Monday, November 5, 2012

Where Are They Now?: Westmont in Istanbul Edition

It has been a long and eventful 6 months since we returned from our incredible journey.

On May 1st at 1AM the Westmont in Istanbul program set out on our last bus ride together.
We piled into the bus a quiet, and groggy, group. We parked outside of Ben Gurion airport and collectively stared up at the Departures board.

As the finality of the morning began to set in, tearful goodbyes were said. We started parting ways as students headed back to the States, the professors journeyed to Egypt for some time with old friends and well-deserved relaxation, and the program assistants stayed on in Israel for a few much needed days on the beach.

After a summer apart filled with growing pains - How is it that one accurately portrays what they've experienced? Is there a good way to answer the question, "What was your favorite part?" Trying to judge just how much to talk about Turkey. Figuring out what it is like to now be Skyping with friends back East...instead of back West - we were reunited upon the hills of Montecito at Jim and Heather's beautiful new home.

Today, Westmont in Istanbul is brought up often, and with it come bright memories of Turkish nights, Bedouin days, and Israeli mornings. Many conversations start with "Oh man, remember that time we..." and end in uproarious laughter. It is not uncommon for you to hear Turkish as you walk through the Westmont Dining Commons (although it's usually something simple like "I could really go for a Tavuk Döner right now" or "I have a test in 10 minutes. Where is some Türk kahvesi when you need it?" or "Look, here's what it comes down to: Fenerbahçe is just better than Galatasaray". [That last one is still up for debate]).

Part of the group now meets on Wednesday nights in a re-entry class as a means of trying to address those growing pains. We are looking at what it means to take those many amazing memories and impart them into our daily Santa Barbaran lives.

We are eagerly looking forward to Westmont in Istanbul 2014:
A whole new generation of Westmonters who are excited about the crossroads of East and West; who have explored the bridge between Asia, Europe, and the Middle East; who have explored the interactions of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity; who have dance the dance of Modernity and Tradition, and who have tried to figure out what it means to bring Westmont to Istanbul, and then Istanbul to Westmont?

Well, that sounds çok güzel to us...

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Much Needed Update...

So, where have we been for the last twenty days? Here's an overview:

April 1-4    Amman, Jordan

  • We heard from numerous lecturers who gave us an in-depth and expansive view on what makes Jordan, Jordan. Talks ranged from academics discussing the attitudes of the Arab countries to an artist/activist retelling his incredible life story to a successful young refugee describing his life growing up in a refugee camp.
  • We were able to explore Amman a little bit and see its modern, yet distinctly Jordanian, style.
  • On our way out, we stopped by the Dead Sea. Yes, we all floated.

Yup, the Mude really was Free! (c) Keaton Hudson
April 5-6    Petra, Jordan
  • Arriving at night, we joined a large group and enjoyed Petra by Night. A gorgeous (yet tourist-y) look at the archaeological site by candle- and moon-light. We were serenaded and captivated by Bedouin song and story:

Yeah, it was pretty awesome... (c) Keaton Hudson
  • Channeling our inner Indiana Jones, we spent the entire next day exploring the ancient and exhaustive ruins:

The Whole Group! (c) Keaton Hudson

April 7-8    Wadi Rum, Jordan
  • After our serenade, we realized that we just weren't ready to leave the Bedouin quite yet, so we decided to camp with them for a few days in the desert of Wadi Rum.

Peter Harman, Joe Bagdanov, and Keaton Hudson doing their best impressions of T.E. Lawrence. ( (c) Kurt Walker)
  • We entered the camp by camel caravan. Now, please read that again. That's right, by camel caravan:

Lauren White gazes back from
atop her majestic desert steed.
(c) Kurt Walker

The Caravan (c) Kurt Walker
A View from A Camel...
(c) Kurt Walker

  • We spent two nights camping. We ventured all around the Wadi; by jeep, by foot, and by camel. Smiling, and laughing, all the way.

Our whole group + guide, drivers, and security guard. (c) Keaton Hudson
April 9    Madaba, Jordan
  • We stopped at:
    • Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan: the place of Jesus' baptism
    • Mt. Nebo: where Moses was buried
    • St. George's Church: where a giant mosaic map of the Middle East displays the 6th Century world.
Pretty cool day, huh?

