A Long Way From Home, Living the Dream

The Denmark native trekked 7,100 miles to the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo to study marine science: “My childhood dream,” she says.

Anna drinking coconut milk through a straw, directly from an unhusked coconut.
Anna Mikkelsen enjoying life in Hawai‘i. Courtesy photos.
UH Hilo cross country team. Courtesy photo. Click to enlarge.
The UH Hilo cross country team takes a break from running.

Anna Baker Mikkelsen was born and raised in Denmark and lived with her parents in Bagsvaerd, near Copenhagen, before making the almost 7,100-mile trek to the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. She was involved in cross country and track as a high school student back home in Denmark at Falkonergaardens Gymnasium and was offered the opportunity to run for the UH Hilo Vulcan’s cross country program upon graduating in 2014.

The international student’s other big interest is marine biology. Mikkelsen has wanted to be a marine biologist ever since she was little and says, “Marine science was the obvious choice as the dream of being a marine biologist was still somewhere in me, and I heard that the program here at UH Hilo was really good.” Mikkelsen is majoring in marine science and minoring in mathematics.

Of the trials faced once in Hawai‘i, Mikkelsen says, “It’s always a challenge to adapt to a completely different life.” Her first month in Hawai‘i was not without its difficulties. Her Danish bank put a hold on her credit card because they thought someone had stolen it and taken off to Hawai‘i. Her American bankcard also ran into problems and then her phone company shut down her service.

She ordered a sim card to use in the U.S. but it didn’t arrive. All in all she says with a laugh, “It was an interesting start to the semester.”

Luckily, the relaxed attitude and laid-back lifestyle here in Hawai‘i won out. “I have met a lot of really nice people who have helped me get my life started here.”

Mikkelsen has a network of coaches and teammates that she says have taken care of her since day one. She has been running with the cross-country team at UH Hilo for three semesters now. She also has a host family, which she was assigned through the International Student Services & Intercultural Education program. “They’re like my parents at my second home,” she says.

Everyone has helped her a lot and Mikkelsen says she is also very thankful for her roommates, who lent her a hand with the rent while awaiting money through Western Union from her parents in Denmark during that first month.

When she first thought of coming to the islands, Mikkelsen says Hawai’i seemed like a dream to even visit. Now the dream is real.

“We are surrounded by all these opportunities and really lucky to have so many choices,” she says. She loves the applied learning that the marine science department affords her and the many opportunities it offers that allow her to engage with the scientific community.

Becoming a marine scientist

Mikkelsen also enjoys her classes, especially the labs. “I like that there is so much hands-on (learning), that we are able to go out snorkeling or on a boat for our classes.” She felt particularly inspired by her oceanography class and now thinks it may be a field she would like to pursue one day in the future.

Anna feeds a dolphin a fish while submerged in a dolphin tank.
Anna Mikkelsen doing some hands-on learning.

Mikkelsen is currently with the Marine Option Program or MOP, an experiential program that will last three semesters for her and give her experience assisting in field research and outreach events with various professors and agencies in Hawai‘i. MOP includes field trips involving research, turtle tagging, scientific diving, boating, camping, and whale and seal counts.

Mikkelsen wants to get more involved in the marine science field and hopes to land a summer internship now that the cross-country season has ended.

“I haven’t yet decided what to do after I graduate, but I am keeping my options open,” she says.

Her UH Hilo bachelor’s degree will be accepted back in Denmark, so she has the option of going home to continue her educational track with a master of science program.

“I was thinking of doing a master’s in aquatic resources or environmental science,” she explains.

Whatever she decides to do, she hopes to work in the fields of environmental science and marine resources. She recently wrote a paper with the closing statement, “I am about to become a Marine Scientist. My childhood dream.”

For Mikkelsen, anything seems possible.

Originally published at UH Hilo Stories

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