September 18, 2017

Just one year out of college, Kerri Zelenak ’15 boarded a plane, bound for an isolated Alaskan village where she had been hired to teach fifth grade.

“I realized I needed to move and experience something outside of my comfort zone, so I took the scary leap across the United States,” says the early childhood education major.

Zelenak now teaches math, writing, reading, social studies, science, gym and library to fifth graders in Quinhagak, Alaska, a predominately Native Yupik village of 700 people.

“There are no restaurants, movie theatres, shopping malls or paved roads. A post office, grocery store, church, hardware store, washateria (laundrymat), and a school are all that is in Quinhagak,” Zelenak says.

Weather is an obvious challenge to teaching in Alaska. With just five hours of light on winter days, temperatures can plunge to -50 degrees.

“There are no ‘snow days’ or two-hour delays. Even on those cold days, all of the students walk to school,” she says.

She also coaches the high school girls’ basketball team, which travels to games via bush plane.

“If the weather is bad, games will be cancelled, unless teams can make it across the tundra on a snow machine,” she says.

Studying abroad in Hawaii gave Zelenak the interest in travel and new cultures, as well as the confidence, to make this move.

“Susquehanna helped shape me into an overall rounded person, who has an open mind and values diversity,” she says.

“There is NO comparison to teaching in bush Alaska to teaching in the lower 48,” Zelenak adds. “It has truly been an empowering and educational experience that I would highly suggest!”