Home » From Uganda to Denmark: integration and politics in Carol Krogstrup’s story

From Uganda to Denmark: integration and politics in Carol Krogstrup’s story

Carol is undoubtedly one of the most eye-catching names within the integration department of Helsingør Kommune found in northern Denmark, where she currently serves as the chairperson of the integration Council. Her role here among other things, is also advising politicians at the City Council on effective integration.

In her bigger career backpack Carol represented the National Council for Ethnic Minorities as a member of the Danish Research Center for migration, ethnicity, and health council. Additionally, she has represented Helsingør Municipality Integration Council as a member of the neighborhood safety collaboration group in Northern Sjælland. She has worked as project facilitator with the Church International Ministry (KIT) on a project focusing on integration of refugees. During her work with KIT, she was one of the organisation’s delegates at one of the largest and leading global conferences in 2016, a conference advocating for girls and women’s health rights, the Women Deliver conference.

Carol holds a master’s degree in Public Health from Lund University in Sweden on top of having a full-time job as a mother. It has also recently come to our attention that Carol will be running for a political representation in the local elections in Helsingør Municipality in 2021 for the Danish Conservative Peoples’ Party.

What do your children think about you running for politics?

First, let me thank you for having this podcast. It is very important to have all these different voices, giving insight into what it is like to come into the Nordic countries and the life in the Nordic countries when you have another ethnic background.

So, concerning my children and my interest in politics, they were very excited when they heard that I would run for the Danish Conservative Peoples’ Party. They were excited because they have seen my journey. They have seen who I am right from the time they were born. And they know that everything I have done has not come easy. And especially now because I am a single mother raising three children alone. So, when we talk about me wanting to run for politics, there is a lot within it. It is not just as simple as me wanting to run but there has been a story behind it including being a single mom and with all the challenges that comes along with being in a country other than my own original country. So, it-is been layers of so many things and experiences. So, for them it is a victory when they see that I stepped to this place where I want my voice to be heard. Because there is so many other voices that need to be heard that I am representing. And so, in that way they cheer me on.

Great. Carol we will come back to that later, but allow me to ask – how did you end up in Denmark? Or as we say why did you choose Denmark?

Well, to be honest, I think the thoughts that were going across my mind were thoughts that every other young person has. I would say to see the world, to experience something new. I was in a place in my life, where I felt the same thing was happening again and again. And I just wanted to experience something new, I wanted to see the world. And so, then I got the opportunity. And the opportunity was Denmark. It probably could have been any other country. But it happened to be Denmark, there was a high school that I could apply to and come to. And then another thing about it was that the subjects the high school was presenting were very interesting and they really spoke to me. It was subjects like sustainable development, project management, human rights, theater of the oppressed, conflict management, and all of this just really spoke to who I am as a person.

So, I saw it as an opportunity to come in and just develop this side of myself, but in a more relaxed atmosphere, because it was a high school. And that kind of high school in Denmark was the kind where the focus was not to have exams, but just studying, and really, you know, learning about a certain subject, but in a peaceful environment, where you also get to meet a lot of other people from all over the world. So, for me, it just sounded like a good thing at that time in my life in that age. The school was The International People’s College in Helsingør.

What were the immediate shocks, or surprises or experiences when you arrived?

I will name a few of them. One of them was when I got in the train, and you looked around and every single person sitting in the train was white. And for a moment there, I think I got, you know, like, yes, I knew I was coming to a place where most all people where white, but maybe the shock of it hit me when I entered the train, and everyone was white. But then it sank in.

I think another thing was the sort of silence in the buses and in the trains. Because I was used to that in Uganda, there is always a lot of noise when you come to the bus station or when you are around the taxis, the public transport. There is always yelling and shouting, and the conductor is shouting so loud. So here I was, and it was so silent. Everybody was silent, and I think that was very, new for me. I could not understand how everybody could be so silent, and really didn’t know what to make of it.

And then I think another thing I also noticed, like very clearly was the cleanliness of everything.

And then the cold. I came around the time when it was just about to turn to winter. So that was also a pretty strong experience. I remember I kept buying gloves. And it didn’t matter what gloves I bought – my fingers were always freezing until I ended up with the thickest gloves there ever was. I think it was those gloves that you use when you go skiing or something.

So, many years down the road, and you are still here – how come?

So, what happened was beautiful, because when I came, I met a man, and that man ended up being my husband. And that was the most beautiful story. And we met at the high school, he was working there, and we got to know each other. And that finally led to a close friendship which later getting led to marriage and then I stayed. But my original intention was not really to stay – I think mainly because of the language. I thought at the time that Danish was such a difficult language. So, I thought it would be difficult in terms of work. But then love happened. And where there is love, there is a lot of possibilities.

Comment: And, you know, that is one of the things we do not focus on in this integration debate.

Commonly when we are talking integration, and or inclusion, we normally go for the policy, statistics, proof, etc., but very few will discuss the real human feelings, and connection. And I think this is something worth noting. And thank you for bringing it up Carol.

