A Snapshot of Internationals in Greenland (2016)

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Last year I wrote about some statistics and figures related to the nationalities of Greenland’s residents, and I thought I would do it again with the most recent figures to see if there are any significant changes this year over last. (The short answer is: no).

As of 1 January 2016, 11% of Greenland’s population of 55847 people is foreign born, which equates to a whopping 6021 individuals who hail from 51 different countries. This is literally only just a few handfuls of people more than last year, so the proportion of foreign presence is staying quite stable.

Danes account for the vast, vast majority of internationals in the country (76%). Faroese account for 5%, and Icelanders and Thai, 3% each. Filipinos and Swedes account for 2% each, and all others are 1% or less per nationality, including people from Norway, Germany, USA (39 individuals, or 0.6%), Poland, Other Asia, Other America, Other Africa, Bulgaria, Finland, France, Great Britain, Romania, Canada, China, Oceania, Iran, Holland, Italy, Spain, Pakistan, Lithuania, Slovakia, Russia, Other Europe, Sri Lanka, Ireland, Austria, Lebanon, Belgium, Hungary, Turkey, Ethiopia, Iraq, Japan, Latvia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Ukraine, Morocco, India, and Syria. In that order!

The distribution of internationals around the country is also very stable this year in comparison to last year.

  • 62% of internationals live in Nuuk (3733 people, which is actually about 100 people more than last year)
  • 7% of internationals live in Sisimiut (414 people, which represents a slight decrease actually)
  • 6% of internationals live in Ilulissat (384 people, which is slightly more than last year)

And, it’s still true that no matter where you are in the country, you will always be in the minority compared to Greenland-born residents.

  • The 3733 internationals in Nuuk still account for only 22% of Nuuk’s population.
  • The 414 internationals in Sisimiut account for 7% of Sisimiut’s population.
  • The 384 internationals in Ilulissat account for 8% of Ilulissat’s population.

Think you could hack it is an international in Greenland?

All figures based off of data published by Statistics Greenland on their Statistics Bank.

The best thing about life in Greenland

What is the best thing about life in Greenland?

In a picture, this:

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I bet you expected a picture of a breathtakingly beautiful fjord with a mirror-like sea and northern lights floating overhead, didn’t you? For that you can just take a scroll through the @ilovegreenland Instagram account. Ok, ok, here’s a picturesque shot to hold you over.

skaermbillede-2016-10-21-kl-18-39-00Photo by @danielkordan, regrammed by @ilovegreenland

While it would be an incredible understatement to call the inescapable natural beauty of Greenland just a ‘cherry on top’ of the experience, for me the best thing about life in Greenland is actually intangible and wholly impossible to capture through a lens.

The best thing about Greenland is that there is no societally-imposed glorification of busy. Instead there is a prioritization of one’s own happiness and never apologizing for that. So if that means keeping busy because you want to, great. If that means keeping an open schedule, also great.

Through four and a half years I have collected a lot of stories and impressions, but one red thread holds solid no matter the person, season, town, or situation: personal time is sacred. There is generally an 8-hour workday, and all other time is protected and reserved for whatever one wants to do. This manifests itself in so many different ways – being in the nature sailing, or reindeer hunting, or spending the weekend in a hut… preparing a delicious home-cooked meal to enjoy with friends or family… doing a hobby like painting or knitting or working out… or doing nothing at all!

Let me back up a few steps…

What is the glorification of busy?

It is the view that always doing something is a good thing, whether that be work-related with tasks, projects, and business travel, or related to private life, with extracurricular activities, dinner parties, and other goings-on.

It is the putting of plans or work on a pedestal.

Where did this come from?

I believe first world countries these days are to blame for this glorification trend. When places get nicknames like “the city that never sleeps,” clearly being uber busy, stretched thin, completely over-worked, over-jetset, and always having a full social calendar has become the norm, and people love it because ultimately it is a status symbol. It means one is important, trusted, sought after, powerful, connected, needed, wanted. It means success.

But is busy synonymous with successful?

