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When home is where the university is
Lyngby-Taarbæk mayor Søren P Rasmussen is upfront about the challenge facing the new foreign residents of his town.
“Not only will you be living among people who are difficult to get to know,” Rasmussen told the 50 or so attendees at the town’s September welcome reception, “But you’re also going to be living in a country that can be difficult to figure out.”
He knows, though, that if he wants his town to be the centre of science and commerce he would like it to be, then he’s going to have to work with local companies and organisations to help foreigners get to know the Danes and get a handle on life here.
“We know people are going to have trouble settling in, but if we want them to be happy here, we need to come up with ways to help,” Rasmussen, who himself lived in Chicago for five years, said.
Lyngby has a leg-up when it comes to attracting foreigners in the first place. Like many towns in the area, it has its fair share of companies that employ foreign workers, but as the home of the nation’s leading polytechnical school, the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), it is a major magnet for foreigners.
Keeping those foreign residents in Lyngby is where Ramussen’s job begins in earnest, and the welcome reception held as a part of the Lyngby-Taarbæk City of Knowledge and Urban Development programme, he said, showed that the town was serious about wanting them to feel at home here.
“Think about it. We don’t hold welcome events for Danes,” he said, pointing out that some of the topics discussed during the event, such as library programmes and job hunting, could also be useful for natives.
Most of those attending the welcome reception said they were affiliated with DTU, either as students or staff, and most, such as Javier Delagado, a computer science student from Spain, were interested in information about learning Danish and finding jobs.
Delgado has been here a year and said he was interested in learning more about preparing to find a job.
“Of course the situation here is better than back home,” he said. “But Denmark is a nice place, and I could see myself living here.”
While Rasmussen said keeping people like Delgado in his town was beneficial for Lyngby, he added that he hoped the feeling was mutual.
“We each have strengths we can draw on,” Rasmussen said. “Foreigners can offer us enthusiasm, energy and a new way of looking at things. We can offer a hotspot for research and, I feel, a nice place to live.”
Something else Lyngby wants to offer its foreign residents is educational programmes for their children.
Earlier this year, the town started working towards establishing international classes at one of its schools. While those plans remain on the drawing board, an international daycare group has already been established.
As part of the Drivhuset daycare facility on the DTU campus, the group was established out of recognition that most foreign families won’t stay here permanently. For them, childcare and the availability of primary education in English are important considerations when it comes to deciding whether to accept a foreign assignment.
The daycare group is open to all of the town’s residents, but given the concentration of foreign students at DTU, placing it there, according to Beata Engels Andersson, a bi-lingualism specialist for the council, was a natural choice.
“Where would DTU be without foreigners?” Andersson said. “If we want foreigners to stay here, we need to make their children feel welcome too.”