Taking time to cope with Copenhagen
Wild Geese: Dan Gallen’s first six months in the Danish capital proved challenging
Dan Gallen in Copenhagen: “They don’t really do empty promises and superficiality here.”
Dan Gallen’s first experience of life abroad came during the 1980s, when his parents wanted to get away from the Troubles in Belfast and moved to Nigeria for two years. “My mum is from Derry and my dad is from Tyrone. He worked in construction so he found a job building the road network in northern Nigeria. It was an interesting time. Even though I was very young, I do recall getting malaria and it nearly finishing me off.”
After returning home, he and his family moved between Derry and Tyrone, before Gallen ended up in technical college in Derry, studying multimedia before taking an apprenticeship in bricklaying and building site work.
“As construction ran in the family, it was the obvious step. I worked on projects across Northern Ireland, including the Odyssey Arena in Belfast, before moving to London, where I was to spend the next 10 years.”
Gallen worked on numerous large-scale projects in London, most notably the King’s Cross redevelopment project and others from large-scale refurbs and landscape gardening to new residential properties.
“It was a good time to be in London. There was a lot going on and the cultural mix was invigorating,” he says. In 2008, however, Gallen opted for a career change after finding out he was going to be a dad.
“I didn’t see a long-term future in the construction industry, as so many people get problems with their health after long, hard years of physical labour, so I moved into social recruitment, becoming an employment coach.”
Gallen’s employer at the time, Talent Recruitment, mostly delivered local government contracts with customers often coming from poorer councils, where opportunities were limited. “I found the work very rewarding. I was helping people who had left the workforce due to mental health issues or couldn’t find gainful employment after lengthy absences with applications and CVs as well as boosting their confidence.”
But soon he was to move country again, when his daughter moved to Copenhagen with her mother. “I didn’t want to miss out on her childhood, so I moved over too. That was in 2012, just before the Olympics in London,”
Gallen recalls the first six months were difficult. “Its generally always the way. When you move abroad you don’t know people and don’t have an in on how things work, so I came up against multiple challenges.”
Despite the fact that English is widely spoken in Denmark, getting a job upon landing wasn’t easy. “Luckily a few months down the line I managed to secure work as a senior sales colleague at Copenhagen airport, selling computer hardware and mobile phones.”
Over time, as he got to know the city and the employment landscape, he saw that the start-up industry was beginning to gain traction in Copenhagen.
“There were a lot of ideas floating around and, based on research, I wanted to do something involving construction and the digitalisation of the industry. So when a position with GenieBelt came up in 2016, I went for it.”
GenieBelt offers online construction project management software that helps people in the industry run projects with greater ease, he explains.
“Traditionally people working in construction are forced to write reports by hand, which is time-consuming and archaic. This product makes life much easier by improving collaboration between teams, identifying where problems originate and generally increasing efficiency. I now work as a business development director.”
GenieBelt has clients in 43 countries globally, including Australia, China, and across Africa, bringing big companies like Ikea on board supporting multiple languages.
“This aspect of the construction industry has changed very little in its approach since the 1960s, so its intriguing to watch it become part of the most recent technological revolution,” Gallen says .
Joining social circles in Denmark wasn’t easy at first, he says, but things have changed over the duration of his stay. “People may seem more standoffish when you meet them first, but they are more sincere down the line. They don’t really do empty promises and superficiality here.”
The social structure in Copenhagen is exemplary, he says. “My daughter is flourishing in her school and there’s a real focus on teamwork. No one gets left behind here,” he adds. “As a society, Denmark is famously forward-thinking and your word is your bond. There’s no real subterfuge.”
Danes are renowned for being well behaved and orderly, so very few people try to break the system. “Everyone here has a social security number and there is a national database, so the movement of the populace can be monitored by using a CPR system,” he says. “It sounds scary, but that’s not to say its entirely humourless.
“If you come over here from Ireland, you won’t be too shocked by the high prices, as Dublin especially had gone stratospheric in terms of living costs.”
Gallen says taxes are high but, in general, the system works, healthcare and transportation are good, and the standard of living is high.
“Copenhagen is great for nightlife, offers fantastic restaurants with a great economy and vibrant city life, so if the opportunity arises, I would gladly recommend Copenhagen. If you move here, you won’t really be disappointed.”