Meet Maurice Ruttimann '22, Critical Language Scholar

Maurice Ruttimann '22 (Interdisciplinary Studies) was recently selected as a Critical Language Scholar, enabling him to study advanced Turkish in Ankara.

The CLS scholarship provides an immersive summer opportunity for American college and university students to learn languages essential to their engagement with the world. CLS offers 15 critical languages to be studied during an eight-to-ten-week experience abroad.

Below, Maurice reflects on the process of both applying for and receiving the Critical Language Scholarship and on his experience being a CLS.

More information about the Critical Language Scholarship and other Prestigious Scholarships is available on the UC Berkeley Scholarship Connection website(link is external)

Portrait of Maurice Ruttimann
October 24, 2022

In your own words, explain what the Critical Language Scholarship is and what being a Critical Language scholar means to you.

The Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) creates an environment in a foreign country to efficiently and effectively learn a new language. Housing, meals, and paperwork are taken care of so that scholars can focus all their energy on learning a new language and being immersed in the country. CLS recipients have proven, in my case, that the Turkish language can help them in their academic and career development. This makes the cohort incredibly diverse in their interests, which makes it that much more interesting to be in a new country with people that have expertise from all fields.

What do you plan to do with this scholarship and how do you plan to utilize your interdisciplinary studies background?

The intensive summer program elevated my Turkish to be useful in both a casual and academic scene. Since the summer, I've continued my Turkish studies to reach a level high enough for a Master's degree program in Türkiye. I gained an all-encompassing view of economics, international relations, and international business from my interdisciplinary studies. It was deliberate to go so broad in my research, as now for a master's, I can go specific on a subject. Particularly due to Türkiye's unique geographical and economic situation, I hope to focus on international trade. Of course, I will continue to look at my notes from my interdisciplinary studies, as international trade is heavily influenced and intertwined with economics, politics, and business. 

How did your experience as a Berkeley student prepare you to both apply for and be awarded this scholarship?

As a UC Berkeley student, I always planned ahead and submitted assignments a week before they were due to get them over with. I know this is not how many Berkeley students complete assignments. But it felt good the second time around to submit the application a month before it was due, just to get it out of my mind. I graduated in the spring and having this opportunity felt like a breath of fresh air. In my graduating class, there was a sense of anxiety about what to do next after graduation, and I was glad I had received the CLS scholarship -- it put off the anxiety of leaving the comfort of school. 

Are there any personal moments or stories that stand out when you reflect on applying for and receiving the scholarship?

I didn't receive a CLS scholarship for Turkish the first time I applied, as I had no experience in the language. After the news, I doubled down and committed to my language studies for a year and a half through other intensive summer programs and Turkish classes in literature and poetry. The next year, when I received CLS in the first round, I was relieved. All the work I had invested had paid off. I had the same feeling when I arrived in Ankara, as I could hit the ground running and immediately ask for directions, confidently explain my food allergies to waiters and cooks, and comfortably make my way around the city with buses, Dolmuş buses, the metro, and trains.

Are there any Berkeley classes or professors that still stand out to you?

Although I wouldn't have claimed this while taking the class, Game Theory with Professor Bob Powell was a highlight. Game Theory studies theoretical interactions between actors that want to maximize their benefit from the encounter. Bargaining is an example of this, which is normal in open-air markets and trade businesses in Türkiye, when both the buyer and seller are attempting to lower and raise the price respectively. Although we were just taught theory, seeing these mathematical models in real life put a smile on my face. If the seller demands the highest price, the buyer may refuse because it is too high, or they may agree. In theoretical models, the seller will always demand the highest, as even if they lose buyers, the loss will be made up with a high price. Either this was the case, or because I looked like a tourist, the price was always high for me.

Do you have advice for others who might be interested in applying for this scholarship?

Yes - this advice is particularly for the less popular languages offered by CLS, and languages that complete beginners can apply to. While it was incredible to see peers that never studied Turkish be able to have conversations with people on the street within 8 weeks, the first 4 weeks can be brutal. Especially in Ankara, without Turkish, it's very difficult to get around. CLS scholars come from a wide variety of educational and professional backgrounds from all walks of life, so to learn about one another, people often quickly resorted to English. To make the most of CLS and have a higher chance of receiving the award, I highly recommend taking at least one language class beforehand. 

How did it feel to become a Critical Language Scholar, and who did you tell first?

In my opinion, the term "critical language scholar" sounds way too high and mighty!  For example: after getting takeout, a few peers and I were looking for a place to eat and ate next to a mosque on marble tables, which we came to find out are coffin rests for prayer before burial. Another peer bought a kilo of saffron for $200, which turned out to be colored corn husks. I got food poisoning from street food and waited until the fourth day before I went to the doctor. This is all to say, I would not call us scholars. It was part of the experience not just to grow academically, but also to grow into Türkiye.

The first time I applied to CLS for Turkish, I didn't even make it to the first round. My Turkish professor at the time, Jason Vivrette Hocam, was very considerate and helped me secure another opportunity. After committing to the language for a year and a half, reapplying, and getting an immediate offer in the second round, Jason Hocam was the first to find out.