LCTL Student Spotlight: Meet Karenna

Karenna Oner is a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh pursuing an English Writing major, a BPhil in International and Area studies, a certificate in Russian, East European, & Eurasian Studies, and a minor Turkish. In this LCTL Student Spotlight, Karenna shares with us what drew her to study at the University of Pittsburgh and how studying Turkish here has influenced her life. 

Why did you choose Pitt?

I refer to my relationship with Pitt as the greatest love story that was never meant to be. My only reason for applying was an application fee waiver. I ended up receiving offers from both Pitt and my dream school at the time, University of Washington. Both had very strong international programs, and I knew I wanted to go into international affairs after college. Ultimately two things landed me at Pitt: the people, staff, and atmosphere of Pitt was more “me,” and the financial aid component. When I was making my decision I decided to take a drive up to Pittsburgh and make some appointments with different faculty. In my last of meeting of the day I met with two individuals in the financial aid department who changed my life forever, because they listened to my passion and plans for a global career and knew that I would fit in with the BPhil in International and Area Studies. So that’s how I made it here! Plus I knew Pitt had a Turkish program, and that was pretty important for me because I’m half Turkish but had never gotten the chance to learn the language and wanted it to be a part of my life moving forward.

Are you involved in any clubs or organizations on campus?

I am a Varsity Coxswain for the University of Pittsburgh Rowing Club and also serve as the team’s elected Secretary. This is my sixth year in the sport and second at the university level. I am also involved with Best Buddies, which partners university students with community members with disabilities (shoutout to my best buddy Justin!). Outside of the university I am involved with the refugee and trafficking nonprofits Hello Neighbor and Operation Underground Railroad, and I intern with the Pittsburgh Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. Recently I was also the Pittsburgh Lead for the U.S. Youth Climate Strike.

Do you have plans for after graduation?:

I still have two years to go until graduation, but ideally I would get a job with a federal agency. My dream job in the long-run is to serve as a Foreign Service Officer with the State Department, but I am open to working anywhere I can be of service to the U.S. national security mission. Alternatively, I could see myself making an international impact with a nongovernmental agency or nonprofit.

Did you have any previous second-language exposure before coming to Pitt?:

Languages were always very hard for me. Growing up I had a Colombian mother trying to teach me Spanish, a Turkish father trying to teach me Turkish, and together they were working on getting me to speak English, but I wasn’t speaking at all so eventually they ditched their efforts and just went with the latter of the languages. I learned Spanish later, only to forget it when I started German in middle school. I did five years of German, two at the International Baccalaureate level, and that started out pretty tough for me as well but I was able to figure out what learning style works best for me through trial and error and have used that to my advantage at the collegiate level of language study.

How did you become interested in studying Turkish?:

Half of my family lives in Turkey, so I visit pretty frequently. They all speak English so they never pushed me to learn Turkish, but I always had an urge to learn. In 2016 I was in Turkey during the coup d’etat and it really put things in perspective for me. I realized that national security is a very important field and decided I wanted to have a role in making it a reality. That’s how I became interested in a career with the U.S. government. I ended up studying Turkish because I believe global connectivity and cooperation is essential to fixing many issues at both the national and international level and I know that U.S.-Turkish relations are significant and rapidly evolving.

What has knowing/studying Turkish allowed you to do that you would not have been able to do otherwise?:

Studying Turkish has given me a growing perspective on global affairs. It has also opened SO many doors for me. This year I am a REEES Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellow, which is a $15,000 scholarship given out by the Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies Center for taking regionally relevant language and culture courses. I am also a Department of State Critical Language Scholar for summer 2019 and will be in Baku, Azerbaijan from June-August for intensive Turkish study. This year I applied for the Boren Scholarship, which is a year-long government scholarship to study a critical language abroad. The University of Pittsburgh is really special in that it makes these opportunities available and well-known to its students, and studying a critical language at Pitt has given me endless opportunities. I have also gotten the chance to meet some amazing people through my language studies, especially my Turkish Professor Nur Lider. She is the most patient, understanding, and helpful professor I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and has made more of an impact on me than she will ever know. I have also gotten to work with Josh Cannon, National Scholarship Advisor, and he has also had such an impact in motivating me to apply to Turkish-related opportunities.

Karenna's Advice to other language learners:

Look into all of the resources available to you! And go to Josh Cannon if you think any of the scholarships I received may be for you! There is a LOT of money out there to fund your studies, and so many opportunities for you to get language exposure. Even if you don’t know a language yet, look into opportunities like the Critical Language Study or the University of Pittsburgh’s Summer Language Institute which will let you learn a language from scratch at a low or no cost. And if you apply for a scholarship or program and don’t receive it the first time, don’t be discouraged. It took me two times to get the CLS, and that’s pretty common for competitive national scholarships, but in hindsight the initial rejection helped me to better myself and put me in a position to really take advantage of the program this time around.

Get to know more LCTL students through the LCTL Student Spotlight