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Former Cape man builds new career in Germany

By Staff | Mar 23, 2013

When Clark Pepper’s appraisal business went under during the Great Recession, it would have been easy, perhaps, for him to have become angry, resigned, or to have settled for an anything-I-can-get-now job.

Instead, he began a much tougher journey, one he hopes will lead him to his true love, medicine.

Pepper moved to Germany two years ago and, after immersing himself in the language, applied for, and was accepted to medical school.

Pepper finished his first semester last month and will soon return to Germany to continue his studies. But it hasn’t been an easy road to hoe.

As a real estate appraiser, things were great for Pepper, especially toward the end of the real estate boom. But like for many, it went downhill fast.

“Me and my brother (Bertrand) opened our own business. But things got worse and worse. We stuck around as long as we could, but like many people, we got in over our heads,” Pepper said. “I filed for bankruptcy and lost the business.”

Pepper’s first love was the medical field, and since he already had a degree in health science, he decided to try that route. But had no money to go back to school.

However, a friend, Andrea Rodhe, who lived in Germany but graduated from Cape Coral High School with Pepper, suggested he go to med school in Germany, where they have a social system and admit foreigners to learn there.

“They would pay for it if I qualified. She offered to let me stay with her parents (who were also doctors) for three months to see if I liked it there,” Pepper said. “I closed the business, got rid of everything I had, and went over there.”

For Pepper, it was tough to leave his family and the warmth of Florida for the uncertainty of Germany. But he said he was starting over, “so why not start all the way over.”

For a year, Pepper immersed himself in the language, discovered he loved Germany, and convinced the Rodhes to allow him to stay at their home so he could learn the language and apply for medical school.

He found an opening at the University of Dusseldorf, where he was accepted this past fall, and began his first semester in October.

What does it cost Pepper? About 232 Euros a semester, though his father, Stu, is also footing the bill for him to live there.

For Pepper, so far, so good.

“It’s been wonderful. It’s a whole new experience. Being a Floridian and having four seasons is new for me,” Pepper said. “In the U.S., you have to have your bachelor’s degree in order to go to med school. There, you just have to have good grades in high school. You can be a doctor there at 26.”

“He’s a dinosaur at his school,” said Stu Pepper, Clark’s father. “Once he graduates he can practice medicine throughout Europe.”

Pepper is back in Cape Coral for now, but will return for his second semester in April.

Pepper said he wants to be an example of someone who picked himself up by his bootstraps and didn’t give up after being successful and losing it all.

“I know what I want to do. I can either stay here and work a minimum-wage job or go for it,” Pepper said. “I had to fight for what I got and now I’m on a good path.”

“I’m as proud of him as anyone,” Stu said. “I know I couldn’t do it.”

Pepper said he wants to go into either neurology or orthopedics, and with Bertrand a sergeant in the Army and serving in Afghanistan, dad made an interesting observation.

“I’ll have to call one son Sgt. Pepper and the other Dr. Pepper,” he said.