Every May, thousands of students finish their college careers and get ready for what many people call the “real world”. One Lindenwood University student and soon-to-be graduate is living proof that you don’t have to and shouldn’t wait for graduation to get out into the world to gain “real” experiences. His name is Jonas Kehrbaum.
”I would do as many relevant and practical things in college as possible”, says Kehrbaum, who came to Lindenwood in 2010 to study Communications. As soon as he started his college career in the U.S., Kehrbaum started pursuing activities outside the classroom.
When many students are still sleeping, Jonas Kehrbaum attends the weekly meeting of a local Toastmasters club, an organization with the mission to provide a “supportive and positive learning experience in which members are empowered to develop communication and leadership skills.”
Kehrbaum, who has a minor in anthropology, believes that being able to communicate effectively is one of the most important skills of all: “Let's say you are a person with brilliant ideas. Those ideas won’t be worth anything if you cannot convey your thoughts adequately.”
Every Wednesday morning from eight to nine, a motley crew of students and professionals meet in St. Charles, Missouri to deliver and listen to short speeches as well as give and receive feedback. Jonas loves Toastmasters International, because it “empowers him to become a more effective communicator and leader.” So far, he has given more than 20 speeches.
Club president Cathy Swanson says,
I have known Jonas since he first joined Cave Springs Toastmasters Club. If we were to give a most improved speaker award, I would probably give it to Jonas. One day he was scheduled to speak using a projector. We could not get the projector to work that day. He is so well prepared that he gave a fine presentation without using the Power Point slides which he planned to show!
Another part of the meeting is called “Table Topics”, which allows members to get better at impromptu speaking. “Table topics challenges you to feed your brain with the right thoughts 24/7,” says Kehrbaum. “If your mind is always "on" you will excel, even while speaking off the cuff.”
Kehrbaum has become an articulate ad-libber who is good at thinking on his feet and doesn’t stress out when someone puts them on the spot. “We constantly need to pitch who we are and what we stand for. Being good at impromptu speaking means being prepared when an opportunity presents itself.”
The four-year Toastmasters veteran also loves the club because it allows him to interact with like-minded people. “Toastmasters is a community where people push each other to get better.” The organization, which was founded in 1924, has 292,000 members in 14,350 clubs in 122 countries.
College is a time for personal growth and self-improvement. Needless to say, Kehrbaum wasn’t always as versatile and open as he is now. “In my first few classes, Jonas wasn’t very vocal," says Andrew Smith, Associate Professor of Communication at Lindenwood. “That completely changed when he took Media Literacy with me. He would ask me questions before and after classes and send me e-mails all the time. It was very apparent that he was passionate about the class and the topic."
In the spring of 2013, Jonas left the confined space of his university for a whole semester to experience the real world. His Semester At Sea journey led him to 13 countries and showed him how beneficial applied learning is. However, getting accepted was not as easy as he had thought.
“I was confident that I’d get the scholarship I applied for," says Kehrbaum. He did not. But it didn’t keep him from pursuing his dream. “I sat down with my mentor Tom Huling. He said to me: 'Jonas, there are more scholarships out there you didn’t apply for.'” At that point, the deadline for the remaining scholarships was only one week away. “I realized I had failed," says Kehrbaum. But his mentor kept pushing him.
Tom told me I could make it happen – it just needed to be done in a different way. At first I had no idea how I’d do the work of one year in one week, but with a couple of all-nighters and skipping a few classes, I made it happen.
He realized that a bump in the road is not the end of the road. “It taught me to be persistent and not give up too quickly.”
Traveling the word was a transformational experience for Kehrbaum. He recommends attacking the traveling part on one's bucket list as soon as possible.
Many people, including my girlfriend, have traveling the world somewhere on there, but it tends to be near the bottom, like that’s the thing to do when you’re retired. When I asked about the rationale behind her attitude, she said if you do something this amazing, you will probably run out of wonderful experiences. In reality, it’s the opposite. The more amazing things you do, the more you actually realize what you’re missing. If you go to a new country, you may have seen this one thing, but heard of five others that you have yet to see.
