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YES Abroad Alumni Spotlight: Kendra Burpee

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By Kendra Burpee, YES Abroad 2011-2012, Türkiye

What are some of your biggest accomplishments since becoming an alum of the YES Abroad program?

I ended up returning to Türkiye a year after I finished the YES Abroad program as a Critical Language (CLS) Scholar to continue to develop my Turkish skills. Then I returned again the following year as a National Security Education Program Boren Scholar to study at Bogazici University in Istanbul. I graduated from college with a degree in Languages and Cultures of Asia having achieved advanced level proficiency in Turkish. Following my graduation I returned to Türkiye again as a Fulbright Scholar to teach English as a Second Language at Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University. Having fallen in love with education, I joined the Peace Corps to continue to teach and lived for the next 27 months in a village in the Republic of Georgia. I've since moved back to New York City and gotten my Master's Degree in International Educational Development from Columbia University.

Kendra smiling and posing with her host brother and ceramic pots they made in pottery class

What are some of your favorite memories from the YES Abroad program?

The YES Abroad program was one of the best years of my life. I fell head over heels in love with a country, culture, and language. I also formed so many lifelong friendships, both with Turkish friends and with fellow program participants. It’s nearly impossible to choose a memory to share since every day was filled with learning and adventure. One memory that comes to mind is traveling with my host family to Cappadocia where we stayed in a cave hotel and I had the opportunity to ride a camel for the first time. The best part was how much this trip bonded me with my host family and made us feel like a real family. My host brother and I even took a pottery class where we make traditional clay pots on a wheel. Other than that, many of my favorite memories center around sipping tea and eating baklava with friends. Those small moments were so special for making me feel like part of the community.

What are some of the ways you’ve stayed connected to fellow alumni since your exchange experience? What about your host family or friends that you met abroad?

The other alumni that I went on exchange with are still some of my best friends, 11 years later. We recently had a reunion where we all met up in Washington D.C. Of course we ate lots of pistachio baklava! Since we went through such a unique experience together, we have such a close bond that I think will last forever. Now we are at the point of life where we are meeting each other’s children and spouses. We hope to all travel back to Türkiye together next year.

Kendra smiling surrounded by classmates

How did the YES Abroad program impact you professionally? What about personally?

I am not sure who I would be without the YES Abroad program since it significantly shaped who I am and what I have done for the last 10+ years of my life. Learning new languages and cultures became central to my identity. I studied Turkish, Azeri, Georgian, and Arabic and studied and worked in Morocco and the Republic of Georgia, in addition to Türkiye. My time as a Fulbright Scholar and Peace Corps Volunteer solidified my commitment to working in education. I got my Master’s Degree in International Educational Development from Columbia University. I now work designing global learning programs and enjoy collaborating with colleagues from around the world and using my intercultural skills.

What is one piece of advice you would give to current or future YES Abroad program participants? 

Get out of your comfort zone and say yes to YES! For future program participants, that could mean take the leap and apply. For current program participants, put yourself out there and embrace everything that the experience has to offer. In 10+ years you will miss it, so put down your phone and go bond with your host family.

In 10, 20, or even 30 years, what do you hope the legacy of the YES Abroad program will be?

I hope that the YES program continues to have bipartisan support for many years to come so that it can create community and world leaders that value diversity and lead with empathy and compassion.