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Family Travel & living in Denmark for 6 months

Family Travel & living in Denmark for 6 months

Emel and Dan's son Noah

8/22/2016. Motivational Monday ~Do you have dreams of living or traveling abroad and would like to know how some folks successfully pulled it off? Follow my series of Family Travel as I introduce my neighbors Emel and her family. We live in the suburbs and most of us tend to keep to ourselves, but I'm grateful to have such great neighbors who are fascinating and generous like Emel and Adam (her son), and they are willing to share their inspiring stories of traveling and living 6 months in Denmark with their family of four. How on earth did Emel do this with two children, 10 and 14 years old in schools, her career as a lawyer with the state government, her husband's as a university professor, her house, dog, elderly parents? Subscribe for your first of many Family Travel series at: http://eepurl.com/caG289 and learn more about her inspiring story.

8/23/2016 New video footage of their interview. Adam talks about his schoolwork and challenges plus his advice to other teens. Emel discusses logistical challenges such as homes and car arrangements.

Planning Details A Year In Advance

How it started...

Emel's husband, Dan, teaches at a local University in Economic History and his sabbatical was fast approaching in 2014 so he needed to look for an opportunity to teach and research. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending upon a person's outlook, his specialized field of research would require him to travel abroad to continue collaborating with the European scholars he'd been working with, where there is a specialization in economic history. The Copenhagen Business School offered the concentration and opportunities for Dan’s field of study which drew Dan to the idea of traveling to Denmark. 

Adam, Noah, Dan and Emel ( Left to Right)

Once the destination of Dan's Sabbatical was determined, the family discussed and chose to take their two sons Noah, 14 years old, and Adam, 10 years old with them. The logistics of taking the leave of absence for Emel who is an attorney with the State of California was only the tip of the iceberg, they had to decide on the kids' schooling options and credits to satisfy the boys' academic requirements.

Wagon Bike


  • Plane Tickets, Travel and Work Visas, Mail hold; these were the easiest part of the planning.
  • Elderly parents:  The family had to make arrangements as to who would be responding to or assisting with their elderly parents should there be any emergency.  They made sure the parents had a plan in place to follow if there was an emergency, with both local contacts to call and notification of Dan’s brother who lives about an two hours away.  
  • Pets: Nickel, their family’s recently adopted stray dog had only been with them for 1.5 yrs and was still very skittish so they wanted to take him but couldn't because the airlines no longer allowed sedation of animals. The alternative was for him to be kept in the kennel in the cargo hold, and that wasn't a good option for Emel and her family. So plan B, they needed to look for dog sitter or a place for him to live while they were away. In this case, I walked Nickel while Emel took one weekend off  and ran into someone who complimented him.  When I mentioned Emel’s upcoming trip, she expressed interest in taking care of him, as she had experience taking care of dogs.  She took wonderful care of him in while Emel's family was in Europe.

Wooden boat

  • Schools: This took a lot pre-planning a year in advance, especially how to get proper credits for the kids’ schools. Noah was going to 9th grade and, given that 9th grade grades and credits count toward college admissions, they had to figure out how to transfer International credits.  For Adam, they needed to make sure his elementary school could save the spot till he got back and not lose the spot or be put on wait list, and that he would not fall behind in his work.  Denmark School options were Homeschool, International English School, or the Danish Public Schools. They decided that their kids needed to interact with other kids their age, especially since a big goal of the travel was cultural immersion, so Homeschool option was quickly tossed out.  The Danish public school option would have been good had their duration of stay been longer than six months, however, given that it was a brief period and Danish is such a difficult language, they felt this option would have been difficult for the kids.  In the end, they decided that the best choice for their kids was the International English School.