 How have you succeeded in getting into the Danish society, and meeting all the different requirements for living in Denmark?

I appreciate that we are talking about this because you know, when I came, one of the first things I thought was that the language was very difficult to learn. But after I met this man, who then became my husband, I remember that this desire to learn the language just suddenly came inside of me. I genuinely picked up an interest in the language to the extent that my roommate started teasing me. She said to me, I really don’t understand you, Carol, you have been the same person saying that you don’t like Danish, and saying it is so difficult, and now I see you sitting down and really studying the language. So, she could not understand why this shift, why I suddenly was so interested.

I was so motivated, because there was somebody who had come into my life and now, I just wanted to know his language, so I picked up a strong interest in this. Later, after he and I got married, I went to the language school. And then to answer your question, of course there were also all the different rules/ different steps one has to take in order to get the permanent residence permit to be able to live in Denmark.

But for me my focus the whole time was not so much on the permanent residence permit but on the relationship that I had. So, the part of waiting for the residence permit was never a burden. It was just a formality that we needed to get done for us to be together. And my focus was on him, my focus was on our relationship, our life, our family, and just the love that we had together. The rest of it was just a part of the process in making sure that our family could be together, and so I just did what was necessary. And for me, there is a difference between when you come to visit a place and when you choose to stay in a place. When you choose to stay in a place you are no longer going to act like a guest, you now change your mind so that you begin to take up the values of that place. You want to participate in that place, you want to contribute, and it is coming genuinely. It is like if you come to my home, and you visit for a few days you will be treated as a guest, and I will not expect much from you. But the moment you say you are coming and moving in to live here, then I expect that you start to you know, to help with cleaning the house, make food sometimes, and be part of the family.

And for me moving to Denmark and wanting to stay here was like the example I give of being part of the family. I saw it all as things that were necessary for me to do. So, I just kind of followed the rules that were there, and never thought of them as being a burden or a weight because my husband and I focused on just enjoying our love. So, we waited for the months we had to wait, and then got the permit and then reapplied whenever we had to reapply – we just did it without it being a burden on our minds.

What would you say society’s role in helping you settle in was? Was there any role played? Or phrased another way – would it be an easier process if society welcomed one rather than a process where society punished one.

I think this is a very relevant question – an important question. Because first, I think there is different ways people have come into this country. And I am privileged to be one of those who came in and stayed because of love.

My story is a little bit – it sounds rosy, sounds easy, but there are others who came in as refugees or people escaping other places for their lives. I know this because I have worked with refugees as well. I’ve heard their stories; I have interviewed them. I know that some people’s story is more rough and tough, they came because they were fleeing from a situation of insecurity, there is trauma involved in some of their journeys, and they’re running away from some real danger. So, they come in, and of course, their whole process of learning the language and finding their way around is maybe more difficult, because they’ve been through a traumatic journey. And their perception of what is being said when it comes to things like; are they welcome or are they not welcome, can be translated differently. And maybe they are not able to fully see-through things and understand if they are welcome here or not welcome.

But personally, I too, of course, was aware of what was going on, say in the media, like reading the different things being written about foreigners. And this is one of the reasons why I began to pursue being in the Integration Council, because there’s been a lot of negative stories that are highlighted. And sometimes these stories end up making one ask, am I welcome, or am I not welcome here? But I just want to stress and say that there is good in every place, and there is evil in every place. So, you have both the negative and the good. And this is where one really must be very careful to pay attention to the words being spoken. So, we have to ask ourselves if people are actually saying that one is not welcome, I think we have to be careful how we interpret it. Could it be that people are just speaking from a point of view, where they don’t know the story of the person who they are speaking about. So, in this way, I feel like I personally do not listen to all the negative things, I do not let them influence my life, my future, and how I choose to be. I choose instead to keep my heart open, and to want the best for everyone, and to participate in creating the best in society.

Let me go a little bit into your work – when I read your resume you have done a lot of things in the integration area. You are passionate about life education, empowering and inspiring people to achieve higher quality of life, and I think that resonates so much in relation to your work in the integration department. How did you start? Just to give our readers some tips and encouragement.

Well, integration? Such a big word. Anyway, I think for me, I was looking for how best can I contribute where I live. How best can I participate and make a difference? So, the integration Council was the platform I found here in Helsingør Municipality. And I think what motivated me or pushed me was many of the things that I saw written in the newspapers, the local newspapers, or what I heard on the TV, the debates I heard from the politicians, concerning integration. My personal view in this was that there was a lot more weighing on the negative stories of foreigners in these debates, than the positive, and I personally knew a lot of examples where there was also a lot of positive stories. And so, it was important that I could participate and give a more balanced story, and be that voice for those who were voiceless, those who could not speak back and respond to all these different negative statements being said. I felt that many foreigners were silent, but that’s because they didn’t maybe have the platform with which to respond.

