The Danish Virtuous Circle: The Importance of Responsibility

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how being both a student and a worker in Denmark is an amazing thing. I take the idea further and tell you what I feel makes the workplace such a great and open environment to learn from.

In general, Denmark is amazing when it comes to work experiences, especially when, like me, you come from a country where being a student reduces you to a no-one, an incapable, someone who isn’t fully “complete” yet, like a baby who’s been in their mom’s womb for a few months only and is not ready to come out yet, or like a teenager who hasn’t finished high school yet, and the list goes on.

In many countries, when it comes to work, I have the feeling that some things are never going to be enough. The school you went to, the experience you have, the way you use your experience, where you’ve worked, and blablabla… It is never going to be enough because someone is always going to be better than you. And if you happen to find the job you’re enough for, a job you like, then there probably will be many other jobs than will be better than yours, more paid, etc. Or maybe that’s just the conservative elite French system?

Life-long education

In Denmark, you are taught many things that are not typically part of a school year curriculum. So a few things you are taught are not about maths and grammar, they’re skills you need to be part of a society that works as a whole. You get taught teamwork (through a lot of group work and discussions), how to speak in public (so even the shiest ones can say what they have to say), how to take initiatives (assignment instructions are very large), how to listen and be listened to (there is almost no hierarchy both at uni and the workplace), how to be part of society (at university, in classrooms where 30+ fit, tables are put in an open rectangle rather than in rows that face the teacher), all in all, you’re taught how to be responsible for your own actions.

… And you get to develop your skills at your workplace(s), where you’ve started working at as soon as you were able to be treated as a human being who has a brain and who can use it and who can have a sense of responsibility.

See, in many places, this would mean waiting until you are 25 years old.

And it’s a huge problem!

Can you not remember being a kid and happy to be treated as a responsible person who can do things on their own? How did that make you feel?

If you have no one, nothing near (or far from) you to help you build confidence, especially as a young and ambitious woman living in the 21st century, how can you manage? Let’s not talk about ads and all the things that make women feel like we always have to be, or have, or behave in ways we are not, with things we do not have, or behaviours we do not find fit our personalities – let’s just say that you cannot be about 25 years old and entering the job market and be expected to thrive just in a snap of fingers.

From living and experiencing both the university and the workplace in Denmark, I can honestly say that I have gained as much academic knowledge as I have acquired and developed personal (and inter-) skills.

Responsibility, what for??

In Denmark, you are taught to be responsible. You don’t need a stupid doctor’s note or letter from parents to tell your school that you’re sick when you’ve reached age 16. Of course, people abuse from that, and they miss the entirety of the 25% absence allowed during a school year in order to sleep in or do whatever they feel like doing, but they also get a sense of responsibility. And that’s one of the most important things you need to be taught when you are 16 years old, because throughout your life, no one is going to take you by the hand to give you everything you need, everything you want, everything you aim for.

When you get sick, you need to catch up on what you’ve missed in class.

When you get fired, you need to find a new job.

When you’re not happy wherever you find yourself, you need to get up and go out there and look for what makes you happy.

And so in Denmark, you’re more likely to find people who take initiatives and who are responsible for their actions because they’re taught to do so from age 0 (okay, okay, more or less, maybe not that early. I am just exaggerating here because it seems like it really is a normal thing, whether 50 or 10). Elsewhere, it seems way less important to be taught that responsibility is a real thing in life.

In class, when professors give questions to discuss, and you end up discussing the questions with international students only, you end up discussing other non-uni-related things after a little while and wait until the professor starts speaking again. When you discuss questions with Danes, there’s a 5-minute break at the end of the discussion, just before the professor starts speaking again.

So surprisingly enough, in Denmark, you end up with responsible people. Danes seem to like to want to things. They want to help, they want to grow, they want to learn, they want to live well, they want good things from life, whatever they might be.

Again, if this country’s considered one of the happiest on Earth, what can it be that makes them so happy? Responsibility has definitely its part in the game.

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Post from a plane

Today I am flying with Norwegian airlines. It is one of the best airlines I have ever flown with: the staff is friendly, they are not late, and that makes them a great company because they can be really cheap. 

Also, there is wifi on the plane. 

Wifi! On a plane! Up in the air, above the clouds! When you’re flying 800kph! 11 000 meters above the ground (these are numbers given by their website at the moment). 

