Kara Barkman

What first really drew me to PLU as a high-schooler was its focus on vocation and global education. I knew I wanted to study away, and discern where I fit in the greater context of the world. YAGM was an incredible opportunity post-PLU to continue the important work of engaging with a global community to combat prejudice, misinformation, and ignorance.

At PLU, I was lucky enough to participate on a J-Term program in Tobago, and a semester in Oslo, Norway. These experiences were very different from each other. One (Tobago) held a focus on education, health, and social services, coupled with conversations about identity, race, and privilege. I spent time volunteering in an elementary school, specifically working with the “1st graders.” As the child of two public school educators, it made me think about the way that education is done differently around the world. Schools have different structures, curriculum varies depending on context, and classroom management and discipline are done differently. Looking back, this did help prepare me to realize that teaching in another country context would not look the same as classrooms and teaching in the US.

The other (Oslo) focused on international peace and conflict studies, with programming regarding immigration, ethics, and international systems. It was interesting learning about migration from a European context instead of a US one. However, part of the YAGM Mexico program is a week long retreat on the US/Mexico border in Sonora/Arizona. We partnered with an organization doing binational work there to learn about the realities of migrants, life on the border, and the physical “border” as well. We saw anger, sadness, frustration, hope, faith, and perseverance. This time on the border re-sparked ideas of where I see my vocation leading me.

I was also a member of the Peace Corps Prep program at PLU, with a focus on Youth in Development. This program made me challenge how I saw global service, and really question how global service is done in ethical ways that aren’t pushing a neocolonial narrative.

I found YAGM through my job as a summer camp counselor. With its focus on accompaniment, being invited by global partners, relationship building, and storytelling, it felt like the right fit for me. Through the program, I was teaching English at a secondary school in the small community of San Miguel Tzinacapan, Puebla. (Where the fall 2019 Oaxaca study away group coincidentally visited! It was great seeing some friends and other Lutes!) My students spoke Nahuatl and Spanish, and were learning English as a third language. They involved me in celebrations and laughed with me when I couldn’t handle the spicy salsas. I lived nearby in Cuetzalan, Puebla with a host family. We spent many hours playing games, watching reality TV shows, and drinking a lot coffee around the kitchen table.

I’m thankful that my time at PLU allowed me to encounter new ways to engage with the global community. Peace Corps Prep and Study Away only skim the top of the possibilities.

Updated March 2021