Critical Language Scholarship Program | Zabe Shafi

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

See More Profiles

Posted Date

April 27, 2015