Gustav, Psychiatrist from Slovakia working in Denmark

GUSTAV and Anezka came to Aalborg in early March 2014. Gustav is a trained psychiatrist and currently works at Aalborg University Hospital. Gustav is from Slovakia and Anezka from the Czech Republic. They both went to Madrid, Spain in September 2013 with their little 11-month old daughter Berenika. Gustav was to study Danish at MediCarrera’s intensive Danish course, but Anezka did not attend the intensive course, as she was pregnant with the couple’s second child.

Today the couple does not regret that Anezka did not attend the intensive course, and she is sure that she will learn Danish in Denmark. Among other things, MediCarrera offered her a short course in Danish via Skype after the arrival in Denmark, while she waited for little Kristian to be born. Her first task in Denmark will be to learn Danish, and then she is sure that she will find a job herself. The couple lives in Aalborg, where they have already moved into a small house, after only three months, in the neighbourhood of Visse.

“It was actually my contact person, who helped me getting the house,” says Gustav. “The apartment we had which was provided by the psychiatry department was a little too small for our family when our second child was born in May.”

The family’s second child has been given a Danish-sounding name, Kristian. His sister Berenika is almost two years old and has started nursery school where she has integrated amazingly well. “Our daughter Berenika has very quickly become accustomed to living in Denmark and communicates well with the staff at the nursery school.” Although their daughter still does not speak Danish, there is no communication problem. “In particular, it is very positive that the teachers let the kids do what they want. They can eat when they want, sleep when they need it etc.,” says Anezka. “I really like the approach towards the children.”

Visit to Denmark

The interview trip to the hospital in Aalborg was, according to Gustav and Anezka, well organised. At that time, the couple’s daughter was only 9 months old, so they all went to Denmark together. “We got a really good impression of Denmark and of the region where Gustav was to work. We were especially impressed by the beautiful scenery. We did not get as much information about the job itself and the various working conditions and it might have been nice to know a little bit more about that, but we did not know that at the time,” says the couple. “When we later came to Denmark, we were a little surprised that it is not so easy to move to a new country. There were more different challenges than we expected.”

For this reason, both Gustav and Anezka agree that it was a great help for them that MediCarrera took care of all the practicalities of the move to Denmark. “I was really surprised by how easy it was to sort out all the official paperwork, including getting my specialist licence, among other things,” says Gustav. “The staff at MediCarrera was very precise in their instructions to me about the documents I needed and from then on it went really fast to get the necessary papers.” “On the other hand, it took a long time for my wife to get the very important CPR-number. You really are ‘lost’ in Denmark without a CPR number. This 10 digit number is the key to EVERYTHING in Denmark. Without that you cannot get a bank account, a mobile phone etc.”

It was not an easy decision

We talked about it for almost two weeks. For us it has never been a question of money, for example. What we were looking for, was a country where there was time for the family, and good education and health care systems. We found all that in Denmark. Here we can work less and earn the same. This means that we have more time for each other and for our children. This is very important to us.

“The staff at MediCarrera was very precise in their instructions to me about the documents I needed and from then on it went really fast to get the necessary papers.”

Learning the Danish language

“First I had to go through the e-learning course. And frankly, I was actually on the verge of dropping out twice. I really think that it was hard to have to study and work at the same time. The language course in Madrid was very intense. It was actually a little harder to learn Danish than I had expected,” Gustav says. He already spoke English and French, and of course, also Czech. “Danish is very different than, say, French, and it took me a while to accept that each language has its own way. Especially the pronunciation is difficult.”

At the beginning of March 2014 Gustav started his new job. The first two days were spent organising various practical things, such as getting the CPR-number, etc. The introduction at the hospital went well, even though there were many new things to learn, such as, for example, dictation and how to log into different parts of the system. Gustav contacted one of the other doctors on the ward, and he became Gustav’s contact on their own initiative, and it has, according to Gustav been a great help to him, and he stresses that it is important that the recently-arrived physician has a contact doctor assigned for the first few months. Some of his colleagues were not so lucky, and it can be seen today on their integration at the workplace. “The contact person may well be a young, newly qualified doctor, as in my case,” says Gustav. “The most important thing is that it is someone that has been at the hospital for some time and has experience with the Danish healthcare system, as well as the time and desire to help. For me it has been essential to have a contact person assigned.”