The first time I flew with them, I was astonished and couldn’t get over myself for the whole duration of the trip (2h).  How can it be? How does it work? Now it’s the third time I get to check my emails and Instagram feed while sitting here and glancing over at the nearby clouds and I just wonder how our society just got here, to where it is. 

Some kids can’t go to school or even eat and some others get to watch YouTube videos while on the plane. 

How can this be, really? 

I am as amazed at how much we can do as I am saddened at how little we actually do. 

And in the magazine they put in the back seat in front of you, one article talks about robots and how they might start working as receptionists and PR agents in the future! 

Don’t get me wrong. I love our time and I am very grateful we have new technologies, and I love that our world is so connected in oh so many ways, and I am in no way discussing wether we should stop all that. 

But shouldn’t we also focus on the vital things? Couldn’t we get robots to Kenya and making them fetch water instead of letting 10-year-old girls do it? Couldn’t we have robots build housing facilities in Brazil or Russia fast? Couldn’t we focus on creating chips that would provide humans from corrupting the world (ok, that one might take a while)?

I’m not saying no one is doing anything either. 

I’m just wondering why I am sitting here on this plane, about to press the “post” button of this app  while in other parts of the world, families will have to get up and fight to get food and water, just to survive. 

21st century. I’m just wondering why

 

The Danish Virtuous Circle: When Being a Student Cannot Really Get Any Better

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My campus on a sunny winter day

Almost everything I thought I’d experience when moving to Denmark has proven to be wrong. Danes are not closed, they’re just not looking for friends; the weather in Copenhagen is not as bad as they say it is; in the winter, the Danes hide, and in the summer, they’ll be as tanned as Spaniards from being all day every day in the Sun. But yes, life is expensive, and yes, “hygge” moments are a real winter thing.

Besides taking my mind beyond those clichés we all have about the Danes, I have learnt much more than I thought I would – my experience has taught me that every country, every place is unique, but I had no idea Denmark would have so much for me to learn from.

Especially from a professional point of view. Let me elaborate on that.

The Famous SU Grant

When you first get to Denmark as a full-time “international” student – meaning you’re not doing any kind of exchange programme but rather just moving to the country for the whole duration of you bachelor/master’s degree – you quickly learn how things work for local students. Just for being lucky enough to hold a Danish passport, the government gives you some kind of student salary (“Statens Uddannelsesstøtte”, commonly referred to as “SU”, which means something like “State support for education”), which is about 500-600€/month. How great is this? Anyone who studies and has a hard making ends meet, and who might have to work before starting any educational programme, or while doing so, can already make up how much time that would allow for more studying or sleeping.

And although many of us students out there working for the same amount of money every month might feel like we wouldn’t need to work anymore if granted with such a heavenly gift, this is not what goes through a Dane’s mind. No, no. That’s partly because if you live in anywhere in the city in Denmark and want to be independent, 600€ won’t take you far – you might just be able to pay for your rent and eat pasta and rice every month.

So what do Danes do? They work, yes, and that’s the most interesting part.

CV Stamps: Diploma and Professional Experiences

In Denmark, it is straight-forwardly unconceivable for you to graduate without having at least supermarket or restaurant/café professional experiences. In fact, in many supermarkets, you’ll find 16-year-olds standing behind cash machines and bakery counters – at least in Copenhagen. Coming from France, a country where it is very hard for you to find a job before you turn 18 (if not impossible), it was very surprising to me.

But that’s for the better. It means that later on, students get other jobs. They might just want to experience something else, if given the opportunity to.

And that’s the best thing: they are indeed given the opportunity to properly work. And what I mean by properly is not that you get to stop working in supermarkets to go on to working in cafés, then restaurants, then offices, all the way up to the “”best”” jobs found throughout society. No; it means that you have the choice to have the job you want.

It means that if you want to work in a company that offers you to practice what you’ve learnt at university, you can.

The gigantic glass windows at the Faculty of English allow a lot of light to come in - the best way to encourage students to study even on grey days.

Between the Uni Library and the Office: the Outcomes

And if you do get to work in a company that has what you’re looking for to offer, you are not seen as the small person, the one who does not yet hold a diploma. You are a student with skills that the company can use. You are learning and open to do so. You are given responsibilities. You get to take initiatives and you are listened to. You get congratulated on when you produce good work. You get told when you make mistakes. You get to learn about life in a company. You get to learn those things you cannot learn at university – just simply because life in the professional world does not work the same way as in the academic world.

