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Married NIU alums leave for Peace Corps

September 16, 2013
Kathrina and Matthew Konfirst

Kathrina and Matthew Konfirst

Two NIU alums depart today for Peace Corps service in Ukraine.

Matthew and Kathrina Konfirst will make a difference in Ukraine by teaching conversational and content-based English to students in middle school and high school.

Upon arrival, the couple will receive three months of training in technical, language, health and safety. Then they will be sworn into service for 27 months.

The couple is excited to embark on this new journey together. “We’ve traveled a lot, learned many different languages and I think we were always interested in international experiences,” Kathrina said.

The couple met in a German class at NIU and took two years of classes together before dating.

Matthew received his bachelor of arts in German and earned a Ph.D. in Geology and Environmental Geosciences from NIU in 2011 after researching climate change in Antarctica.

He has published seven high-profile, peer-reviewed papers in geology and is a well-respected scholar in that field.

“The language experience I received at NIU has really helped me prepare for this experience,” Matthew said. “After receiving my bachelor’s, I was able to combine the language skills I acquired and combine it with my climate change research.”

Before attending NIU full time, Kathrina was enrolled in a dual admissions program with McHenry County College. During that time, she was able to secure credits at both NIU and her community college before completely transferring to the university.

Kathrina, who has studied abroad, earned a B.A. from NIU in German language and literature in 2008. She’s also taught high-school German, French and Spanish and is now pursuing her master’s degree from American University in Washington, D.C. through Peace Corps’ Master’s International program.

Photo of a Peace Corps patchFor the Konfirsts, a Peace Corps opportunity came at an ideal time.

“I always knew I was going to teach, but when the Peace Corps came up, we decided to think about where we wanted to head in the future,” Kathrina said. “When the opportunity came to apply, we talked about doing it before the house and kids.”

One of Matthew’s Thai professors was the first to speak to him about volunteering for the Peace Corps. Hearing about his professor’s experience prompted him to think about the opportunity and made it easier for him to decide to apply.

The alums are eager to serve and happy they have each other through this experience.

Kathrina is very excited about using this experience to become a better teacher. “The school districts I’ve worked in around the Crystal Lake area have been very nice and privileged,” she said. “In Ukraine, I might not have all the resources I’m used to, but I’m looking forward to getting creative and developing interesting new ways to work with the students.”

Matthew describes the service as being very humbling. “I’m looking forward to volunteering and giving back,” he said. “I’m also expecting to learn more about the language and culture over there. Out of all the languages we have learned, we don’t speak any Russian or Ukrainian, so we will be in the same boat when it comes struggling to learn the language and communicating with people.”

The Konfirsts flew out today to Washington, D.C., for an informational orientation. Then then  head to Ukraine the following day to begin their service.

Students interested in joining the Peace Corps after graduation should apply by Monday, Sept. 30.

NIU provides preparation for Peace Corps service, and seven alums are currently serving overseas as Peace Corps volunteers. Rok Teasley, who interviews and advises applicants from NIU, will be on campus Wednesday, Oct. 23, at the Career Fair and Information Center to answer questions and talk more about the application process.

  • Career Fair: 10 a.m to 3 p.m., NIU Convocation Center
  • Information Center: 5 p.m. Holmes Student Center Room 505

For more information on the Oct. 23 visit, call (815) 753-1641 or email [email protected].

by Chonce Maddox