Any Gannon University student who has participated in an Alternative Break Service Trip (ABST) will tell you that it is one of the most defining experiences of their time at Gannon.
Lameck Kapupa is one of those students, but not in the usual way. Kapupa’s ABST experience wasn’t a defining chapter of his Gannon University career. It was the beginning.
Lameck Kapupa, a 26-year-old native of Livingstone, Zambia, was working as a coordinator for Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village program with travel groups from Ireland, Canada and the U.S. when he was assigned to a group traveling on a Gannon University ABST that visited his homeland last year.
The Gannon group built two houses for Habitat’s orphans and vulnerable children program, and Kapupa, who speaks English and two Zambian languages, facilitated communication between the students and the Zambians.
“I was so excited to work with a group from the U.S. I knew that they had so much to ask about Zambia and they looked forward to having a nice experience,” Kapupa said.
“. . . if you ask a Zambian kid where he or she wants to go, they would say America. So being here is a dream come true.”
As it turned out, Kapupa himself had a memorable experience. “It was the best group that I had when I was working for Habitat,” Kapupa said. “They were interested and excited, and so was I.”
One of the participants on the trip was Bill Edmondson, vice president for enrollment, who asked Kapupa, a recent social work graduate of the University of Zambia, about his future plans.
“I told him that I was thinking of applying for scholarships or looking for a job, and Bill came to me and told me to browse the Gannon website to look for a program I might like.”
Motivated by a longstanding interest in public health, Kapupa enrolled in the Masters in Health Communications program, and in January, he stepped off the train in Erie to begin his studies.
“The first day I was here, I slept with my hoodie on,” Kapupa said with a laugh. “I bought some winter clothes when I arrived in New York City, but that wasn’t enough for Erie.”
While the weather was cold, the welcome to Gannon was warm. “The ABST group had a welcome party for me here, and I was so happy to see them,” Kapupa said.
Other adjustments came a bit easier. “In Zambia, we eat the same food every day, but in America, you have all these different foods to try,” he said.
And though Kapupa had studied English beginning in fifth grade, he learned English the way it is written and spoken in Great Britain. “Adjusting to the language wasn’t all that difficult, but the way you pronounce some words is different,” he said.
Still, Kapupa’s sunny personality and natural warmth render most cultural barriers irrelevant. Both are assets in his position as a part-time ambassador for the Office of Global Support and Student Engagement.
Appropriately enough, the same communications skills that led Lameck Kapupa to Gannon University are the skills he is honing in his master’s program in Erie.
Even more appropriately, those skills might someday return to Zambia in a career that began in service and ripens many thousands of miles away on a campus in the company of friends he scarcely imagined little more than a year ago.
Kapupa is keeping his options open as he learns about his new country. “After I graduate, I’d like to see if there are opportunities in the U.S. I think that would be good for me.” he said. “I’m enjoying living here and meeting different people. Coming from Zambia, we have this perception of the U.S., and if you ask a Zambian kid where he or she wants to go, they would say America. So being here is a dream come true.”