Is Denmark a good place to talk science and beer? Just listen to my podcast

I moved here in 2012 for my master’s. Now I encourage young Danes to get excited about science

Michael Magee grew up in Portaferry, Co Down, and now lives in Odense, Denmark, where he is a science communicator with Ungdomshuset Odense, getting young people to sign up for science activities

I moved to Denmark in 2012 to get my master's degree in marine biology. It was the zero tuition fees that brought me here. Not only are the Danes not charged to go to university, but they are actually paid €700 a month to get a degree. As an EU citizen, and a taxpayer thanks to a part-time job at the local Irish bar, Ryan's, I was able to receive the same. (The standard full-time tuition fee for a student from Northern Ireland studying for a master's there was £4,500/€5,250 last year.)

It was during the lockdown that I had an idea to combine two of my favourite things – science and beers – and make a podcast out of it

In the first week I knew I loved it here. The Danes I studied with are still my best friends. I feel I have two homes, but last year had me craving Ireland. I went back for a visit the end of February 2020 and suddenly all flights back to Denmark were grounded. To be honest I loved it. I had three whole months in my childhood home of Portaferry, Co Down, with my parents. The last time I was home for so long was when I was a cretin of a teenager. I am now 35, and my parents and I found a new, deeper bond as friends. My hometown is classed as an area of outstanding natural beauty, and I could not think of anywhere or any better company to be “stuck in”.

It was during the lockdown that I had an idea to combine two of my favourite things – science and beers – and make a podcast out of it. The Science and Beers podcast started as lockdown fun, but now it's one of things keeping me in Denmark. I'm working for a group of some of the world's most influential researchers. The Danish Institute for Advanced Study exists to bring together high-level academics from different areas so that they can spar ideas off each other. Each episode I drink a beer or two with a member and talk about their area of expertise. It has listeners from all over the world. It's a job I can't imagine existing back home.


Beside the podcast, I have another job inspiring young people to get interested in science. When I was a teen, the youth club was a place to eat sweets and play indoor football. By comparison, the opportunities available for Danish teens are incredible. Every 14- to 18-year-old is offered pretty much anything they want to pursue in their spare time, for free. My place of work alone, Ungdomshuset Odense, offers all kinds of sports, music and theatre, as well as 3D printing, laser cutting, T-shirt making, graphic design and science. My job is to get more people interested in signing up for the science activities.

Denmark is famous for its work-life balance. I wouldn't dare contact someone after 4pm or during weekends here about work

What I miss from home are the family, the nature, the craic and the music. Compared with Ireland, there's not much happening here musically. I believe that you can't complain about something without trying to change it, so I tried to add some music to the city. I brought the global intimate-concert concept Sofar Sounds to Odense in 2017 and won the Best of Odense prize for it. The next year I started an electronic music association, Odeology, which will make a comeback when Covid-19 restrictions lift.

Like many of the people featured in Irish Times Abroad, homesickness has been a real issue when flights back home are grounded. I love my life in Denmark, and I love my friends here and the opportunities that aren't available back home. I also love the way people who aren't from Ireland talk about Ireland as though it's a magical land of great beauty and friendly people. It is that! I'm very proud to come from where I'm from, but life in Denmark is just so much easier.

Denmark is famous for its work-life balance. I wouldn't dare contact someone after 4pm or during weekends here about work. If you become unemployed the system here will pay a high percentage of your wage for two years as you find other work. New parents get six months of leave each. Health, education and even a lot of cultural activities are free. What's more is that there is a trust in the system. People don't mind paying more than 40 per cent of their wages in tax, because they see the return. Politicians here are held accountable and are driven by real political issues, not by bigoted, hateful beliefs, as is the case in the north of Ireland. Ireland could learn a lot from how Denmark is run. But I also wish Denmark would acquire some Irish traits, such as the friendliness, music and the craic.

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