Today's interview is with Amit Bar. He sheds light on the differences between his home country, Israel, and Denmark, as well as the process of adapting to a new country.
Tell me a little about yourself
I'm 30 years old and I'm from Tel-Aviv, Israel. I have been learning Scandinavian languages for a few years now and I decided I wanted to do my Master's and start my career in Denmark. I participated in an exchange program during my Bachelor's degree through Erasmus which led me to Kristiansand in Norway.
What intrigued you about Scandinavian languages?
For me it is not only the language but it is also the culture, the people, the lifestyle and the positive approach to life. I come from a country where everything is fast paced and here it is completely different. When I'm in Scandinavia it's like being in a whole new world. I knew that if I wanted to start a career here I needed to know the language. I'm not fluent yet, but I am conversational and I'm slowly getting better.
What did you study at University of Aarhus?
I go to the Business school in Aarhus, BSS. I am now in my second year where I have the opportunity to intern and get credit for it. I am doing my internship at Mattel, the American toy company.
You've lived in both Copenhagen and Aarhus. What would you say is the main difference?
One of the reasons I was attracted to Aarhus, and Jylland in general, was that you get more of "the Danish experience". I'm really fascinated by Danish history and I have travelled all over Jylland, from down south all the way up to the north. The chances of me being forced to speak Danish and being pushed out of my comfort zone are greater in Aarhus compared to Copenhagen. Copenhagen is a completely international city. I think you can live here without really having to learn Danish and I didn't want to feel like an outsider. But when it comes to careers, there are so many more options in Copenhagen. In Jylland, there are obviously the big companies such as Arla, Lego and Bestseller, but the competition is extremely high! So the system pushed me a bit towards Copenhagen. But trust me, Aarhus is a great city, there are 42,000 students and it is so easy to meet people. I met new people every single day, whether it was at the university, the gym or in the dorms. I've lived for three months in Copenhagen now and it takes longer to make friends here.
What's the biggest difference between Denmark and your home country?
Back home if you are late to an appointment, maybe twenty minutes or half an hour, then they'll find a way to still make time for you. Whereas in Denmark, if you're late to an appointment at the doctor's for example, then they will ask you to make a new appointment. That was a bit of a challenge for me, because it's different to where I come from. I am taking everything as it comes and try not to take things too personally because it is a learning experience and it requires me to adapt.
And then there are the obvious factors, like the weather. Denmark had the best summer this year with high temperatures but in Israel it would have been considered completely ordinary. Secondly, the food is different. I always tell Danes that I think they are doing everything right, but that the food and weather take time to get used to.
Do you see yourself living in Denmark in five years' time?
Yes, I do. I want to build my career here and spend the next years here. I think this country has great opportunities and I love it.
Was Denmark your first choice to come to?
It was after traveling here. In 2015, I got a scholarship from the Dansk Kultur Administration. I spent a month in Copenhagen where I took Danish lessons in the morning and the rest of the day we were taken around the city to explore. It was great! I loved exploring the country and that led me to pursue my Master's degree here.
What are your career goals?
I want to work with companies who are good to the environment and people. I thrive on adding value to what I do. I consider myself a hard worker and very motivated. I would like to work in a place that appreciates that and rewards based on the work that I put in. Additionally, I'd like to work in a place where I wake up in the morning and feel excited about going to work. Honestly, that's what I have now working for Mattel!
How did you get your job?
Here is the thing, finding a job is not easy. It took me a while to find this job. It took me months to get my CV ready, and just to learn the whole application process in Denmark. In Israel there are different rules for CV's; before Denmark I had never written a cover letter. In Israel you just send an email and attach your CV. It doesn't work like that here. I had some Danish friends who told me: You're never going to get a reply if you don't attach a cover letter. They also told me to put a photo on my CV, we dont do that where I'm from either. I had to learn and accept that the rules have changed for me. I came to a place where it works differently and so I had to adapt, but it is important to know that it takes time. Eventually, I got an amazing job, but it took me a long time to learn how to present myself appropriately.
I went to interviews and I learnt a lot about the process and about myself. Interviews aren't fun, but you learn a lot. You need to know what you are offering and how to present it depending on who interviews you. Now I know a large number of companies in Denmark because I did a great deal of research and applied to an extensive amount of jobs. I want to learn as much as I can about Denmark and doing all this research has given me insight into which Danish companies exist, what they do and what products they offer.
Is there anything you wish you had learnt at university that could have helped you in a working environment?
A lot of what we study at university is theoretical and I wish there were more real-life experiences like simulations of interviews and this sort of stuff. We have a career centre at the university and they helped me a great deal my first year, but I was lacking more one on one time. As an international you have no clue how the system in Denmark works and you end up learning by doing. Of course, there are some guidelines online, and I have read them, but I don't feel that's enough. I wish there was some sort of mentor program, for example, it could be professional international alumni who have been through the process and can help explain it to new internationals in Denmark. It would make the process of adapting a lot easier and smooth. The more help we get, the more likely we are to find a job and stay here and pursue careers.
What is your role at Mattel?
Mattel in Denmark has a relatively small office. We only have two departments: Marketing and Sales. I work mostly in sales but get to do a bit of both. I mostly work with pricing strategies. We are trying to make Mattel in the Nordics more competitive. I love my job because all my traveling around Scandinavia and years of learning the languages really benefit me at work and it allows me to put these skills to use in real life scenarios.
What is your biggest challenge at work?
When joining a company, you have to basically learn a new language. The way we communicate at Mattel makes you think we have our own language but in reality, it's English. We have so many terms and expressions specific to the company. It is challenging in the beginning, because it is hard to understand what is being said. But I'm into learning languages, so I'm not afraid of it, but none the less it is a challenge. This leads me into my next point, internships are a great! People don't expect you to have a lot of experience. You get to be in an environment that encourages you to ask a lot of questions. It gives you the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them.