even as a refresher if they are relocating again. It is a book for everyone but if I am honest it is a book that will help spouses more, especially in the stage of relocation when you have arrived in your new home.

It is also the time (in an Oscar speech kind of way) to thank everyone who has supported me through this writing journey. My family of course but without my close friend and mentor Janet Murray, it would still be sitting on my computer.

If you enjoy my blog, then this book will be for you. Happy reading.