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She’ll never finish exploring the world

A longing to explore the world and love of its natural diversity meant that Lina Refsahl homed in on an engineering degree programme. Today, some time into her Master's degree, this restlessness is still making itself felt, and Lina is happy about that. It gives her life an extra kick and helps her to maintain her curiosity.

Lina grew up in a small suburb of Oslo with a Danish mother, three brothers and a large dose of magnificent scenery. She went in high school there, and it was always a little on the cards that she would study to become a doctor like her father, who sadly died very early in her childhood.

But instead of going directly into medicine, she packed her suitcase and bought a flight to Australia. This was when she got the travel bug.

"I really wanted to see the world. I just had to break away from familiar surroundings and get out of my comfort zone, travel far away and stand on my own two feet. I took various courses at an international college in Sydney in subjects like philosophy, social science and English. I found a room, where I lived with two other girls, and overall it was just an amazing experience. When I sat on the plane on the way home after six months, I decided that I would never stop exploring the world."

She’ll never finish exploring the world

Doubt and many possibilities

When Lina got back to Oslo, she was a bit clearer about her choice of degree programme. She wanted to pursue her interests in the natural sciences and she wanted a programme with good career opportunities all over the world.

"I’ve always been interested in all kind of things. So it was hard to choose. All the doors were open, and this just led doubt. The only thing I knew was that I would not commit to a single country - neither Norway nor Denmark. I also focussed on finding a programme that could lead to many different types of jobs, with a large variation in the work. Your life at work is long, and as engineer you can get a challenging job with lots of collaboration with other people and without too much monotony and routine."

Lina visited Aarhus for the first time in connection with an open house event at the University. It was early in the spring. She arrived by train, and there was a vibrant atmosphere in the city and the University Park. She fell in love with the city and she knew immediately that this was where she wanted to study.

She ended up applying for the Bachelor of Engineering programme in chemistry and she still remembers her mixed feelings of worry and liberation when she embarked on a new chapter in her life as a Danish student not knowing a soul at the University.

"There’s something special about building up a whole new circle of friends. I don't think it’s something you do very often in life. The social aspect has been the best thing about studying at Aarhus University, and I’ve made a lot of really good friends. There are many different personalities here, and there’s an inclusive community that’s great for everyone."

Chemistry comes alive at large processing plants

Today Lina has moved on in her studies to an MSc in Engineering in chemistry and biotechnology. She points to the large amount of group work as one of the reasons for the community spirit on engineering study programmes.

"Group work means you quickly get to know each other really well. We often work with real cases in our project collaboration, and that gives a special kind of motivation and satisfaction. And then there’s the fact that you simply reach better results if there are several students on the task."

She also talks about her Bachelor's project, when she spent several weeks in the potentially explosive environments around the production halls at Aarhus Karlshamn, the vegetable oil manufacturer. The aim was to optimise their processing plants, so they could produce oil more efficiently and economically sustainably, without compromising quality.

If you look closely, you will see her eyes light up. She has a special affection for these large processing plants, where chemistry comes alive.

Today Lina is studying for an MSc in Engineering in chemistry and biotechnology. She points to the large amount of group work as one of the reasons for the community spirit on engineering study programmes. Photo: Peer Klercke

"It’s not chemistry in itself that excites me. It’s the big picture that makes it worthwhile, and for me a lot of it is the chemical process. It always feels so good when you’re finished in the laboratory, you grasp of all the individual operations, and you take them out into real life and get it all to work at large plants. Actually, it doesn't matter whether we’re making chocolate, treating water or converting grass into fuel. We put something in one end and get something fantastic out of the other."

During her studies, environmental technology caught her interest, and when she graduates with her MSc in Engineering in a year's time, she will dedicate her career to a greener future.

"I can look forward to a very long working life, and when I'm old, I want to be able to look back on my career and know that I’ve done something worthwhile. As a chemistry engineer, you can play a role in the green transition of society, and I hope that I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren about it all."

"You get richer from experience - not from a pay cheque"

But first, she has plans to take a semester as an exchange student at a University in New Zealand.

It’s a big world full of opportunity, and Lina is not the type to settle down just yet.

"Of course I’ll continue to learn for the rest of my life. It’s a necessity when you’re working with technologies that are constantly developing. I want to travel and see new places and new cultures and have a richer life. For me it's not the salary that counts."