Research on productivity  in the workplace shows that no, being busy is not necessarily synonymous with success, at least not in USA. USA is arguably the busiest country in the world, but with converse productivity levels. It is the No Vacation Nation, as Americans are proven to take hardly any holiday time, to answer mails while ’relaxing’ on a white sand beach, or to simply not be granted paid holiday at all. I think we all can relate to the feeling that nothing gets done well when one has too many balls in the air at the same time. Have you heard of the phrase “work hard, play hard”? It’s a phrase that came into my vocabulary on Day 2 of undergraduate at the University of Virginia and pretty much never left.

What’s wrong with being un-busy?

What I wonder more and more is why people feel guilty about not answering an email after work hours, why someone feels bad to turn down an invitation for weekend plans because they want to do something else instead, why someone apologizes for doing what makes them happy.

I hypothesize that the glorification of busy also equally comes out of a fear of appearing lazy, uncool, unwanted, forgotten, solitary, and unsuccessful – especially on a personal level. A stigma associated with not being busy perhaps starts all the way back in grade school, a period when fitting in and being accepted are of the utmost importance, and carries through to adult life.

Professional versus personal success

I also hypothesize that the societies that glorify being busy are the same societies that primarily define success via professional indicators – job title, number of subordinates, sky miles, and income, to name a few, which then lead to a domino effect of commodity-based indicators of success like house size, car ownership and style, clothing, and so on ad nauseam.

In contrast, there are societies that define success in other ways, namely via personal indicators – quality of relationships, good mental and physical health, access to nature, becoming a parent, and the big one, happiness.

Greenland absolutely falls into this category. I’ve actually heard it said many times that Greenlanders just aren’t driven by earning money the way other cultures are, so one must incentivize through other means. I don’t totally agree with that, but certainly Greenlanders know that money doesn’t buy happiness and have harnessed the ability to seek pleasure outside the workplace.

My place on the busy-not busy scale

To be painfully honest with myself, I am on the busy side. When I zoom in a few levels and look at my day-to-day, I always have something whether it’s training, a brunch date, or a kaffemik. The week starts more or less open, but a free Saturday never stays so for very long.

Take this past weekend, for example. I’ve been out traveling for work for 6 weeks, and what do I do when I finally land in Nuuk? I drop my suitcases at the foyer and run back out to my friends’ house for the evening. Actually, it’s the family with whom I lived whenever I was in Nuuk for the past three years – my original host family, my family. And then on Sunday, I was on the go with training, brunch, an Art Walk around the city, grocery shopping, socializing with a friend, and picking up some new things I bought.

That being said, I don’t believe I necessarily glorify being busy because I also really love – and need – time to myself. While I suppose I can sustain extended periods of busy, I can also ‘crash’ really hard into periods of doing nothing. Believe it or not, I am an introvert, or so the Meyers-Briggs test has said several times since I was 15.

Hedonist, YOLO-head, dream-chaser

Busy bee or not, I have definitely internalized the Greenlandic mentality of prioritizing one’s own happiness.

As a highly independent individual from the start, going for what I wanted was never a weak spot, but I was always told I was a bit of a black sheep for it – the only one with such a strong will. Now imagine this personality being immersed in a culture that cultivates exactly this type of personal independence nearly to a fault and screams, “Do what’s best for you!” You can’t help but get an added jolt of chutzpah.

My decision to move to Greenland was the ultimate display of this. The reality is that I left all and everything and everyone in USA because I wanted to do what made me happy. I jumped off a cliff. I put myself first, and I don’t apologize for it.

Hedonist, YOLO (you only live once), and dream-chaser were the nicer insults some people gave me regarding my decision, but I also went up against “selfish”,  bat-shit crazy”, “abandoner”, and “mentally ill”. They said, sure, they might also like to jump up and move to Spain but obviously that was never going to happen because it wasn’t realistic. They said they didn’t agree with my decision and didn’t think I should go. And so on.

You know what criticisms people in Greenland gave me? None. I was met instead with congratulations from all and words of encouragement. Nobody I know from Greenland has ever made me feel bad about my decision, and that speaks volumes.

Follow @Polarphile on Instagram!

Follow me on Instagram at @Polarphile to see what my daily life in Nuuk, Greenland looks like!

Here’s a few snapshots from the last week:

COMING SOON: ‘Inussuk: Culture Crossing’, a New Book About Living in Greenland (English)

inussuk photo  Photo credit: Inussuk.info 

Read my quick review of the upcoming book Inussuk: Culture Crossing by Lena Lauridsen, my evaluation of Danes as the ‘quintessential’ foreigner in Greenland, and a presentation of statistics that show the picture of internationals in Greenland today.

