Globalization is fast becoming the norm for life in the 21st century. Never was that more clear to me than when I was more than 4,000 miles from home in Istanbul, Turkey, where many years ago as a Wheaton student I made international and personal connections that I still hold dear to this day.
Early one morning this January, shortly after the last call to prayer echoed across the Bosporus from Ortaköy Mosque, my partner, Peter, and I, along with my good friend from Wheaton Kristina “Tina” Chapman Blin ’95, boarded a ferry on the European side of Istanbul to take us over to the Asian side for dinner with friends. Tina had come from Tblisi in the Republic of Georgia, where she now lives.
Perhaps it gets old for those who live in Istanbul, but I never tire of the fact that several times a day one can hop between two continents, or the fact that in such a megacity (population 18 million and counting), the world feels rather small because there is such a mix of cultures.
I get the same comforting feeling strolling around Istanbul as I do when visiting Wheaton’s campus, because they both were so vital in the formation of who I am today.
In the summer of 1995 I participated in the Robert College Fellowship Program, generously founded by Sukey Nichols Wagner ’56 and administered through the Filene Center. That summer changed my life in the most profound ways, resulting in increased confidence, a more defined sense of self and a widening worldview. Just a few months prior I had returned from a semester in Sydney, Australia, and then there I was in Istanbul. The daily challenges of being in a different culture provided countless opportunities to be “mid other men and other ways,” to quote the Wheaton Hymn. At 20 years old, I felt very sophisticated.
There were seven of us from Wheaton who went that summer. We worked alongside about a dozen Turks as summer camp counselors. We laughed, we partied, we fell in love, we had our hearts broken, we recovered and then fell in love again. (That summer Tamara Smith Tureli ’96 met her future husband, Cenk Tureli. They now live in Istanbul and she works at Robert College, coming full circle.) Mostly, we formed lifelong friendships. It was everything one would expect from a group of 19- to 21-year-olds, only rather than the experience taking place in Norton, Mass., it was happening in one of the world’s most magnificent cities.
I live in Provincetown, Mass., now. My most recent trip to Istanbul was as a result of a journalism assignment I had in nearby Bulgaria. My partner and I decided to hop “next door” to Turkey for a visit. Word traveled to Marcella Michaud Franck ’96, who also was a Robert College fellow in 1995. So Marcella decided she couldn’t miss out on a Wheaton mini-reunion with me and Tina, and she made the trip, along with her husband, Travis, and their 23-month-old son, Keegan. Marcella lives in Belmont, Mass. (Her husband travels the world speaking about global warming at conferences.) We laughed about the fact that life has become so crazy busy that despite living three hours away from each other, it took a trip to Istanbul for us to get together.
The night of our gathering, we all settled down in a little restaurant in the Kadiköy neighborhood, where we were joined by the Turkish friends we made so many years ago. For hours we reminisced and laughed until the restaurant staff began to sweep the floor and turn down some of the lights as a sign it was closing time. I imagine this kind of international, small-world experience is exactly what Sukey Wagner had in mind when she established the fellowship.
Life today is increasingly global, not just in politics and trade but also on the personal level. The opportunities to see the world provided to us while students at Wheaton changed us forever, making us not only lifelong learners, but also travelers. And for that we are forever grateful.