Back in February of 2017, we shared the early stages of our work with the Municipality of Kolding, Denmark to support their efforts to integrate Syrian refugees into Danish society. Over the course of face-to-face workshops and individual coaching sessions, refugees are able to develop knowledge, skills, and strategies needed to thrive living and working in Denmark. And concurrently, we developed workshops for prospective Danish employers to gain a better understanding of what it takes to reap the full benefit of their new employees, what to expect from cross-cultural teams, and how best to prepare all sides of the equation.
The programs have been a success all around for the refugees, prospective employees, as well as our partners within the Municipality themselves.
At the end of 2017, a ceremony was held in honor of the first group of refugees who had completed the program. The ceremony was attended by refugees and their family, local politicians, and executives from the Municipality.
Pictured left to right: Mette Balsby, Chairwoman of the Job Council, Kolding Municipality, Nidal Seide, Senior Consultant, Aperian Global, Michael Petterson, Director of Employment and Integration, Kolding Municipality and Bethina Danielsen, Head of Integration, Kolding Municipality
One of the highlights from the event was a speech delivered to the refugees by Aperian Global Senior Consultant, Nidal Seide. Nidal is the lead consultant on our work with the Municipality, and as a refugee herself, she is able to provide an interesting cross-cultural perspective.
We’ve included a transcription of her very insightful and touching speech below. Let this serve as a reminder to us all that, “If you want to change the world, it begins with yourself”.
I would like to start by thanking all of you and all of the representatives here today from the Municipality of Kolding as well as Aperian Global for trusting me and giving me the opportunity to give back a little of what Denmark has given me.
When I arrived in Denmark over 30 years ago, everything was different than today. Danish society, Danish law, the Danes and their behavior were different. There were no Arab grocery shops — there was only one type of rye bread available, only one type of cucumber, no big variety of fruit. Not to mention the unemployment rate was very high.
I was well received here, and I learned Danish very fast. To my surprise, I discovered that the better I became at mastering the language, the less I understood the meaning.
There are big regional differences across Denmark and it shows in the dialects of the language as well as in the traditions and habits of the local people. I found it very hard to understand what the Danes were saying – what I learned in language class did not match the lingo of the street
I have had many jobs, internships, and job trials. I have had defeats, misunderstandings with my colleagues and expectations that were disappointed time and time again.
No one explained to me what to do, how to act or why my expectations were never fulfilled.
Culture is hard to understand without guidance because we draw conclusions from what we already know, but without knowing enough about the new culture. People form prejudices fast.
We need help and support to understand, to set realistic expectations and to overcome the disappointments.
I wish I had had the cultural learning program you have been granted by Kolding Municipality when I came to Denmark. It would have made many things easier for me and others around me.
After many years in Denmark, years of studies within culture, history, religion, politics, language and arts, and a professional life amongst Danes, I tell you today: I am not born here, but here I belong.
You must never give up! This project is a helping hand to you, as the very first in Denmark. All good things begin with you.
With this learning provided to you, you yourself decide, you form opinions and you become able to overcome the disappointments caused by cultural misunderstandings.
The municipality offers the helping hand- not only to you but also the employers so that they can get to know you and know that you stand out from the crowd. You understand the Danish workplace culture.
All of you had personal coaching. Your questions were answered. You came away understanding that you can be successful and make your own way into Danish society. Thank you for your openness and willingness to learn.
One last advice from an old refugee: Do not confuse Danish politics with public opinion. Danes and Arabs do not think the same way but their hearts are equally big. Today’s ceremony is living proof.
If you want to change the world, it begins with you. All of us had to crawl before we learned to walk. You have been given a walking cane, so you can learn to walk faster. Use the workbook and the GlobeSmart Profile in conversations with your Danish friends and colleagues. You are amazing and now you are able to talk about sensitive topics without hurting anyone’s feelings. This is a skill others will envy.
Congratulations from the bottom of my heart and the very best of luck to you all.
Pictured left to right: Ahmad Atto, Syrian refugee & workshop graduate, Mette Balsby, Chairwoman of the Job Council, Kolding Municipality, Nidal Seide, Senior Consultant, Aperian Global
If you’re a city official and would like more information on bringing a similar program to your city, we’d love to connect with you.