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Partners of University of Copenhagen internationals speak out

The wives, husbands and partners of international researchers put their own career on standby to come to Copenhagen. Now, they see themselves as ‘an untapped resource’

Spouses of international researchers at the University of Copenhagen often arrive in Denmark with the hope of finding work, only to realise that that they are far too qualified for the jobs available.

Read more excerpts from our spouse panel debate here.

This was just one of the points discussed at a meeting of a network of the spouses of researchers at the University of Copenhagen on 21 September.

For a part of the meeting, the University Post had been allowed to set up a panel and find out more about their issues, concerns and opportunities.

Felt jealous

Carola from the Netherlands, and one of the panellists, summed up the predicament of spouses giving up their careers, if only for a set time, to find out that this now means unemployment:

»It has been quite hard, and if you are not a very strong person it can be depressing,« she said.

One of the spouse network members in the audience added that she felt ‘jealous’ of her husband’s employment.
»I gave up whatever I had, so that he could pursue his career,« she said.

Only wives present

The Spouse Network was set up in March of this year for the wives, husbands and partners of university staff and researchers. It has 35 members, mostly women.

At this meeting there were only female participants. OK, there was one male participant, but he was quick to remind us that he was sitting in for his spouse.

Too old to be a waitress again

Setting up a new career from scratch in a destination to which your partner’s career – and not your career – has led you, is tough enough. An inflexible Danish labour market and a recession don’t make things any easier.

Ela, from Poland, is a literary editor, and is in Denmark as a result of her husband’s work as a cultural historian. For her, the paradox is that the jobs that are immediately available for people like her, are neither attractive, nor realistic for someone with her experience.

»I have had 20 years of my career in Poland. When I was younger I worked as a waitress. The fact of the matter is that I am too old to go back to waitressing again,« she laughed.

Carola added that, »you can take any job. But you have done too many things in your own career to be able to take a job that is such a step back«.

Now is my time

The trick is look at your time here as an opportunity, says Ela, who has just arrived in Denmark.
»I am going to treat the first year in Denmark as a kind of fellowship. It is my time,« she says.

She adds that although she has obligations such as picking up the kids in the middle of the day, she keeps a mental note to invest in her time, and use her time here as constructively for herself as possible.

One of the panellists suggested that those in the network that had the time could do voluntary work not directly related to the labour market. This was immediately supported by other spouses in the audience.

Could volunteer, organise

The University of Copenhagen in particular should be able to benefit from the group as an untapped resource, one member of the audience said.

»In some ways the university can think of us as a resource. We could do voluntary work, organise workshops, and do many other things, thereby sharing what we have to offer,« Ela said.

»This would be good for us and good for the university«.