Young Adult Missionary Becomes a Language Scholar
By Julia Kayser*
Michelle Dromgold’s love affair with Berlin started at an early age. She was just 17 when she discovered the city while studying German there one summer. During college, she returned to Berlin and studied abroad for eight months. After graduating, she moved to Berlin with a Fulbright grant and wrote a book called Islamic Religious Instruction in German Public Schools.
While Dromgold conducted her Fulbright research, she volunteered at the Kindertreff Delbrücke, an after-school program hosted by a local United Methodist church. The congregation had noticed many children lingering on their playground after school hours and decided to open its doors as a safe space to play. This simple act of hospitality planted the seed for the present Kindertreff, which is open five days a week from 2 to 7 p.m.
When Dromgold’s Fulbright ended, she applied to become a mission intern with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. The Mission Intern program — now called Global Mission Fellows — allows young adults ages 20-30 to do 25 months of mission service either in the United States or internationally. The Kindertreff applied as a placement site, and Global Ministries assigned Dromgold as a young adult missionary there.
Life as a Young Adult Missionary
As a mission intern in Berlin, Dromgold worked with administration, long-term planning, accounting and coordination of special events. She also tutored children who needed extra help with their homework. However, she said the highlight of her time as a young adult missionary was “seeing the growth of the English Club,” which she led.
At first, the English Club had just four members, but during Dromgold’s tenure, attendance surpassed 20 children. The club met for just one hour a week, she said, and “it was chaos.” Every week was different, and Dromgold brought in as many outside guests as possible. Her goal was to give the students “an opportunity to understand why what they’re learning in school [was] relevant.” She saw great improvement over the course of just one school year. “The confidence with which they now ask basic questions,” she said, “is really encouraging.”
Dromgold also helped to teach a German-language course for newly immigrated children. The Kindertreff is in a largely Muslim neighborhood, but it also has a recent influx of immigrating Eastern European families. Breaking down mother-tongue barriers was a significant way that Dromgold could help improve her students’ standard of living.
Dromgold remembers tutoring a Turkish-speaking fifth-grader from Bulgaria. Once his German was strong enough, he could go on a weekend field trip with the Kindertreff to Germany’s countryside. Dromgold recalls him on the train — with his face pressed against the window — saying, “This is just like Bulgaria. This is just like home.”
A Springboard to Cultural Awareness
Helping immigrant children feel at home in Germany was a crucial part of Dromgold’s work. However, she and the rest of the Kindertreff staff also strived to respect the cultural diversity of their students. For example, since most of the students are Muslim, the Kindertreff serves only halal food. And while The United Methodist Church hosts the Kindertreff, the students are never pressured to convert. Instead, the goal is mutual acceptance.
Dromgold believes cultural acceptance is a two-way street, so she wasn’t satisfied with just teaching her students English and German. She wanted to learn their mother tongues as well. When her term of service in Berlin was finished, she traveled to Amman, Jordan, and studied Arabic for five months.
These days, Dromgold lives in Turkey. She is studying for a master’s degree in Middle East studies at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara. “It has been an exciting year of new cultural immersions and language learning,” Dromgold said. After graduation, she is considering working on migration issues in the nonprofit sector or for an international organization before continuing to complete a Ph.D. in migration studies.
Mission service is a springboard to new levels of cultural awareness. Do you know a young person who might be inspired like Dromgold? Applications for the 2014 class of Global Mission Fellows are now open! Check out www.umcmission.org/gmfellows for more information.
*Julia Kayser is a writer and regular contributor to www.umcmission.org
Young Adult Missionary Michelle Dromgold is pictured during field trips with the Kindertreff Delbrücke, an after-school program hosted by a local United Methodist church. Dromgold teaches a German language course for newly immigrated children. Photos courtesy of Michelle Dromgold.