A SNAP REVIEW

Inussuk: Culture Crossing by Lena Lauridsen is a new book in English for non-Danish internationals that are seriously considering or planning on moving to Greenland to live and work. It should be hitting the proverbial bookshelves in December 2015!

(Note: I specify ‘Non-Danish’ here as there is also a Danish language version of the book specifically for a Danish audience, called Inussuk: Pejling mod Grønland. See further below for a discussion of Danes in Greenland.)

I can warmly recommend Inussuk: Culture Crossing. The book covers every topic imaginable from the big picture elements like workplace atmosphere in Greenland and how to manage feeling different to some more technical issues like what paperwork and permits you need to file and how to stockpile hot commodities in winter. The book also poses questions throughout asking you to evaluate the information you have just read and to think honestly with yourself whether this is a lifestyle you can handle.

The primary reason I stand behind this book is because it aims to set internationals up for success in Greenland, and by success I mean: positive experiences, noticeable cultural integration, and perhaps most importantly, cultivation of the desire to stay in Greenland for an extended period of time, and perhaps forever. The more prepared you are for the realities of living and working in Greenland, the more socially and economically beneficial your presence in Greenland will be.

A shameless plug goes out to The Fourth Continent and myself, who contributed to the chapters on culture shock and language, respectively.

WHY SO MUCH DANISH?

Historically, Danes were the only nationality emigrating to Greenland, and the present concentration of Danish internationals in Greenland is due to the political and economic relationship that ties Greenland to Denmark.

Young Danes looking for a new experience yet still wanting the comforts of the same language and currency find Greenland to be a land of adventure, a veritable playground for their gap year. Others are driven by the professional prospect to be a big fish in a little pond, as Danes are typically paid more than Greenlanders and can often walk directly into managerial positions. Some are merely along for the ride while their international significant others chase dreams in the great north. And still others fall in love with Greenlanders, typically while they are studying down in Denmark, and return to their homeland together with them.

With the political ties and the linguistic and economic similarities facilitating the moving process, it should be a piece of cake for Danes to move to Greenland, right? Wrong!

Speaking Danish and holding a Danish passport is not at all a golden ticket to making it in Greenland. The truth of the matter is: while the politics, linguistics, and economics make the process of moving to Greenland easy for Danes on paper, they are just as likely as anyone to misunderstand the culture and to have unrealistic expectations. Therefore, having a good base knowledge of the culture and customs of daily life are what make the move successful in practice.

A successful transition, or ‘making it,’ is necessary if someone should have half a chance of staying in Greenland for a long period of time – which is, of course, the most sustainable labor model for Greenland as a country.

And hence why Lauridsen originally wrote this book. As a Danish international in Greenland herself, I can only imagine this book came out of a need for information that Lauridsen herself missed when moving to Greenland with her own family just a few years ago.

WHAT’S CHANGING?

The demographics of internationals in Greenland are changing and can be seen in the larger places like Nuuk (the capital), Sisimiut, and Ilulissat. Here you find small contingencies of Thai, Americans, Germans, Icelanders, Australians, Faroese, French, Brits, and even a New Zealander or two, plus other nationalities that I know I’m missing.

I am personally very glad that Lauridsen saw the trend that Danes are not the only ones moving to Greenland anymore and thus that there is a demand for an English version of this book. Perhaps it is part of a much larger sociopolitical trend that points toward a diversification from all things Danish in terms of immigration, importation, foreign investment, politics, language, and so on.

SHOW ME THE NUMBERS

Statistics Greenland tells us that, on 1 January 2015, 11% of Greenland’s population is foreign-born, which amounts to a whopping 6009 people who have decided to make Greenland their new home.

There are some places in Greenland that attract internationals more than others, but whether this pattern is driven by the employers or the internationals themselves cannot be determined here, although, naturally, it is directly related to the availability of employment and level of industry and infrastructure. The top three most populated towns in Greenland – Nuuk, Sisimiut, and Ilulissat – get nearly three-quarters of all the internationals.

