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Why do international students choose to stay in Denmark after graduation?

Why do international students choose to stay in Denmark after graduation?
A file photo showing international students from Copenhagen Business School in 2017. Photo: Sofie Mathiassen/Ritzau Scanpix
Safe streets, opportunity in the workplace and a great quality of life are some of the reasons graduates choose to stay in Denmark. Here, four graduates talk about their journey from student to working life.

Denmark is a popular place to study for international students, with approximately 16,800 students coming to Denmark in the years 2018/2019. There has been considerable media coverage surrounding the high percentage of international students who leave within two years after graduating. Despite this, it is still estimated that 55 percent of international students choose to remain in Denmark.

Graduation is a time that is often fraught with uncertainty as students try to find their place in the working world. On top of this, many international graduates in Denmark also have to deal with cultural misunderstanding, unemployment woes and immigration bureaucracy, amongst other dilemmas and difficulties.

So what about the students who stayed? Why do these graduates opt to stay in Denmark?

Elitsa Marinkova, 30, Bulgaria

Elitsa came to Denmark in 2009 to study an Academy Profession (AP) degree in Marketing Management followed by a top up BA in International Sales and Marketing Management at Business Academy Aarhus. She then did a Master’s in International Business at Aarhus University. She explains, “finding a job in Denmark has not always been easy.”

“After my Bachelors I was jobless for a full two years and I was on the verge of going home.” One advisor at her A-kasse asked her “Why don’t you just give up? Go home. We [Denmark] have no jobs for you.”

Elitsa realised that it was necessary to complete a Master’s degree. This was in spite of volunteering, taking Danish classes, and meeting people for coffee to grow her network.

“I generally did everything by the book” she describes.

800 job applications later, Elitsa now has a full-time position in a software company, after getting a student assistant job with them at the beginning of her Master’s.

She now gets to experience “something I have dreamed of for years”, citing Denmark’s renown for equality in the workplace and also the great opportunities here.

Maria Camila Rincon Gil, 29, Colombia

Maria Camila Rincon Gil came to Denmark 4 years ago to do an Erasmus Mundus Master’s focussing on Cities and Sustainability in Aalborg University. 

She moved to Copenhagen 2 years ago. Describing her first impressions of Denmark, she says, “I liked it, it was a good cultural shock”. 


Clockwise from top left: Elitsa Marinkova, Adarsh Raj, Maria Camila Rincon Gil, Hannah Smith. Photos: private

Maria too, experienced difficulties finding a job related to her field in Denmark, however now works within research. She describes how determined she was to stay in Denmark, because she fell in love with the country and culture, despite some issues with immigration rules. “I am lucky that I found a job now” she says, but “if I didn’t, then I would have to leave, and I paid a lot of money for my education.” 

Safety, freedom and high levels of trust are some of the main reasons Maria loves Denmark. She explains, “as a woman, you never take a taxi alone in Colombia, let alone walking or biking. But here it’s unbelievable that as a woman you have all the freedom you want. I really appreciate that.”

Maria currently has no plans to move away from Denmark. “I would like to stay as long as I can. In 6 years, if I can get the permanent residency, that would be great.”

Adarsh Raj, 23, India

Adarsh came to Denmark in 2018, graduating with an MSc in Bioentrepreneurship from Copenhagen Business School. He states, “considering the fact that this is a small country the impact it has on the life sciences and the biotech scene is immense.”

Upon graduation Adarsh explains that his student assistant job turned into a full-time job for him. He now works at a Biotech company in Lyngby. He says that he has no plans to return to India for a while. This is because he feels that there is “still a lot to learn and see in Denmark”, particularly with regards to the life sciences and innovation.

Hannah Smith, 28, United Kingdom

Hannah came to Denmark in 2016 to study an MSc in Climate Change at The University of Copenhagen. After graduating in 2018, she also struggled to find work, however is now completing a traineeship with the EU.

After taking Danish classes and passing the PD3 exam, Hannah still feels worried she will “never become fluent [in Danish] and that I will always be an outsider.” When she graduated, she describes having “to think hard about whether I was ok about that.”

Despite language barriers and difficulties in finding a job, Hannah still says that she enjoys “living in a city that functions well. Being able to cycle 10 minutes to work or to see friends.” She also cites a much healthier attitude to working life in Denmark than currently exists in Britain.

Overall, Hannah has no plans to leave Denmark “as long as I can get a job.”

There have been cutbacks to English language courses in recent years. But a number of initiatives implemented this year aim to encourage international graduates to stay in Denmark. The government has reintroduced free Danish courses, and funded 5 retention projects in collaboration with higher education institutions.

Kathrine Kellermann, a spokesperson from the Danish Ministry of Higher Education and Science states, “it is important that many [international graduates] stay and find employment in the Danish labour market.” It is hoped that these projects “will increase the number of international graduates who stay in Denmark.”

In the face of job uncertainty, immigration rules and language difficulties, many graduates from around the world look set to continue to want to live and work in Denmark.

READ ALSO: Why do foreigners in Denmark want to become Danish?


Member comments

  1. it would be interesting to cover this topic for student who are in the International school in Denmark. I don’t think you’d see the same results

  2. a few weeks ago The Local published an article saying that normally international students leave after graduation…

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