And I think it’s only fair enough, that when you speak about someone that you give them the platform to also respond. It is only fair in a debate where you talk about two parties not to draw a conclusion before you have heard both stories. And you have seen both sides very clearly. And that’s what motivated me to start being involved in participating, and hopefully bring a more balanced dialogue.

And many years later (2021), you are now running for the local council in Helsingør – what do your electorates need to know about this decision?

My biggest passion is in health and wellbeing of people. That is why I pursued a bachelor’s degree in Global Health and Nutrition. And then I followed it up with a Master’s degree in Public Health. The wellbeing and health of people is important for me, and I do not take that lightly. I know that for everything we do in life, whether it is jobs or anything else, it is people who make this possible, so if people are not doing well, if their mental health is not well, or their well-being is not good, then you do not have the people resource to accomplish anything.  So, for me, my focus is on people it is their wellbeing and their health.

And another area that I’m very passionate about is integration. I think it is very important to integrate those who have been accepted in the country, and that they have access to jobs and that there are more women in leadership, more women involved, more women participating. Because I know that many of the cultures where many of the ethnic minorities are coming from, many of the women are behind in many areas or even being suppressed. They are not in the center when it comes to jobs. So, this is an area where I very much want to help with. To ensure that women are participating and are empowered. Empowerment is a very key word for me. My goal is always to empower people so that they never are left in a situation where they are receiving handouts, but they can stand on their own two feet and then continue to work or support their families.

So, I see my running for the local political platform as an opportunity to be able to help even more people. Right now, I am the chairperson of the integration Council in the municipality, it has been a good platform to make a difference in especially the residential apartment areas. I have been involved in supporting different projects through the council, we have done this together. But I feel like the next step for me would be to be involved in politics and be able to reach out to many of these women and families. on a broader scale.

I normally ask the question; What are the challenges that you’ve met on the way, and in your case, as a woman in leadership– could you point to any?

One of the challenges I would like to mention because I believe that there are a lot of other women that face this is that when you’re a woman in leadership, you also face challenges just because of being a woman. And then in my situation being a black woman. I feel like there are sometimes already prejudgments people have of somebody coming from Africa, for example based on what one has seen on the television, or if in the media one is constantly presented with an image of people that are starving and begging for help. This is the image that maybe is imprinted in the minds of the majority that see these kinds of images year after year, the lack of education or the sufferings.

So, when I come on a platform sometimes the challenge can be that peoples mind may not be ready to receive a black woman in leadership because their personal perception of a black woman, perceptions like someone coming from the African continent is one who is probably not educated. So, I have to pass through that, clear that clutter first before people start to really see me in my capacity, my potential, who I actually am and what I come to present.

Even though I face those challenges I never let them take away my focus of what I have come to present. I believe that every person matters, every person has a voice and a potential. Every person has a message which they were born to give. And therefore, I do not allow anyone’s prejudice or peoples boxes to distract me. I simply do not fit in any of those boxes.

If you looked back, the day you arrived in Denmark, and you were looking at yourself, is there something you would have changed? What advice if any would you give to you in relation to integration on that day?

This is a very interesting question, Andrew.

Just to put this in context, it is important to understand that I grew up under a father who was an ambassador. And him being an ambassador, already threw me into a very international environment at a very young age. I had opportunity to also go to international schools amongst children from all over the world. So, I was already exposed to an international environment from a very young age. And when I came to Denmark, I first came into the International People’s College, which again, was very international with people from all over the world. So as a person, when it comes to integration, I have a very open mindset towards people from different parts of the world.

But to answer your question about what advice I would give myself if I looked back on the day I arrived: then I will say that when I came to Denmark, I did not have much confidence in myself. So of course, the only advice would be to say, be more confident in yourself. But of course, that doesn’t happen by itself. It happens only when you meet the right people around you, that begin to encourage you, motivate, and empower you. So, I just happened to be very blessed that I met the right person. So, I don’t t know what I would really advise myself, I mean, from our talks, I think I would also say three things.

– Believe in yourself.

– Be open.

– Work hard.

A little tribute to Henrik – Carol’s late husband:

First of all, like I have already mentioned, when I first came to Denmark, I was completely not a confident person. I was very broken down in my personality in my character, because I grew up under a household where there was a lot of challenges in many ways. I had a stepmom, and sometimes she was abusive verbally, there were many negative words that were spoken over us the children, words that as a child broke me down emotionally, mentally, and my confidence was at zero. It was that bad. I did not believe in myself.

So now when I came to Denmark, and met this man, who then became my husband, he just continuously – and I don’t know if that was one of his purposes in my life, but he continuously just spoke life into me. Continuously told me who I was and how my potential was huge. He reminded me constantly of what I could do and who I was and what I could achieve as a woman, as a person, and what he saw in me and the leader he saw in me. It was just like, part of our conversation in our day-to-day life. The encouragement that came with knowing him, really built me up as a person and brought me to this place where today I am bold, and I’m confident, and I can contribute and participate with this confidence. Henrik really played a big role in my life.