  • 61% of internationals (3636 people) live in Nuuk.
  • 7% of internationals (433 people) live in Sisimiut.
  • 6% of internationals (370 people) live in Ilulissat.

But that’s not to say that internationals don’t branch out further. Out of 87 inhabited places in Greenland, 62 of them have at least 1 international living there, although the small settlements have, quite literally, just the one.

Despite being surrounded by hundreds or even thousands of fellow internationals and even having a strong network like the Internationals in Nuuk group, it does not mean you will be in the majority. No matter where you are in Greenland, as an international you will be in the minority.

  • In Nuuk, the 3636 internationals still account for only 21% of the city population.
  • In Sisimiut, the 433 internationals account for 8% of the town population.
  • In Ilulissat, the 370 internationals account for 8% of the town population.

If living somewhere with a high international-to-Greenland-born ratio is of great importance then, aside from Nuuk, you would fare better in Kangerlussuaq (21% international) or Narsarsuaq (17% international) than in Sisimiut or Ilulissat. However, the tradeoff is that Kangerlussuaq and Narsarsuaq are both small settlements with populations of 510 and 145, respectively, and with an infrastructure centered entirely on operating an international airport and the tourism it facilitates.

LET’S CHAT

Are you seriously considering or planning to move to Greenland? Are you already an international in Greenland? If so, leave a reply below or write to me at sarah@greenland.com. I’d love to hear from you!

A Snapshot of Internationals in Greenland (2015)

IMG_3390  Photo credit: The Fourth ContinentTaken at Hotel Hans Egede in Nuuk, Greenland at an Internationals in Nuuk gathering in October, when Fernando Ugarte, an international from Mexico working at Pinngortitaleriffik (the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources), spoke.

SHOW ME THE NUMBERS

Statistics Greenland tells us that, on 1 January 2015, 11% of Greenland’s population is foreign-born, which amounts to a whopping 6009 people who have decided to make Greenland their new home.

There are some places in Greenland that attract internationals more than others, but whether this pattern is driven by the employers or the internationals themselves cannot be determined here, although, naturally, it is directly related to the availability of employment and level of industry and infrastructure. The top three most populated towns in Greenland – Nuuk, Sisimiut, and Ilulissat – get nearly three-quarters of all the internationals.

  • 61% of internationals (3636 people) live in Nuuk.
  • 7% of internationals (433 people) live in Sisimiut.
  • 6% of internationals (370 people) live in Ilulissat.

But that’s not to say that internationals don’t branch out further. Out of 87 inhabited places in Greenland, 62 of them have at least 1 international living there, although the small settlements have, quite literally, just the one.

Despite being surrounded by hundreds or even thousands of fellow internationals, it does not mean you will be in the majority. No matter where you are in Greenland, as an international you will be in the minority.

  • In Nuuk, the 3636 internationals still account for only 21% of the city population.
  • In Sisimiut, the 433 internationals account for 8% of the town population.
  • In Ilulissat, the 370 internationals account for 8% of the town population.

If living somewhere with a high international-to-Greenland-born ratio is of greatest importance to you, then, aside from Nuuk, you would fare better in Kangerlussuaq (21% international) or Narsarsuaq (17% international) than in Sisimiut or Ilulissat. However, the tradeoff is that Kangerlussuaq and Narsarsuaq are both small settlements with populations of 510 and 145, respectively, and with an infrastructure centered entirely on operating an international airport and the tourism it facilitates.

Are you soon going to be an international in Greenland? There’s a book for you!

WATCH TONIGHT! House Hunters International – Greenland

After a few years in the pipeline, this day has finally come!

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TONIGHT (Monday 12 May) – Watch House Hunters International Greenland on HGTV at 10:30 PM (USA Eastern Time). On international television, virtually meet my friend over at The Fourth Continent and her husband, and get a lovely introduction to the vibrant city (and not to mention the killer real estate) of Nuuk, Greenland!

Did you ever ask yourself, What is it like living in Greenland? or What is everyday life in Greenland like? Tune in to House Hunters International Greenland tonight to get the 30 minute tour of Nuuk, one of the northernmost capitals in the world!

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House Hunters International is a reality television show that follows expats around the world as they move from one country to another. The real estate bit is, of course, central to House Hunters International, but the show is also a great showcase of the expat couple’s personality and the culture of their new home.