November 6, 2015 | By Chuck Carlson
McKenzie Bueck is a whirlwind of words and ideas and plans and dreams.
Her talk is all rapid-fire sentences, a collision of nouns and verbs and adjectives smacking into each other at subatomic speed but which amazingly and ultimately return to the subject at hand.
"As you can see," she said, "I'm all over the place."
And that's exactly where she wants to be.
Bueck, '17, is a native of Avon Lakes, Ohio, ("But I just tell people I'm from Cleveland") and has found in Albion College the place where she can live out her dream of travel and adventure and discovering as soon as possible what the world has in store for her.
"People tell you negatives all the time," she said. "I just want happy stories."
Bueck (pronounced "buck") has found one of her happy stories in Albion, a school and a situation she found almost by accident. As a high school senior who knew she wanted to study anthropology, she attended an admission event at Kalamazoo College.
"But it just didn't feel right," Bueck said.
Her mother and her "hero," Jennifer, suggested that since they were more or less in the neighborhood, they should check out Albion College before going home.
"I went there and it was that college atmosphere I had wanted," she said. "This was home."
And she almost immediately embarked on what she loves most and does best.
"I love to travel," she said. "It's in my blood."
Indeed, as a first-year student she was in Cameroon, then in California as a member of the Albion women's lacrosse team, and after that, Costa Rica.
Even as a kid, she'd travel on family vacations to such places as Canada and the Dominican Republic.
This past summer, she spent an eye-opening two months in South Korea as part of an exchange program, visiting the Demilitarized Zone between South and North Korea and even connecting with a relative whom she had never met before.
"I've traveled half my life," she said. I'm extremely grateful for that."
And the travel all has a purpose, she said.
"I'm hoping to be steered in a direction for my life," she said.
But to those who know her, that doesn't appear to be a problem.
"She's sort of open to everything," said Katie Bagale, who coordinates the Marshall chapter of Half the Sky, a nationwide nonprofit group that helps women in developing parts of the world escape poverty and oppression.
The two women met in September when Bueck began her internship with the organization through the College's Gerald R. Ford Institute for Leadership in Public Policy and Service.
Not only has Bueck helped create lesson plans and teach courses in English as a Second Language at Battle Creek's Burma Center as part of the program, she also works with SAFE Place in Battle Creek, which helps women dealing with the trauma of sexual assault.
"She really follows through," Bagale said. "She's so passionate because there's so much need out there. She's been great and as she's getting older, she realizes where her true loves are."
An anthropology/sociology major with a minor in communications, each works seamlessly into her need to help others. And that was never more in evidence than this summer when she took part in the Council on International Educational Exchange to South Korea.
"I'd never been to Asia and that was on my mini bucket list," she said. "I wanted to try live octopus and take pictures of Korean soldiers and go to the DMZ."
She traveled around South Korea but said the highlight was visiting her grandfather's 95-year-old sister.
"She hasn't seen [her brother] in over 50 years," Bueck said. "You could tell it was very emotional for her. At dinner she held my hand the whole time. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life."
With that experience, and the others that have shaped her life so far, perhaps it's no surprise that when she graduates from Albion she hopes to join the Peace Corps.
Told of her plans, Ford Institute Director Patrick McLean shook his head and laughed.
"If I don't keep up with her every four to six weeks, her career trajectory changes," said McLean, who said Bueck had told him earlier this year that due to so many time commitments, she might have to leave the Institute. He told her in no uncertain terms that she wasn't going anywhere because commitment like hers was hard to find.
So he's not surprised the Peace Corps is in her future.
"I remember when she took a freshman public service class, her eyes lit up," he said. "She's really passionate about education."
And Bagale believes Bueck would be ideal in that role, too.
"These are exactly the type of young people the Peace Corps needs," she said.
If she has a choice, Bueck said she'd like to serve in either Asia or South America, but she'll go wherever she's needed because she knows that's what she does best.
"I just love learning," she said.