A couple of days ago I was invited to go along a diversity walk. The email I received stated that "Denmark – and by extension its capital, Copenhagen – is often perceived as a homogeneous society and not very open to outsiders – but is this really true?"
It invited its participants to "discover some of the diversity the city of Copenhagen encompasses – from gender, sexual orientation, religion to ethnicity. By visiting a number of key organisations/sites we will learn more about the diversity of Copenhagen."
The program seemed interesting and when you are moving to a new country it is vital to take part of such events. The idea really was to be informed about organisations that exist in Copenhagen and help expats to integrate, meet people and find work. We all met at the International House (Gyldenløvesgade 11) and were greeted by Jens, a very friendly Dane. This first part at the International House was by far the most interesting for me. The city's goal is to make Copenhagen the most inclusive city in Europe by 2015. I believe it is ranked third at the moment. How this is recorded is another matter and could probably be arguable. And well... I'm French, with a lot of time in my hand and my A-level Philosophy is itchy to speak out :)
Making Copenhagen the most inclusive city in Europe
Making Copenhagen the most inclusive city in Europe is like saying the Danes are the happiest people in the world. That's at least what the survey says. But how is this recorded and given a value? Happiness is very subjective and something that cannot really be defined with criteria and consequently ticking boxes. Happiness or sadness/depression are feelings and not materialistic things that we cannot pinpoint. Happiness is different for everyone. Some people have everything they want but can't find happiness, and others own very little but are very happy. When you walk in the streets of Copenhagen, Paris or London you wouldn't see the difference; you wouldn't know that the Danes are labelled the happiest people in the world just by walking past them. So to make Copenhagen the most inclusive city in Europe might just be a matter of reading the criteria and try to tick boxes as much as possible. It doesn't mean however, that it's population's attitude would change. Or would it?
Here's an anecdote...
Umm... Can you become happy just because you live in the country that claims to be happy? Can somebody be welcoming and help foreigners to integrate just because they live in the most inclusive country? I'm too new in Denmark to know whether the Danes are welcoming and inclusive or not. I'm always dubious when high standard social goals are set, but at the same time it is a wonderful thing to do and a big step forward.
The various speakers were obviously Danish and explored the idea that foreigners tend to find Danish people to be rather closed to new people moving to their country. And this is something that was not denied by the Danes themselves. Apparently 75% of businesses have signed the Copenhagen Diversity's Charter. So maybe that's why they are already close to being the most inclusive city in Europe. But at the same time 70% of small and medium companies have little or no knowledge of the potential in targeting foreigners for new markets. So although many companies signed a piece of paper, many people might not know what it means or what to do next.
It was very interesting and encouraging to know that there are organisations out there trying to help foreigners and expats to meet new people and even find work. They speak many languages and seem very friendly. Anyone can call them for any help they may need, whether it is to expand a network, develop skills, get a CPR number, improve a resume, find courses, etc... I haven't explored all the opportunities yet. A lot of the information is still in Danish, which is obviously problematic, but here are the websites for those who are interested:
- International House Copenhagen www.ihcph.dk
- Work & Life in Denmark www.worklifedenmark.dk
- MentorNetwork: the budget for the mentor project is currently on hold and might disappear early 2014. www.kvinfo.dk
Helping Danish people help foreigners
One of the speakers was from the KVINFO association - the mentor network. The lady was very interesting and talked about how they created this mentor system which is very successful and undeniably useful to new foreigners. The mentor and mentee meet together and chat, do social things together and they help, support and learn a lot from each other. The mentors are all volunteers and can be Danish or from other backgrounds. The speaker was very good at explaining that Danes don't necessarily know how to be inclusive and open to other people, that they need some sort of structure and support to learn to do it. It is not as natural for them as it would be for others to talk to strangers on the bus for example.
But then again I'm not an expert in integrating people or even approaching them. Ollie and I don't even know our neighbours. We haven't met them yet. I said YET! Yes we are planning to invite them home very soon - we're just making our house more homely. But to know that the Danes are trying so hard to welcome foreigners, include expats, spouses and everybody else with so much effort is very encouraging and makes me want to get out more and talk to everyone on the streets because I now know that they want to speak to me, but they just don't know how to -)