Camille Wasinger '15

  • Major: ES-Government
  • Study Abroad Program: Duke in Istanbul, Turkey

Camille WasingerWhy did you decide to study abroad and why did you decide to spend your semester in Istanbul specifically?

I always knew I wanted to study abroad during college and the great reviews of Bowdoin's OCS program was actually one of the reasons I applied here. Having taken Spanish for six years prior to Bowdoin and then Arabic for two years here, I was originally toying with the idea of studying in Spain, Jordan, or Egypt. I eventually set my heart on Cairo, but then things started to get pretty crazy there right around the time I was making my final decision. I had traveled to Turkey in 7th grade with my family and recognized that it was a pretty incredible place but was definitely too young to appreciate it then. I had always wanted to go back, and heard about the Duke in Istanbul program from one of my professors whose son had  gone to Turkey with Duke, and decided to apply. It was hands down the best choice I've ever made.

How did you connect your off-campus study with your Bowdoin academics (honors project, independent study, continued coursework), post-Bowdoin plans, and/or extracurriculars, both before leaving and upon your return?

I really didn't do much related to my plans to study in Turkey before leaving, but my time in Istanbul has inspired almost everything I've done since returning. The best part of the Duke program was getting to spend two weeks traveling around Turkey. The rest of the country is extremely different from Istanbul and it was an absolutely incredible experience getting to know the country away from tourist centers. While traveling around the southeast, we drove by some absolutely massive dams and our program director made a very big fuss about us all waking up and looking out the window to see them. It got me kind of curious about what the big deal was with Turkey's dams, so I ended up researching and writing a paper about them when I got back. The research for that paper introduced me to the issue of water tensions along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers among Turkey and her downstream neighbors, Iraq and Syria. This ended up inspiring an honors project on this topic, along with several more focused research papers on the effectiveness of Turkish hydro-development schemes for regional development. My experience in Turkey also inspired multiple articles for The Bowdoin Globalist. My desire to return to Turkey and live in Istanbul once again, perhaps for a more extended period of time, motivated me to accept a job at a solar company with regional headquarters in Istanbul, where I will hopefully get to travel/stay at some point during my tenure at SunEdison.

What do you believe was the impact and value of study abroad for you academically and personally?

I truly cannot overstate the impact that my study abroad experience had on my interests and my self-understanding. Academically, my time in Turkey introduced me to a place and people with issues that were previously unfamiliar to me and gave me new perspective on the environmental and political topics I had studied at Bowdoin for years. Studying in Turkey also inspired passions I did not know I had and got me excited about topics and subfields I would never have discovered without my time abroad--both inside and outside the classroom.

Personally, I think my study abroad experience in Turkey was truly the most formative of my life. I grew up while in Turkey. Being forced into an unfamiliar place, where people have grown up with very different cultural traditions and often speak a different language encourages an immense amount of self-reflection and almost forces one to make an effort to better understand where one's own perspectives, biases, beliefs, and traditions come from. Turkey taught me so much about what I want to do with my life, what is truly important to me, and about the deep and fundamental similarities among people despite radically different circumstances the world over. Though study abroad is of course challenging at points--homesickness is a very real thing, and I cannot lie that I was very excited about clean American bathrooms and working wifi upon my return--I would not trade the learning experiences I had in Turkey for the world.

Does international study, work or travel figure into your any of your future plans? What was the best learning moment outside of the classroom?

I certainly hope so! I intend to work abroad at various points during my tenure at SunEdison and hope to pursue some kind of national fellowship (whether Fulbright, Marshall, etc.) to study in a foreign country in coming years. I fully intend to return to Turkey at some point in the future, though I do not now know in what capacity.

The best learning experience for me in Turkey outside the classroom was when my program director and several other students and I went for a run in the hills outside of Trabzon, Turkey. We reached a tiny village, where I fully expected that we may be yelled at or harassed for our very Western dress (neon short shorts, etc). Instead, the local Imam and his family--none of whom had ever seen foreigners before--invited us into their home for tea and biscuits. The Imam sang a live call to prayer for us (very rare) and we communicated with them in any way we could. A particularly remarkable moment was when the village Imam asked our program director whether we were Muslims; my program director said in Turkish that unfortunately most of us were not--and the Imam responded "That is alright, Allah (God) loves all people equally." This absolutely debunked any and all stereotypes about the Muslim world that so pervade Western media, and was a truly extraordinary learning experience for me.

What advice can you give to current Bowdoin students about going abroad?

DO IT! And take the road less traveled. Go somewhere that isn't just about an easy semester of school where everyone speaks English and where you're going to spend 5 nights a week drinking. Study abroad can be an unparalleled learning and growing experience, but you have to go to a place that is truly going to challenge your assumptions and understandings of the world. So do it, and go somewhere that might seem slightly scary and uncomfortable. You won't regret it.

Is there anything that you experienced or learned abroad that you have integrated into your life here?

That is a tough question. I think my abroad experience kind of changed everything for me, but in a  somewhat subconscious way. It changed the way I think. In that way I believe I integrated many parts of my experience in Turkey into my life in largely non-material ways. That being said, I eat very differently than I used to, and in the dining hall regularly prepare meals for myself that resemble things I ate and came to love in Turkey.