Megan Olfert, a sophomore psychology and business student, is currently spending her student mission year as a dean at Hawaiian Mission Academy, a high school in Oahu. Here, she shared what it is like to be a student missionary.
Prior to her SM year, her freshman year was a busy one. Juggling two majors with honors classes led her to consider taking “a step back and just [figuring] out what God [was] calling me to do.” Olfert knew she wanted to take a mission year as opposed to a small mission trip, because “I wanted to do something where I could go and integrate myself into the culture and really start to live that life and create connections with people … so that I can really be impacted or maybe impact someone.”
Once she had decided to SM, Olfert began to consider different positions and places to go. However, Olfert felt mixed feelings about teaching positions: “I wanted to try something different.” Because of her experience as a resident assistant and camp counselor, she felt drawn to consider dean positions. At the time of her search, there were three options: “Really, the only options for deaning [were] Denmark, New Zealand, and Hawaii, and I love the warmth of the environment I’m around, so I was like, ‘well, maybe Denmark is not a good fit.’”
Olfert said her application process to SM in Hawaii “just kind of flowed into place.” After she applied, she had a brief and casual interview, and then she got an e-mail telling her that she had been accepted for the position.
Her job title may be dean, but her work involves much more than the standard dean duties one would expect. In addition to deaning over the 30 kids at the school and helping plan activities for them, she works at the cafeteria each day prepping all the meals for the kids, and occasionally teaches as a sub — she’s substituted for Bible, Spanish, and English classes. She also leads out in study hall, drives kids to appointments, and so much more. Her job duties are far-reaching, but they are all united under one guiding principle — making the kids’ experiences as enjoyable and memorable as possible.
Though Olfert’s SM year has been extremely fulfilling, it hasn’t been without its fair share of challenges. Her work occupies 6 days of the week with sometimes long hours — “a lot of just doing whatever is needed whenever” — and there’s not much in the way of work-life separation, since she may be enlisted for her help even on a day off. Additionally, in the beginning, it was difficult to adjust because the deans arrived at different times and couldn’t bond and train together. However, with time, prayer, and reflection, Olfert has grown to embrace these difficulties, stating that she now sees the kids and deans as “family” and doesn’t know how “I’m going to leave here in like four to five months.”
Over her SM year so far, Olfert has had no small share of memorable experiences, but she thinks her “favorite parts [so far] are beach vespers and then little things like smoothie bowls, … the girls, and stuff like that.” Beach vespers each Friday have been a definite highlight for her — it’s a program that occurs most Fridays where the kids and deans worship, do activities, and have discussions about God on the beachside.
On her day off each week, Olfert has prioritized self-care. She will often “try and get away from the school, since I’m there … six days of the week, and so I try and just get out and do something in nature because that’s how I really connect with God.” She often spends her days off going to nearby beaches and surfing or scuba diving there.
As a word of advice to those considering SMing, Olfert highly recommends prayer. “If I didn’t pray about it, I would have missed this opportunity, so I would say just to pray about it and really let God guide you because you’re … deciding to take a step out of what your regular life would look like.”