david gonnerman '90
Career field: Communications
Job title: Media Relations Specialist
Employer: St. Olaf College
In two to three sentences, please describe what your current position entails.
I coordinate the pitching of St. Olaf-related stories to the media, assist journalists who visit campus, help maintain the college's news site and take photographs.
What has been your career path to date?
After teaching English in Poland from 1990-95 (and getting married), I returned to the United States to help manage a nonprofit technical association based in the Twin Cities. From there I was hired as assistant director in the St. Olaf Bookstore (1999), and after a few years there I moved into my current post in the Marketing-Communications Office.
Which country(ies) has your work taken you to?
How did your interest in working internationally develop?
My junior year at St. Olaf I transferred out to take an American University semester in Poland, which I chose because it was a unique country with a lot of history and I knew I would learn something. After returning to Olaf I knew whom to contact in Poland about getting work, and I arranged to start teaching at one of the newly formed (and British-sponsored) Teacher Training Colleges, this one in Poznan. I returned to Poland and started working the fall of 1990.
Which parts of your St. Olaf education best prepared you to work internationally?
Traveling internationally on my own and with the St. Olaf Band, Orchestra and Choir helped me feel comfortable living and working in another country. And with my background in history I was excited about living in a country that had been around a few centuries more than my own. As for on-the-job training (which I never really got), I decided that my best technique would be to emulate the styles of my favorite profs.
What is the most difficult or challenging aspect about working internationally?
Coping with a different bureaucratic system and getting used to new ways of "doing things," from personal protocol to shopping. And acquiring a new language can be a challenge when most of your professional and personal acquaintances are happy to practice their English. Also, coming from the "land of plenty," living in a place that offers far fewer conveniences can be less than ideal.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of working internationally?
My five years in Poland remain some of the most important in my life. It's where I learned how to cope, survive and thrive on my own, all while learning how to do things within the context of a different culture. I also earned millions each month (of zloties, that is).
What does being a “global citizen” mean to you?
It means paying attention to the rest of the world -- how it feels, thinks and behaves -- and doing your best to understand and appreciate cultural differences.
What advice would you offer current students interested in working internationally?
Go for it! If you're free to roam after graduating, what better time is there to take off and try something really unique? I was in Poland independently, but if you would rather choose an organization (and there are advantages to that route) I don't think you could do better than the Peace Corps. But there are, of course, a lot of good international organizations out there. And use CEL -- they have a lot more resources than in my day.
Please include anything else you would like to share about your experiences.
Probably the most rewarding part of my time abroad came last summer when my wife, who is Polish (and also works at St. Olaf), and I took our two sons (ages 7 and 10) to Poland for their first time. We had a blast introducing them to family and showing them where we lived and worked together.
I work on campus in the Skifter Building (next to Christiansen): firstname.lastname@example.org 507-786-3315