My Wheaton

Wheaton in the Holy Lands: A Circle in the Sand

Posted by Jillian Hedges '17


I remember what it was like, sitting in that classroom on Wheaton College’s campus in May with the 43 unfamiliar faces I'd be spending six weeks abroad with. Six weeks traveling across Israel, Greece, Turkey, and Italy. The air of mixed excitement and uncertainty was prominent, as Dr. Chris Vlachos stood at the front of the room giving a pre-trip lecture on the climactic moment of Jesus' ministry when He looked upon His disciples and asked:

But who do you say that I am? 


Then the waves were crashing along the shoreline at Caesarea Philippi. The air was warm and the sun bright. We sat upon the rocks and the passage was read once more. The 43 faces around me were more familiar now—somehow the late hours together and sweat from a blazing Israeli sun cultivated a kind of friendship that couldn't be bought. And being there with them, the question seemed to ring louder, as if it were being asked not of the disciples but of us. In a world that denies, twists, and confuses His identity,

Who do you say that I am?


It was not asked of a single person, but to the whole of the group; an open question in need of response. I imagine them looking around at one another, letting the words hang uncertainly in the air. Perhaps the answer was what all of them were thinking. Perhaps it had not yet occurred to some of them. But it was Simon Peter who stepped forward with the bold reply:

You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.

It was the last event of our last day: the Scavi tour underneath St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Those 43 were no longer simply faces but beautiful souls with whom I'd experienced the journey of a lifetime. We went below, 12 at a time, to a small room containing an even smaller box that held the purple-stained bones of an elderly man who died in the first century, the bones more likely than not of Peter: the first person to openly declare Jesus as the Christ. The passage from Matthew 16 was read once more, closing the six-week long circle. Wheaton to Israel to Rome, the lingering question remains. In our speech, in our actions, in our lives;

Who do you say that I am?


Jillian Hedges ’17 is a Communication (Media Studies) major who traveled abroad with Wheaton in the Holy Lands this summer. Photo captions (from top): He is the Christ, the son of the living God (Enxi '17, Daniela '17, Abby '17, Jillian '17, and Caitlyn '17 in Caesarea Philippi, Israel); His provision abounds like a stream in the desert (Arad, Israel); Lifting up our voices in the most incredible places (Abby '17, Casey '17, Peter '17 and J.R. '16 in Metora, Greece); Finding peace where there should be none (Judean Wilderness, Israel). Photos by Dan Chung ’17. Tell us about your summer experiences abroad using the hashtag #MyWheaton. 

A Tale of Three Cities: Iron Sharpens Iron Colombia

Posted by Emma Schaafsma '17



As part of the Wheaton College Center for Economics, Government, and Public Policy’s Iron Sharpens Iron program, we traveled from Panama to Colombia last month. Our first stop in Colombia was in Bogota. Upon arriving, we went to the El Camino School for lunch and discussion with some local business owners and economists. We learned about the decrease in poverty and insecurity since 2002 and the subsequent growth and increasing public perception of security. This coincided with the election of President Alvaro Uribe, who took the offensive against the terrorist group, FARC, or “Armed Colombian Revolutionary Forces.” We also met a future Wheaton freshman, Camila Moreno, and had the privilege of going to her family’s house for dinner. While in Bogota we also met with Vivian Morales, former attorney general and current Colombian senator. Vivian spoke on her faith, corruption issues, and the difficulties of being a woman in politics due to pervasive media scrutiny. We also had the chance to meet with her husband, a former M-19 guerilla and former Colombian senator. It was fascinating to learn about the guerilla movement in Colombia and how it has changed throughout history. 



By the end of the Bogota leg of our trip, we were all pretty worn out. Luckily, Cartagena provided a much-needed break. While in Cartagena, we toured the old city’s massive fort. The old city was very beautiful and looked rather European. We also had a nice day of relaxing on the beach and riding jet skis. Cartagena is the historic Spanish seaport on the Caribbean and was the site of many pirate attacks.



In Medellin, we got back to business. Medellin was once one of the most violent cities in the world, during the reign of Pablo Escobar, the head of the Medellin drug cartel. Since his death in 1992, the city has become significantly safer due, in part, to America’s “Plan Colombia” funding. We toured Prodia, a flavor and scent company. While there, we learned about their history, strategies, and business vision. This was interesting because while in the states we had toured FONA, an American-based flavor company. Thus, we were able to compare the two companies. To add some cultural perspective, we visited a museum which displayed many Botero paintings. We also met with the Founder’s Institute, an organization that helps finance local start-ups. It was interesting to learn about how the Founder’s Institute develops these young companies. Medellin had a mild temperature and was quietly nestled between many mountains. Overall, Medellin was very beautiful and we all thoroughly enjoyed our time here. 


