“Life can’t be all that bad, I’d think from time to time. Whatever happens, I can always take a long walk along the Bosphorus”.– Orhan Pamuk
When weighing my options for my summer internship, one of my mentors at Sanford encouraged me to “have an adventure.” Having commissioned in the US Army immediately after graduating from Villanova University, and subsequently serving for ten years, I often felt as though I had missed out on the opportunity to veer off the beaten path in my youth. To him, Washington DC would always be waiting, but the window to spend a summer abroad was rapidly closing. I took his advice to heart and sought out an international internship.
After spending some time in Istanbul the year prior, I had my heart set on returning. French writer, Alphonse de Lamartine, once said of the city, “If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul.” The recent political turmoil coupled with the perception of a turning towards conservativism, and potential fallout from the upcoming election, meant I would be living in Turkey at an interesting time.
I was fortunate enough to spend the summer in Istanbul interning with The Global Strategy Network (TGSN), “a worldwide affiliation of practitioners and policymakers with a shared commitment to resolving conflict and increasing social resilience to political violence.” An international development firm, TGSN’s current portfolio includes projects in Syria, Nigeria, Pakistan and Somalia. Their approach centers on delivering projects rooted in extensive research and contextual understanding guided by a network of local partners and seasoned experts.
It was an exciting time to be in Turkey. The general elections were held on June 24, and there was much anticipation in the lead-up to the vote. I distinctly remember watching the 2016 coup, and the fallout that ensued, to include the referendums that were held in April 2017, turning Turkey into an executive presidency and ultimately, upon winning the election, giving Turkish President Recep Erdogan unprecedented power.
Turkey itself is a country full of contradictions which are often hard to reconcile. Their long-standing persecution and oppression of the Kurdish people is in stark contrast to their willingness to integrate Syrian refugees. Turkey, a NATO ally, but not an EU country, has always felt more “west” than “east” but there is no denying the rising conservatism within the country. For the third year in a row, the Istanbul Gay Pride Parade, which takes place near the famous Taksim Square, was banned. This seemed to re-enforce the perception of shrinking civil liberties in the country.
Photo: Statue of Kemal Ataturk in Taksim Square, father of modern day Turkey
My summer in Turkey was a good reminder of the importance of understanding a situation holistically. When I was in the military, especially towards the end, when I was working in support of US efforts in Syria, I often struggled with how to distill all of my contextual knowledge into one page of information for decision-makers. Learning to write well and succinctly, learning to convey important ideas in a clear and concise manner, these are all skills I spent the last year working on while at Sanford, and had the opportunity to continue to refine this summer during my internship. The proposal writing that development firms often do to secure new business bears a lot of similarities to policy memo writing. When you’re writing a proposal for a potential program or project you have to be able to convey your project design in a way that allows the reader to clearly understand what you are trying to say. There is no room for ambiguity- the chances you will ever engage with a potential client prior to award are slim to none.
Turkey is a beautiful country full of people who are kind and generous. Living and working there for the summer, amidst all the external turmoil, was a good reminder of the human dimension of foreign policy decisions. I am incredibly grateful to the Carlucci Family for allowing me to experience “life along the Bosphorus” during such a pivotal time for the country of Turkey.