Get Your Biering’s: Let’s talk about corona and the internationals

It’s “the world is your oyster” kind of attitude (photo: Pixabay)
May 14th, 2021 5:16 am| by Signe Biering Nielsen
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I recently interviewed 15 international employees at Danish companies to hear first-hand about their experiences in Denmark during the 2020-21 corona lockdown. 

Naturally resilient
The first thing that struck me was how resilient they are. Internationals don’t make a big deal about uprooting their family and starting over in another country, and they do not shy away from challenges. 

They have experienced personal hardship and emotional rollercoasters before – simply due to moving around – so corona is just another challenge. 

All 15 of the internationals did not point to corona as having a major negative influence on their personal situation, even though many of them had not seen their families for two years.

Closed circles
At the same time, when diving deeper, corona did seem to exacerbate some of the trends we already know from previous studies – and from my personal experience as a leadership coach to internationals.

Internationals do not feel included in Danish social circles – neither before nor after the arrival of corona. Fourteen of the interviewees mentioned a feeling of not fitting into groups of Danes.

Danes have close-knit friendship circles (‘the Højskole friends’, ‘the soccer team’, ‘the Uni-friends’), and the internationals are not invited – not into the groups, on walks, for barbeques or online Friday drinks. 

Neither are they welcome at julefrokost, Christmas, New Year or Easter. For Danes this is not surprising – these are ‘private’ events. For internationals it seems a bit … cold. 

Increased loneliness
For this reason internationals have felt an increased loneliness due to corona – beyond being socially-distanced. They often have a large circle of acquaintances, but few close friends. 

When social groups were limited to the five closest acquaintances, one interviewee said: “I guess I just ended up being number six.” She hadn’t met with anyone for eight weeks at that point. 

When asked directly, 13 of the internationals mentioned increased loneliness as a consequence of corona.

Bear it alone
Internationals are not used to complaining. They see themselves as self-sufficient and adventurous – the qualities that enabled them to leave their home country in the first place. 

They are unlikely candidates for victimhood – and are not about to ask for support from their employer. This makes helping them a challenge. 

None of the internationals I interviewed had actively asked for any form of assistance from their employer (to create online networks, initiate walks in the park, mentorships etc). 

Take an interest!
I believe both companies and employees need to talk more about these challenges. 

Granted, employers aren’t obliged to fix these issues – but taking an interest is the right thing to do. 

And it may even make their international talent happier.  

Signe Biering Nielsen


After 20 years in the Danish diplomatic service, including stints in India, China and Israel as deputy ambassador, Signe Biering Nielsen is turning her diplomatic binoculars onto the (in her view) intriguing Danes. She is an executive advisor and coach with a focus on internationals in Denmark. See LinkedIn and Instagram for more details.

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