Pulaski native plans volunteer work in Africa

By Jeff Kurowski | The Compass | January 15, 2014

HOWARD — Kayla VandenLangenberg is right where she wanted to be. Recently, the Pulaski native, who graduated from UW-Eau Claire in December, started a teaching position at Parker Intermediate School in Houston, Texas.

Kayla VandenLangenberg, pictured last month at her graduation from UW-Eau Claire, will devote two years of service in the Peace Corps volunteering in Liberia. (Submitted photo | For The Compass)
Kayla VandenLangenberg, pictured last month at her graduation from UW-Eau Claire, will devote two years of service in the Peace Corps volunteering in Liberia. (Submitted photo | For The Compass)

VandenLangenberg, who majored in Spanish and math education in college, did her student teaching in Houston’s Aldine Independent School District leading to the full-time position teaching fifth and sixth grade bilingual math.

So why is she leaving her position at the end of the school year? Why give up earning a paycheck in your desired field? VandenLangenberg, a member of Ss. Edward and Isidore Parish, Flintville, wants to devote two years to service.

Volunteer service was fostered by her parents during her childhood, said VandenLangenberg. She will continue as a teacher, but in much different conditions in Liberia, Africa, as a member of the Peace Corps.

“I’m not sure what city yet, but I know the country,” she said in an interview with The Compass while home for the holiday break. “I don’t know too much about the living conditions. I’ve been told that I will get a hut and will probably have no electricity, no running water and a pit toilet. I’m not really sure what to expect. I don’t know how far Internet access will reach or how far the market will be. I know that I will be teaching secondary (high school) math.”

VandenLangenberg applied for the Peace Crops last April and completed the interview process by the end of May. She had never met a Peace Corps volunteer, so upon receiving her nomination, her recruiter connected with a UW-Stout professor who had served.

“He told me the good, the bad and the ugly,” she said. “There is a lot that’s romanticized about the Peace Corps. He said, ‘Your highs are going to be really high and your lows are going to be really low, but, overall, it’s an incredible experience.’”

VandenLangenberg has also been preparing through connecting with Peace Crops groups on Facebook.

“Volunteers who are already in Africa have been writing, giving us encouragement and telling us what to pack and what not to pack,” she said. “I have made some friends and found a support system through the Liberia group.”

VandenLangenberg was open to serving in any country, but told her recruiter that she preferred a Spanish speaking country and the opportunity to work in education. The recruiter nominated her for a position in Costa Rica.

“When I was invited, my need to teach math in Africa was greater than my need to teach English in Costa Rica,” she explained.

As a member of Ss. Edward and Isidore, VandenLangenberg served the parish as a teacher for the “Little Church” program for 4-year-olds and as a church picnic volunteer. Her Peace Corps commitment is not only an opportunity to give to others, but to grow as a teacher and a person, she said.

“I really want to learn about myself as a teacher without resources,” she said. “For the most part, in my teaching experiences, I’ve had everything that I’ve needed. I’ve been told that I’m going to a school that may not have books and if they have books, there may only be a few. I’m excited to see what I can come up with without technology.

“I know that I’m not going to come back as the same person. I don’t know how I’m going to change and the obstacles I’m going to face. I hope I can face all the obstacles as an optimist and overcome them, learn from them and come back a better person.”

VandenLangenberg will approach the experience with an open mind and heart.

“The Lord knows what’s best for me and what will help the community the most,” she said. “I put it all on him and trust him.”

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