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Campus Connection

Campus Connection: MSC Southeast student has traveled halfway around the world and back

From the COLLECTION: Campus Connection features from Winona colleges series
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An adventurous spirit led nursing student Amber Buysman from her hometown of St. James, Minnesota, to travel and live in Mexico, Israel, and South Korea.

Today she is back in Minnesota, taking prerequisites for the Associate of Science in Nursing major at Minnesota State College Southeast.

“I’m loving it here — I think that this college is a gem. You get the best quality education for the best value. If I had known about it, I would have seriously considered a college like Southeast after high school, but I didn’t have that foresight.”

Amber began her higher education at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, where she started in social work but ultimately majored in Health and Physical Education. After two years, short of scholarship funding, she transferred to South Dakota State University in Brookings.

In 2007 she graduated with honors, earning a Bachelor of Science in Health, Physical Education, and Recreation. Inspired by a mission trip to Mexico, she also earned a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish with a specialization in teaching.

But six years of college created a heavy burden: student loan debt. “If I had known the debt that I would have come out with, I would have been so much more cautious with my loan money,” Amber recalled. “I was told not to worry because I wouldn’t have to start paying it back until six months after I graduated. They assured me I’d have a job by then.”

Amber did find work in Ohio teaching Adaptive PE for grades 1-12 and Spanish grades 6-12. But while on a volunteer trip teaching English in an Arab village in Israel, she was notified that her job had been cut.

She gave up her apartment, moved back in with roommates, and managed to get by on tutoring and substitute teaching.

“I was barely making ends meet,” she remembered. “I wanted to volunteer for the Peace Corps, but they wouldn’t accept me because of my student loans. I couldn’t meet the financial requirements.”

Instead, a friend helped her find a job teaching English overseas. “In 2011, I flew across the world to take a job in Daegu, South Korea, which was an adventure. Asia was never even on my radar. I would consider myself okay at geography, but I had to look at a map to figure out exactly where South Korea was!”

It was supposed to be a one-year teaching contract, but she stayed almost six years. Amber started a family in Daegu. Her daughter Sofia was born there in 2014.

In November 2016, her second child was born prematurely and with severe medical issues. Erick was released after 41 days in the neonatal intensive care unit, but then started having life-threatening seizures. It was all Amber could do to arrange his return to the U.S. for advanced medical care.

“We went straight from the airport to Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis,” she recounted. “Erick wasn’t very stable, and he was hospitalized for another five weeks.”

When Erick was released from the hospital, Amber accepted her brother’s invitation stay at his house in Minnesota City. She became a certified nursing assistant in 2019 and began working at Legacies, a group home.

That was a first step to achieving a dream. “Ever since my daughter was born, I wanted to be a nurse-midwife,” Amber said, noting that Erick’s fragile health has motivated her even more to become a nurse.

Now living on her own in Winona and working part time at Benedictine Adult Day Center, her daughter Sofia is in first grade and goes to after-school day care. Erick is almost five and requires nursing care 24 hours a day.

“My son’s life status is still considered guarded. He is developmentally delayed and has severe epilepsy and irreversible brain damage. He has lost the skills that he had at seven or eight months. You’re constantly grieving all the things that you’ve lost. He’s not walking, not crawling, not talking — endless losses,” she related.

“But he is a blessing. You never forget the value of health, and the value of a smile.”

The next step in achieving her dream was beginning prerequisites for the nursing program at Minnesota State College Southeast. This fall, she is taking Anatomy & Physiology, Chemistry, and Microbiology.

“Ultimately my goal is to become a registered nurse. I need to provide a living wage for my family,” she said.

Amber spoke very highly of her professors, especially her chemistry instructor.

“Leah Schnaith is just astounding. I have never really ‘gotten’ chemistry before. In high school it was my worst class. I took it at South Dakota State University with about 150 other people, and I got a C,” Amber said. “This is the third time I’ve taken a chemistry course. Leah lays it all out so that it’s easy to follow. If you put in the effort and you go to her with questions, she will help.”

Coming to MSC Southeast with six years of undergraduate college, two bachelor’s degrees, the experience of word travel, and her fierce determination to provide for her family, Amber shared the perspective she has gained.

“Don’t undervalue the trades; they are so vital to our economy and daily lives,” Amber said. “And you can save thousands of dollars on general education courses. Southeast is the best quality education for your money.”


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