Lost in Translation, Found in Transition

Grace College alumna Tenli (Andersen) Hunter 

This story was first published in the fall 2017 edition of Grace College’s Two, Eight, & Nine magazine.

Tenli (Andersen BA 14) Hunter grew up in a small village in Mexico where her parents were missionaries with Wyclife Bible Translators. She picked up Spanish slowly, but the cultural norms of Mexico began to take root and shape her worldview. “In Mexico, your identity and value are in your pack — your community — not as an individual,” Hunter says.

Anticipating that college would be a significant and formative time where her relationships would play an even larger role in shaping her future, Hunter knew the transition to college (and the right college) would be as profound as her transition to the United States. While she suspected there might be some culture shock, she also had a very astute plan: “I thought it would be wiser to go to a Christian college, where I wouldn’t have to navigate the extra layer of secularism.”

Since she knew her uncle, Dr. Jared Burkholder, professor of history, worked at Grace, she went for a visit. She also explored several other private colleges, but it ultimately came down to finances for Hunter. At Grace, she won one of the presidential scholarships, was awarded a small amount because her parents were in ministry and also joined the Millennial Scholar Academy. Plus, she says, “I knew I could enroll in the accelerated degree program. Saving 25 percent of the cost of my schooling was a huge motivation,” points out Hunter.

Hunter enrolled and began classes in January 2010. She knew she loved to work with her hands. In Mexico, she used her free time to crochet, draw and create clay sculptures. “Although I loved the arts, I didn’t have many art classes in high school and didn’t have any benchmark for knowing if I had any talent in it.” But when she discovered that Grace offered an illustration major, she thought it could be the right fit, and it was.

She excelled in her classes and managed to navigate the accelerated course cycles without difficulty. Hunter added a minor in business administration, and it gave her the valuable skills she would need to secure a job after graduation. Her first business principles class “whipped me into shape,” laughs Hunter. “It’s like boot camp. I learned what it took to succeed in the American business culture. We had to dress up for class, be there early, and we were graded on how we performed in our group work.” The experience gave her a confidence that she readily carried into post-graduation interviews. “I knew what would be expected of me, and I learned how to go above and beyond.”

But on the social front, Hunter felt like she was failing at Grace. “I had several close girlfriends, but not one group I was associated with,” she recalls. She had a friend from her art class and one from her hall, and one she’d met at an extracurricular event, but from her cultural perspective, she didn’t have the kind of friendship circle that in Mexico indicated a sense of belonging. “I had to come to learn that in the U.S., that was OK. Having individual relationships are meaningful, even if we aren’t operating as a group.”

Although Hunter felt insecure and socially afloat at first, Grace provided her with a safe environment to learn and grow. “Grace is a very affirming place, especially the professors,” she says. As Hunter earned good grades and began to grow socially, she gained more self-assurance. “I entered college believing I was a nobody and didn’t know what I wanted. Coming out of Grace, I had what I needed to survive. I had developed friendships I knew would last, friends who loved me and whom I loved too.”

Grace turned out to be just what Hunter needed to transition to American culture and equip herself with the academic and social tools needed to be successful. “That was the best thing that happened during my time at Grace. My experience gave me what I needed to make it in the U.S. as a friend and employee.”

After Hunter graduated, she interviewed for and was offered a job with Christiane David Gallery in Lancaster, Pa., where she managed the gallery’s marketing. Wanting to increase her job experience, she also took a part-time job as the graphic designer at her church, Community Bible Church (Marieta, Pa.).

Hunter’s immediate offers and subsequent job experiences are proof that her Grace education was invaluable. “This is the field I was trained for. I got all the tools I needed at Grace for a lot less and a lot quicker than I could have at other institutions.” This year, Hunter opened a gallery at the church she works for and has created several of the art pieces for various exhibitions. She’s also put together a curriculum that she teaches about art and faith.

“My years at Grace were the perfect time for me. It was a safe place for me to adjust to the culture, emotionally transition and build my confidence before heading out into the world.”

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