Noah in front of the store

  • Housing: Through a colleague of Dan's they found a house in Denmark.  But up till a month before they were due to leave, they still hadn't found renters to take their 3 bedroom home in the suburbs.  Miraculously, right down to the wire in the last month, a New York family in a similar Sabbatical situation with the wife needing to do a research paper about the housing crisis contacted them.  They needed a house while researching in the Sacramento Area as it was being hit hard.
  • Paying the bills at home:  Emel and Dan automated all bill payments through their bank.  They additionally had the mail forwarded to Dan’s parents so they could check for any unanticipated bills or mail.
  • Access to bank account and credit card abroad:  Emel and Dan were able to use their credit cards in most places abroad but they found it essential to open a bank account in Copenhagen to allow easy access to cash and to allow for paying bills. 
  • Cost:  Denmark is an expensive place to live; especially what we take for granted in the US, like cheap options for eating out, are difficult to find.  The family anticipated not being able to eat out much and prepared the kids for the idea.  Emel and Dan also purchased most clothing they anticipated needing for the six months ahead of time at outlet malls and sales in the US.  Emel made a run to Target a couple of days before they left to make sure they had enough basics such as toothpaste, deodorant, Tylenol etc. to last the first couple of months.  

Noah and Dan. 

  • Food:  Noah and Adam are pretty good at trying new foods, but Emel and Dan knew that they would miss some basic home ingredients.  For example they brought some peanut butter along to get the boys through the transition. 
  • Travel: As parents, they were more focused on taking their kids traveling as much as they could and whenever they could as Dan was researching and teaching. They took side trips to Sweden, Norway, London, Copenhagen, London, Rome, Berlin, Prague, among other places but mostly valued the deep immersion in Denmark as opposed to the superficial and short visits at each location


  • Cultural immersion: Learning how people live day-to-day, what is socially acceptable in the local culture of Denmark, what's ok to do and what's not ok to do, and what pros and cons the lifestyle has compared to the life and values in the United States
  • Transportation:  Denmark has safe and separate raised bike lanes, and trains nearby to go to school. It was an eye opener for Emel's family how even Adam who was ten years old could exercise his independence taking the train from home to school and back. This flexibility gave Emel and Dan more time for their own work and exploration of Copenhagen since they didn't have to truck the kids around. Emel had time to sightsee and to learn bits of Danish by taking a class and watching Danish miniseries.
  • Family Time: Because the family was living so far from family and friends, there were fewer social obligations.  They were alone, without grandparents, friends and neighbors, after school sports and activities. This left them more time as a family to talk to each other without the stresses of the daily routines. 

A day at the beach while Dan was working

Insanely Useful Strategies For Parents

  • Arrange people to help with the house and renters, with elderly parents; make a list with phone numbers for these people for quick access.
  • Try several avenues for finding housing.  Universities publish notices of people renting out a house or looking for housing for an extended period of time.  Organizations such as www.sabbaticalhomes.com and www.academichomes.com also allow users to post and search for extended rentals.  Airbnb can also be an option.  But most of all, get the word out through colleagues and acquintances.
  • You may be able to find someone willing to rent your cars, in additional to your home, while you are away.  That means the vehicles are used and taken care of.
  • Long term dog care.  Get out the word with family, friends and neighbors that you need a dog sitter. 


Visiting a church in Denmark

Insanely Useful Strategies For Teenagers

  • Allow downtime for kids to be resourceful in entertaining themselves and finding new interests.
  • Allow kids to gain independence by biking and taking public transportation in the new place
  • Teach them to be open-minded -- be open to different cultural styles andlearn from the differences; teach kids to analyze and appreciate the good and the bad in their own culture
  • Be open to and understanding of your kids’ experiences in a new culture – some kids are excited by and appreciate the novelty and the challenge; for other kids it is a painful and lonely experience.  Especially in the second scenario, be patient and understanding and see if you can slowly guide your kid to enjoy some of the experience and gain perspective from the rest.
  • Be prepared to help them adjust back to life at home.  A gap in schooling and social life at school can be hard for the kids, especially teenagers.  And a gap in high school is difficult from an academic perspective.  They will need your help, patience, and guidance as they re-integrate themselves into their old environment.
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