Freya, from Tuscon, Arizona, is an alumna of both the Fall 2021 Virtual NSLI-Y Program and the 2022 Turkish Summer program in Bursa, Turkey.
NSLI-Y is excited to honor Black History Month and recognize the achievements of Black Americans, by spotlighting the stories of our Black alumni.
Freya developed an interest in the Turkish language and culture after watching Kedi— a documentary that follows the wandering of 7 stray cats to depict the lives of local Turkish persons they encounter. The film captivated Freya. It revealed the warmth of the Turkish people and the richness of their culture. She remembers feeling a call to connect to the culture through its music and later a strong desire to study Turkish with Virtual NSLI-Y.
“I was uneasy at first since the language was so different from the romance languages I was familiar with. Turkish was so foreign to me, but it was such a beautiful language. I was excited to learn it, even if it meant going at a snail's pace.”
Freya saw her Turkish teacher and fellow Virtual NSLIY colleagues as incredibly warm and passionate about the language. Her teacher made the classroom feel like a place where she and her peers could comfortably make mistakes and grow. She appreciated how each class challenged her to speak and learn Turkish grammar. This challenge became the crux for what will later drive her success in her future language-learning endeavors.
After completing Virtual NSLI-Y, Freya applied and was accepted to the NSLI-Y summer abroad program where she spent the summer of 2022 in Bursa, Turkey. Because of her time with Virtual NSLI-Y and the supportive community that encouraged her to pursue the language, she felt well-prepared for the summer program.
“Virtual NSLI-Y prepared me for the culture, so I wasn’t absolutely shocked when I had to use squat toilets or when my host grandma expected me to kiss her hand in greeting. The most important lesson I learned from my six-week study abroad was to give people the benefit of the doubt and to accept people's curiosity with good humor.”
Though her experience in Turkey was overall educational, she occasionally had to deal with awkward and uncomfortable moments that arose from being a Black girl in Turkey. Freya remembers adjusting to a different level of personal space as strangers were often more intimate than she was accustomed to. She grew to like it when she realized it was their way of showing affection.
“Quite often my curly hair was pulled or stroked, and I got questions like ‘Is this fake?’, ‘Where did you get this done?’, ‘This is so fluffy!’. The women squeezed my face and arms exuberantly and painfully at every introduction, and then smothered me with hugs, cooing, “You’re so soft.”
Despite these awkward moments, Freya learned how to adapt and overcome cultural differences and the locals’ fascination with her. She learned that food was a love language in Turkey. Her host family drowned her in food at every meal, and even on the brink of implosion, one more dolma would be placed into her hand. The first phrase Freya picked up with her host family was, “Ellerine sağlık!” (health to your hands). This was said after each meal. She also became aware of Turkey’s love for guests. Once someone realized she was a foreigner, they invited her to drink tea and chat. She also remembers her name, Freya, being very difficult for her family to say. Her host family decided to shorten it to “Ffff”. “Whenever I heard the sound of the letter “F”, no matter what context, I ran to see who’d called.
After learning and growing from both Virtual NSLI-Y and NSLI-Y Summer programs, Freya felt a tremendous growth in confidence in her ability to take on challenges and to adapt to a changing, sometimes stressful, environment. One takeaway from her experience abroad is to assume the best of people. “Before, I would avoid the uncomfortable and avoid the unknown in fear of messing up or not being prepared for what was to come.”
Her newfound confidence has helped her to apply to Med-Start, a six-week program for students considering careers in medicine. Freya hopes to pursue medicine with either Doctors Without Borders or PeaceCorps. She plans to use her language skills with future patients alongside work to connect with them on a more personal level than through a translator.
“I believe it is the responsibility of the doctor to create a trusting space for the patient. Putting effort into understanding them through using their mother tongue is a great place to start.”