By Cheryl Ang | Updated 18 Sep 2023
After an unforgettable exchange program to the US during my Bachelor’s, I wanted to pave my way abroad again. I had developed a deep love for nature on top of my photography interest, and knew that being outside of Singapore would open my mind up in ways staying within a comfortable bubble would never be able to.
In 2021, I reconnected with a good Danish friend whom I knew from my exchange program. He visited Singapore, and told me more about life in Denmark.
During our conversation, he mentioned that Denmark and Scandinavia were renowned for their exceptional work-life balance. As I expressed my interest in nature and topics related to environmental, social, and governance (ESG), he also pointed out that sustainability was ingrained in their culture. Hearing this was a turning point for me, and I became fascinated by the prospect of living abroad again. The pandemic has reminded us all of the fragility of life, which made the idea even more alluring.
A new beginning
I took a solo trip to Spain to step away from the hustle and gain clarity.
During my journey, I devoured 3 books that drastically transformed my mindset:
- Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty
- The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down by Haemin Sunim
- Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
These books acted as tools to reaffirm my values, including the fact that wealth is not my personal definition of success. I returned to Singapore and left my banking job.
After putting my desires on hold for four years, I finally found the courage to move to a new continent on my own, pursue a career in tech, and prioritize my passions of being in nature, practicing photography, and learning about sustainability. Most importantly, I decided to be accountable to myself and my own happiness.
Balancing work and life in Denmark
True enough, work-life balance here is second-to-none: work ends at 4.30pm, and your time outside work, weekends and holidays are untouched.
Even though I work full-time, the shorter working hours allow me to pursue photography and plan for my next outdoor adventure after work.
Nature inspires my photography. It softens concrete-jungle hearts and is like a big hug. Being able to work on upskilling myself in this space since I have better work-life balance here has definitely elevated my levels of inspiration here too.
Being able to pursue my passions has certainly made me a happier person. The relatively easier access to hiking and outdoor exploration opportunities in Europe support my outdoor desires.
Plus, being in a society whose sustainability values are more closely aligned with mine comforts me – in Denmark, being plant-based, recycling, thrifting, is completely normalised.
Similar, but also different
Singapore has come a long way in prioritising work-life balance. Today, many companies encourage employees to pursue passions outside of work, employ flexible hours, and value quality of work over quantity. But there’s still some ways to go compared to life in Scandinavia.
There are other ways the two countries are similar. They include their high quality of life and standard of living. Both offer safe, clean, and efficient environments, and are considered high-trust societies. One notable difference in Denmark compared to typical Western cultures is that people are generally more reserved.
I’ve noticed that Singaporeans share some similarities with Danes – we both tend to avoid talking to strangers randomly at places like supermarkets or bus stops.
However, once you get to know us and become part of our circle, we treat you like family. I feel incredibly fortunate to have a few close Danish friends who have welcomed me in. Fortunately, most Danes speak impeccable English, and it also helps that Danish language education is free.
I’m slowly beginning to understand Danish as well. Connecting with like-minded expats also helped me build a well-rounded support system. Adapting and adjusting to life here has not been difficult, to be honest.
There are differences of course – I do miss my cheap hawker food and Cai fan (economical rice) on days I don’t want to cook, since it’s expensive to eat outside in Denmark. It’s hard to find budget options outside of kebabs or shawarma stalls in Copenhagen. Nevertheless, I’m not a picky eater, so cooking Asian-style food at home usually satisfies my cravings.
Denmark is also a more homogenous society than Singapore, where we have a greater diversity of cultures and people.
Tips for others looking to make the move
Here are three tips for those who may be looking to move abroad.
Be very clear on your ‘why’! There are many risks and sacrifices involved in uprooting yourself from the comfort of Singapore. It will get lonely, uncomfortable, and it might not work out. At the end of the day, you will need to fall back to your ‘why’ to stay sane.
Be brave and keep an open mind with an abundance mindset. You are so much more than you think you are, and even as cliche as it sounds, the world is your oyster!
Be careful who you take advice from – those who have never walk the unknown path will scare you with their own insecurities and unfulfilled dreams.
I’m excited to share that I have launched my blog, https://cheravels.com! As I continue to build the blog up, it will feature my photography portfolio, hiking guides, and most importantly, share my journey and tips for moving and living outside of Singapore.