Alumna Shares Fulbright Experience

Ten University of Chicago undergraduates won a Fulbright award in 2010 to spend a year abroad. From Turkey, Emily Pelka ’09 shares her blog.

If there is one question that I have heard countless times from both American friends and Turkish people since last September, it is: “Why Turkey?” It all started perhaps in high school when at some point I decided that I really wanted to work abroad. I love all kinds of traveling, but I also knew that I wanted a lengthier, more in-depth experience in another country. As fate would have it I am a native speaker of one of the more sought-after languages in the world, and thus it seemed logical that I would teach English abroad...but where? I took French in high school like so many others, and by my third year of college my answer was a nebulous “I guess...I'll France?” While I loved French and my three months studying abroad at the University of Chicago Center in Paris were wonderful, I was, for whatever reason, somewhat unconvinced that I would actually end up teaching there. Lo and behold, in my fourth year I stumbled into a Turkish class mostly to fulfill my major requirements but also because the strange Yoda-speak grammar appealed to my linguistic curiosity. That year of Turkish ended up only whetting my appetite for a language and subsequently a country that I've come to adore.

There are millions of reasons for someone to want to be in Turkey. 77 million if I were to count (77 million is the current population of Turkey, more or less), because practically every Turkish person I've met has been incredibly warm, helpful, and sincerely interested in teaching me about their country. Aside from that, the country itself is beautiful, it has some of the richest history of any place on earth, it currently has a dynamic presence in the world's political arena, and it is brimming with potential. I chose to apply for a Fulbright English teaching assistantship (also known as an ETA) for relatively simple reasons: I wanted to teach English, and I wanted to learn more Turkish. I had idly mentioned some trite ideas of the “east-west bridge” and Turkey's interesting situation in contemporary politics in my application, thereby acknowledging that I also wanted to be a cultural ambassador of sorts. I don't think I had fully realized what an excellent blend of experiences I would receive upon accepting my grant offer, nor how many cups of Turkish tea I would be called upon to drink in nine month's time. Both have been welcome surprises. I cannot properly answer the question “Why Turkey?” without recounting the past several months' worth of experiences and anecdotes, and so I hope that my blog is at least a good attempt to do just that.

To read about Emily's experiences in Turkey, visit her blog at