Building a better world inside and out

International Service Team member Tori Burkhart makes a difference in the Kenyan culture, as well as her own

Traveling abroad is a dream for many students at Kansas State University, but for a small group of people, traveling abroad also means serving a new community to build a better world.

Tori Burkhart, a recent graduate of K-State, decided to spend her summer in Kenya, helping youth engage in new ideas in communication and develop a plan of action for the Children and Youth Empowerment Centre to reach new audiences through K-State’s International Service Teams.

“International Service Teams is a program I have wanted to be involved with since my freshman year, so it was kind of surreal to be chosen,” Tori said. “We had a team reveal day, and I think that was even more exciting — seeing who I was going to get to go on this experience with.”

International Service Teams is an opportunity for K-State students to exercise leadership and service abroad and is organized by the Staley School of Leadership Studies. Teams travel and live in communities around the world during their summer break and engage in local community work.

“There is a simple application process when you explain why you want to go and the purpose behind what going would mean to you. After that, you go through an interview process and through your answers to those questions, the group decides where your best service team fit would be,” Tori said.

The service team that went to Kenya worked with the Children and Youth Empowerment Centre (CYEC), a residential program for former street-dwelling children and youth in Kenya. The CYEC works with them to not only provide shelter but provide students the ability to learn and grow through their educational and vocational training programs.

Tori was in charge of working with the communications aspect of the center. “Since my degree is in advertising, I put together the communications and marketing plan including what a newsletter could look like, revamping the website, and eventually training someone else to sustain the plan themselves,” Tori said.

Every team member had a different project to work on during their time abroad, but all had to work together throughout the process to get their job completed, including teaching a course on leadership at the center. “Our team worked really well together, even with working with each other 24/7, we found a great way to communicate throughout the summer so we were all aware of each other’s needs,” Tori said.

With all of their projects, every students’ hope was that they made an impact on the people of the center.  Tori explained she “hoped that at the very least my work was able to bring in more financial resources for them to utilize so that they can empower the children even more.”

But the real impact came from working at the center and working with the people of Kenya. “It was very cool to connect with the students and the youth and learn about their stories. This was a very powerful experience in all shapes and forms,” Tori said. “I think the students had way more of an impact on me that I think I could ever have on them.”

Traveling to Kenya would be a big culture shock for most students, however the Staley School of Leadership Studies prepared the students for what they were going to be seeing in Kenya. “The group did an excellent job of giving us the context we need to do our jobs without giving us too much,” Tori said. “They prepared me in a way where I could process the experience and make sense of what was happening around me, without being completely caught off guard.”

The biggest learning curve was the difference in culture from the United States to Kenya. “I learned a lot about self-care. Something I learned about the Kenyan culture is that time is a very different construct to them. In America it is go-go-go all the time and we are told to constantly think about the next step and what we can be doing to be productive. In Kenya it is all about taking your time. Taking time for yourself, taking time for other people, taking in every experience and being present in every moment,” Tori said.  

Tori’s interest in applying for the International Service Teams program became even stronger after working with the Mandela Fellows last year. For the past five years, K-State has hosted a cohort of about 25 Mandela Fellows through the Young African Leadership Initiative. Working as a student coordinator with this impressive group of young African leaders opened Tori’s eyes to what could be possible for her future. “Through learning from them, it really intrigued me to want to go to see their cultures firsthand,” said Tori. “ When I was in Kenya, I got the opportunity to reconnect with one of the fellows from the year before, which is something I never thought would be possible.”

For students interested in the program, Tori has a bit of advice: “Have an open mind and take the time to understand yourself and be open to understanding others.”

For more information about International Service Teams please follow this link. For more information about the Mandela Fellows program please follow this link

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