Professor of sociology Claire Maxwell and her family moved from England to Denmark. The workplace culture at the University of Copenhagen is very different from anything she is used to. Among other things, the sanctity of the Danish lunchbreak came as a surprise her.
I came here with my family ten months ago, when I accepted a position as professor at the Department of Sociology. At the time, we had no plans to leave England. Over the course of the last five to six years, England has been falling apart politically and economically. Inequality is on the rise, and the quality of education at the universities has declined. It is not a society that I wish to raise my children in.
It has always been my dream to expose my children to a different kind of society than the English one but at the same time, we did not wish to just settle down anywhere. Danish society is a good society, and Copenhagen is a very civilized city. It’s a great place to raise your children. Everything works here. Of course, you pay a price for that in the form of a high tax burden. But as I see it, it is all worth it.
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 they describe their Danish colleagues?
At English universities faculty members are under much greater pressure than they are here. It is clear to me that the system here is much more well-funded. I feel that I have time to complete my tasks, more so than I did in England, and there’s also time to spend with my family.
Most researchers never cease working, no matter where they are in the world. But there’s a difference in what is expected of us from the institutions and whether or not working late hours is driven by curiosity or a sense of duty. At the University of Copenhagen, you can work a 35-hour week, and you are not expected to stay at the office past 4 p.m.
In Denmark people take their lunch breaks. That’s something I have had to get used to, because that is far from the standard in England. Every day at noon, my colleagues leave their desks and head to the cafeteria. You can set your clock by it. It’s very funny. At London College University, where I used to work, no one took lunch breaks. People would sit in front of their computers and eat their sandwiches there.
At London College University, where I used to work, no one took lunch breaks. People would sit in front of their computers and eat their sandwiches there.
I like that Danes invest themselves socially at their workplaces. It means a lot in terms of fostering a sense of community. Over the course of the winter we held two seminars at the Department of Sociology, one was a day long and the other took place over two days, and everyone participated. In England you could never expect employees at a university to take out two days of their schedules to spend time with their colleagues. It is unimaginable. Personal relations are simply not that important. But they are here, and I really like that. You get to know your colleagues as individuals and not simply people you happen to work with.
Some of my Danish colleagues say that Danish students are very demanding in terms of how they are treated. Personally, I haven’t experienced a great difference between Danish and English students. English students are also demanding but that is because their education is extremely costly. Danish students are so because there is a greater tradition of democracy in Denmark. Here students are used to being heard, and I think that is a good thing.
/ 44 years old
/ Of Australian and German descent but has lived in England for most of her life.
/ Professor of sociology
/ Lives in Hellerup with her husband and two children ages 12 and 9
/ Previously employed as a professor at University College London
/ Moved to Denmark in August 2018 and has since then been a permanent faculty member at the Department of Sociology at the University of Copenhagen.
The first thing I noticed, after I moved to Denmark, was how easy it is to get around. It’s a feeling of complete bliss when I jump on my bike and head to work every day. Danes are used to being able to get around everywhere on their bikes, but to me and my family it is a very special thing.
Another thing where Denmark is very different from England is the level of trust here. I think it is amazing that I can leave my bike unlocked in front of my house or the store and not worry that it will get stolen, and it’s nice that schools don’t have to worry about things like risk evaluation and student safety. This is how a society should be.
My children are safer and act more independently here. They can take the train or the bus on their own, and they bike to school. In Oxford, where we used to live, that was not the case. There is a greater level of social and economical inequality in Oxford compared to Copenhagen. It’s not as safe to walk the streets alone there. It makes me happy that my children get to experience the freedom and safety they are afforded here.