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Welcoming international students

Higher Education Minister Morten Østergaard's speech at Christmas event with international students at the dormitory 'Regensen' in Copenhagen 15 December 2011.

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Christmas and Community

I for one love the Christmas season. It's a wonderful time. But it's also a peculiar time. We Danes do the strangest things:

  • We lie to children about Santa Claus and elves.
  • We erect a tree inside our homes and dance around it.
  • We hide an almond inside rice pudding and stuff our faces to find it again. All to win a silly present.

We are not alone in our peculiarities. Similar traditions are found in other countries. In fact, Santa Claus is originally inspired by a 4th century Greek Christian bishop in Turkey.

The tradition of giving an almond present stems from a French custom. And it was the German's who gave us the modern tradition of the Christmas tree.

But why do we do these funny things? I believe that Christmas, like other holidays and seasonal celebrations, is fundamentally about being a part of a community. It's about being together with family and friends.

Just think of Christmas pop music. No other holiday has so many songs dedicated to closeness and being together. Wham! sang Last Christmas I gave you my heart. Mariah Carey is still singing All I want for Christmas is you. And in Danish we sing that Christmas is a festival of love.

Inclusion in community

I would like to wish you all a very merry Christmas or, if you don't celebrate Christmas, a very happy holiday. And especially to those of you who are far from home.

Denmark strives to offer a warm welcome to international students. And I hear international students are very satisfied with studying in Denmark.

They are also pleased with their teaching and educational institutions. At least that's what we're told time and time again. But there is one area that could use some improvement.

Morten Østergaard talking to students
Education Minister Morten Østergaard met international students in Denmark during Study in Denmark's Christmas event with international students at the dormitory 'Regensen' in Copenhagen 15 December 2011. The Minister is satisfied that Danish educations attracts skillfull students from all over the world. The event also marked the release of the survey about international student's meeting with Danish housing market and study environment.
Some of you don't feel like you belong to a community here. Some of you would like to spend more time with Danish students. A sense of community between international and Danish students is crucial for your cultural and academic success during your time in Denmark.

But there is overwhelming evidence suggesting it's hard to make Danish friends. A recent study shows that nearly one in three international students don't become friends with Danish students through their courses. And more than half have not made friends with Danes from other courses.

This indicates that Danish students could be better at establishing closer contact with international students and involve them in their social life. As a host country we can do better. And it's definitely worth taking a closer look at.

Because fundamentally we have a responsibility to see that international students feel at home in Denmark. But it's not an obvious 'policy area'. You can't really make laws to ensure friendships between international students and Danish students.

But it is important that educational institutions make an effort to integrate international and Danish students. We must include international students in our communities. If meetings between internationals and Danes were like dancing around the Christmas tree, then I think Danes could be better at offering a hand to our foreign friends.

And inviting them up to dance. We have good reason to. Because it's not just international students who benefit from interacting with Danes. It works both ways.

Engaging with internationals is important to the Danes as it gives us another outlook on life. We gain greater understanding. Greater understanding of others. And greater understanding of ourselves.

And let's not forget how great it is to have friends all around the world! Who wouldn't want a ski friend in Salzburg? Or a couch to crash on in Barcelona? Or a surf buddy in San Francisco?

A Greencard for Christmas

Creating a community of international and Danish students is beneficial to all. Not least the Danish society. Denmark is completely dependent on collaboration and trade with other countries. The Government wants an open Denmark that takes advantage of the opportunities offered by globalisation.

This means that we must attract talented international students. Those of you who have chosen to study in Denmark are not just an asset to Danish educational institutions.

You also represent great potential for the Danish labour market. And I want to help improve the opportunities for international graduates to work for Danish organisations and companies once they have completed their studies. That's why I want to extend the current Greencard scheme so that international graduates have more time to find a job in Denmark.

International students should be met with recognition and opportunity. And I hope that there are many international students here today that are considering staying on in Denmark after their studies. My wish, is – that your wish is – a Greencard for Christmas.

But how do we encourage more of you to stay in Denmark? I believe we must be better at including you in our community. We must be better at offering you a helping hand. So I would like to finish off by encouraging you all to extend the special sense of community we get during the Christmas season to the rest of the year.

As the Irish poet William Butler Yeats said: There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven't yet met.

Merry Christmas.
Fröhliche Weihnachten.
Feliz Navidad.
Glædelig jul.
Seasons greetings.

last modified Feb 10, 2013