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Outside perspective: »Danes call it like they see it«

Manish Kumar Tiwari loves the flat hierarchical structure, the emphasis on a healthy lifestyle, and the informal tone in Denmark. He was born and raised in India but has taught at the University of Copenhagen for four years.

One of the first things I noticed when I got here was how open Danish professors are with each other. Everyone is very helpful and willing to share their ideas and research insights. They are not afraid that others will steal their ideas, and you are free to cooperate with everyone. That goes for professors at other universities as well. It was a very positive surprise.

SUmmer Series

At the University of Copenhagen more than a third of all researchers and teachers come from abroad. Over the summer, the University Post will present you to some of them and you will hear their stories of arriving in Denmark and working at the university.

How does Danish work culture differ compared to their home countries, what have the biggest surprises been, and how would the describe their Danish colleagues?

It took me three months to get used to addressing my colleagues by their first names. In India you address colleagues ‘Sir’ as a sign of respect. That’s not how you do that in Denmark, I was told. Here everyone calls each other by their first names. Getting used to that was difficult at first.

Whenever I would meet a colleague in the hall, or if I needed help with something, I just could not bring myself to address them by their first names. To me it seemed so disrespectful that at first, I would just say ‘hey’. I have had a lot of time to practice this in the meantime, and I no longer think twice about it.

I like the informal tone and the flat hierarchical structure at the university. Professors here are very open and forthcoming, much more so than I am used to from working in India and South Korea. That has been a marvellous experience coming here as a young professor. I have learned so much from my senior colleagues at the Department of Chemistry.

In India if you are a teacher, people regard you as a guru.

Manish Tiwari

There is a greater sense of equality here. That goes for the relationship between students and teachers, too. The students are more prone to asking questions and there is a lot more communication between students and teachers here than many other places. The students do not look up to the professors, in the same way that I looked up to my professors, when I was a student. In India if you are a teacher, people regard you as a guru. It is the most highly esteemed profession you can have. That goes for university professors as well as ordinary school teachers.

I love the dialogue with Danish students. I have something to teach them, but as an educator I also have a lot to learn from them. They have a lot of fresh ideas and a different perspective on the world.

Here in Denmark people speak their minds and call it like they see it. In a professional setting as well as in a private. Danes are very honest about what is on their minds and they are very straightforward. I like that. It provides clarity, and you do not waste people’s time with polite conversation and longwinded small talk.

Manish Kumar Tiwari

/ 36 years old

/ Lives in Charlottenlund

/ Born and raised in India

/ PhD from Konkuk University in South Korea

/ Came to Denmark as a postdoc at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) in 2013

/ Assistant professor at the Department of Chemistry since 2015

Many people think Danes are very serious and industrious people, and they certainly are, but they are also lively and fun loving. The first time I experienced that first-hand was at a conference I attended in Budapest with my colleagues. We went sailing on a boat and all of a sudden everyone got up and started dancing and partying. Since then I have gone to plenty of Christmas parties and social gatherings with my colleagues and it is never a dull experience.

My dream is to continue working in Denmark and start a family here. Career wise there are many exciting opportunities for me here. At the same time, it is a wonderful and safe country to live in. You are safe walking the streets, and you can bike anywhere you want. The Danes have a healthy lifestyle. The elderly ride their bikes and exercise in the parks, even when the weather is bad. It is highly motivating.

What I miss the most are the colours, the crowds, and the food in India. They provide a stark contrast to Denmark. Sometimes when you are waiting for the S-train or riding the bus, you are the only person around. In India you are always surrounded by other people. I do miss that occasionally. But on the other hand, I lead a very exciting professional life here in Denmark of which I am very fond.

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