Wow, how has it been 6+ months already? After more than a year of wondering, hoping, planning, packing, and then finally moving over in October, we have settled into our new life here in the small Danish town of Billund, and we are happy we made the leap. There were challenges at first, of course, but you expect that whenever you move somewhere new.
It also helps that we are now into the best time of year here in Denmark – green grass, buds on the trees, daffodils and tulips popping up everywhere, and blue skies on most days. (Well, sometimes). The sun doesn’t go down until around 10pm, and in midsummer it will be even later! Quite the change from when we arrived in late fall and all through the winter, when it quickly turned gray and gloomy, with lots of rain and wind and hail – and unfortunately not as much snow (which helps to brighten things up for the short time it remains on the ground.)
“Let’s go to the park today.”
Lots of bike paths through town – this is part of the Skulpturpark trail
I’ll be honest, it’s not pretty around here in the dark season – everything is drab and mucky and it’s just cold and meh. The Danish tradition of hygge certainly helps – we really got into the feeling of “coziness” that the Danes use to ward off the winter blues: warm drinks, rich foods (roast pork, herring w/ curry sauce, caramel potatoes, æbleskiver w/ powdered sugar and jam), time spent with friends, and lots of candlelight glowing off of white walls. Still, all of that is months away, so we are going to enjoy the summer for as long as it’s here. It never gets hot, at least not compared to Pennsylvania, Texas, or certainly not Arizona. Right now it’s in the mid 60s and breezy, which is perfect.
We’re finally settled into our house, which we’ve also fixed up to be nice and hygge (though the boys’ rooms need serious organization). We purged most of our furniture and belongings when we left California, but we’re still getting rid of stuff. No closets and limited storage, but to be honest, we are finally happy to have less stuff weighing us down. (We still have more to get rid of!)
The house is also a short bike ride from the kids’ school and my office. I haven’t even driven a car since we left California, since we have a manual and somehow I’ve made it to manhood without ever learning how to drive one. No matter, as I really enjoy going to and fro on the bike – much more enjoyable than being stuck and crowded on the BART from San Francisco to the East Bay. Plus it takes all of 10 minutes to get home from work – which promptly ends at 4. (Work/life balance is a big deal here.)
I can’t say too much about my job at LEGO, but I will say that I am loving it and it is everything I hoped it would be. Working on a few very exciting game projects, one of which will hopefully be announced soon. Love my team – lots of bright, funny, passionate and experienced professionals from all areas of the videogame industry and from within LEGO. We’re all super busy juggling the LEGO games portfolio and are rarely all in the office together. I’ve traveled more in the past 6 months for work than I ever did at any of my previous jobs: trips to New York, LA, Munich, Manchester (5 times so far), and Helsinki, with more trips planned for London, Oslo, and New York (again). However, we all still make time to hang out, do the occasional group building project, and play games online (current fave: Helldivers), or our Friday lunch at the pizzeria down the street, which is affectionately called “going dirty.”
This sums up Billund – old and quaint mixed with new and modern
Part of central LEGO campus – Tech House on the right, the new Canteen/office space in the middle (under construction), and Innovation House on the right (where I work)
PMD, where most of the sets and playthemes are developed
B, the boys and I have also done some travel and exploring together, mostly within driving distance so far: Hamburg, Aarhus, Ribe, Copenhagen, plus our trip to Spain over Christmas. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve already seen all of that.
I’m also really happy to see how quickly B and the boys have settled in as well. We’ve moved a lot in the past 10 years (3 houses in Phoenix, then to Boulder, then to San Francisco), but this was the easiest transition so far – despite being by far the largest move. This is not only because we’re in the “Expat Bubble” here, but also in the “LEGO Expat Billund Bubble.” Life is smoother in the bubble than it would be had we moved to a small town without many internationals around. It’s been very easy to make friends here, since most people here are also from elsewhere. We regularly hang out with friends from Iceland, Australia, South Korea, the UK, a few Americans, and some Danes of course, and the boys have made lots of pals as well.
They also really enjoy school – sometimes it is difficult to get them out of there at the end of the day! They are always deep into some kind of art or design project, getting completely filthy out on the playground, or inside building LEGO (the company sponsors the school and there’s a heavy LEGO/Mindstorms presence in the classrooms).
