Nicholas Borbely’s journey with foreign languages is a long and varied one. While he completed the NSLI-Y summer program for Turkish in 2014, he has studied a variety of languages in different immersive environments. His mother is Italian and he grew up bilingual and lived in Italy for some time. However, his interest in studying Turkish began while traveling to Egypt; at a layover in Turkey he found himself taken with the sounds and writing of the language. After returning from Egypt, Nicholas was keen to begin his studies of Turkish, which led him to apply for NSLI-Y.

One of his favorite memories from his NSLI-Y experience was his capstone project. Nicholas was interested in the intersection of identities across cultures and was eager to explore the influence of the large Bulgarian population in Bursa, noting “I interviewed a number of people from the community who were of Bulgarian Turkish background. These included one of our language partners, a bilingual Turkish and Bulgarian speaker who split her time between her grandparents’ home in Bulgaria and her parents’ in Turkey, another local NSLI-Yer’s host brother, whose mother had come to Bursa from Bulgaria as a young woman, and so on. It was a fascinating and rewarding opportunity to learn about the rich cultural identity and unique history of this community that calls my host city home.”

Nicholas (far left) poses with NSLI-Y cohort members in Turkey.

Nicholas returned from his summer in Turkey eager to continue his foreign language studies. He made this a priority in his college search, eventually settling on attending Beloit College in Wisconsin, where he completed semesters abroad in Moscow and in Finland, continued studying Turkish with the Critical Language Scholarship in Azerbaijan, and spent two summers studying in Iceland. His senior thesis was a conglomeration of his linguistic interests, focusing on historical linguistic interaction and borrowed words between Russian and Turkish.

After his college graduation, Nicholas accepted a Fulbright grant to study at the Icelandic University of Iceland in Reykjavik, where he chose to stay to finish the degree. Nicholas graduated in May 2022, and has since been working in the tourism industry in Iceland, which he notes enables him to “continue practicing a wide array of languages in new and innovative ways.” Nicholas notes that his interest in Nordic languages has been driven partly by a desire to better understand his family heritage. Additionally, he hopes to work towards the preservation and safeguarding of lesser-spoken and indigenous languages, such as Icelandic, in the future.

Nicholas notes that his NSLI-Y experience has helped him to gain confidence in navigating new places, structures, and challenges. He notes that “Especially working currently in an environment where I interact with people from different countries on an everyday basis, I find that I’m able to understand at least some of the nuances of highly divergent communication styles.” Additionally, he finds that he connects with others more easily due to his variety of lived experiences. He explains that one special instance of this was when “I had just moved to Iceland to start my Fulbright, I met a Turkish family completely by chance that had lived back and forth between Iceland and Turkey for the preceding six years. Not only were they thrilled to find a non-native Turkish speaker keen to practice with them, but I was also overjoyed to talk to people who intimately understood the ins and outs of two places where I have had very formative experiences and care very deeply about.”

Nicholas Borbely headshot.

Nicholas also has advice for those interested in studying multiple foreign languages at once. He notes that if you’re studying dissimilar languages, that you “can focus more on concentrating your study efforts on specific methods, spaces, or routines for each language in order to differentiate them. If, however, they’re very similar, you may need to make one [language] a little stronger first in order to avoid mixing them up too much.” For those interested in studying languages which are not commonly taught in the US, Nicholas encourages pursuing immersion opportunities and working hard on self-study. He encourages language learners that “Even if it seems like slim pickings in terms of resources, or if the language seems so far removed from your everyday life, cherish what resources you can find and carve out a little niche for practicing the language in your routine.” One of his biggest pieces of language study advice is “to prioritize passive intake over all else. Realistically, you may often lack the time and energy to do full on-grammar exercises out of an academic textbook or other such things. In these situations, prioritizing passive exposure through listening to music or podcasts or watching movies, TV shows, or video clips in that language can be an excellent way to at least keep hearing the language and keep it active in your mind. Even if you’re not producing grammatical patterns or conjugations in a methodical manner, hearing them still helps them to hold fast in your memory and mental framework.”

Nicholas also offers helpful advice for those interested in living or working abroad. He urges remaining open to all opportunities and possibilities, and not creating a rigid plan for your time abroad, noting that “Nothing has to necessarily be permanent or set in stone from the get-go; you can try things out in a lower-stakes, more temporary way, and see how they go, and if you like it, if you’re gaining fulfilling opportunities and connections with people, then you can stay and build upon the base you’ve created.” He learned this after staying longer than he had initially anticipated, due to the experiences that he was able to have. He urges others to use their preliminary plans upon moving abroad as rough outlines, and “never to be afraid to deviate from it or turn it around if things take a different direction or if the plan doesn’t serve anymore.”