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Postdoc Ana Filipa Correia da Silva decided to leave Portugal a year ago to focus on a future with her family in Denmark. The working culture is different, and it has taken some time to learn how to interpret Danish colleagues' body language.
The first time I was in Copenhagen was at a conference three years ago. I really enjoyed the city and the relaxed atmosphere. I looked at the Danes and took note of how family-friendly Copenhagen is. I saw a lot of mothers walking around with their young children. I thought everyone looked happy and content. Their faces were full of smiles, and the children were running around and looking healthy.
There is a positive atmosphere here, completely different from Portugal, where everyone is stressed. A working week in Portugal is 40 hours, and because we have a compulsory two-hour self-paid lunch break, you are actually working 10 hours a day. This means that most people aren’t off until 7 pm and then have to hurry to get children home from kindergarten and school. I was lucky because I worked close to where I lived. But for others who have a long commute, it is almost impossible to get work and family life to balance out.
At the University of Copenhagen, more than one third of all researchers and teaching staff are from abroad.
In this series, you can meet some of them and read about what they think of working at the University of Copenhagen.
What is the working culture like relative to their home countries? What has surprised them the most? And how do they describe their Danish colleagues?
I knew that the quality of the research you do here in Denmark is very high, because I had already co-operated with Aalborg University while I was doing research in Lisbon. I was therefore in no doubt that it would be good for my career to work here. And with the prospect of a life with more time for the family, I reckoned it would be a win-win situation for the whole family if we settled in Denmark.
As a researcher, you have endless opportunities here. There is a huge variation of courses and subjects that you can take, and the academic level is high. It is much better than I had dared hope for.
The Danish working culture is very different from Portugal. I am accustomed to a lot of talking going on at work. Perhaps too much. We are just not as effective in Portugal as you are here. Danes are very focused on their work assignments. In Portugal, you use the first hour of the morning to greet and chat with colleagues. Your friends are your colleagues, so work and social life is mixed up. Perhaps also because we spend most of our waking hours at the workplace.
If a Danish colleague looks serious and is working quietly, it is usually not because there is something wrong.
I miss that warm feeling I had when I turned up at work in Portugal, and everybody shouted ‘Good morning!’. Danes are very private and not as open as the Portuguese. But at the same time, my Danish colleagues are incredibly sweet and caring. When Danes open up, they turn out to be deep and open-hearted. In Portugal, things are different. We are very extroverted, but perhaps a little bit more superficial. As a foreigner, it can be difficult to interpret the Danes’ body language. But after a year here, I am getting the hang of it. If a Danish colleague looks serious and is working quietly, it is usually not because there is something wrong. It is often just because they are concentrating on their work.
If you have a bad day or you are ill, you can be sure that your colleagues will take care of you. From being fully absorbed in their work, the Danes are also one hundred per cent available for you, if you need their help. This is something that I learned in the year I was at the University of Copenhagen: Danes always do their best, regardless of whether they are working, caring for a colleague, or partying.
I am impressed with the Danish students. They are very independent and committed. They turn up well-prepared and do not give up, even though they encounter something difficult. At the same time, they are driven and willing to take on new tasks. I think this comes from the Danish school system. Primary schools teach children to take the initiative and think for themselves. In this way, they are well equipped for the outside world.
ANA FILIPA CORREIA DA SILVA
Age: 39 years old
/Postdoc (in microbiology)
/Lives in Østerbro with her husband and their two children aged 4 and 6
Until a year ago, she was employed at the University of Lisbon
/Has been living in Denmark since 2018, where she is employed in a postdoc position at the Department of Biology at the University of Copenhagen.
The lack of natural light during the winter months is the hardest thing about living in Denmark. You get so tired when it’s dark at 3 pm. I can easily cope with the cold in the winter, however. The advantage of Copenhagen is that you can bike and walk everywhere so you are moving all the time and it does not feel cold.
Danes always do their best, regardless of whether they are working, caring for a colleague, or partying.
The best thing about working in Denmark is the time you have on your hands. There is a good balance between work and family life. This is not just something you say And it’s nice to be part of a society that you trust, and that takes care of you.
It has been a huge gift for the children to move here. In Portugal, they only got home at 8pm each day. We now have plenty of time together in our daily life as a family. The kids get a lot more closeness and attention from their parents and have settled down well in their kindergarten. They’ve got good friends and are doing really well here.
There is a different sense of security about the future. This can clearly be seen in people’s faces when you are on the Metro. The Danes’ faces are not as concerned. You all look peaceful and satisfied. In Portugal, the faces are far more stressed out. Both because daily life is tougher and because there is this constant economic uncertainty about the future.
My first year in Copenhagen has taught me to live life more simply. Danes are masters at getting the most out of their everyday lives. You see something in just sitting in a park with your children after work or going for a bike ride. This is a huge gift.