And that makes you feel rich. Not only money wise, especially compared to life in other countries as a student, but also mentally, psychologically, professionally. Your experiences get intertwined and if you are a humanities student like me, you realise the world is full of opportunities. Because you study languages or sociology does not mean your only option is to become a teacher.

It means you can be whoever you want to be, according to your aspirations, interests and strong skills.

You are not trapped, your life is in no way doomed to boredom if you have chosen a career path the world does not seem to need, that the world reduces to the lost and dreamy.

After living for one year in Denmark with both academic and professional experiences, not only do I feel ready to jump into the full-time professional world, but I also feel excited. I feel I have been given real keys for getting out there and being part of the working society – and I will happily do so, probably the way my fellow student Danes will, too.

Thinking I have one year left with more professional and academic learning at the same time simply just excites me. I feel extremely grateful and I think Danes do, too. Is this one of the explanations to why they are considered the happiest people in the world?

Liked this article? Stay tuned! More information on life as an “international” student and worker in Denmark is to come.

The Art of Receiving Thank Yous (and giving them)

A few days ago, I stumbled upon an Amy Schumer joke video (to which I’ll put the link down below), that presented a bunch of girls complimenting on each other and their reactions – I won’t spoil it for you, go watch it -, mostly their inability to receive the compliments they were made to.

I found the outcome of it quite ridiculous; obviously, there is no need to add that this is a parody but all parodies have their side of truth, right? Well, this is reality is so greatly and sadly true. Our society doesn’t like to spend time on teaching us useless things such as how to receive thank yous and compliments.

Thanking people is an educated thing to do, that’s true. But only for what they do for us, or to say no in a polite manner. We don’t get taught how to thank people nor to be grateful and say it. So it is okay – and recommended – to say when things are wrong but not when they’re right? Why not?

It is just weird. People find it weird. They don’t know how to receive positivity. And when you do say something positive that concerns them, they avoid it, change subjects, pretend they didn’t hear. And not because they’re happy inside and don’t know how to show it, but because they think they don’t deserve it, or think the giver is lying, or pretending, and so on.

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It is true that it is not the case of all. Some people are good at receiving compliments and thank yous. But to be honest, even if there were 3 out of 7 billion who did not know how to embrace the positivity in a thank you and a compliment, I’d still be writing these words; it makes me really sad that people don’t realise they’re good people, doing well and good things.

When people thank you or make you compliments, own it. If they believe you deserve to be thanked or complimented on, it is for a reason. Just take it. Nothing less, nothing more. And if you don’t know how to, learn. It’s good for you – it doesn’t get much more complicated than that.

Not only does knowing your value help when facing your potential future boss at a job interview while trying to sell yourself ; it also helps when you get thrown negativity at, voluntarily or not. It helps you stay put and stand straight when people tell you you’re doing it wrong (or not well enough).

Knowing your worth acts like an umbrella when you have no other choice but to walk under the rain.

rainy fine art

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And when you realise someone’s actions or words are worth mentioning, mention them. Doing things well  – whatever they are -, acting the right way – however (in)significant it might be -, being good to people around – whoever they might be – is not obvious.

Acts of goodness are not to be taken for granted. Show it, say it, share it. Learn how to see it.

Knowing how to thank people for what they do, whoever they might be and however they might be related to you (or not), helps you live a happier life, or at least a happier day, or maybe just hour or minute. Everyone wants happiness, right?

 Or did I get it all wrong? I’m just not just sure humans are on this planet to get richer and richer and to get on each other’s feet.

Human beings, we get better. That’s what we do. We strive for for doing things better, faster, stronger, and all that. History shows it, your parents and grand-parents’ lives show it. Yours should as well. And if it doesn’t, then there’s something wrong. If you don’t think you’re doing better, then something is wrong. You’re not meant to be sad, unhappy, uncomfortable, angry forever.

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There is and always will be room for improvement. In your workout, organisation, relationships, at work, the way you brush your teeth or cut your onions.

But that does not mean you are worth nothing when you get criticised on one thing or the other.

In order to get better at doing what you do, at being who you are, you need to realise your worth. And welcoming words of kindness is one way to help you find this worth. Let people thank and compliment you. Rather than happiness, positivity is around the corner – just don’t walk the other way around. There are people handing you their hands over there. Go for it.

Here are three links related to this article, more specifically on why it is important to be grateful: