Kenae Turner has begun her senior year as a Viking, but she will spend it far away from Viking Land – in Japan.

A Birth Through Kindergarten major, Turner is traveling to Tokyo as part of the Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) Office of International Programs (OIP) study abroad initiatives. While there, she will study Japanese language at Toyo University through one of the OIP’s partner providers, CIS Abroad. Turner left from Norfolk International Airport Sept. 5 and returns in August 2024.

Even though she has traveled abroad extensively, including a six-month volunteer experience in Shenzhen, China and as a 2022 ECSU Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholar to Seoul, South Korea, Turner said this year’s experience is even more intentional. She wants to bring back a thorough understanding of Japan's education system and pedagogy.

Using study abroad to explore post graduate studies is another goal, she said, all the while keeping her university, fellow classmates, and future students in mind.

“I felt it would be best to partake in this opportunity during my senior year, so that I can graduate with better proficiency in Japanese and gain more knowledge about eastern Asian education systems and teaching methods,” she said. “I plan to sustain and enhance an international, professional and personal network of inspiring leaders, helpful guides, valuable associates, and new friends with whom I can collaborate in the future.”

Turner is ECSU’s first student to receive the merit-based Boren Scholarship. The Institute of International Education (IIE) administers the Boren Scholarships and Fellowships on behalf of the National Security Education Program. More than 18,000 men and women participate in the program each year to conduct research, receive practical training, or provide technical assistance outside their own countries.

Turner’s travels are momentous and multifaceted, program organizers said.

"I am excited that Kenae is ECSU's first Boren Scholar, but more excited that she will have the unique opportunity to study for one full year at a university abroad, become proficient in Japanese, and meet her professional goals,” said Andre P. Stevenson, Ph.D., the OIP director and professor of Social Work. “She is a true scholar. She is a trailblazer, and I am certain we will have other Boren Scholars from ECSU.”

"Kenae is a role model for other students. I am sure this opportunity will change the trajectory of her life,” said Kim Scott, Ph.D., associate director of OIP and assistant professor of Management and Entrepreneurship.   

While in Japan, Turner said she wants to participate in global leadership development workshops and volunteer projects, increase her knowledge of Japan's education system, and immerse herself in the culture. Like Stevenson and Scott, she, too, wants other Vikings to experience matriculation abroad.

“I am excited to gain fresh insights and experiences in Japan, which I plan to share with my fellow Vikings to inspire them to consider studying abroad in Japan or other Asian countries,” she said.

The OIP has had a solid stream of students studying abroad, including 16 ECSU students being awarded  Benjamin A. Gilman International Funding to study throughout the past year, and a total of 20 studying abroad during the 2022-2023 academic year. Further, the program recently received funding from the American Passport Project, so that 25 eligible freshmen students receive $165 toward obtaining U.S. passports for study abroad opportunities.

Since the age of eight, Turner has wanted to travel to Japan. She credits Stevenson, Scott, and her Birth Through Kindergarten faculty for helping her reach the totality of her goals. She graduates from ECSU in December 2024.

“I hope to gain various incredible things out of this journey. I have a strong passion for learning and am committed to furthering my education,” she said. “ECSU has proven to be the ideal institution for me to enhance my teaching skills and deepen my understanding of early childhood education.”