Freshman walks to college in Nebraska ... from Oregon

Rohm doesn't shy away from adventure. Last year he volunteered in Zambia, helping to build 90 churches.

Many a parent and grandparent has regaled eye-rolling children with tales of walking many miles to school every day (uphill both ways of course). But few can top Michael Rohm, an incoming freshman at Union College, who decided to make the trip from his home in Oregon on foot.

Rohm started his two-month journey in early June after deciding to enroll in Union College’s international rescue and relief program. Michael had just returned from volunteering in Africa and set out on foot because he “wanted to experience the country of my birth first hand,” he explained. “My parents are very active and we have done a lot of hiking and camping growing up.”

For Rohm, the choice to study IRR at Union was easy. After returning from a nine-month stint at Riverside Farms in Zambia, where he helped build nearly 90 churches in the Southern Africa nation, Rohm knew what he wanted to do with his life. “I want to spend my life overseas,” he said. “I would like to work in refugee camps and orphanages–somewhere with lots of people who need help.” 

Union’s international and relief program provides the perfect preparation for such an endeavor by combining medical, survival and rescue training in a baccalaureate degree emphasizing one of four areas: paramedic, project development, pre-med or pre-physician assistant. The degree program includes a summer session learning rescue techniques in Colorado and a semester providing training and medical care in under-served regions of Central America.

Packing light, Rohm already embodies the survival spirit that IRR students learn during the course of their training. Carrying only a tent, a sleeping bag, a couple of changes of clothes, an extra pair of boots and his cell phone, Rohm stops at grocery stores along the way to buy fixings for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He occasionally splurges on some fruit or vegetables. “It’s a lot cheaper than buying fast food,” he said.

At night, he leaves the road and pitches his tent in a field. If he’s in a town, he usually connects with local law enforcement to see if he can camp in a city park. “Most have been very surprised, but very supportive,” he said. Public libraries provide a good place to cool off, check email and charge his cell phone.

Rohm admitted that he didn’t plan his route very well in the beginning. “My dad was eager to help me plan,” he said. “We planned the first 200 miles to get me through Oregon.” Originally intent on hiking through Wyoming, Michael changed routes when he realized how far he’d have to walk between towns. He opted for mountainous Utah and Colorado instead.

Normally, the car trip from his home in Canby, Oregon to Lincoln is 1600 miles. At 17-25 miles per day, Rohm estimates that he walked nearly 2000 miles by the time he reached Craig, a small town in northwestern Colorado. He woke up early on a Saturday morning in order to attend worship services at the local Seventh-day Adventist Church. “I always wanted to go to church on Sabbaths during my trip,” he said. “But a lot of times I ended up in a town with no church or in the middle of nowhere.”

Rohm arrived shortly before the worship service began and introduced himself to the six people present that day. “One lady asked me if I could do public speaking,” he remembered. “When I said yes, she asked me to give the sermon.”

After he spoke for 30 minutes about his experiences in Africa, the same woman invited him home for lunch. Afterward her husband presented Michael with a gift. “He gave me a bicycle,” said Rohm. “He fixed it up for me and got it going.”

Now making good time across central Nebraska on the bicycle, Rohm plans to arrive at Union College on Sunday, August 15, in time for freshmen registration and New Student Orientation.