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Past visits spur love of Turkey and its language for Isabelle Mcrae
Photos and Story by James Hill
Portland Community College student Isabelle Mcrae has focused her education on international studies and hopes to someday be a translator. This summer, she is taking steps toward her goals as the first-ever PCC student to earn a prestigious Critical Language Scholarship to Turkey.
The scholarship is a two-month program from June through August and is run by the U.S. State Department. After an orientation in Washington D.C, Mcrae will head to the country. The program is designed to encourage more students to study critical foreign languages. Awardees are given full funding for airfare, housing, meals, tuition and cultural activities to engage in an eight-week summer program of study.
“When I heard that I had won, I was on the phone with my sister and I started screaming,” said Mcrae, who is a student at PCC and Portland State University as part of the institutions’ dual enrollment pact. “I couldn’t believe it. It was a competitive program, and it validates everything I’ve been doing. It’s an amazing feeling.”
What’s even more amazing is that Mcrae isn’t studying Turkish at PCC (she takes Spanish). It was a few years ago that while traveling the world she decided to detour to Turkey. An excursion of volunteering in small villages for a few weeks turned into months, which helped the Northeast Portland resident gain a rudimentary understanding of the Turkish language. This brief exposure, coupled with wanting to transfer to Portland State University’s Turkish language program, made applying for the CLS opportunity a no-brainer.
“It’s a fascinating language and with PSU having a program, it made sense to study it,” she added. “It’s not a language that is taught at most institutions. But thankfully to win one of these scholarships, you don’t need to be in a Turkish language class or program.”
PCC has had eight students win Critical Language Scholarship opportunities to Russia since 2011. But Mcrae is the first to win an immersion experience to Turkey.
“It’s truly exceptional to win a CLS,” said Anne Haberkern, director of the Curriculum Support Office at PCC. “Isabelle was competing with applicants from across the U.S, including students from all of the Ivy League institutions, major research universities, and others. Each year there are typically more than 5,000 applicants for the program and only about 500 scholarships awarded, so fewer than 10 percent of the applicants are successful.”
McRae’s own faculty are thrilled to see her get this opportunity to study abroad.
“I was delighted but not surprised to learn of Isabelle’s CLS honor,” said Andrew Cohen, her creative writing instructor. “She’s a focused and highly engaged student. In our creative nonfiction class she showed her colors as a real travel writer, recounting her first big trip to Turkey in memorable color and detail, while thoughtfully exploring the risks and especially rewards of international travel.”
The Port Townsend, Wash., native will stay with a Turkish host family, participate on field trips, and spend 20 hours in credit classes learning the language. This won’t be new for her, she’s been to Turkey four times before, but acknowledges this will be a challenge.
“I consider myself a beginner,” Mcrae admitted. “Hopefully, I can work to become an intermediate speaker by the end of the summer. I’ve always been interested in the language, and want to be forced to interact and be tested by being immersed in the culture. It’s the fastest way to learn. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity and not have to break the bank to do it.”