Written in the stars: MK’s journey

Contemporary music student MK Keso shares how she chose Interlochen Arts Academy—and what prospective international students should consider before studying abroad.

MK Keso shares a presentation on Zambia at the Fall 2023 Interlochen Arts Academy Culture Fair.

MK Keso shares a presentation on Zambia at the Fall 2023 Interlochen Arts Academy Culture Fair.

MK Keso’s journey from Zambia to Interlochen was propelled by a longing for something more—both culturally and artistically.

“Zambia is a very homogenous country,” MK says. “Everyone has the same culture, everyone follows the same religion, and everyone has the same norms. A part of me always wanted to experience a world outside of Zambia. There was so much of the world that I saw through screens that I craved to experience.”

During sixth grade, MK had the opportunity to visit London, England, which reinforced her desire to explore other cultures. Her search for a global perspective ultimately led her to enroll at an American school in Zambia.

“That school fostered my love for the arts tremendously,” MK says. “However, we only had one semester dedicated to the arts, and during that semester, we only had arts training twice a week for 30 minutes. I thought, ‘There’s got to be something more.’”

Eager to further her artistic training, MK applied to a summer arts camp in New York. Although she was unable to attend due to financial considerations, the process opened her eyes to the many arts camps and schools available in the United States—including Interlochen Arts Academy.

“When I was accepted to Interlochen, I felt like the Academy was where I was supposed to be because everything led me to this point,” MK says. “It felt like it was written in the stars.”

Finding support, fostering community

In fall 2022, MK joined the Academy community as a junior. While her time at the American school eased her transition to Interlochen, she still encountered challenges in adjusting to life in the United States.

“It definitely hasn’t been easy,” she says. “One of the challenges, for me, is craving familiarity. I don’t necessarily miss home, but I miss the feeling of a home. In the U.S., I'm always learning and getting acclimated to the culture.”

MK uses journaling to help her process the complex emotions of feeling caught between two cultures. Her greatest source of support, however, is the students and staff she has met at Interlochen.

“One of the biggest things that contributed to me thriving—and not just surviving—during my first year was finding a supportive friend group,” MK says. “It took some time for me to find my people, but when I did, they were quality. The majority of my friends last year were seniors; this year, we keep in touch through weekly Facetime calls.”

She also found a listening ear in the Academy’s International Student Services Manager, Kalyn Rabuse.

“Kalyn is always there to talk,” MK says. “She specialized in international education in college, and she’s been with the international student body at Interlochen for a long time, so she knows exactly what she’s doing and what she’s talking about. She’s a great support system.”

In spring 2023, MK founded the International Student Union to create a space where the Academy’s international students can find encouragement and camaraderie.

“Just being in a place with other international students feels very supportive,” MK says. “It’s a community of people that understand and share the same experience.”

Exploring endless opportunities

In addition to lifelong friendships and cultural immersion, MK has also found the rigorous artistic training she craved at the Academy. Over the past year and a half, the Popular Performance major has provided her with rich opportunities to further her skill as a vocalist and explore other artistic disciplines.

“The curriculum for music majors is very open; it allows you to take classes that interest you while having core classes in your major,” she says. “I’ve been able to dabble in piano and music theory, and I took two acting classes last year. I’m currently taking a course on African American theatre, and I’m taking a poetry class next semester.”

“I try to have at least one class outside my major each semester, which is always fascinating and enriching. There’s an endless amount of opportunities available.”

One of MK’s favorite aspects of attending Interlochen is the Academy’s culture of personal and artistic individuality.

“I love the atmosphere here; it’s liberating,” MK says. “It makes you feel like you can be yourself. I’ve never felt that way anywhere else.”

Examining the international experience

When asked what advice she would offer other international students, MK explains that potential obstacles vary based on the student’s home country and encourages prospective students to consider the differences between their country and the United States—both culturally and academically.

“One of my biggest struggles as the president of the International Student Union is fostering bonds between students from around the world, because our challenges are so different,” she says. “I come from Zambia, so economic navigation is hard for me. But other students struggle more with culture, language, or other barriers. It’s also important to study the disparities between your country’s education system and the American education system. You have to know what types of differences you can handle.”

MK also urges prospective students to examine their motivations for studying abroad.

“Ask yourself what you want out of the international student experience,” she says. “Is it just the school you’re interested in, or do you want the global perspective? Are you willing to contribute to the campus community, or do you just want to derive the benefits of belonging to an American society?”

Beyond the artistic and academic opportunities offered by studying abroad, MK says attending a school in a different country also develops resilience.

“I feel like every single thing I do at Interlochen is so rewarding,” she says. “All of the struggles I’ve faced have been such a character-building exercise that I can confidently say that I’ll be proud of the girl I will be when I graduate in May.”

Leaving a legacy

As she prepares for her final semester at the Academy, MK is eager to make the most of her last few months at Interlochen.

“My senior recital is coming up in the spring; I have 20 minutes to showcase the things that mattered most to me throughout my journey at Interlochen,” MK says. “I’m also participating in several upcoming community meetings, including those led by the Black Student Union and International Student Union. I want to use those meetings to shed light on who I am and share the cultures I represent and bring to this campus. I also hope to build the International Student Union so that the legacy I’ve created can continue and benefit future generations of students.”

“Honestly, I’m trying to get everything humanly possible from my experience at Interlochen. I’m never going to find another place like it.”