Linn Enger Leigland knew she wasn’t the ‘right fit’ for her small town in Norway where she was studying journalism. She had previously lived in Ghana where she had undertaken international studies and felt a strong pull to learn more about the international relations sector.
Exploring her options, Linn applied for internship positions at Norwegian embassies across the world and landed a position in Canberra, Australia, a country she had previously visited as a backpacker. This proved to be a critical decision that helped guide Linn on the first step of her career.
“Australia is such an international country, and Canberra is an interesting and cosmopolitan city,” Linn said.
When she returned to Norway to finish her journalism degree, she already knew she wanted to refocus and do a master’s degree in a political science field.
Linn completed a Master of International Relations (Advanced). The course covers compulsory courses such as International Relations Theory, International Political Economy, and Global Security. Linn chose Ethics of Peace and War as one of her electives and wrote her thesis on international state recognition, examining the case of Western Sahara. Decision-making in the international sphere and how norms, international law and national interests influence a country’s position on an issue is a topic that continues to fascinate her.
“I enjoyed the opportunity to learn from world-renowned scholars in the field and stimulating academic discussions with my peers.”
When Linn returned to Norway, she was dedicated to finding any opportunity to get her "foot in the door” in the international relation sector. She was offered an internship at the United Nations Information Centre for Western-Europe (UNRIC) in Brussels where she developed content and helped managed social media platforms in collaboration with interns from the other European desks. This position provided an opportunity to learn more about the United Nations (UN) in the heart of Europe, which subsequently put her on the path to further opportunities.
It's important to listen to yourself and to be able to also step back and change your path if something doesn’t feel right for you.
In 2018, Linn joined the communications team at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) in Thailand after passing the Young Professionals Programme exam where she manages ESCAP´s and the Executive Secretary´s social media accounts, coordinates multimedia projects and assists with a range of key events and other public relations activities.
Linn has extensive experience working in a global context but responding to a deep urge she had to learn more about international relations helped redirect her to where she is now. Her education experience has also formed a strong view on the importance of universities that “help us grow personally and professionally and allows us to delve into topics we are most passionate about. Not to forget the important role of university to provide knowledge in the society and public debate”.
Learning another language has also been important for Linn, who speaks English, some Spanish, a bit of French and Arabic in addition to her home language, Norwegian.
“I love getting to know new people and learning languages, it’s a key to fully understand other cultures and societies,” Linn said.
“While I studied at ANU, I took an Arabic language class at the Center for Continuing Education, a language I have continued to study in Bangkok at the UN language center.
“Studying abroad gave me perspectives and a professional confidence I would probably not have gained if I studied at home.
“Undertaking a master’s degree in a second language is a huge achievement and improved my English. By proving to myself I could undertake highly complex political analysis in a foreign language, I also proved to myself I could work abroad."
Studying and making friends with people from all over the world opened Linn’s eyes to see the world from different perspectives and discover new opportunities.
“It was actually a classmate from ANU who encouraged me to apply for the United Nations Young Professionals Programme, which brought me where I am, where I learn something new every day!
“Working in communications for a big organisation like ESCAP means I get to cover a lot of different topics everything from initiatives to empower women in the region to climate change, development finance and transport/digital connectivity.”
Working with the UN, an organisation with such a ‘global lens’, has been exciting for Linn. It provides her the opportunity to be a “fly on the wall” covering important regional meetings and discussions about sustainable development, and debates before resolutions are adopted.
Working and living in Bangkok in Thailand has been enjoyable for Linn. She is able to experience a gentler quality of life and finds Thai people are consistently friendly and helpful. She enjoys having colleagues from all parts of the world in her workplace and has visited a friend in Taiwan from ANU who worked as a researcher there. The traffic is of a different scale than in Canberra though. She spends a lot of time stuck in traffic going places, or winding her way through the traffic jam on the back of a motorbike hoping for the best.
The highlight of Linn’s career has been covering António Guterres’ visit to Thailand on social media where he went on a field visit to Centenary Park in Bangkok, famous for its innovative and sustainable park design. Her efforts to promote the visit were shared widely in the media and with key representatives and stakeholders, including by the Secretary-General himself.
In the new COVID-19 reality, Linn joins so many across the world, working remotely from home, and meetings are going virtual. In May, ESCAP had the two biggest meetings of the year back to back (the 76th Session of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific and the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development).
“Coordinating the social media team, graphic design and managing social media coverage of these two large international events from my living room is one of my biggest achievements so far. It prompted me to think differently and come up with new, innovative solutions,” said Linn.
Linn loves the variation that comes with living abroad and notes the cultural clashes and different experiences push you to examine your own values. Reflecting on the places she has lived, Norway, Denmark, Ghana, Belgium, Australia and Thailand, Linn concedes it’s difficult to have a favourite.
“I loved living in Ghana where I studied at University of Ghana, volunteered at an NGO, was teaching salsa and travelled across the country and had a Nigerian roommate. I met beautiful people that taught me so much about life and a reality that was so different from life in Norway,” Linn said.
“I also loved living in Australia and Canberra where I truly felt home, got challenged academically, could go for hikes/bushwalks in the city and got involved with the local Brazilian samba community. I loved the international vibe there.”
So how does Linn define success? For her, success is not about money or status, it’s leading a professional life and a career that aligns with your values and makes you happy. She measures success from internal rather than external measures and reiterates that reaching your own personal goals, and growing as a person is success.
“It´s important to listen to yourself and to be able to also step back and change your path if something doesn’t feel right for you. Don’t let other people’s expectations or narrow definitions of what success should look like define your career path,” Linn said.
“We spend most of our awake time at work and doing something you enjoy should be the number one priority. Nothing is worth it if you aren’t happy.”
Linn’s advice for prospective students studying the Asia-Pacific region at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific is to “dream big, work hard and see the magic happen. Trust and enjoy the process towards your goal. Be curious, ask questions and take every chance that you get. Enjoy learning and enjoy all the activities Canberra has to offer. Oh, and buy a bicycle, it makes getting around campus and the city so much easier!”
The ANU College of Asia and the Pacific understands the importance of the region to the future of Australia, and for more than half a century has been the pre-eminent centre for research. Strong connections to governments and communities here and abroad fulfil the vision of an institution with a truly national role. You can make a difference by donating here.
Image: Byron Carr