Emma Schaafsma '17 traveled with Wheaton College's Center for Economics, Government, and Public Policy's Iron Sharpens Iron program in Latin America this summer. Photo captions (from top): Photo of Bogota from Montserrat Peak; In Cartagena; Overlooking Medillin. Read Emma's classmate Kelen Caldwell '17's account of ISI's travels in Panama at this link, and share your summer experiences on social media using the hashtag #MyWheaton.

Youth Hostel Ministry: My Passion for Global Cities

Posted by Ann Szeliga '17


Choosing to participate in Youth Hostel Ministry, or "YHM," has proven to be a wise decision for many more reasons than I expected. YHM appeared to be a program that would allow me to travel, practice my Spanish, and get outside of my comfort zone with my fellow travelers in Europe. Though those things have all proven to be true, the crux of my learning has been within my heart: toward how I view the world and what God wants to do with me for His Kingdom.

Traveling through Paris was a time of frustration for me, as my team struggled to meet other travelers in our hostel. This resulted in discouragement for our team. I was joyful to be in a large city, but there was something about Paris that shook me the wrong way: The city lacked spirituality. I saw a dark place, bustling with Parisians and tourists interacting in a mundane, empty way. Seeing Notre Dame felt like a tourist destination rather than a beautiful cathedral sharing the beauty and love of our God. Parisians of all classes riding the metro with distressed, sad looks on their faces allowed me to see the desperate need for the Gospel in this city.

This darkness is not unique to Paris, though—many cities around Europe, and the world, are craving hope and truth in their lives. My journey, I've learned, begins with studying the development and problems of cities. I hope this equips me with a deeper understanding of such cities, transforming my discouragement into deliverance of His love.

In Barcelona, our team saw an example of a lack of respect for human dignity. My team and I were in a restaurant in Barcelona when I witnessed deep, cruel racism involving Spaniard patrons and some Asian employees. After our team chatted with the employees, we learned they chose not to kick the unruly men out because then they would not earn enough money for the day. This is what they deal with on a daily basis in order to make a living in a place they should be able to call home, a place that should be a comfortable work environment. These issues are magnified in cities as a result of the racial diversity cities typically retain.

As a result of my experiences in these European cities, my passion for urban environments has grown. It is clear that this is an area of study I wish to pursue further during my time at Wheaton. As I prepare to end my time with YHM and begin my program with Wheaton in Chicago this fall, God gives me both personal and global perspectives: He continues to ignite my fascination and passion for urban studies, while unveiling to me the united and broken urban communities throughout the world.

yhm-wheaton-college Ann Szeliga ’17 is a junior studying international relations and urban studies who took part in Wheaton’s Youth Hostel Ministries program in Europe this summer. Photos (from top): Ann's YHM team in Amsterdam (left to right): Ann Szeliga '17, Emily Trowbridge '16, Ari Kim '16, Sara King '18, Lexi Carlson '17; A stone fountain in Notre Dame, Paris reads in Spanish, "I am the way that seeks travelers." Photo credits: Learn more about YHM on their website, and tell us about your summer experiences abroad using the hashtag #MyWheaton. 

Three Impactful Experiences: Iron Sharpens Iron Panama

Posted by Kelen Caldwell '17


One aspect about Wheaton that most intrigued me as a prospective student was the Iron Sharpens Iron (ISI) Program. As a high school senior looking to double major in economics and international relations, I dreamed of the opportunity to travel with professors and examine the economic and political well being of countries in Latin America. Thus, being in Latin America traveling to Panama, Peru, and Colombia on an ISI trip this summer is truly surreal. 

After an end to an informative time in Panama, I’d like to highlight three of the many experiences that have impacted us most:

1. The Panama Canal is expanding

The Panama Canal, a 48-mile canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, is a vital channel for international marine trade in Panama. After a presentation by the Panama Canal Authority (ACP), we were amazed by the utter grandness of the canal and how central it is to the lives of so many Panamanians. The business of the canal is connecting markets, and with around 14,000 ships passing through a year paying up to $450,000, it is directly responsible for four percent of Panama’s GDP, not to mention the countless jobs and further economic benefits it stimulates.  Currently, the canal is undergoing an expansion that will increase capacity by 20 percent, double gross revenue, and reduce transportation costs. Currently, the canal is the cheapest way to get from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and vice versa. 

