Pelican Rapids woman returns home after working, exploring around the globe

Kathy Evenson, of Pelican Rapids, Minn., (formerly of Berlin, Germany) has had an acute case of wanderlust, though she might not admit it. Her curiosity and love of travel have taken her to every continent in the world except Antarctica. She did not just travel to exotic places, she also found work and settled into these unique worlds, teaching in Australia, Germany, Nepal, Uganda and India.

Bernd and Kathy Evenson in Puri, Bengal, one of India’s great pilgrimage sites. Contributed photo

“Once I got the confidence that I could be on my own, I was no longer fearful. My real education began when I started traveling, learning about other countries and cultures,” she said.

The third daughter of a large family, Kathy has six brothers and three sisters.

Beginning as a dealer in hay and straw after World War II, her father Gerald developed a coast-to-coast trucking company based in Pelican Rapids. Her mother, Maxine, encouraged her children to enjoy life. She was known to do cartwheels and dance polkas with the kids in the living room. Devoted to her 10 children, she always encouraged Kathy to follow her dreams.

After graduating from high school and a year at Bemidji State University, Kathy took up her uncle Randy’s offer to come stay with his family and attend college at Central Washington State University. A lover of history and geography, she relished the chance to see more of the US and to be near the Cascade Mountains. This was the first step in her life of travel.

Then in the summer of 1968, a Hawaiian college friend invited her to come stay with her family in Honolulu. “I could do that!” Once there, she found a job working nights at the Dole Pineapple Cannery. (Bette Midler also once worked at Dole!) Unfortunately, her friend’s uncle died in a ship accident, so Kathy moved in with four bold California girls who were also in Honolulu for the summer. Kathy tried surfing on Waikiki Beach and became a skilled pineapple trimmer before heading back to Minnesota and then returning to college in Washington.

After graduating with a degree in English literature and a teaching credential, Kathy longed to go to Europe. Heading to the Twin Cities, she juggled two jobs and soon teamed up with a friend for a flight to Amsterdam. At the Dutch Student Travel Center, she happened on a dirt cheap two-week trip to Russia. “It was my fate to go on this trip!” she thought as she had studied two years of Russian. Moscow, Leningrad and Volgograd opened her eyes to another way of life in communist Russia.

After this Kathy headed to Norway to find her paternal grandmother Nina’s roots. Kathy had addresses of relatives and knew of the area where Nina had grown up before venturing to America in 1911 at the age of 18.  In Kongsvinger, the manager of the hostel organized a newspaper interview. After this was published, about 80 people contacted the hostel saying they knew Nina or were related to her! Relatives from all over Norway reached out to Kathy and welcomed her into their homes. She visited relatives from north of the Arctic Circle in Bode to Stockholm in Sweden. Especially moving was the visit to the simple homestead in the forest where Nina had grown up. Kathy’s Norwegian language skills improved quickly!

From the cold of Norway, she traveled to Paris, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland and Italy before exploring England. After six amazing months, Kathy flew home. Now her dream was to find a teaching job overseas, far-fetched as that seemed. Amazingly while reading the Sunday paper, her mother noticed an ad for teachers in Australia. Two months later, Kathy was on the flight to Melbourne to begin her three-year stint teaching secondary English. During vacations, she marveled at the natural wonders of this beautiful country and even traveled throughout New Zealand.

Kathy Evenson on a trek in Nepal. She is pictured at a monastery in the Himalayans with a Buddhist nun and a young girl. Contributed photo

The travel bug then sent Kathy on an Asian overland journey from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok, Calcutta, Darjeeling, New Delhi, the Taj Mahal and overland through Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey before warming up on the island of Crete. Then, after a stay in Berlin and Scotland, Kathy ended her trip in London and flew back to Minnesota for Christmas. It had been three years since she had seen her family in Pelican Rapids.

After a trip to Mexico, Kathy was lured back to the fascinating city of Berlin.

“It was progressive politically, an education. I was learning all the time.” She settled there, learned German, and eventually met her future husband, Bernd. One day, she saw a note on the bulletin board advertising teaching jobs at the international school in Kathmandu, Nepal. She interviewed and two years later received a telegram while on vacation in Sweden.

“We have been trying to reach you. Please contact us as soon as possible. We want to offer you a job.” it read.

She was elated and remembers turning cartwheels in the yard, to the delight of her friends in Sweden.

In July 1980, Kathy left for Kathmandu, Nepal, and taught there for nine years. She fell in love with the country and its people. The school was small, had reasonable facilities, and motivated students. She remembers saying, “I can’t believe I am getting paid for this.”

In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. Kathy longed to be a part of the change and convinced her husband to return to Berlin.

“Maybe we should have visited first, because it was a bit crazy.” In Berlin, she worked as a teacher/trainer for the German “Peace Corps” orientation program. As luck would have it, she was later offered a job in Kampala, Uganda. This gorgeous country is on the equator with the most hospitable people and a vibrant international school. As in most international schools, there were often eight to 10 different nationalities in each classroom and the rapport was always friendly and accepting. The students were often described as “third culture kids” who developed an openness to other cultures and peoples.

Kathy Evenson exploring in Cambodia. Contributed photo

After six years in Africa, Kathy began her last teaching job in Chennai, India, where she worked for nine years.

“I have had the opportunity to live and work in cultures which fascinated me. Think about India with its 5,000 years of known history,” she said. “What an amazing opportunity to work, to learn, and to live there.”

Five years ago, Kathy retired from teaching. She and her husband, Bernd, live on a lake near Pelican Rapids for half the year and then head to Berlin.

“We are snowbirds flying east. We enjoy the rich cultural life of Berlin and lake life in Otter Tail County,” she said.

Pelican Rapids is again Kathy’s home town. A vibrant community, she appreciates the rich cultural mix it has become. She especially appreciates the library/ multi-cultural center which she sees as the heart of Pelican. I am happy to be in a community where so many embrace the opportunities to learn about the cultures that are right in our midst. I think about how many people have been open and welcoming to me in my travels.”

Kathy quotes Marcel Proust, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

Perhaps to Kathy, the voyage consists of being comfortable whenever you find yourself and of appreciating the diversity in this rich and wonderful world.