Urban hydraulics engineer

From my first visit, I knew that this was a place I could see myself living.

Professional Background

Justine Hénonin has a Master’s Degree in Science & Technology with a focus on Hydroinformatics & Water Engineering. She is a graduate of Université de Nice-Sophia Antipolis. She spent eight years working for the Danish Hydraulic Institute (DHI). She currently works for Vandcenter Syd in Odense, specialising in urban hydraulics & hydro modelling.

The move to Denmark

Most French engineers go through traineeships and I was offered one at DHI’s branch in France. While there, I was offered a full time job with the company and said yes straightaway.

Over the following years, I travelled a lot with work. DHI generally asked me up to spend a week or more at the headquarters in Denmark three times a year, and from my first visit, I knew that this was a place I could see myself living.

After about five years in working in France, DHI asked me if I was interested in doing a PhD at the company, and I said ‘sure, as long as it is in Denmark,’ and that is how I ended up moving to Copenhagen.

Last year, I was contacted by Capax who wanted to hear if I would be interested in working for Vandcenter Syd. I have been contacted by recruitment agencies before and always said no, but the job sounded interesting and they were very nice about the whole thing, so I ended up saying yes to an interview and got the job.

I mainly work with storm & sewer water networks modelling, so a lot of my job is about hydraulics, designing collection systems and studying urban flooding and climate change impacts on sewer systems. As I think is the case for most engineers, I enjoy working within a field defined by the natural sciences and I like that my field focusses on helping people.

Meeting the warm Danes

I think that foreigners and Danes alike think of Danes as colder and a bit more standoffish than for example the French, but I do not think that this is necessarily true.

I was working for a Danish company in France, but our work culture was French. It is not as relaxed as the one found in Denmark and there is a more strict hierarchy. You work longer days and it is expected of you to do what is needed to climb the corporate ladder – and it is through that you often gain respect.

I cannot speak for all Danish companies, but the place I am at now is much more relaxed and open. Respect is earned through your work on projects and is based on merit – on what you can actually do. We also have a much flatter hierarchy.

Everybody knows that in France you kiss each other on the cheek when you meet. People generally think that this means you are very close. Actually, you are only touching cheeks. When people meet in Denmark, they hug – and it is a whole body hug. I remember the first time I was in Denmark and got a really long hug from a colleague when I was going back to France. I almost told her ‘look, do not worry, I am not dying and I will be back here soon’. I do not think that people who hug like this in a workplace environment can be called cold.

On the other hand, making friends in Denmark takes longer than in France. A Dane does not become your friend over a drink or two – it takes weeks and months of socialising before you are invited to their homes. Someone told me that many Danes meet their best friends early in life and do not feel the need to add more close friends to the list. I do not know if this is a generalisation, but if I were to poke a bit of fun at them, Danes can be a bit tribal and conservative – both as groups of friends and as a nation. A good example of this is the ‘julefrokost’ phenomenon. You generally end up having one with your friends, one with your family, one with your family friends, one with work and so on….and the menu is exactly the same every time! That would never work in France, not with the same menu…

All in all, I have loved moving to Denmark. The people are great and I love living in Copenhagen. I think it has the perfect size for a capital and I love the cycling culture.

The only thing is the language. I remember the first time I came to Copenhagen and tried to tell the bus driver in as many different ways as I could think of that I wanted to go to ‘Hørsholm’ without him being able understand me. I guess you could say that I was lucky to actually end up where I wanted to go.