We’re asking students, recent grads, teachers, and counselors five questions on how languages play a role in shaping personal and professional success…
Meet Dilara—a Massachusetts high school senior who serves in a leadership role with an international youth exchange program to empower women abroad and plans to explore a career in neuroscience or a related field.
1. Could you share with us a little about your earliest experiences with languages—when and how did you begin?
When I was born, my parents only spoke Turkish to me even though we lived in the United States. So, when I took my first steps into preschool, I hadn’t yet begun to speak English. Since we visited my extended family in Turkey every summer, being bilingual was essential to my multicultural upbringing. I also learned Spanish from kindergarten to 5th grade. Unfortunately, this language did not stick.
2. Do you currently participate in any language or cultural activities outside of the traditional classroom (clubs, volunteering, community, hobbies like music/books/games, etc.)?
I currently run a program in New England which connects American high school and college students with Turkish female college students to coach them on their English.
I co-founded and lead BTF Boston Youth. The parent organization, BTF, is a 501(c)(3) organization that strives to provide aid to socio-economically disadvantaged youth in Turkey, especially female students. I orchestrate our chapter’s English Empowerment Program (EEP) which pairs American youth volunteers with Turkish students, based on academic interests, to coach them on their English. The program is mutually beneficial: speaking English fluently advances young international professionals, and each volunteer is exposed to subjects they are passionate about from a post-high school and international perspective.
I have recruited from 10 different Massachusetts high schools and two local universities for this program, and it is now a National Honors Society approved community service in multiple districts. Our group amassed 100 mentoring hours in under 10 weeks.
Organizing this conversational exchange program has allowed me to connect women globally through mutual professional interests and teach English conversational skills.
My partner and I have been speaking with each other for over a year and plan on meeting up if I am able to travel to Turkey this summer. Cross-cultural exchange has blossomed exponentially as American mentors from diverse backgrounds, from Russian to Korean, immerse themselves in their partners’ perspectives—opening minds and hearts.
I am also a group leader in my school’s Swiss exchange program. The other leaders and I plan activities to form a strong culture amongst exchange students. I Zoom with my exchange partner weekly to get to know her and practice French. Together, we are conducting a multicultural research project on women’s rights in both Switzerland and America.
3. We hear that some international travel is in your future! This spring, you’ll be traveling with your school to visit a sister city in Switzerland… What are you most looking forward to about this experience?
I was most eager to experience a different way of life and expand my worldview though a deeply immersive experience. I was able to interact with locals and follow my partner along in school/daily activities. It was so exciting to see the differences and similarities in high school culture in another country.
4. Have you got a favorite word or expression in another language—what is it, what does it mean, and why is it special?
My favorite word in all languages is Keyif. It is a Turkish word which is directly untranslatable into English or French. Loosely, it epitomizes the serenity and delight derived from the mundane, and the mindful awareness to choose joy abundantly. It is so special to me because it is a practice my family takes to heart. This can mean taking dance breaks while doing homework or drinking tea by the sea, or any small moment that brings one joy. I think especially in the hectic nature of daily life, it is important to treasure these small moments.
5. What’s next on your language journey?
My language goal is to become quadrilingual. First, I would love to truly cement my French by studying abroad in France during college and continuing my studies. Then, I would love to learn a new language which does not utilize the Latin alphabet, such as Japanese.
Complete this thought: “Learning another language means…”
Learning another language means unlocking doors. By learning new languages, I am able to open up to new experiences and people.
Check out our Connect with French, Connect with Turkish, and Language Programs & Funding pages to explore language scholarships, university programs, testimonials, and more! And, as always, visit @LangConnectsFdn on social media to share your story with us.