Alums work beyond the Luther bubble

Kurt Hellman (‘16) sits with members of the small village he works in.

Photos courtsey of Kurt Hellman (‘16)

Photos courtsey of Kurt Hellman (‘16)

Kurt Hellman (‘16) sits with members of the small village he works in.

Emma Busch, Staff Writer

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Luther alums Kurt Hellmann (‘16), Erika Storvick (‘16) and Samantha Ea (‘16) are currently two months into their year-long experience volunteering abroad with the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM).

The program invites young adults between the ages of 21 and 29 to apply for year-long international volunteer opportunities in 11 countries and six continents to provide support for communities in need.

Hellmann applied to the program and was placed in northwestern Cambodia. According to Hellmann, his decision to apply was affected by Luther’s study abroad programs.

“I would say that my study abroad experiences during my time at Luther largely influenced my decision to volunteer with YAGM,” Hellman said. “I applied to this program due to my appreciation for service and international inclinations; YAGM seemed to be a good intersection of the two.”

Hellmann works with a non-governmental organization (NGO) and teaches English in Cambodia.

“ I work with an NGO that focuses on rural development through rights-based empowerment,” Hellmann said. “The NGO has many facets, but my role focuses on climate change adaptation in rural communities. In addition to this work, I teach English at several locations in the community.”

Samatha Ea (‘16) and other volunteers pick olives.

Photo courtesy of Samatha Ea (‘16)
Samatha Ea (‘16) and other volunteers pick olives.

According to Hellmann, while his experience in Cambodia has been enjoyable so far, it also has its fair share of challenges.

“[I’m learning a lot] as I live within different cultural norms and continue working on my Khmer language skills,” Hellmann said. “Southeast Asian politics, economics, religion, history and agriculture are also a few things I’m learning a great deal more about as well.”

In Fianarantsoa, Madagascar, Storvick volunteers as an English teacher. She applied for the program with Madagascar in mind.

“I applied for the program my senior year, was accepted and entered an intensive interview process,” Storvick said. “I was drawn to Madagascar largely because of how different it is from the United States, at least where I had lived most of my life. While here, I have encountered these differences, but also been surprised by how similar it can be at times.”

Volunteering abroad has been a opportunitiy for Storvick to learn more about Malagasy culture and herself.

“I’ve heard that a year abroad is like any other year, with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and I’ve found that to be very true.” Storvick said. “I’m learning a lot about Malagasy culture, especially language — both spoken and sign language. I’ve been learning some dances and trying Malagasy food too, which has been fun. It has shown me a different education system, a different approach to treating our natural resources and ultimately a different way of living.”

Ea was placed in Beit Sahour, Palestine and volunteers as an English language assistant in a Lutheran school. In addition, Ea performs administrative work. She was drawn to the YAGM’s Jerusalem/West Bank program.

“I found out about YAGM from a good friend of mine, Betsy Fawcett (‘17), about a year and a half ago,” Ea said. “She told me that it would be a good fit for me, considering my past involvement with my home congregation, my passion for learning about different cultures and traveling. What drew me to the YAGM Jerusalem/West Bank country placement was the large history that the Holy Land brings and the knowledge and awareness that I, as a Westerner, did not know, and am still continuing to learn as I live and learn from those around me.”

Ea has enjoyed her experience so far and is thankful for the support and hospitality she has encountered in Palestine.

“I am having so much fun,” Ea said. “I love working as an English language assistant in the school, learning Arabic and being fully submerged in a new place and culture. Arabic is a difficult language to learn, but I am enjoying the challenge and the support I am getting when I do try to speak. The hospitality that I’ve experienced being in the Holy Land has been absolutely amazing and I am so thankful.”

Ea recommends that current students look into programs like the YAGM for great post-graduation opportunities.

“My abroad experiences at Luther catapulted me into being more interested in the world we live in, to now truly seeing what it means to be a global citizen and how we see others in a global context,” Ea said. “I highly recommend anyone who is looking for a chance to explore a different country by living and being a part of a different community to work or volunteer abroad.”

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