A photo of downtown Ferndale, MI.

Global Giving

November 5, 2013 | by Brian Short

The village of Pigeon, Michigan, changes with the seasons. There is a chili sale in March and a scavenger hunt in September. Around this time of year, many of Pigeon’s 1,200 residents are taking down Halloween decorations, pulling away the cottony strings and plastic spiders webbed across their front doors, and carrying jack-o-lanterns with sunken grins to the trash.

People probably don’t think of Pigeon as a center for international culture and study. But they should.

Pigeon is home to DeVere and Zita Sturm, whose generous support of the Department of Germanic Languages and Literature through the Sturm Family Endowment has encouraged hundreds of LSA students to travel to Germany for study abroad opportunities.

Many students send postcards to the Sturms, giving the donors a snapshot of what their time abroad means to each student. Sometimes, students find love or find themselves. For Martha Potere, it helped her find “her place in the world.”

From Neutral to Impassioned

Like many LSA students studying German abroad, Martha Potere (‘05) sent the Sturms a postcard. With their support, she studied at the Goethe Institut in Munich in 2004, exploring the city and the German language with fellow Institut students from around the world. She also studied French in Grenoble, and worked with members of the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa. After graduating in 2005, Potere left the country twice more on her own, teaching English in Japan as part of the distinguished Japan Exchange and Teaching Program and doing the same in Bulgaria as part of the Peace Corps.

But as she traveled, it became clearer and clearer where Potere was meant to be.

“I made the decision to move back to Detroit. I always thought that I would end up in Europe. But by traveling, I discovered I needed a culture I could fully relate to and be a part of.”

Today, Potere works to improve the lives of residents as the Program Manager at the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority. There, she fills a number of extremely important roles, encouraging new businesses while working to preserve the historical character of downtown Ferndale’s buildings (pictured above). Infrastructure, safety, urban design, and economic development are all part of her diverse, challenging portfolio.

Her experiences studying and living abroad help her see and solve problems differently. “I’m much more patient now,” Potere says. “As an expatriate you learn to take a step back and observe first. Living abroad, you have to wait months before you know enough of the language to contribute.”

Potere says that getting support from the Sturms encouraged her to strive at the Geothe Institut. That personal standard of excellence and hard work has pushed Potere to find success in positions on three continents and three different time zones. Her mission began at Michigan.

“My time as an undergraduate was such a turning point. It’s where I learned what my place is in the world and what my relationship is to other people.

“I got turned from being neutral to being impassioned about equality. I just really wanted to do positive work every day. It feels awesome, doing that.”

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