2013-14 Annual Report: Changing Lives Through Diplomacy
The Impact of Olmsted Foundation–Funded Trips
Cadet Joseph Babitsky has seen the world through a multi-cultural lens. With eastern European lineage on his father’s side and Chinese heritage on his mother’s, he has traveled extensively, especially through Asia. “But,” he says, “never before have I experienced a culture like the one in Turkey.”
It was an awkward restaurant encounter that illuminated that lesson for Joseph. According to Turkish custom, beverages are ordered after the entrees, not before. Unaware of this, the Norwich students led with drink orders. The waiter, who assumed they wouldn’t be ordering food, “quickly became agitated and pointed us toward a café down the road,” Joseph recalls. Moments like this—when a student experiences enlightened understanding—are “at the heart” of the Olmsted Foundation trips, says Norwich Professor Emeritus Eugene Sevi.
On May 18, the professor boarded a plane at JFK International Airport with Joseph and fellow cadets Rikki Feightner, Delaney Welch, and Kyle Hallowell.
The students couldn’t be in better hands: Their guide brings a long and diverse set of experiences to his role as escort for NU’s Olmsted-sponsored military-cultural immersion trips. A former dean of the David Crawford School of Engineering and retired Air National Guard brigadier general, Eugene Sevi radiates a wide-ranging worldview and a deep understanding of international diplomacy.
The Olmsted Foundation is named in honor of 1922 West Point graduate George Olmsted and his wife, Carol. Established in 1959, the Foundation sponsors international graduate-level educations for U.S. military officers—called Olmsted Scholars—and in 2000 launched the Undergraduate Overseas Travel and Cultural Immersion Program. The purpose: to expose undergraduate officers-in-training to the diverse political, economic, cultural, and military issues they will face throughout their military careers. Since NU joined the Olmsted program in 2005, Sevi has accompanied future military officers on trips to Macedonia, El Salvador, Croatia, Senegal, Kazakhstan, Chile, and now Turkey.
At Istanbul Atatürk Airport, the NU contingent is met by U.S. Army Captain Dale Trakas—the first of two Olmsted Scholars they will encounter along the way. In the ensuing days, Trakas introduces them to Istanbul, taking them to Taksim Square, Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace. They also experience the Whirling Dervish Ceremony, tour the Bosporus by boat, and visit the Princes’ Islands. Within days, they board a bus for a four-hour trip to Turkey’s capital city of Ankara, where they visit the U.S. Embassy; there, they are briefed on U.S.–Turkish relations and receive an overview of Turkish history, economics, and politics. They also visit the Turkish Military and Naval academies. Their Ankara host is Olmsted Scholar LCDR Sara Thomas, a nuclear power officer for the U.S. Navy. From Sara, the cadets learn more about the Olmsted Scholars Program and her experiences in the Navy. “The times spent with LCDR Thomas and CPT Trakas were clearly the most valuable experiences of the trip,” Eugene Sevi says.
The NU cadets also encounter a direct Norwich connection while at the Eastern European Young Water Professionals Conference in Istanbul. Professor Ashok Vaseashta of the Norwich University Applied Research Institutes joins them for dinner and provides an “outstanding overview of the importance of water in international relations,” Eugene reflects.
Joseph Babitsky articulates his growing understanding of the complexities of Turkish culture with this statement: “We as a nation cannot make foreign policy concerning any other nation without being completely aware of [their] culture and how our actions may be perceived by them.”
To NU President Richard W. Schneider, Joseph’s words demonstrate the immense value of the Olmsted Foundation-supported trips. “This program helps ensure that Norwich-trained officers have the kind of global perspective that makes them thoughtful and fair leaders in a complicated world climate,” he says. “The Olmsted Foundation is performing a great service, and we are privileged to help them fulfill their mission.”
To learn how your foundation or corporation can support future military and civilian leaders, contact Bridget Wiffin, Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations, at email@example.com, or 802-485- 2824.