Elizabeth City State University student Kenae Turner is currently learning three languages on top of 2 study abroad trips to China, and it’s all fitting into her larger master plan. Learn about how the sophomore is inspiring others to be bold and follow their dreams in the ECSU release below.

Kenae Turner is 20-years old and she’s already experienced more life than many of her fellow Elizabeth City State University students. A transfer student majoring in education, Ms. Turner has worked as a teacher in China, is learning Mandarin, Japanese, and Korean languages and has an intimate knowledge of the Chinese culture. 

Transfer student Kenae Turner, far left, left her hometown of Elizabeth City to teach English in China for a year. She’s pictured with her host family.

As a teenager, Ms. Turner would not have what many, including her, might deem a normal life. She attended middle school but was home schooled in high school and then opted to get her General Education Diploma, or GED. 

Then she was ready for a challenge. She wanted to work in a foreign country, most specifically Japan, and signed up with a variety of organizations seeking native English speakers to teach the language.

“China was not on my mind but a woman from a company found my application online,” said Ms. Turner, who would sign up with a firm that placed English teachers, or tutors, in China. She was 17 at the time. 

Ms. Turner would move to Shenzhen, China. She would live with her host family and teach their children English. 

“The first day the air felt weird and everything was different. The first week was rough,” she recalled. “I decided to be comfortable being uncomfortable and adapt to their culture.”

The family Ms. Turner stayed and worked with were wealthy and Christian. She would attend church with the mother, she said. 

“They had a nanny and a driver,” she said. “They treated me as a member of the family.”

During the day, the family’s children would attend regular school. In the afternoon, they would return home and Ms. Turner would spend one-to-two hours teaching them English. 

During the day, when the children were in school, Ms. Turner would explore the region, visit Buddhist temples and get to know the culture around her. She said one marked difference for her were the meals. 

“It was very different as far as eating,” she said. “We would eat as if every meal was Thanksgiving. A lot of food. If you went to a restaurant, you would spend three-to-four hours there.”

At dinner, there were no cell phones and no television. The family shared food and conversation, she said. 

Ms. Turner says the Chinese people left a lasting impression on her. Everyone, she said, loved one another and differences didn’t seem to be an issue for them. They, she said, loved her despite the fact that she “looked different and sounded different.”

Ms. Turner spent a total of one year in China, six months at a time. After she finished her first visit, the family invited her to return and so she did. But towards the end of her visit, the pandemic began emerging and she knew it was time to return home. She wanted to leave China before they closed their borders. 

Ms. Turner returned home and began taking classes at College of the Albemarle. She transferred to ECSU this year to be an education student with a concentration in birth-to-Kindergarten. 

In the meantime, she is studying Mandarin Chinese, Japanese and Korean. She sees her future life spent on the Asian continent, in China and other countries, teaching English in a classroom setting. 

“I’ll get my degree and go back,” she said.