When Sofia Rodrigues and Luis Neves left their homeland in 2013, it was to try out life in Denmark – especially in Vejle, where they settled because of Luis' job. Time for family, tranquillity and being close to nature have long since convinced them that their Danish adventure is for life.
Large boxes of LEGO bricks are lined up under the windows in the living room.
"That one," instructs two-year-old Lucas, pointing to a box of his favourite bricks. He bursts into a smile as his father, Luis, empties the bricks out onto the floor.
It’s just a regular weekday afternoon at the Neves family home in the village of Bredsten, 10 kilometres west of Vejle. As well as Luis and Lucas, the family consists of mother Sofia and older five-year-old brother Daniel.
Luis and Sofia have been at work and the children at daycare, but now it's just after 4 pm and there’s still time to play with LEGO bricks, read books and relax together on the big sofa.
“We’re very happy about the Danish work/life balance. This is not the case in Portugal, where most people have long working days. That means you don’t see your children as much as we can. Here, we have time to enjoy life more,” Sofia says before suddenly being distracted by Lucas who, with a cheeky grin, waves two bananas in the air that he’s just grabbed from the fridge.
"Also one for mano," he says, while his mother explains that 'mano' means 'brother' in Portuguese.
Nothing to lose
Neither Luis nor Sofia had ever set foot on Danish soil – or even considered it – when Luis' attention turned to Billund in 2013. After hearing from a colleague that the LEGO Group was looking for employees with his profile, Luis spontaneously decided to send an application to the Jutland-based toy giant.
The application led to an in-person interview in Billund, where Luis experienced snow for the first time.
"It was completely white everywhere. And minus 15 degrees. Unfortunately, I haven't seen that kind of weather since," he says with a wide grin.
Luis flew back to Portugal and shortly after the message came: “The job is yours.” Now, the idea of a life in Denmark suddenly became very real.
“We had many of the same thoughts. But overall, we agreed that we had to give it a go. "We had nothing to lose, even though we would of course miss living close to our families", explains Sofia, who worked in an IT company in her homeland and quit her job to move with her husband to Denmark.
A cosy city with a beautiful pedestrian street
Luis and Sofia moved into an apartment in the centre of Vejle, while they took their first tentative steps into their new life. Luis' colleagues had recommended that they live in Vejle rather than Billund, a choice they didn’t regret:
“Vejle is a cosy city with a beautiful pedestrian street and lots of things to do. It’s also close to the connections with Kolding, Aarhus and Fredericia. And there’s a good expat community with lots of opportunities to network. It's absolutely perfect," says Sofia who was, though, a little surprised that it wasn't as easy to find a job as she had expected.
She took courses in Danish and had various temporary jobs while looking for a permanent position. She was hired by the organisation Work-Live-Stay, which she really enjoyed and which led to her next job in the Region of Southern Denmark's IT Department. Here, everything is done in Danish.
“You probably won't find an organisation that’s more Danish. But it's going really well, and if there's anything I don't understand I just ask. I really enjoy the job," Sofia says with a smile.
A desire to live west of Vejle
In 2017, Daniel was born. His arrival made Luis and Sofia reconsider the type of house in which they wanted to live. They dreamed of a house with a garden, preferably on a closed road with no traffic. Armed with a map of Vejle, they homed in on where they would like to settle down and buy a home together.
"We knew from the beginning that we wanted to live west of Vejle. This way, we would avoid the major busy roads when travelling to and from work. We chose Bredsten, because is has a ninth-grade school, kindergarten, sports hall and a supermarket,” Luis explains, while Sofia nods as she helps Daniel open a small tub of yoghurt.
"It's so safe out here. We know all the parents from kindergarten and it’s quick and easy to drive the children to their friends to play. We’ve been warmly welcomed by everyone," Sofia elaborates, adding that the other parents are good at helping them pick up Lucas and Daniel if her and Luis are running late.
"It's really nice, as we don't have our family close by.”
My mother understands us
Sofia and Luis have never doubted their decision to move to Vejle, even though they’re a long way from their siblings and grandparents in Portugal. They make up for it by visiting their homeland for the Christmas and summer holidays. Sometimes, the family also visits them in Bredsten.
"When my mother visited us for the first time, she said she could understand why we wanted to live here. She noticed there’s much less traffic and stress, and she said: “Why can't Portugal be like this?" says Sofia, who used to think they would move back when she and Luis retired. But they don't think that way anymore. Sofia looks lovingly at her two boys:
"By then, we may have grandchildren in Denmark. So it wouldn’t make sense to move back. I think we’ll stay here where we are happy and have settled in so well.”
Translated by Tony Langford (Influentsy ApS)