Sawyer is from Kensington, NH and an alumnus of the Turkish 2020 Virtual Summer Intensive program.

Participating in the Virtual NSLI-Y Turkish Summer 2020 Program exceeded all of my expectations. I had applied to the program back in the fall with the expectation of being able to go to Turkey. But come spring after finding out I got in, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world and it was announced that all Summer 2020 programs were going virtual.

I was disappointed as a big reason I applied to the program was so that I could be immersed in the Turkish language in Turkey. I also had doubts that a successful remote language learning program was possible. Yet, I still decided to give it a chance and I agreed to participate in the virtual program.

notes from sawyer's turkish class

I am so pleased that I gave the virtual program that chance. It ended up exceeding all of my expectations and was the best remote experience I have had to date. Although I never stepped foot in Turkey, the program retained its value in teaching language and culture. Every week consisted of language classes, a RD meeting, a cultural class, and a session with our peer language partners. The language classes were small and completely in Turkish. My teacher was amazing and knew how to teach us in the virtual environment. The RD meeting served as check-in time, and we would do different activities or have guest speakers talk to us. These speakers ranged from historians to foreign service officers. The cultural classes were innovative. We had virtual tours of sites in Turkey, lessons in calligraphy, and ebru (paper marbling). But the most novel was when we got to cook meneman (a Turkish breakfast dish) in our own kitchens alongside a professional Turkish cook via Zoom.

knefe, a sweet and cheesy turkish dessert

The peer language partner sessions were by far my favorite part. This was when we American students would get to interact with Turkish students. These sessions were the most fun and challenging part of the program. We’d start as a large group and do some conversational practice. Then transition to smaller groups to do activities such as Pictionary, Guess Who, or sharing about different aspects of our lives. Finally, we would transition to one on one, or two on one where we interviewed our partner for the final project and converse to learn more about each other, all of this being done predominantly in Turkish. I learned that Turkish and American teenagers have a lot in common. I think the most memorable part for me was when the topic of marching bands in Turkey came up. It turns out marching bands are a big part of Turkish high schools and communities. I then got to share with my partner what my marching band in high school was like and they got to share about theirs. There was a bit of a language barrier but the nice thing about Zoom is that you can share your screen. So we ended up sharing many images and songs that our marching bands play.

This program I believe was so amazing because of the amazing staff at NSLI-Y and ACES (the partner organization who helped coordinate my program). They had to face so many challenges with converting the program to online and the result was still terrific. Something I’ve realized with the pandemic is that it tests people. It presents us with new challenges. And how we deal with those challenges reveals who we really are. The pandemic revealed to me how committed the staff at NSLI-Y and ACES are to putting on an amazing language program whether in person or online.