Alumni Katie Buhrmann explores South Korea through language

NMU grad also self-published a poetry book.
PROFILE — Katie Buhrmann is a 2022 alum of NMU and the executive administrative assistant in NMUs Office of Institutional Effectiveness. She recently self-published her first book of poetry. Photo courtesy of Katie Buhrmann
PROFILE — Katie Buhrmann is a 2022 alum of NMU and the executive administrative assistant in NMU’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness. She recently self-published her first book of poetry. Photo courtesy of Katie Buhrmann

When Katie Buhrmann was growing up, she had so much energy that her parents kept putting her in different activities, hoping to give her an outlet for her enthusiasm. 

“I was in ballet and tap, I was in soccer, I was in hockey and swimming,” Buhrmann said. “My parents just wanted me to get my energy out, and I hated every single thing I tried. Their last-ditch effort was to put me in karate, and it stuck.”

Buhrmann participated in Soo Bahk Do, a style of Korean martial arts, for 11 years. During that time, she learned how to break boards, speak some Korean and earned her black belt. 

Now, 16 years later, Buhrmann has traveled to South Korea and Germany, recently self-published her first book and started working at NMU’s Institutional Effectiveness office in January. 

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Despite her desire for travel, Buhrmann has lived in Marquette her whole life. She still lives in the same house she grew up in, just down the street from one of her favorite NMU English professors.

Buhrmann knew she was going to go to attend NMU, and dual enrolled as a high school student in 2011. She was on a fast track for graduating with an English degree when she suddenly had to leave her education behind and care for her elderly grandparents. 

“I took four years off to take care of my grandparents until they passed,” Buhrmann said. “I was working 16 hours a week, five to six nights a week for four years. My brain was bored, so I was like, ‘let’s try and learn a language.’ And I did.”

While she was caring for her grandparents, Buhrmann began to expand her Korean vocabulary and taught herself the unique writing system of South Korean Hangul. In 2018, she decided to put her language skills to the test and visited South Korea for 10 days. 

“That was my first time out of the Midwest. My first time on a plane, first time on a subway, first time using a taxi,” Buhrmann said. “I ran into so many different people who, if you spoke any word in Korean and sounded like you [had] been studying, they wanted to speak to you in English. It was an immediate transaction, and I loved it. And then I figured out that that’s kind of a thing, where as long as you give an honest effort for one language, people will want to connect.”

A selfie of Katie Buhrmann while touring Gyeongbokgung (경복궁), the royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty (1395). The restored structure sits in the heart of Seoul, South Korea.
(Photo courtesy of Katie Buhrmann)

Buhrmann’s trip inspired her passion for travel, as well as for teaching English to speakers of other languages. She returned to NMU in 2019 and continued to pursue her English degree. She additionally earned three minors in international studies, teaching English to speakers of other languages and writing. 

“People say the hardest part about schooling is coming back to school and taking any amount of time off. It seems impossible for quite a while,” Buhrmann said. “But I have some connections in the English office … and they said, ‘come back.’ So, I did. It was more of a culture shock coming back to campus as a 20-something [year-old]. Everything was a little bit different.”

Buhrmann worked for the Community Foundation of Marquette County throughout her time in college and stayed on with them after graduating in 2022. She was a part of their Youth Advisory Committee and worked with many people from her martial arts studio. During one of the conferences Buhrmann attended as part of her job, she encountered the spoken word poetry duo, Kinetic Affect

“They want people to get into expressing themselves. I heard them do spoken word, and I was like, ‘Oh, I wrote poetry when I was in grade school, maybe I should try that again,’” Buhrmann said. “It’s been the most cathartic, helpful way to be introspective, but also to show people how your brain works.”

Buhrmann collected her poems and decided to publish them in 2023. She taught herself how to use Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing and designed everything herself, including the graphics and layout.

“I thought it would be a great exercise for [my] self-esteem to publish something,” Buhrmann said. “I took the photo for the cover … I roped in a lot of my friends for the editing, and it’s been really fun. It’s a passion project. It’s not making me a lot of money, but it’s nice to have something physical and solid for a resume.”

Buhrmann’s book, “Something,” is divided into three sections: Fact, Fiction and Form. The Fiction section is entirely about Dungeons and Dragons characters. 

“That is my favorite section,” Buhrmann said. “It’s the least cohesive from poem to poem, but the fact that I wrote them from the perspectives of fictional characters is really dear to my heart. You can embody someone else for a moment.”

For Buhrmann, the act of publishing her own poems was a statement of her own independence and pursuit of happiness outside of external expectations. 

“We’re taught to have a backup plan of something that’s realistic and can make you money and I think we lose a little bit of sight for what makes us happy,” Buhrmann said. “If you make something that makes you happy, but other people are telling you that you shouldn’t pursue that, you don’t value it as much. I think putting out something just for the sake of putting it out there has been really helpful.”

Buhrmann has a similar mindset when it comes to traveling and exploring her career. While she is hoping to pursue teaching English in South Korea or another country in the future, she has found a community and happiness at NMU that she does not take for granted. For now, she will continue to travel where she can, learn as much as possible and pursue happiness wherever it may be found.

“I’ve quickly come to realize that the people in this office are very special as well,” Buhrmann said. “So, my five-year plan of maybe eventually [at] the end of five years teaching abroad, maybe that’s now pushed to 10. It’s a little further in the future.”

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