It was October 1, 2014. After a seemingly endless copy editing session with the staff of Huntington University’s campus newspaper, I clicked into my email box to filter through my messages. It was there that I found my acceptance letter from the Wheaton College Graduate School.
“Dear Natasha, I am pleased inform you that you are being offered admission to the Masters of Arts program in Intercultural Studies and TESOL …”
I rubbed my eyes.
I couldn’t believe what I saw.
Wheaton is my dream school. Back in 2007, I went to Franklin Graham’s four-day festival at Hong Kong Stadium in Hong Kong. At the time, I didn’t know who Franklin or Billy Graham were, and I wasn’t aware of their connections to Wheaton. Amazed by how jam-packed the auditorium was, I saw that 423,335 people from 800 different churches attended the event. After my experience at the festival, I found out my longtime family friend Jana Hoobler M.A. ’06, who has been teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) for over twenty years in Zhuhai city and Macau in China, was a Wheaton graduate. That’s how I heard of Wheaton for the very first time.
Coming from a journalism background at a small private Christian university in Indiana, I never once thought about coming to Wheaton until my junior year, when one of my professors presented the top three TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) programs in the nation, which included Wheaton. Later on, I took my TESOL class about listening and speaking with professor Virginia Clough Yang M.A. ’11, who also went through the TESOL program at Wheaton. Next thing I knew, I made my decision to apply.
I love Wheaton not only because it offers one of the best TESOL programs in the nation, but I also love the fact that we get to celebrate cultural diversity. I get to interact with people from all over the world—whether they are from Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia, Brazil, or Mongolia. They have shown me a world of excitement, mystery, and uniqueness.
I also I appreciate how TESOL applies educational theories into everyday life. By listening to Dr. Alan Seaman and his experiences in Southeast Asia, Dr. Cheri Pierson and her Ph.D. studies in Europe, and Dr. Pam Barger’s upbringing in Chicagoland, what I am learning is more than just how to teach—I also learn what to teach, whether it is using technology or books, social media or print media.
I love Wheaton not only because I can further my education, but also because I get to grow in Christ. I am starting to see and understand that we are all parts of God’s ministry. God has planned everything one step ahead for me. He knows Wheaton is the right place for me to equip myself physically and spiritually. Seeing all the opportunities ahead of me with organizations like World Relief, ELIC, Wycliffe, Pui Tak Center, and other resources in the greater Chicago area, I am excited to explore a career that can blend TESOL and journalism together.
Natasha Zeng M.A. ’16 is a student from Zhuhai, China, studying intercultural studies and TESOL at Wheaton College Graduate School. Photo captions (from top): A group from the English Language Institute of China (ELIC) came to study at Wheaton College Graduate School during summer 2015; Every year, Wheaton’s TESOL department offers a field trip to Little India, Chicago. In fall 2015, the group went to South Asian Friendship center and went for Pakistani food; Wheaton’s TESOL department provides a variety of internship opportunities based in Chicago.
Technology is an essential part of our lives. Well, for my life at least. So when I found out I would not be able to update family and friends during Passage at HoneyRock, my heart sank. However, as the days went by, I was really glad that we didn’t have access to electronic devices.
When we first arrived at HoneyRock, it was late in the night, and tiki torches illuminated our path to a campfire on top of a hill. Worship music started playing softly and everyone started singing. The stars lit up the night sky and with a glow stick from our cabin leaders, we headed to our cabins to settle in. That is where I met the members of Cabin 18 for the first time. It felt overwhelming to me coming from Singapore, which was has a totally different culture from United States, but as the days went by, the friendliness and the closeness of our group helped not only me but also the group integrate into Wheaton’s community.
We were so close that we even had to remind ourselves to go in pairs to sit with others at different groups during meal times, instead of sitting together. We also met Cabin 12, our sister cabin, and bonded over games and activities. Besides getting to know these two groups of people, I slowly opened up and interacted with others at HoneyRock. I would say the absence of technology helped us “live in the moments” of camp and also helped us connect to God on a more personal level. Even the professors helped to break down barriers, which helped tremendously. As Passage came to a close, tiki torches illuminated our paths to the closing ceremony once again, signifying the end with more worship songs around a campfire. Our closeness as whole camp of people was evident. It felt like it was still going to be evident when we arrived back on Wheaton’s campus.
The members of Cabins 12 and 18 still make it a point to greet each other and have meals with each other on Wheaton’s campus. I am really glad that I attended Passage—the eight days of fun and adventure really eased my process of integration into the Wheaton Community. This is an experience I will never forget, and I wish I could do it all over again.
Charlston Ong ’19 is a freshman at Wheaton. Find out more about the Wheaton Passage program on HoneyRock’s website, and watch HoneyRock’s September 16 chapel service on WETN. Photo captions (from top): Fellowship around a campfire at HoneyRock; Members of Cabins 12 and 18 get ice cream in Three Lakes, Wisconsin, and gather at the Loberg Lodge cafeteria; Charlston (front, center) and fellow members of Cabin 18 arrive at HoneyRock.
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.
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.
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.
Hearing one’s home language is like coming home. I saw how home was created here at Wheaton for me during my past four years on campus through friendship, love, knowledge, brokenness, and family. For a short moment, in preparation for a prayer I was asked to deliver at Baccalaureate on the day of graduation, I thought, How could I welcome ‘home’ many of the fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and all who will be present?
Beyond making that day a homecoming, we inhabit a world where, though set apart by seas, walls, fences, and enmity, we are all made in the image of God. A habit as simple as listening to another language is the practice of asking, “How are you made in the image of God?,” then loving the answerer and their answer.
Therefore, I wrote my prayer as follows:
Thank you, Lord, first and foremost for your son. Your love has redeemed us and given us hope.
Gracias Senor (Spanish), for the breath each morning, clothes on our body, roof over our head, and food to eat for the last four years.
Krap kun Prajaow (Thai), for movement through dance, and sports, and stillness, because you have given us our bodies.
Ashkulallah (Arabic), for music, because with our hands and the breath in our lungs we can praise you. For colors, shapes, and lines, because you created.
Diu Merci (French), for the privilege and burden as we sit here as college graduates, or soon to be college graduates today, remembering those who cannot.
Slava Bogu (Russian), for bringing us all to the awareness of our brokenness, and how we cause pain and suffering as individuals, communities, institutions, and nations every day.
Xie Xie Shangdi (Mandarin Chinese), for staff, family, faculty, and friends, with whom we struggle together, pray together, rejoice together.
Terima Kasih Tuhan (Indonesian), for your providence through finances, fiancees, friends for life, and memories that lead us to smile, and to solitude.
Vielen danke zu Gott (German), for in our failing, grace was shown.
Gam-sa Hap-ni Da Junim (Korean), for the community where we have learned to be the church and Christians truly, truly, as we said before us the nations, to all the tribes and tongues we go.
And thank you so much, God, for all the ups and the highs, stories of woe and woo, when we look back and look now into the future we will know and be satisfied. It is well with our soul.
The article above is a description of and transcription of a prayer delivered by Joohee Uhm '15 at Wheaton College’s 2015 Baccalaureate ceremony. Photo (above): Joohee with friends celebrating commencement outside Blanchard Hall on May 10.