Profile: Lonny Strunk
By Leona Long
Lonny Strunk grew up speaking Yup'ik, but living in Japan showed him how his Alaska Native language connects him to his culture and identity.
The computer science major recently returned from Japan after spending a year abroad as part of the UAF International Exchange program. He chose Japan because he enjoys anime, a Japanese style of animation that is known for stark, colorful graphics and action-filled plots. He studied the Japanese culture and language for two years at UAF before going abroad.
Like many Alaskans who travel, Strunk spent a lot of time dispelling the myth that Alaskans live in igloos.
"All anyone in Japan knows about Alaska are the northern lights, and that it is really cold," said Strunk, who is from Quinhagak, a village south of Bethel. "They don't know that there are many distinct Alaska Native cultures like Yup'ik."
Strunk studied Japanese language and culture at Nagoya Gakuin University in Nagoya. During his Christmas break, his parents and younger siblings came to Japan and they traveled to Tokyo, Osaka and Hiroshima. His oldest sister and her husband visited Japan during spring break. They traveled to Hiroshima, Kyoto and Nara, and saw the hot springs monkeys and firefly squid.
Now that Strunk is conversationally fluent in Japanese, he is studying Yup'ik. His inspiration comes from his mom, Dora, a first grade teacher at Kuinerrarmiut Elitnaurviat, the K-12 school in Quinhagak. She teaches in the English and Yup'ik languages. He plans to combine his language and computer programming skills to create an innovative app that will make it easier for people to learn the Yup'ik language.
One of six students in his high school class, Strunk is an honors student whose grades earned him a spot on the Chancellor's List for academic excellence. He is also a 2010 graduate of the Rural Alaska Honors Institute.
"It's amazing how my region has supported me," said Strunk, who received scholarships from Calista Corp., Coastal Villages Region Fund and United Utilities Inc. "When I earned a place on the Chancellor's List, it was like everyone from my region was on the Chancellor's List. This support pushes me to do my best and earn my degree so I can represent my people well."