The International School
Max and I went exploring town one day
The town’s library and kommune/government center, where I go for Danish lessons twice a week
It took B and I a bit to adjust to the curriculum and education philosophy at the school, since it’s not only a Danish school, but also an International Baccalaureate program as well (which I did during my jr/sr years in high school, so at least I was a bit familiar). It’s similar to the Montessori school of thought where kids are encouraged to pursue interests and do hands-on projects, within an overall structure that the entire school follows.
The kids have done units of inquiry (as they are called) on signs and symbols, housing through the ages, and are now focusing on lifecycles and biology. Each UoI presents opportunity for discussions, lessons, and projects in a variety of disciplines, so that the kids get a more holistic experience rather than switching between individual subjects. Hardest thing for us to get used to is the lack of homework – we appreciated the organized structure and weekly homework folders at the boys’ school in California (which was in an advanced and competitive school district). It let us stay informed on what M was doing each week, and gave us opportunities to track his progress and help him out. Here, the academic pace is more relaxed, and there’s no homework at all – it’s all handled at the end of the school day. We do receive emails about the weekly class lessons and projects though, so that helps us stay involved at home with discussions and supplementary reading or videos.
As for B, I’ll let her cover her days in her own post, but she has good friends she hangs out with often. She frequently gets out and about, popping over to nearby cities like Vejle, Kolding, or sometimes Odense. (IKEA!) Although she has only just started to look for work, she has recently started a networking group in town with two friends, and it’s already getting a big response. Go B!
Finally, we are both taking Danish classes twice a week. It is correctly considered one of the world’s most difficult languages – omg why don’t they pronounce half of their consonants? We are doing well, though. We have the same teacher, who we love, but B goes in the mornings twice a week and I go in the evenings. Usually only 6 to 8 people in class, and we are all from different countries: Iran, India, Greece, Portugal, Australia, S Korea, the UK, and two of us from the States (and we both grew up 30 min away from each other!) I don’t know that B and I will ever be fully conversant – plus we never get the chance, as the Danes like to switch to English as soon as they hear you mangling their words. Maybe within a year I will at least be able to translate most of the mail I get from the kommune (local government) and the bank without painstakingly typing it into Google Translate.
There are of course things we miss from life back home – convenience stores, take-out Chinese, closet space, a garbage disposal, being able to shop on a Saturday past 3pm, a tax rate below 50% – but those are small prices to pay for adventure, travel, a quiet, clean, and safe place to live, and the experiencing of being part of an international community. (Oh, and 50% off LEGO at the employee shop.) We miss our family and friends of course (and our dog!), but Facebook and FaceTime have made that very easy to stay in touch and talk often. And hey look, we’ve even kept up this blog for 6 months! (Though I am overdue on a few other entries).
After work today, I rode my bike over to LEGOLAND to meet up with B and the boys and some of our friends. On the way home (they drove), I stopped and took some pics of our town, so here’s a little tour:
Very busy this time of year!
The LEGO founder’s house, today part of the museum and a conference center.
The main drag in Billund. The LEGO museum (Idea House) is on the corner.
One of 4(!) pizza places in town. They are all owned by Turkish people and they all have the same menu. Pizza, kebabs, burgers, and chicken. Not so much with the variety here in Billund…
Best. Danish. Ever. (Here it’s called wienerbrød.)
More shops and apartments in the center of town.
Yes we have a bar. Three in fact. This is the newest in town. Conveniently located next to our bank.
The hot dog shack and one of our 5 (!) supermarkets. Also note the crane for the construction of the new LEGO House.
This is how I get around town now. Parked outside the supermarket.
Lots of cute little buildings downtown, unfortunately most are occupied by boring businesses instead of cute shops or cafes. This is an alarm company.
A typical suburban street.
Shaggy oxen that live in the field behind one of the factories. Just because.
Another of LEGO’s offices, on the southeast side of town. The old Digital Games group was housed here when I previously worked for LEGO 4 years ago.
Duck pond I pass on the way home. On the far side of the pond is Billund’s one and only giant sledding hill (which is admittedly pretty awesome).