2. Copa Airlines is “optimistic for the future”

It was fascinating to meet with Wheaton grad Dan Gunn ’90, senior vice president of operations at Copa Airlines, to learn more about Copa. Headquartered in Panama City with 74 destinations in 30 countries, Copa directly produces 4.2 percent of Panama’s GDP and 12.6 percent when including catalytic benefits through tourism. Dan stressed that Copa’s success is tied to their excellence in executing and explained the benefits of their antitrust immunity in a 1998 partnership with Continental Airlines. For me, the primary takeaway was how optimistic Copa is for the future. They will soon expand to several more cities, and I’m looking forward to seeing how their clear vision for connecting, coupled with their passenger-oriented leadership, will transform travel by air in the Americas.
3. The Kuna hope to forge partnerships with universities abroad

Our time in Panama showed us firsthand that Panama has become a regional and logistical hub with lots of economic benefits. With this modernization, it is important to also focus on indigenous populations in the region and how they are assimilating to these changes. We met with the Kuna, an indigenous group with an estimated population of 60,000 located near Panama’s northeast coast, Kuna Yala. Captain David Iglesias, our trip leader and director of the Wheaton College Center for Economics, Government and Public Policy, is actually half Kuna—it was beautiful to witness the love the Kuna chiefs expressed toward him during their talk. They spoke about their bilingual education system, love for environment, ecotourism, and how they have managed to maintain more autonomy than most indigenous groups. When referring to ecotourism, they told us how they loved sharing their homes with others but were disappointed with the problem of trash. Since only three percent of Kuna students attend university, Kuna economists also shared with us that they dream of forging partnerships with universities to send their students abroad to learn more languages and return to create businesses.

One might say this trip has opened my eyes to the untapped potential in Panama. As the trip leads us to Colombia and Peru, I’m looking forward to learning more about these culturally rich countries that are living in a post-terrorism state of growing their economies.


Kelen Caldwell ’17 is an economics and international relations double major traveling with ISI this summer. Photos: (top) At the Miraflores Lock, Panama Canal, with the team; (above) With Kuna indigenous chiefs and leaders after their briefing in their Panama City administration building. Read about ISI's travels in Colombia, written by Emma Schaafsma ’17, at this link.

What is your #MyWheaton summer experience? Share your stories and photos with us on social media using the hashtag #MyWheaton.

My Internship at the National Civic Art Society

Posted by Elise Topazian '17


Before coming to Wheaton, I wouldn’t have guessed that I would be majoring in art history and philosophy. I certainly didn’t imagine that I would be working as an intern at the National Civic Art Society, an arts organization close to some of the country’s most renowned art collections. Yet here I am, working this summer in the heart of Washington, D.C. 

Each week last semester I spent hours researching and applying for internships. I figured I would be rejected by most, but I assumed I would be accepted by at least one. I wholly overestimated myself. Professors, friends, and parents alike warned me that an internship would be difficult to land, but somehow I never considered the possibility that all of my meticulous research and carefully written applications would result in total rejection. I’m sure you can see where this is going: God clearly had different plans for my summer than I had. After a semester spent laboring and worrying over applications, my summer plans came together in less than a week thanks to a last-minute connection made by art professor Dr. Milliner, and I was headed to a position that was never on my radar. 

Four weeks into the summer, I’ve learned that life as an intern is not all fun and games. The thing that adults call “work” can actually be hard. Before beginning my internship, I had grandiose visions of accomplishing great things at the organization I am working for, not expecting that I would spend most of my time doing small projects for others. I certainly hope I can still help further the vision of the organization this summer, in part through an assignment to develop themed tours of Washington’s art and architecture. But I am convinced that this internship, while ostensibly for the benefit of an arts organization, is actually about my own improvement. Those entry-level tasks I mentioned? They’re lengthening my attention span. I’m learning to assert myself and express my opinions. I’m appreciating that I have something to add. I'm also learning that, while I love art history and philosophy, I shouldn't limit myself to those disciplines. The skills I am developing in my studies can be applied to any type of endeavor. The world offers many more possibilities than I had imagined. 

Until this summer I hadn’t fully realized the value of my education, and it is only now that I'm appreciating the usefulness of Wheaton's beloved ‘liberal arts degree.’ I love art and philosophy classes, but for now the real point isn't to become an expert in either field, but to learn how to think deeply, write clearly, and speak articulately. My experience this summer is contributing to these goals – but I’m learning in a work setting instead of a classroom. 

Summer 2015 has been a challenge, but that challenge is rewarding, and exciting, and sometimes deliriously fun. Throughout the chaos of internship applications, rejection, acceptance, and moving to D.C., one theme has continually run through my mind: “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps” (Proverbs 16:9). I hope that wherever you are this summer, your vision of yourself and the world is being stretched; all the while knowing God is guiding your path. 


Elise Topazian ’17 is a junior studying art history and philosophy. Visit online to learn more about Wheaton’s art programs and student internship opportunities, and share your summer work experiences on social media using the hashtag #MyWheaton. Photo captions (from top): Elise with friends in D.C.; Elise in a National Civic Art Society gallery; Elise standing in front of a National Civic Art Society gallery.

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