Critical Language Scholarship Program | Zabe Shafi
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Zabe Shafi

Why did you want to study your CLS tar­get language?
When I first went to Turkey in 2007 with my fam­i­ly, I fell in love with the coun­try and real­ly was drawn to the East meets West” cul­ture. Then, after start­ing under­grad­u­ate as a Phys­i­ol­o­gy major, I want­ed to take some class­es that were not sci­ence relat­ed. I hap­pened to take a class on the Ottoman Empire, and absolute­ly loved it. I added Mid­dle East­ern Stud­ies as a sec­ond major and between the lan­guages offered, I knew I had to take Turk­ish. And I guess the rest is history.…

What are your edu­ca­tion­al and/​or pro­fes­sion­al goals?
After I grad­u­ate, I hope to do an intern­ship with the State Depart­ment or the Mid­dle East Insti­tute. Even­tu­al­ly I hope to attend Med­ical School and per­haps pur­sue a MD-MPH (Mas­ters in Pub­lic Health).

How do you plan to use your tar­get lan­guage in the future?
I plan to work with Doc­tors with­out Bor­ders in Turkey. Know­ing Turk­ish would be help­ful so there can be suc­cess­ful com­mu­ni­ca­tion between the doc­tor and patient. Addi­tion­al­ly, I would like to even­tu­al­ly go into health­care pol­i­cy in the Mid­dle East. Pro­fi­cien­cy in Turk­ish will allow me to work with the Turk­ish Min­istry of Health to help imple­ment their Health Trans­for­ma­tion Pro­gram, and use the strides Turkey has tak­en in med­i­cine as a guide­line for improv­ing health pro­grams in the Mid­dle East.

How did par­tic­i­pa­tion in the CLS Pro­gram affect your life?
Hav­ing done the pro­gram for two years in a row, I can hon­est­ly say the CLS pro­gram has real­ly been a trans­for­ma­tive expe­ri­ence for me. I am grate­ful for the oppor­tu­ni­ty I have had to first-hand learn the lan­guage and cul­ture of a beau­ti­ful and his­toric coun­try. While still main­tain­ing a strict rou­tine at school, I was able to go beyond the realms of the class­room and put my lan­guage skills to use. I not only learned Turk­ish, but also became aware of cul­tur­al norms, expe­ri­enced local cui­sine, and even had the chance to be in the coun­try dur­ing a polit­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal moment. I feel both of my sum­mer expe­ri­ences have allowed me to learn so much Turk­ish and have giv­en me a strong foun­da­tion to help me con­tin­ue my study of Turk­ish in the Unit­ed States.

What was your favorite part about being in your host country?
My favorite part about study­ing in Turkey was hav­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty to be con­stant­ly immersed in the lan­guage and cul­ture. It forced me to use my Turk­ish and led to some real­ly inter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tions. I was able to talk to my host dad about Turk­ish pol­i­tics, bar­gain with shop­keep­ers, and even ward off the advances of Turk­ish men. I think just being sur­round­ed by so much cul­ture and his­to­ry real­ly helped me gain a lot from the program.

What did you learn about your host coun­try that you did­n’t know before?
On my dai­ly dol­muş com­mute to school, I often got asked if I was from Syr­ia. This led me to real­ly try and under­stand Turk­ish views towards the grow­ing num­ber of refugees in their coun­try and their polit­i­cal views towards oth­er Mid­dle East­ern coun­tries in gen­er­al. I was also there dur­ing the elec­tion for pres­i­den­cy and it allowed me to explore the pol­i­tics of Turkey, which I pre­vi­ous­ly knew very lit­tle about. 

Please share a short sto­ry about your CLS Pro­gram experience.
My host fam­i­ly, being from Bul­gar­ia, had a slight accent that was very unfa­mil­iar to me. On top of it, they spoke so fast that often I would have trou­ble under­stand­ing them. One night, my host mom turned to me and asked a very sim­ple ques­tion in Turk­ish, Do you know kan­ga­roo?” I was very con­fused and in very bro­ken Turk­ish mum­bled, Yes, the ani­mal- in Aus­tralia, that hops around?” My host mom looked at me for a sec­ond and then burst out into laugh­ter. No,” she said, kan grubu.” She had asked me if I knew my blood type! I was so embar­rassed but we could­n’t stop laugh­ing for the next 20 minutes! 

What is your favorite tar­get lan­guage word or phrase, and what does it mean in English?
Paly­a­co.” It means clown. I am real­ly scared of Turk­ish clowns — specif­i­cal­ly Turk­ish — and had a dif­fi­cult time remem­ber­ing this word. On our overnight trip to Amas­ra (when I did CLS in 2013), the lan­guage part­ners tried to help me remem­ber it so we came up with fun­ny Ital­ian accents to say it in. A few days lat­er we were all hang­ing out and one lan­guage part­ner came up to me and asked me, How do you say clown in Turk­ish?” I was so excit­ed that I remem­bered it. I shout­ed paly­a­co!!’. Across the street, sure enough, there was a clown that turned to look at me. I then ran away to avoid the Turk­ish clown that I was death­ly scared of. And nev­er for­got the word again!!

What is a must see or must try in your host city or country?
Fethiye — it’s a beau­ti­ful city on the west coast of Turkey with the bluest water I have ever seen.

What advice would you give prospec­tive appli­cants, par­tic­i­pants on the pro­gram, and/​or recent CLS alumni?
My main advice would be to take advan­tage of your envi­ron­ment. That sounds sim­ple enough, but many times I would get caught up in study­ing or hang­ing out with the oth­er CLS par­tic­i­pants that I would­n’t inter­act with the locals as much or even my host fam­i­ly. Two months goes by so fast so you should real­ly try and explore your host city as much as pos­si­ble. And, don’t be afraid to start up a con­ver­sa­tion with a wait­er or a shop­keep­er! It sounds scary, but can be so rewarding. 

Per­son­al background
I was born and raised in Phoenix, Ari­zona, but have spent a lot of time trav­el­ing the world- one of my favorite things to do! I enjoy his­to­ry and learn­ing about the cul­tures of the world. In my free time, I like play­ing bas­ket­ball and tennis.


Alumni Profiles

Zabe Shafi
Zabe Shafi
Turkish 2014
Bursa, Turkey

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Posted Date

April 27, 2015