These days Kaan Yarar calls Namibia home. Originally from Wayne, New Jersey, the 2014 College of Business Administration grad lives and works in Swakopmund, a small town located on the coast of the southwestern African nation.
A community economic development volunteer, Kaan is one of thirteen URI alumni currently serving in the Peace Corps. He works with the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry on small business development. And he loves it.
“Working with local businesses, I’ve found a passion for entrepreneurial problem solving,” he said. “I love the idea of social entrepreneurship, using private sector solutions to address community issues, helping people work toward setting and reaching goals, and thinking of ways to remove obstacles.”
As he prepares to complete his Peace Corps service in July, Kaan has much more to say about what he has learned about himself and the world, and how his experience in Namibia has enriched him in ways he would not have imagined.
“Lessons come from everywhere and everyone,” he said. “I’ve learned how important relationships and empathy are, that positive change comes in small, incremental steps, and that a smile is universal. I’ve also learned that there is nothing quite like receiving a box of Dunkin’ Donuts Pumpkin Spice coffee and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups from home.”
Now, thanks to URI’s new Peace Corp Prep (PC Prep) program—a partnership with URI and the Peace Corps—more students like Kaan, interested in international development fieldwork, the Peace Corps, or other international service can choose a pathway designed to help them meet those goals. Open to undergraduates in any major, the PC Prep program pairs selected courses with leadership and community service to help prepare students for global service work, giving them a competitive edge when applying to the Peace Corps or other international development work.
PC Prep’s four central learning objectives are training and experience in a specific work sector, foreign language skills, intercultural awareness, and professional and leadership development. The PC Prep program is a natural fit for URI, which is the first college or university in Rhode Island—and one of only 48 universities in the country—to offer it. Professor Michael Rice, a former Peace Corps volunteer, coordinates URI’s PC Prep program. “The University already had key elements in place that led to this new partnership,” he said.
For anyone considering the Peace Corps, Kaan shares his perspective on the experience. “While the changes in your community won’t always be readily apparent, what will be obvious is your personal growth—whether it’s your worldview, your perspective on development, or just realizing what’s important to you. Two years in a new environment allows for a lot of introspection,” he said.
“I may not have massively impacted the economic environment in Swakopmund in my two years. But maybe the intern that was hired through an internship program I helped develop will continue to grow and learn, and eventually start a business of her own that will employ and empower Namibians in a way no one else could.”
Photos: Courtesy of Kaan Yarar
Top: Kaan atop Pride Rock in Okahandja, Namibia; Right: Kaan and Ismael, a soap manufacturer from Okahandja at a training session