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It took Nicole and Hendre Swart a whole 33 hours to reach the Münsterland, their new home. After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering, the married couple were determined to pursue a Master’s programme, but not in their home country, South Africa. Hence they headed for Steinfurt – via Korea.
Although their field of research and work revolves around automotive coatings, Nicole and Hendre prefer to cycle in their free time. (Photo: Theresa Gerks)

“We originally wanted to study in the USA or in another country where English is spoken,” explained Hendre. But the tuition fees charged there are really high. “So we had the idea of taking on a job in South Korea and working there for eight months so that we could afford university. It was so naive of us,” Hendre recalled, laughing. Of course it didn’t work out that way. “We taught young children English. Despite the radical change from engineer to teacher, it was great fun. All the same, we sometimes wondered what we were doing there.” After all, during their period of teaching, they were forced to put their passion for chemistry on hold. But it was in South Korea that they first heard about BASF. Way out in the country, we saw a huge BASF billboard and were so impressed by it that we said, there and then: that’s where we want to work one day,” recounted Nicole, grinning. “At that time, we didn’t know that BASF was the biggest chemical producing company in the world.”

In South Korea, Nicole and Hendre looked after children aged between six and 13. “It was a radical change from engineer to teacher, but really good fun,” stated Hendre. (Photo: private)
In South Korea, Nicole and Hendre looked after children aged between six and 13. “It was a radical change from engineer to teacher, but really good fun,” stated Hendre. (Photo: private)

A short email from Nicole’s Bachelor professor proved decisive: it contained information about scholarships and the fact that Europe also offered Chemical Engineering programmes delivered in English. “So we then set about researching it straight away and ended up applying to universities in Belgium, Great Britain and Germany, including FH Münster,” recalled Hendre. “I clearly remember jumping for joy in the office when we got our acceptance to Münster,” Nicole added.

In Steinfurt, the two were met with “absolute silence”. “The first time we viewed the campus was a Friday afternoon, and we found it really strange that no one was around,” remarked Hendre. “Now we, too, really appreciate Friday afternoons off!” The couple soon became accustomed to the programme, despite initially being surprised at how independently and autonomously everything works, and at the breadth of their programme.

At this year’s graduation ceremony at the Department of Chemical Engineering, Nicole and Hendre gave an amusing student review. (Photo: Theresa Gerks)
At this year’s graduation ceremony at the Department of Chemical Engineering, Nicole and Hendre gave an amusing student review. (Photo: Theresa Gerks)
In the position of Operational Excellence Manager, Hendre has a lot of customer and staff contact. He also works to ensure that BASF’s business strategy is implemented. (Photo: Theresa Gerks)
In the position of Operational Excellence Manager, Hendre has a lot of customer and staff contact. He also works to ensure that BASF’s business strategy is implemented. (Photo: Theresa Gerks)

Then Company Day came along. BASF Coatings, based in Münster-Hiltrup, was among the exhibitors. “I clearly recall the couple making a beeline for our stand,” recounted Petra Kneppe, who works in Human Resources at BASF Coatings. “There was an immediate interest on both sides. Hendre and Nicole have impressive, varied CVs, which we very much appreciate. Their specialisations also suited us.” They had both attended a course on coatings given by senior professor Dr. Klaus-Peter Arlt. By doing internships and working as students, they soon got a foot in the door of the major company.

Now they are both permanent employees at BASF Coatings. While Nicole researches different coatings in the lab, Hendre works as Operational Excellence Manager. “It’s amazing what you can do with coatings. We would never have thought, three years ago in South Korea, that we would end up here. We feel very much at home!”

By Theresa Gerks


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