Is your professional life different after you have come to Denmark?
“Yes, very. My work looks quite different today than in the past. Today I have time to consult books regarding theory, the internet and so forth. I never had time for that before. I have more time for patients and I feel that I can be a better psychiatrist for them. I do not need take a lot of extra shifts to earn more money either.”

How about the Danish language? Do you feel well enough prepared for the job?

“Yes, definitely. I can have conversations both with my colleagues and with patients. After about 7 weeks I had my first patient, and in fact I have only experienced once that there was a patient who said she could not understand me. In fact, she said it after our consultation to one of my Danish colleagues. Then, the next time I had consultation with her, I had to make sure to emphasize that if there was anything she did not understand, it was important that she would tell me. Language should never be a barrier between me and the patients.” “Perhaps it is also cultural,” reflects Gustav, “but it is very important to understand that it is not rude to ask questions. Actually in a Danish workplace, you are expected to ask questions if there is anything you do not understand.” “Linguistically, it is hard, but professionally it’s OK,” says Gustav.

An important aspect is that it can be hard not to confuse lack of language skills with lack of professional knowledge. “Sometimes, of course, I still lack the words, and then I have to ask a colleague or check the dictionary. So it will probably be quite a while yet. But it’s not because I don’t know it academically. I simply don’t remember the word in Danish, or I haven’t come across it yet, and it’s important that things are said properly to the patient, to avoid misunderstandings. Sometimes it can be difficult to prove that you are a skilled and professionally competent physician although the language is not always in tune. I also continue attending Danish classes in Aalborg a couple of times a week. I’m happy with this, though it is also hard to have to study Danish while I’ve got a new job, a little son, and we have also moved twice in just four months. But it’s going OK,” says Gustav.

Moving with his family to Denmark

“Moving to Denmark has certainly been the hardest for Anezca, since we had our little daughter Berenika and she was pregnant with our second child. In the Czech Republic it is normal to spend the first 3 years at home with the child and in the beginning it was hard for Anezka to accept that our daughter would go to nursery school. But now she has started, and she has already settled in well. She goes to sleep like any other Danish child, and among the first things we bought for her was a raincoat and a rain hat,” laughs Gustav. He had been told by his Danish teacher, that this was essential equipment for children in Denmark.

Something that also came as a surprise to the couple was that the challenge was not over when they arrived in Denmark, where new issues awaited the couple. How do you buy a new apartment or a house? What if you want to rent? Also, the registration of the couple’s car turned out to be significantly more difficult than expected.

The Danish weather

“It is much warmer than I had imagined. For example, right now (July) it’s 30 degrees. I had not imagined this.” We ask him not to worry, that the heat will soon come to an end. He has not yet tried the Danish autumn. Danes know very well that the weather and conversation about the weather takes up a lot a time, also in the workplace – in the summer, we think it is hot and in winter, cold – yes, the Danish weather is a big topic of conversation.

They have a small bathroom without a bathtub and then the washing machine in the basement… “One of the things that really surprised me was that Denmark was so different. I had not expected it. For example, in my country there is almost always a dishwasher and washing machine in the apartment. The Danes share a washing machine, most often in the basement. That was really strange to me. And there is almost never a bathtub. In fact, we discovered that it was very difficult to understand the housing market, something which I had not expected,” Anezka explains. “And then it took me a while to find the products I wanted to buy in the supermarket. Several times I bought the wrong thing. But now it’s better,” she laughs.

As Gustav at the end of the interview is asked if he has any advice for doctors who face the same challenge as he and his wife did in the autumn of 2013, he says: “It is very important to be positive, look to the future with confidence, and accept that it takes time, also in Denmark, before everything falls into place. You need to arm yourself with patience and accept that it takes time to get through the first phase, for it will soon be much better!”

Anezka agrees: “It is very important that you are positive and motivated. The whole process is lengthy: Visits to Denmark, the intensive language course and then the move. But the main thing is that you should keep in mind that it also takes time to settle in Denmark. It’s also important that you aren’t shy, but that you always ask if you are unsure about anything. It’s a different culture, and it can sometimes be hard to know what to ask for, and it can also be difficult for Danes to help, because they also don’t always know what is different in their country,” Anezka comments.

Now, almost four months after their arrival in Aalborg, they feel that are finally settled. They are enjoying their new life as a family in northern Jutland and plan to stay in Denmark for many years.