Gianna Brassil was raised in San Francisco, California in a multicultural family. Her mother is of Nicaraguan and Peruvian descent and her father is Australian. This diverse heritage and her family’s love of international travel sparked her interest in cultures and languages at a young age. By the time she started high school, Gianna wanted to try living abroad on her own. She learned about NSLI-Y from a Facebook post by a NSLI-Y alumna and was eager to apply. She says that while the application process was straightforward, she felt somewhat overwhelmed at first by the task of explaining her love of the language and culture in a few short essays. Her hard work on her application and essays resulted in her acceptance to the 2014 summer Turkish program. After her NSLI-Y summer experience in Turkey, she then applied and was accepted to the 2015-2016 NSLI-Y academic year program in Turkey.
The culture and history of Turkey are what first drew Gianna’s interest. Overtime, her expectations for her cultural experience changed. “I anticipated how much Turkey would become a part of me, but what I couldn’t have predicted was how much my experience abroad changed my identity as an American. I had never realized how much internalized American-centric bias I had harbored…Living in Turkey made me realize that each country hosts its own universe of thought, culture, and creative wealth.”
Though she had little experience with Turkish before NSLI-Y, Gianna quickly fell in love with the language. “My love for Turkish grew abreast of my love for Turkey and its people.” During her academic year program, Gianna attended two schools: a local Turkish high school in the mornings and TÖMER, Ankara University’s language school, during the afternoons. Attending school in a different country had some challenges. “The first few months of high school were some of the most difficult socially; my Turkish was still quite fragmented and I couldn’t keep up with the idiosyncratic Turkish employed by Turkish teenagers. On the other hand, the first few months were undoubtedly the most rapid months of my language development.”
Gianna recognized that in order to develop stronger friendships, she would need to improve her Turkish. “It dawned on me that being American, and the attention that comes from it, would not be enough to form friendships. I had to devote myself to learning Turkish well. By December, I was beginning to see my close friends outside of school…I was comfortable enough with my classmates that we could have very personal and ethical debates…Those conversations were some of the highlights of my Turkish high school career.”
Her progress in the language also made it possible for her to express her personality more fully. “As my Turkish improved, my interactions with my host family, teacher, and friends became funnier. When humor entered the picture, I was finally able to express parts of my personality that I do effortlessly in English.”
Her favorite memory from the program was the last day with her Turkish teacher, Cansu. “It was a day full of bittersweet happiness. It reflected the deep relationship we had formed with our teacher. I will never forget her patience, kindness, humor, and encouragement. She is an embodiment of why I continue coming back to Turkey time and time again.”
Gianna has continued to study Turkish by reading, listening to Turkish music, writing in her journal in Turkish, and texting her host family and friends from Turkey frequently. She also plans to find Turkish international students at college in the fall and hopes to receive a CLS Scholarship or Boren Award in the future. Her academic plans are to complete her undergraduate degree at Macalester College in International Studies with a minor in Human Rights and Humanitarianism. She then hopes to join the Peace Corps or become a Fulbright Fellow. She sees herself in a career with the Foreign Service or a non-profit focusing on global migration, refugee work, or education.
[Editor’s note: Gianna participated in a NSLI-Y Interactive Virtual Event, “One Day in the Life in Turkey” in October, 2015.]