University Post
University of Copenhagen
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Comment: Danes get real work, while you volunteer

Danes get the jobs, while internationals get to work for free. Batzul Gerelsaikhan asks why

As an international student looking for a job in Denmark, you’ll most likely end up disappointed with no return calls from employers. You will probably have no choice but to devote your energy and skills to volunteering instead.

Maybe you will be blinded with a volunteering offer: Free entrance, free food, free t-shirts with logo, a ‘great experience’, and the ‘opportunity to make friends with Danes’, and so on.

Maybe you lack Danish language skills or Danish friends, and maybe even the bad economy will blind you even further.

But if you actually work instead of volunteering, all of the above great stuff will be provided. On top of it though, will be greater satisfaction and experience: And an actual return and salary for your labour.

So, what is it that makes internationals still volunteer?

Danish vs. English

Language is a barrier to getting a real job. Most jobs in Denmark are advertised in Danish. Ironically, volunteering jobs are advertised in English. Google-translating vacancies from Danish to English only to find ‘Danish is mandatory’ will make you feel inadequate and bad about yourself.

It may be reasonable for full degree students to take a Danish language course, but for the exchange students who are staying here for a short term, it is a waste of time.

What’s more, exchange students have a small chance of scoring a job interview. Employers are reluctant to train short-termed students who end up going home anyway. As soon as they spot that you’re only here for a short period, they will throw your CV straight to the garbage bin.

Labour exploited

There is no official minimum wage in Denmark, but unions have negotiated it at more than DKK 100 per hour in nearly all job areas. Still, internationals choose to work hours and hours on their feet for free.

Of course, volunteering is a fruitful gesture, and volunteering can be fun, like at Roskilde Festival.
But would it not be more reasonable to volunteer in the developing poor countries of Africa, Latin America or Asia? Denmark is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, and Copenhagen is the most expensive place to live in the EU – why volunteer here?

At major big conferences that happened in Denmark like the IARU International Scientific Congress on Climate Change or at the Local Government Climate Change Leadership Summit, internationals volunteered in hopes of being part of the big events, and making friends with Danes.

But why were most of the volunteers actually international?

In Denmark, there are volunteering organizations like CPH Volunteers, where they constantly send shout-outs to internationals for volunteering opportunities in English; but where are the ‘real job’ shout-outs for internationals?

Black or white jobs

I have no real answers to these questions.

Danes get their study grant, the SU, and if they work too much they get taxed. Not all Danes like the tax system, so some Danes don’t mind working half white, and half black, in order to escape tax.

But non-EU internationals do not get any SU (except for the DANIDA scholarship winners), and certainly they do not benefit from working black at all – they would not get any holiday money and most importantly, they would get lower wages.

Internationals find themselves surprised how they can only find waitressing, cleaning or babysitting jobs.
Once they understand it’s hard to find the ‘real’ jobs, they go elsewhere, feeling left out.

Brain drain

Networks are extremely important in the labour market. But Denmark has a homogenous culture, where you will always be an outsider if you do not come from Denmark. Even the volunteering world keeps internationals in an international environment; they don’t get a chance to mingle in a Danish working network.

Some are lucky and do get the job in Denmark, but what about the other unlucky ones? They head back home or elsewhere.

The tightening of visa rules will not help this problem, and let’s not talk about the cartoon crisis.
With a discriminating work environment, Denmark could become an unpopular destination for internationals, despite its high wage level.

Denmark should try something new:

Fight the brain drain and hire qualified internationals that are already studying here for real jobs. And to the Danes: Why not volunteer?.

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