Kathrin “Kat” Stahl ’09 keeps two boxes of belongings in Grand Rapids, just in case.
“My years at Calvin shaped me so much,” she said. “This is the life I wanted, joy-filled and purposeful. Perhaps I’ll come back to live here someday.”
Right now, Stahl lives and works in Heide, Germany, near her childhood home. She teaches German in an immigrant and refugee center tied to the public school system. She sees people from Romania, Poland, Spain and Albania—and also from war-torn Syria and other Arabic countries.
“Teaching German is one thing,” she said. “But accepting and loving them is the main objective. These families are welcome.”
Stahl’s path to Calvin—and to Christ—is inspiring.
Calvin German professor Barbara Carvill was bringing a group of students to Husum, Kat’s hometown on the North Sea, for an interim term off-campus experience. One host family fell through and Kat’s parents agreed to house a Calvin student.
The initial interaction with Calvin was positive, and Kat’s parents were ready to sign up for another year. Also intriguing to the family was a close-up look at American Christianity. The Stahls were “cultural” Christians, not ardent believers.
Then, Carvill surprised the family with a question: Would Kat be willing to come to Calvin for a year and be a language assistant in the German department?
After the initial shock and much nudging, Stahl did come to Calvin to assist and to take a few courses during her year on campus.
Her life changed.
“I asked people to tell me about God, to tell me their stories and they did. I saw joy and love. I went to the LOFT services and learned a faith vocabulary. The professors were wonderful. They talked about the class content, but also about life and cared about each student. Suddenly, I could be who I have always been,” she said.
Stahl could also continue her passion from an early age—dancing—at Calvin.
At the end of the year, Stahl was convinced she wanted to stay at Calvin and enroll as a student. Finances, however, presented a big hurdle. She spent a year at university back in Germany but was determined to return.
Stahl had become good friends with another international student Rafael Siebenschien '07, and through some of his contacts was able to find sponsors able to help finance her Calvin education.
She majored in psychology and media design and spent a semester in New Mexico on a Calvin program. She grew in her faith. And, continuing to use her special gift, she started and developed a still-popular ballroom dance club at the college.
"Dancing gave me the opportunity and personality to meet new people," she said.
After graduation, Stahl worked for a year as a marketing assistant thanks to a Calvin alumnus and also helped in the college's summer Entrada program for students of color.
Going back to Germany at a university, she's earned a master's in teaching German as a foreign language and continues to keep in touch with Calvin through friends and regularly watching LOFT services on her computer.
Next year, she will spend time in Namibia, teaching German in connection with the German Embassy.
"I marvel at how much beauty I have seen God create in people and in the world he made," she said. "I didn't come to God through mere words. I found him in the way people lived and treated each other at Calvin. Now I may be that person to light the spark in someone else, somewhere else."