April 10-15    Bethlehem, Israel/Palestine

  • These five days were a welcome change of pace as we entered our last country. We settled into our digs at the Tantour Ecumenical Center, and began looking at the incredible land around us.
  • About twice a day, students would pass through Bethlehem checkpoint to enter the city itself. Some of the time was spent looking at the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the marks it has/is still leaving on Bethlehem; and part of the time was spent visiting some of the historical and traditional sites of Christianity. 
Looking at the Church of the Nativity...
(c) Kurt Walker
...And the Conflict. (c) Kurt Walker

  •  We snuck into Jerusalem for a remarkable day on Friday, April 13. Eastern Orthodox Good Friday coincided with the last day of Passover this year, and the amazing city of Jerusalem bustled with excitement. We managed to successfully maneuver through the winding streets - and even into the Church of the Holy Sepluchre in the middle of a procession - and come out the other side full of unforgettable stories. 

April 16-17    Galilee, Israel
  • We spent an amazing day and a half up in the Galilee. 
    • Visiting Campernaum, we were able to walk in the ruins of a synagogue similar to the one that Jesus would have preached in.
    • Floating on the Sea of Galilee, we felt winds like those that Jesus' words quelled.
    • Upon the Mount of the Beatitudes, we reminisced on the incredible words of the Sermon on the Mount.
  • The next day, we were honored to hear from Archbishop Elias Chacour, a Palestinian Christian who preaches a message of reconciliation based around the events of his own astounding life.

April 18-21    Jerusalem, Israel/Palestine
  • The past three days have been a blur of site visits (the Western Wall, Garden Tomb, city rooftops, Southern Steps, etc.), street-side interactions, lectures (on topics like Jewish history and sects, Christian Zionism, and the Jewish roots of Christianity), and religious ceremonies (churches and synagogues). 
Heck of a way to end the semester, eh?

Parents, family, and friends - we'll be home in 10 days... Are you ready?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Three Continents; One Day; No Problem

It's official.

Our time in Istanbul (and Turkey in general!) has come to a close!

You may now refer to us as The Program Formerly Known as Westmont in Istanbul.

Today was a very long and eventful day that went incredibly smooth. A big thank you to everyone who prayed and thought of us on our long travel day.

Here is a small timeline of the day:

  • 4:00 AM - Throw our stuff in the bus and wave goodbye to our wonderful Turkish friends who were so kind and stayed up/woke up to see us off (much love to all of you arkadaşlar!)
  • 4:15 - Cross the Bosporus Bridge from Asia into the European side of Istanbul.
  • 6:45 - Sit on our (slightly) delayed flight as birds sit on the runway
  • 7:00 - Take off and wave goodbye to a beautiful sight - our home for the past three months shining in the sunrise.
  • 8:45 - Land in Cairo, Egypt, Africa.
  • 9:45 - Hop on tour bus that crosses the Nile and takes us to see the Great Pyramids at Giza and the Sphinx.
  • 10:30-12:00 - Take lots of super cool photos. Try to believe we are where we are. Get caught in a sandstorm of epic proportions. 
  • 13:00 - Return to the airport to check-in for our next flight.
  • 14:30 - Take off for Amman, Jordan, Middle East, Asia.
  • 17:00 - Land in Amman. Drive to our residence for the next four days.
Phew! What a day. We are all extremely tired, but so grateful that today went so well. It was a day that we won't soon forget.

Please continue your prayers as we enter this next phase of our semester - and keep checking back here for more news!
Looking up at the Great Pyramid.

The Second Pyramid still has part of it's original stone covering left.

Not a bad way to spend a layover...

There and Back Again OR From Yeditepe to Dedetepe...

"What has Westmont in Istanbul been up to?" you might ask.

"Quite a lot" is the answer you would receive.

For the days between March 23th through 28th, we packed a few bags and headed across the Sea of Marmara and out to the Aegean Coast to Dedetepe Ecological Farm.

This part of the program was meant to be a break from the city, an introduction to the great work of some Turkish NGOs, and a chance to live sustainable for a week.

