After graduating from high school in 2012, Isabelle McRae traveled to Turkey on a whim and was captivated by the culture and language. She spent many months volunteering in villages, hiking, and exploring. Because of her experiences in the Caucasus, she knew she wanted to study in a field that would support her passion for Turkic cultures and international relations, and she enrolled at Portland Community College, supported by a Pell Grant. Her first-hand experience and unquenchable love for languages motivated her to apply for the 2016 CLS Program in Turkish.
“Receiving the Critical Language Scholarship meant so much to me. It was the gateway to a multitude of scholarships and fellowships which allowed me to thrive in higher education. It also gave me the foundation to pursue a high level of language skill which I now use in research, professionally, and socially. As a result of studying Turkish in the midst of declining relations with the U.S., I also studied and worked in Azerbaijan, which in my case led to many great relationships and learning another Turkic language.”
Living and working in Turkey and Azerbaijan has made Isabelle a more flexible and relaxed person.
“Life can be a bit more chaotic compared to the United States, and when time functions differently, things don’t always go as planned. People tend to take these setbacks less seriously and take care of each other a bit more. I think it’s an important aspect of operating in a world that will always be subject to change.”
In the summer of 2019, Isabelle returned to the region with CLS Program, this time as a Resident Director for the Azerbaijani program. Resident Directors are on-the-ground staff members who help support and guide students throughout their intensive summers.
“I got to take all my passion and hard-earned insights about Azerbaijan and share them with students who genuinely cared about learning. Because I had experienced the Caucasus as a CLS scholar, I understood what students were going through and could help them strategize how to get support, stay healthy, and integrate well, while also imparting some of my tranquility-in-the-face-of-the-unexpected.”
Now, Isabelle is studying Conflict Studies at the London School of Economics and often has the opportunity to speak Turkish. She is taking an advanced translation course so she can continue to improve her translating skills.
“My ability to do primary and secondary research in the language really sets me apart from other students. While I’m uncertain what I will do after my degree, I expect that my path will continue to bring me back to Turkey. I’m very interested in migration and displacement, and there is certainly a lot of work to be done in that area.”
March 10, 2020