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Sara moved from Aalborg to Aarhus to become a chemical engineer

You know what it’s like when you have a teacher who just loves their subject? Someone who’s captivating, inspirational and yet empathetic when they talk? Sara does. And more than anything, that’s why Sara chose a programme she otherwise hated.

When Sara Bjerre Sørensen left Støvring Gymnasium secondary school in 2016, she had just one thing in mind: her gap year. She loved to travel, and she had planned trips all over the world for her time after secondary school. It was time to go out and see the world for herself.

The future was planned. She had decided to study to be a doctor, and she had already registered for courses in chemistry and physics before her trip, as she had to upgrade her qualifications to get into medicine.

Chemistry. Ugh! If there was anything Sara didn't like, it was chemistry. She really hated chemistry at school; so much so that she deliberately chose a line at school without the subject. No. Sara liked maths and German. These subjects had rules she could understand. And she liked social science.

When she was younger, Sara had always thought she would follow in her parents' footsteps. Both her father and mother worked in a bank, and originally she imagined that she would study economics or law or something like that.

But then her grandmother died.

"At first, I wept most with mum. That was some comfort. But it was hard to see mum cry. It seemed wrong. I often wondered whether my girlfriends' mothers also cried. I didn't think they did. I asked my mum about it, but I don’t think I explained myself very clearly, and she thought I was annoyed that she cried so much. After all, she was the adult."

Sara lost her grandmother to cancer when she was 13 years old. They had always been very close, and the death made a big impression on the young Sara. Her thoughts resulted in a book called Snowflakes in the darkness, which she wrote with her mother. The above is an excerpt translated from the book. Sara’s thoughts went beyond just the book. They followed her throughout her youth. Imagine if you could make a difference – perhaps help other people in similar situations.

After two months travelling in Australia and New Zealand, Sara landed back at Aalborg Airport. A fantastic trip was over, and she just had time to go home and say hello to her family before setting off again by train to Copenhagen. Ahead lay courses in chemistry and physics. The future loomed large, and even though she thought, "it’s just something I’ve got to get over with," she had no real idea what she was heading for.

You know what it’s like when you have a teacher who just loves their subject? Someone who, with their unfathomable knowledge, can excite anyone when they talk about it? Someone who motivates? Who inspires? Sara’s social science teacher at secondary school was like that. And she found the same sort of teacher when a stepped into her chemistry course.

"I’d thought that I’d just learn what was necessary, and then I’d quickly move on. It’d probably be tiresome, but that it had to be done. But the teacher was just insanely good. "Suddenly, I found that chemistry wasn't all that bad. Actually, it was rather exciting. I’d even say that I enjoyed it. It was fun. It turned my thoughts about further education upside down. I wanted to be a doctor to make a difference. But perhaps I could also make a difference in other subjects," explains Sara about her thoughts back then.

Her plan to study medicine was suddenly somewhat shaky. Chemistry was great. Who’d have thought it? Sara immediately went to Google to find out what else she could study related to chemistry.

And then a little word cropped up that Sara didn't really know the meaning of, but which she had always thought of with a certain indifferent respect: engineering.

"I didn’t know anything about engineering, but I fell for what I read about it," she says.

And being spontaneous by nature, Sara decided to take a new path in life: chemical engineering.

"I've always thought that no matter what programme I took; medicine, chemistry, biotechnology, anything, I'd probably enjoy it. I'd probably be happy, no matter what. "

However, Sara was certain of one thing: She wanted to study at Aarhus University.

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"Aarhus is a lovely city, and the university takes its role very seriously, although there is still room for fun. In a way, it is like the major universities in the UK: a huge cohesive campus right in the middle of the city, where you go around among thousands of other students, all studying different subjects. You get a great sense of belonging. And for me it was also about trying something new. I'm very much a family person, and I needed to move away a little. Get away for myself," says Sara.

That's why she called Maibritt Hjorth, the director of studies at the Department of Engineering at Aarhus University.

Maibritt had just five minutes before a meeting when she took the phone and heard a slightly concerned Sara at the other end of the line.

"I told Maibritt that I had an awful lot of questions. I was afraid that there wouldn’t be any girls on the programme. I was afraid that I wouldn't find any friends. That there wouldn’t be anyone I could get on with. I'm a very outgoing person, happy and spontaneous, and I need my social relations. And I have to admit that I was nervous about going to class with a bunch of nerds who didn't bother about the social side of things, who weren’t interested in partying, and who only wanted to nerd around in their geeky little details," says Sara.

Maibritt’s five minutes lasted longer. Much longer. And even though Maibritt was embarrassingly late for her meeting, Sara got the confidence she needed to apply. 

"I showed up far too early on the first day. I just stood there awkwardly and didn't know what to do with myself. So I pretended to read a sign, when another girl arrived and started to pretend she was reading a sign too. After a while, she asked me what I was waiting for, and it turned out that she was also on the chemical engineering programme. We just clicked from there on in. It was a fantastic start to my studies. They were definitely not the bunch of nerds I had feared: nowhere near. Of course, I did meet some nerds, but they were social and happy, and now we can actually all be nerds together," says Sara.

Today, Sara Bjerre Sørensen is 21, and she is on the fourth semester of her MSc in Engineering degree programme in chemical engineering.

She likes the small study groups she is working in. They make things more intimate, and you get to say more than in larger groups.

And she loves the sense of how the programme gives her an insight into how the world works.

"We can always link theory to reality. You get an insight and an understanding that really takes you forward. You can sense how the world hangs together. It’s absolutely fantastic. It's great to have this opportunity. To have five years to immerse yourself in this kind of thing. It's a huge motivation – I can actually do something that others can't do," she says, and continues,

"And it's also really inspiring to see what you can do as a graduate. There’s no end of possibilities, and so many fascinating stories about people who can do really crazy things. One of the coolest things about studying at uni. is that our lecturers are so insanely talented. They’re researchers and they’re like living encyclopaedias. They really live for what they do. They inspire and motivate more than anything else. "

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