Embedding international students in Denmark

Recently, the Danish government decided to open up more places for international students again because the country needs the talent. Denmark needs international talent not only to want to come here but also to stay. And there is a challenge because 50% of high skilled migrants have left again after six years. Also international students are leaving again – 4 out of 10 leave directly after graduating. How can we entice them to stay in Denmark? One way is to help them get embedded in Denmark by making local friends because such ‘community embeddedness’ makes expats want to stay more [1].

Breaking out of the international student bubble

Just like many expats, international students find it difficult to come into contact with locals. At a U.S. American university, one international student described bubble formation: “[In university flats] Chinese students stick together with Chinese, Thai students with Thais…. when they go to the campus, they are together. I hardly see culturally mixed groups of people.” [2] One of the most frequent complaints of international students in many countries is that they would like to have more contact with local students. This also has several benefits. For example, local contacts help international students feel less homesick and more satisfied with their study abroad stay [3] and are especially important in the long run [4].

Creating contact between international and local students

So how can we help international students get in touch with locals? Many universities assume that having international students on campus and in the classrooms is enough, but that is not the case. Students often keep to their own group, and intercultural interaction needs to be stimulated, for example by having students work together in intercultural groups. Another way to connect international and local students is through a buddy system. In one Canadian study [5], international students were put in touch with a host student for three months. They were encouraged to meet weekly, explore campus and the local community together, and practice conversational English. The results show that the international students were better adjusted socially, felt more comfortable living in the host country and were less stressed about this whole process than those who did not have a buddy. This can even result in better academic grades and less drop out [6]. Many universities already work with such buddy schemes, and here you can find tips about how to set up such a system.

The specific case of Denmark

Many expats say it is very difficult to make local friends in Denmark, and that Denmark is even the ‘world’s worst’ in this respect. And yes, many expats might find it difficult to make Danish friends, but that is not to say it is impossible. It is important to know more about how Danes socialise and make friends to understand how the culture works, but also what then the right strategy is to try to make friends. An important strategy to meet the Danes is to join an association or club, which are plentiful in Denmark. There are more than 100,000 voluntary associations in Denmark, and around 90% of Danes are members of societies [7]. That is where the Danes socialise, and therefore a good place to start.


[1] Yunlu, D. G., Ren, H., Fodchuk, K. M., & Shaffer, M. (2018). Home away from home: community embeddedness and expatriate retention cognitions. Journal of Global Mobility: The Home of Expatriate Management Research, 6(2), 194-208.

[2] Kudo, K., & Simkin, K. A. (2003). Intercultural friendship formation: The case of Japanese students at an Australian university. Journal of Intercultural Studies, 24(2), 91-114.

[3] Hendrickson, B., Rosen, D., & Aune, R. K. (2011). An analysis of friendship networks, social connectedness, homesickness, and satisfaction levels of international students. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 35(3), 281-295.

[4] Geeraert, N., Demoulin, S., & Demes, K. (2014). Choose your (international) contacts wisely: A multilevel analysis on the impact of intergroup contact while living abroad. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 38, 86-96.

[5] Thomson, C., & Esses, V. M. (2016). Helping the transition: Mentorship to support international students in Canada. Journal of International Students, 6(4), 873-886.

[6] Westwood, M. J., & Barker, M. (1990). Academic achievement and social adaptation among international students: A comparison groups study of the peer-pairing program. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 14(2), 251-263.

[7] Den Danske Værdiundersøgelse 2017 https://www.ddv.aau.dk/