Track is one of the reasons Kehrbaum came to the U.S. “I was looking for a way to combine both studying and running. In Germany, it wouldn’t have worked out time-wise.” In his home country, all sports are club-based, which makes it hard for aspiring athletes to balance school with sports. As a senior, Kehrbaum is a four-year veteran of Lindenwood’s track and field team.
Kehrbaum says the sport never fails clearing his mind.
There’s so much stuff going on in your life, but when I’m on the track, I’m fully present – mentally and physically; and I always leave practice relaxed. I may be physically tired, but spiritually uplifted.
Practicing and competing five to seven times a week takes a toll on every athlete, and Kehrbaum is no exception. On May 3rd, he partially tore a ligament in his foot 50 meters before crossing the finish line during the 400 meter dash at the MIAA Conference in Jefferson City, Missouri.
Although his foot may be broken, his spirit is still intact. “The definition of success is how high you bounce back when you hit rock bottom”, says Kehrbaum. It’s not the end of the world, and I cannot do anything about it. I’m not going to have this destroy my amazing time at Lindenwood, especially not the last two weeks.”
Kehrbaum says he has never been faster than prior to his injury.
I was in the shape of my life. And that started after a series of injuries. Ever since I started taking track seriously in 2003, I had about ten injuries that stopped me from practicing. You cannot compete with most track injuries, but they usually don’t bother you to a point where you cannot walk around.
As this one is more severe, Kehrbaum will miss the German championship this summer. “It would have been nice. The norm that I needed was definitely reachable, but it is what it is. I cannot change it, so it’s not worth whining about.”
Chantal Butzek can relate to Kehrbaum's situation. The German prodigy is not only his girlfriend, but also one of the fastest girls in her age group in the world. Kehrbaum says she is a good listener. “She was actually pretty shocked when I told her about my injury. Because of the time difference, she was kind of tired and about to go to sleep. She just wants me to keep her updated.” Kehrbaum says all she can do is be on the phone and “send some motivating texts, which she does. That’s all I can expect.”
Born in 1989, Kehrbaum is still young in track and field terms. “Depending on where my life will take me, if there’s a good coach and a good track club around, then I’m definitely going to start over.”
When he’s not busy practicing, skyping with his girlfriend or going to classes, Kehrbaum is gaining a lot of hands-on experience - and it’s not a class project. Together with fellow Lindenwood student Oswaldo Chavez, Kehrbaum founded Epro 360, a startup with the mission to help potential students from around the world make their dream to study in the United States a reality.
“We’re not simply dropping students off at college”, says Kehrbaum. “They not only get their degree but also a push in the direction of personal growth and career enhancement right from the start.”
According to Kehrbaum, this extra help is what makes Epro unique.
We offer a network of internships students can do while on their F1-visa. We can even give them an easier start into the corporate world. Investing in yourself is an important step in life.
Kehrbaum wants to show international students that it is never too early to network and gain real worldly wisdom. “While going to class is important, we also show them how to balance extracurricular activities and school work.”
Long-time friend and business partner Chavez says Jonas has many qualities that will get him far in life.
Kehrbaum, whose life goal is to help people find what they are passionate about, thrives when working on his venture. “Epro 360 seems to combine everything that I have done so far: help people reach their full potential, studying abroad and public speaking.”
Needless to say, Kehrbaum is usually pretty busy. Nevertheless, having a lot on his plate is something the German native welcomes: “If I have too much spare time in my day, I would waste it. The more things I have to do, the more I am actually able to do.”
Kehrbaum says leaving home and going to college in the United States was one of the best decisions of his life. “I’m grateful for this opportunity. Not just studying in the U.S., but everything else that has come with it so far.”
It is “everything else”, the real-world experience, says Kehrbaum, that has made the difference. He believes books and college courses can only teach you so much.
I don’t think classes and good grades are the most important thing in college. If you want a 4.0 GPA, it requires a lot of work and talent. In my opinion, it is not a goal that is going to get you the life you want. Sometimes, slacking off academically can help you if it means meeting the right people. This only happens if you put yourself out there and not only try things that are required, but those that are inspiring.
Kehrbaum is a firm believer in doing things you love. “If there’s something that gives you energy, do it. It doesn’t matter if you see any practical use for it in your life. If the only benefit is more energy and fulfillment, it’s already enough.”