Parker Johnson ’26 selected as Critical Language Scholar for Turkish

Johnson will travel to Ankara University in Ankara, Turkey for his Critical Language Scholarship this summer.

Erica Helgerud ’20 17 April 2024 Posted In:
Headshot of Parker Johnson ’26.
Parker Johnson ’26Photo:

Parker Johnson ’26 was selected as one of roughly 500 students participating in the U.S. Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarships (CLS) this year. Johnson will study Turkish over the summer at Ankara University TÖMER in Ankara, Turkey’s capital.

Carleton has a lengthy history of CLS awards — last year, Eric Cheng ’23 and Susanna Kisker ’24 were selected for Arabic and Swahili, and in 2022, Marianne Gunnarsson ’22 and Lila Stolkiner ’23 were selected for Chinese and Max Gjertson ’22 was selected for Japanese.

Languages are a focal point of study for many Carls, and Johnson is no different. He is “fascinated by languages” — he previously studied Latin, French, and Nepali, and he is currently taking Greek at Carleton. Johnson is also planning to major in history, which influenced his latest choice of Turkish.

“Turkey sits at a crossroads between continents, religions, and language families, and its language and vibrant modern culture reflect the region’s history,” Johnson said. “The CLS program is an excellent way to learn a language and advance my studies of the ancient world while being surrounded by the richness and liveliness of a modern nation.”

Johnson hasn’t yet had any formal instruction in Turkish, so his CLS trip this summer will be his first official experience with the language. After he returns, he’s hoping to set up a Turkish program through Carleton’s Language Center with some of his friends on campus who speak Turkish. Johnson says the program would likely involve weekly conversation practice, possibly in addition to some more structured lessons. 

“In my mind, one of the best ways to learn more about the world is to speak to people in their own language,” Johnson said. “I’m eager to be immersed in the Turkish language with a group of motivated and curious students, but I am most thrilled by the thought that Turkish will open a door to the stories and experiences of millions of people.”

That door could also lead Johnson to his own future, as he’s interested in archaeology and might pursue graduate school in that field.

“Turkey is in the heart of the region I want to study, so the ability to interact with and speak to townspeople, excavation supervisors, and government officials, to understand and respect cultural nuances, and to navigate confidently by myself and be able to conduct independent research is key,” Johnson said.

Even if he ends up changing his career plans, however, Johnson is confident that his experience with CLS will not be his last with Turkish — or with language-learning in general.

“I hope to learn as much as I can this summer, and then to use that knowledge to push my curiosity in new directions,” he said.

Erica Helgerud ’20 is the news and social media manager for Carleton College.