Folio Opinion Feature
January 6, 2006

The road less travelled

Mural reflects alumnus' international education experience

by Ian Mulder

In August 2001, I departed Edmonton for Ankara, the capital city of Turkey, located in the central steppes, an overnight train journey from Istanbul. I was there as an exchange student at Middle East Technical University (METU) in my fourth year of undergraduate studies. I knew next to nothing about the country, save for the fact it seemed far away and foreign, when I made the decision to go. And why not? It was so easy: pay University of Alberta fees here, sign up for some courses, hope they'll transfer back to credit your degree, pack your bags, and go.

Little did I know when I landed at Ataturk International Airport and was greeted by a fellow METU student, that my time there would be among the most moving and meaningful experiences of my university life. Nor did I know of the wonderful friends I would meet and in whose homes and with whose families I would learn and share so much. And thanks to Turkish hospitality, I probably never ate so much either!

The choices we make in life often lead us down new roads that we do not know exist until we walk them. So many doors opened for me through my experience in Turkey, and little did I know that a few years later I would be back at the U of A Education Abroad office painting a large mural on the theme of 'Transformation through Study Abroad'.

Living in Turkey for nearly a year and studying at what turned out to be one of the top universities in the region, I had tremendous opportunities: I met famous artists; had drinks with high-ranking, French-speaking Turkish Army officials; I travelled a great deal of the country and learned about the people and the history of the area. I saw ways of living that were so different from my own.

I watched the Whirling Dervishes perform in the ancient city of Konya, the site of the tomb of the great Persian poet, Rumi. I hiked the ruins of Troy and crossed the Bosphorus Strait and walked the hills of Galipoli, bearing witness to the history of an ancient land. I saw the sun rise with friends from Turkey, Germany and the United States over bottles of Turkish wine in Cappadochia, a region of windswept sandstone, where to this day people live in dwellings carved into the side of the great rock flutes.

I spent nearly a year in Turkey, mostly as a student, but later in Istanbul painting, reading and teaching English two days a week to make rent and food, while immersing myself in that great city.

When I returned, I spent another semester at the U of A before graduating and moving on to other things. However, I remained a volunteer with the Education Abroad Program through their STARS program. In the fall of 2004, I volunteered at the annual Study Abroad Fair to sit at a table and represent the METU exchange program. There I met and spoke with Rowena del Rosario, Education Abroad promotions and volunteer administrator. We spoke of my time in Turkey and what I had been doing since graduation. I spoke of the studio that I ran and the kinds of visual arts projects I was involved with, namely murals. Rowena told me about the new Study Abroad office in HUB mall and their desire to bring it to life, and that they had, in fact, thought about a mural.

I later met with Barry Tonge, the director of Education Abroad, and we all agreed on a project. Many months later we had a mural, painted on panels that I had worked on in my studio and then mounted on site. The suggested theme was 'transformation' and, drawing on my own experience, I tried to create a tableau that suggested in a somewhat poetic and abstract fashion, the experience of study abroad that the centre facilitates and promotes.

I tried to express a sense of movement, the shifting of perspective and the altering of one's world view that international experience can bring. I wanted to demonstrate the changes that one might feel in the broadening of one's own horizon. The piece is full of allusions to flight, the geography of the Earth's surface and places on the globe.

I wanted to reflect the opportunities available to the student and the stretching of one's being that occurs abroad in the midst of different circumstances within different cultures.

It was a great project for me and probably one of the most personally involving and aesthetically challenging. The experience of designing and painting the mural mirrored my own experience abroad and I am thankful for both opportunities.

(Ian Mulder graduated from the University of Alberta in 2002 with a BA, majoring in philosophy and minoring in art and design. The Education Abroad Program co-ordinates various international learning opportunities for U of A students as they earn credit towards their degrees.)