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HerVoice: NDSU grad to teach English in Turkey after spending two years learning Turkish there

Emily Grenz, 23, of Fargo spent her last two summers in Turkey learning Turkish and plans to teach English there starting in September. In this photo she is standing in front of the ruins of the library at Ephesus. Photo special to The Forum

FARGO – The first time Emily Grenz went to Turkey, she only knew one Turkish word.

“I stepped off the plane knowing how to say ‘Hello’ and that is it,” she said.

Now, two years later, the 23-year-old is getting ready to teach English to university students in Turkey.

Grenz, who was born and raised in Eureka, S.D., recently graduated from North Dakota State University with English education and history majors. Three years ago, she wanted to study abroad, so she traveled with a program all over Europe the summer of her sophomore year.

As a 20-year-old, Grenz said she was nervous at first, but by the end of the summer after traveling through 14 countries, she felt completely confident traveling alone.

“It was a great experience for pushing myself and learning what I can do,” she said.

The experience, she said, taught her that she’s more capable than she realized.

“It was a confidence booster,” she said.

After her experience, Grenz said she knew she wanted to study abroad the following summer, too, but she wanted to find a less expensive way to do it.

“I didn’t care where I went or what I did,” she said. “I just wanted to go.”

When Grenz received an email telling her she could “study abroad for free,” she said she was skeptical, but she researched the program and found out the Critical Language Scholarship Program was a program of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

There was a list of Middle Eastern, African and Asian countries she could apply for, and Grenz said she felt most comfortable with Turkey, even though she knew nothing about the language, culture or people.

She lived for eight weeks with a host family that spoke no English.

“It forced me to really learn the language, to form really close bonds with my host family, and totally get myself out of my bubble, even to learn how to work the shower,” she said. “I loved it, and it was a wonderful experience.”

She got by at first with a lot of pointing, hand gestures and laughing.

“You just shed your pride,” she said. “Leave it on the doorstep because things are going to get weird.”

Her host sister called her boyfriend, who lived across the country and spoke a little English, to visit so he could help Grenz.

“He was my only contact, so I had to ask him all these uncomfortable questions, like, ‘What do you do with feminine products?’ ” she said. “He got super embarrassed because men and women don’t talk about those things. We muddled through.”

While there, Grenz’s primary responsibility was to learn the language, so she immersed herself in the culture and spent eight hours a day taking Turkish classes.

“By the end of week two, I could get by,” she said.

She loved the program so much, she said, that she applied for it again and spent three months in Turkey last summer.

“The people are friendly and welcoming in a way that I’ve never experienced,” she said.

Grenz was never worried or afraid while living in Turkey and said she didn’t have to dress differently. While some women wear a head scarf and long sleeves, most do not, she said.

“I feel safer there than I do here (in the U.S.),” she said. “There’s such a stigma against harming women.”

Grenz is now proficient in Turkish. At the end of the program, she said she was ranked 7 out of 9 in proficiency, with 9 being native fluency.

“I took five years of Spanish and didn’t get even close to where I am in Turkish,” she said.

In September, Grenz will move to Turkey for nine months. She will need to find her own place to live, but she is getting some help from her two host families, with whom she has maintained contact.

Her Voice is a weekly article about women in or from our area and how they make an impact on the world around them. If you know someone SheSays should feature in HerVoice, email Tracy Frank at

Tracy Frank

Tracy Frank is a SheSays, Variety, and Farmer's Forum reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to

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