Mission Accomplished.

Students adored the pristine nature, and took advantage of it - some waking for sunrises, others hiking up the riverbed, while still others making a trek to the sea or playing the locals in a game of football (we won 8-0 by the way).

The trip was a wonderfully relaxing break from the hustle and bustle of Istanbul. We traded pide and kebap for a totally vegetarian diet filled with homemade salads, soups, pastas, and olives - lots of olives.

We also enjoyed making a whole group of brand new friends, as we ended up bonding with the staff/volunteers of the farm very well! I'm sure that there are many new Facebook contacts and email addresses.

Here are a few photos from our fantastic little trip:

The kitchen area - where all of our delicious meals were prepared and served.

Working hard.

A complete Turkish Bath (hamam) built completely out of mud, clay, and straw.

One of the farm volunteers enjoys a little sun at the firepit.

Stunning views from the center platform of the farm.

The guys slept in traditional yurts - they were as awesome as they look.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Serving Society...

Earlier, we described with words how integral, important, and wonderful the service element of Westmont in Istanbul actually is. Now, we have a small visual look at some of these experiences:

One of the service projects sends some of our women to a home for Armenian girls. The women spend the evening talking, laughing, crafting, loving on, and sharing a meal with each other.
Annie Hausler smiles with a few of her new friends.
President-Elect Kristin Lo shares a laugh.
 Another project has a few of our students going across town to a retirement community for foreigners. The students help to serve lunch, spend some time with the residents, and sometimes even work to spruce up the outside of the place.
Keaton Hudson snapped this pic of Serj talking with Jenna Fikes and Hannah Ross (not pictured).

As we begin to wrap up our time in Istanbul (CRAZY!) we are starting to already look back upon some memories fondly. It's become obvious that these projects will be some of the warmest memories.

Students are currently prepping for exams, as this week is our finals week! They could use some thoughts and prayers as we start shifting gears again!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Video #2

Keaton has done it again!

This is a stunning look at the two weeks we spent traveling.


And then tell Keaton what a great job he has done.

(Sorry for a lack of embedding. Blogger/Vimeo/Turkish internet wouldn't stop fighting...)

Pardon that Extended Interruption...

Westmont in Istanbul is back!

Please forgive the lack of updates recently.

Here's what's been going on:

-Students mostly stayed around Istanbul for the four-day weekend. Most posted up in hotels around the main attractions of Istanbul and played tourist for a few days. Much needed rest was achieved (for the most part)...

Leah Sadoian shows off some of her favorite parts of the (Kapalı Çarsı) Grand Bazaar.

Shea Werner does her best to impersonate the locals of the Archeology Museum (credit: Leah S.)

A typical sunset as seen from the Bosporus ferries (Leah S, again!)

-We spent a saturday at an inter-faith dialogue with students from Sabancı University - one of Istanbul's premiere colleges - and delved deeply into doctrinal discussions. Pictures can be found here, on Teri Murphy's (the professor from Sabancı who helped put it all together) facebook: Photos are here!

-Westmont professor of Religious Studies Dr. Helen Rhee came into town and showed us the magnificent mosaics in the Chora Church, while explaining their significance.

Incredible mosaic captured by Annie Hausler

Peter, meet Peter (Thanks again, Annie).

-This weekend has been marked by a visit from President Gayle Beebe and Trustee Roy Goble!
Mr. Goble and Dr. Beebe enjoying a Bosporus cruise. (Credit: Keaton Hudson)
Students have taken the pair around Istanbul and showed them the great sites in their study groups:
This group specialized in the Hagia Sophia (from L to R: Keaton Hudson, Annie Hausler, Dr. Beebe, Emilie Whitman, Ben Siverly, Leah Sadoian, Mr. Goble).
And after a long day, the guys relaxed at a 400 year old Hamam (Turkish Bath):
Back row: from L to R: Keaton Hudson, Kurt Walker, Sam Fearer, Mr. Goble, Ben Siverly. Front row: Peter Harmon, Dr. Beebe, Joe Bagdanov, Benjamin Bisson
 Clearly, we've been keeping ourselves busy!

Now, students are finishing their classes here at Yeditepe University, with finals next week.