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Career success story: Keenan Whitt Linsly

Being keen on doing a lot of sports like rock climbing, soccer, basketball and CrossFit, Keenan comes from Virginia, United States. He is a very ambitious young professional who started juggling different working experiences from 16 years old. Three years later, he moved to Denmark, where he is enjoying riding his bike but hates spending Februarys here.  He’s that kind of person that never says No to a new adventure, no matter if it’s personal or professional. His story proves how he’s always achieved so much learning by himself!

All you need is love and… a little bit of Denmark

Keenan’s story is a romance one. While he was in the US, he met a Danish girl, like so many other people, and then decided to move to Denmark at the age of 19. Brave and ambitious! I always wanted to study abroad and I always told myself I would never move farther North but the opportunity presented itself. The application process was very long and it took a while to hear back from all the authorities and institutions involved.

It also ended up that his parents were happy for his decision even if they were sad to see him leave: it was actually cheaper than paying for tuition in the States, even with the travel costs back and forth.

Even though it didn’t work out for his relationship, he decided to stay in Denmark and here he is today: almost 4 years later, taking his master programme at Aarhus University. He started with a Bachelor in Economics and Business Administration and now continues with master studies in the same field, but with focus on a specific specialization.

Denmark at a first glance or facing the culture shock 

He spent some summers in Denmark before actually coming here for studies, but still he had a culture shock at the beginning: When I first moved here, I was so tired for several weeks in a row just because there were so many new experiences, for example like trying to figure out shopping in a different language. I was going to bed at 8 o’clock. 

Once he got over this period, he remembers how he had an incredible tough winter during his first year in Denmark; there was snow all the time and he couldn’t stop thinking I am from a very warm climate, what’s going on here? This is something that Keenan describes being very new for him. 

But what was really a culture shock for him was the drinking cultureYou have to be 21 in the US in order to consume alcohol, so coming here at the age of 19, having the introduction week and noticing the way young people drink was probably the most shocking part. Now, I see it as a part of the social culture, so it’s not negative or positive, it’s just different and it seems to work for Danes. 

When asked about the coolest part of coming to Denmark, he says: I really enjoy riding my bike. It’s so nice to have that freedom to go everywhere instead of just trying to find a parking place for your car. I spend more time on a bike than in a car right now so it’s kind of amazing. 

The power of networking 

It all began when he started going to the gym and working out at what used to be the former Aarhus School of Business. I was down there with my German friend from my class and we met a guy from Spain. We got to know each other and started to talk. One day he was in the AU Alumni office and was talking to Corey Morris (who is the Alumni Relations Managersaying he just met an American guy down to the gym. Essentially, Corey reached out to him on Facebook and asked: If you want to stop by for a cup of coffee, I’d love to love to hear more about your story (that’s because he is a friendly guy and he was interested to hear the story of another national). 

They met and talked and one year later Keenan was looking for ways to stay in Denmark. After his bachelor, he didn’t want to have to pay for his master again so he was talking to Corey asking about scholarships opportunities and somehow, he also mentioned about how he developed this app for his mother’s company and Corey’s reaction was: Wow! That’s really cool! We want an app here, at AU Alumni!

Same workplace, different projects 

They ended up working out a deal and Keenan became an App Developer for AU Alumni (in fall 2012). I was working with the Swedish counterparts (the people who built the Gerda platform). He wasn’t necessarily a proficient app developer but he was still prepared to put in as many hours as he needed to in order to learn how to do it. He saw it as a learning process for himself: I spent a lot of time working on that project but I was part of the team, so it was a fantastic experience. 

Because he performed well with this first project, they offered him work on a statistics project, which was very relevant to his studies. My main task is remote usability surveys. I’ve been working to evaluate the usability of the website through remote focus grouping. Now I am in charge of writing this really big report and I have a lot of autonomy. They trust me to do what I have to do and gather all the necessary data. The surveys asks you to find information on the website after you pull up this special link that shows you the website, then you navigate through and it records all your clicks, the time it takes you and the number of pageviews, among other things. 

It seems that in his case it was all about networking or, as he defines it, extreme networking

What was the most attractive part in working for AU Alumni?

It was about improving my skills and having my name behind it that could promote what I’ve done to a broader community and then I would have that experience on my CV. Also, I really enjoyed the office environment, going in there. I like spending time with the other colleagues from the office: it is really team oriented and we get to do a lot of fun stuff together. 

Previous experiences are always a plus 

In the US, he worked as a freelancer dealing with various projects from various clients. I started working at the age of 16 and it was a very steep learning curve, because every day I was learning completely new things just by, Google it and figure it out what to do. This is how he ended up having clients (generally small business) from different fields like retail, health care, marketing.

Before working for AU Alumni, he also had a position within a small company from Horsens, called Horsodan Elektronik, that involved web work and design. Also, through someone from his class, he managed to find a babysitting/English teacher job, which he is still doing it because he considers it fun.

How does he perceive the Danish workplace culture?

What he likes the most about Danish workplace culture is the autonomy: You have a lot of responsibility and you are not so much doing tasks that someone tells you to do, you are more working on tasks together with your boss. You have a lot of autonomy and flexibility. I love the cake days as well and drinking coffee.  I could do most of the work from home, but I go to the office because it’s very constructive. It’s more like a creative place. When you are struggling with something, you can ‘yell’ across the room and someone will come over and help you with it, one of your bosses or colleagues. 

Is it challenging to work in Danish environment? He believes so, but mostly because of the culture shock. He explains how he was used more to a rigid environment where a person is told what to do and then he/she has to do it, but what Keenan has experienced in Denmark has been more friendly and it didn’t quite feel to have a structure hierarchy, even tough there is. 

Talking about Danish language, Keenan is more fluent now than at the beginning. At the office, they speak a bit more Danish now, but there is also a combination of English and Danish depending on the people who are in the office because the team is quite international. Plus, he has his own way of learning the language: Whenever I am at social events, I always ask Danes to speak in Danish with me and then I always at least try to respond in Danish. He’s been doing this from the very beginning, even when he was a starter. 

How does the future look like?

Is he planning to stay here or is he planning to spend more years in Denmark and then go back? Well, my parents ask me the same question all the time, about what would be my direction or my strategy. I wish I had a strategy! They want me to go back, of course, but I have almost all my friends here. Moving back there would be a reverse culture shock. He would actually like to stay in Aarhus at least for a little while because he believes that if one can get in the first level, there’s a lot of good experience and a lot of good responsibility that one can get within a company.

Suggestions for other international students

Keenan is definitely a fan of going through a more creative path when is comes to career. What I was doing, I was learning new things that I knew they would be valuable for employers. So, specifically, I would tell myself I am going to spend the next few weeks learning how to build apps or something like that. 

Regarding the cultural integration, he advises: You can still maintain your own identity, while interacting with someone else’s. Integration is a good word because you can still respect each other’s cultures without someone having to adapt to the other person. It’s all about finding a balance!