Staff Spotlight: Kelly Hoormann


Kelly is a born and raised Wisconsinite and proud Badger, currently transplanted to Panama. Growing up with a musician and a special education teacher for parents, she was raised to do what she loved and see value in everyone. Traveling in the form of road trips and camping during childhood taught her to love the journey, the road and the outdoors. After graduating in 2012 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in Anthropology and interests in everything from global health to photography, she began her time in Panama as an intern researching health and health care in rural San Miguel. From there she has continued to follow her passions at Kalu Yala as the director of San Miguel programs, working on everything from testing rural water sources, to presenting on health and sustainability at the AAA Annual Meeting, to teaching ESL classes to over 300 Panamanian students!

What position do you hold at Kalu Yala? What has been your career path so far?

Kelly: Currently I am the San Miguel Programs and Operations Director at Kalu Yala Entrepreneurial Internships, which encompasses directing both our Community Outreach and Education program and our Health and Wellness program, and includes overseeing all San Miguel venue operations. Since graduating college, my career path has consisted of simultaneously working in the fields of public health and medical anthropology as well as education in a rural, underserved community throughout all of my past and current roles here at KYEI. I plan to continue in the field of global health, especially concerning maternal and child health and education.

Did YOU study abroad?! If so, where and what inspired you to go?

Kelly: I was accepted to a study abroad program in Australia during college but could not afford to go, as badly as I wanted to. So, when the next year came around and the opportunity arose to come to Panama with Kalu Yala, I jumped at the chance because the program and work I was going to be doing was exactly the kind of work I wanted to start out in doing in the global health field. Kalu Yala ended up being the perfect mix of work and travel experience!

What about the future of the industry? How do you think study abroad and international education will change over the next 10 years?

Kelly: I believe in the next ten years we’ll start to see growth in the sector of study abroad that does not want to simply see the museums, theaters, and ruins of the biggest cities, eat at the best restaurants, do the sight-seeing typical of a lot of study abroad programs right now. I think the industry will be growing to incorporate education in developing regions, in places where people truly challenge their own perceptions of the world and do more of working with local populations during their time abroad. In essence, working around the world with people towards a better future for everyone.

What country have you always wanted to visit?

Kelly: Peru! Don’t ask me why, but it’s always held a certain pull for me.

Why is language learning and cultural immersion important to you?

Kelly: Language learning and cultural immersion is important to me because without either, you haven’t fully lived in another place – you’ve only visited. You need communication and you need to fully experience every piece of a country to understand the people; you cannot understand a culture by watching from afar. You need to immerse yourself by riding the bus, by standing in the lines or drinking the water. Without that, you can’t understand, you can’t empathize; you’re unable to form true relationships.

What was your favorite traveling experience?

Kelly: Honestly – a chiva ride to anywhere, be it the ones we take daily or the ones I’ve taken across Panama while on vacation, have been the best travel experiences I’ve had. Taking the time to observe locals on their daily routines, talking with friends we haven’t seen in awhile, seeing the country through the views, listening to the music, taking in the bus decorations from religious phrases to laser lights, feeling the rhythm of the country on these rides have been the best travel experiences I have had. A hot sweaty bus ride isn’t an exciting story, but it’s a surprisingly beautiful one.