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Expat experiences, personal interests, and professional work.

 

Reflecting on 2011 – Here’s to a Fabulous 2012 that Tops 2011!

On the eve of the last day of 2011, I’m reflecting on the top 20 amazing memories and challenges of the year.
  1. Filmed in England and California and starred in House Hunters International with David Woodhouse
  2. Said farewell to colleagues made redundant at the Design Council and said hello to new colleagues with the merger of CABE
  3. Delivered the Design Out Crime programme with a great team and started a new job at the Design Council setting up the Programme Management Office and business planning with a new fab team
  4. Traveled to California for a much needed holiday during the Royal Wedding
  5. Traveled to Paris with Rosy to celebrate her birthday and experience the amazing Tarkan in concert
  6. Rode on the back of David’s scooter through the historic London riots
  7. Taught a Taste of Turkey dance course and a variety of other belly dance classes
  8. Rehearsed countless hours with Arabian Dance Theatre and performed in 3 outstanding theatre shows – Under the Sun – in London and Leeds
  9. Supported David at two of his car events – Cholmondeley Pageant of Power and Donington Vintage Sports Car Club meeting
  10. Moved out of our flat in Victoria with an unexpected end to our lease
  11. Moved in and out of hotels for 3 months living mostly in low-budget Tune Hotel
  12. Got engaged to David Woodhouse during a very romantic dinner at the Hilton on Park Lane
  13. Planned our wedding activities in 3 months for our immediate family visiting from the US and Worcestershire
  14. Remembered my grandmother and grandfather 1 year after their passing
  15. Hosted 6 Hafla on the Hill showcases raising over £1,100
  16. Performed with Rosy 15 times as Dunya BellyDance including winning 3rd place at the Fantasia group competition
  17. Completed 90% of our renovations at Long Barn and finally have the open barn enclosed for David’s cars
  18. Participated on a village plan outreach committee in Berwick St James
  19. Exchanged contracts on our new house in Battersea London
  20. Got married to the love of my life David Woodhouse in London with our immediate family – Pat, Mark, Rose, Nicole, Larry, Sevda, Keith, Nicole and Semrin!

Happy New Year! Here’s to a fabulous 2012 that tops 2011!

Sparkly Engagement

Sparkly champagne & ringToday’s themes: sparkly & memorable.

It’s not every day that a girl gets engaged so I thought I’d capture a few of the highlights of today – 20th August 2011.

David organized a beautiful dinner at the Hilton Park Lane in Mayfair, London.  We went to the 28th floor to a gorgeous restaurant – Galvin at Windows –, which offers beautiful French cuisine with an amazing view of Hyde Park, Marble Arch, Bayswater, Mayfair, Marylebone and Wembly Stadium in the far distance.

We sat down at a table with this amazing view.  It had rained earlier but the weather became what I refer to as “California weather” with warmth and the shining sun.

Everything was sparkling – the water, the champagne, the amuse bouche – and I could tell David was up to something when he asked me if I needed to go to the ladies room. I took that as a hint and took a little extra primping time before I returned to the table to find David with a cheeky grin and our first delicious course of salmon waiting for me.  I knew something was up when David kept repeating, “isn’t everything so sparkly?”

At mid-bite, a very, very sparkly ring delicately dangling from the white orchid at the centre of the table caught my eye.  I didn’t know what to do and asked David if I could remove it from the flower.

David looked me in the eyes and said, “Thank you for being so patient with me.  I couldn’t imagine my life without you…will you marry me?” And, I said, “YES!” and immediately embraced him.

While enjoying our following courses of juicy steak and delicious dessert, I couldn’t get over how perfect my engagement ring was.  It’s subtle, classy and extremely sparkly – vintage from the 1950s. I just love it!

We called our family to share the great news and contacted our friends and family all over the world too.  We also changed our Facebook relationship status, and as a result, we’ve received so many sweet notes of congratulations.

David and I plan to have a small civil ceremony in November 2011 in Central London with our immediate family.  We hope to see other friends and family in California next year!

Here are a few pictures from our lovely engagement afternoon. Enjoy!

This is your life

Sometimes things come together when you are least expecting it. I was brainstorming about innovation, creativity, and my passions and thought about addressing my needs and the needs of others – beyond basic needs and towards self-actualization.
And then I stumbled across this a little later. A friend from university is involved in this great organization and the narrative below – THIS IS YOUR LIFE – really resonated with me.  I’m looking forward to sharing and pursuing my passions.

 

What’s in a name?

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet. – William Shakespeare

Juliet’s famous balcony scene from Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ relates to my reflection today on the passing of my grandfather, Gilbert Drousé (Papa).  This article is written in his loving memory and supports my grieving process in the wake of his death.

Every person I connect with in my life touches me in some way. I take them with me as I continue life’s journey.

I’ve been really fortunate to have a loving family that consists of many beautiful and unique people – some I’m in contact with daily and others a bit more infrequently.  Sometimes family relationships aren’t black and white, and involve drama, misunderstandings, confusion, questionable motivations and result in estrangement.  Unfortunately, that was my experience with Papa but I’d like to reflect on positive aspects of our relationship and my fond childhood memories.

In the first 12 years of my life growing up in Las Vegas, USA, I have really beautiful memories of spending time with my grandma Shirley Drousé (Nanny) and Papa.

My relationship with Nanny and Papa taught me many things, but mostly about: compassion and caring for others and love for animals.

Nanny was a beautiful, vibrant woman with a gorgeous smile, lovely red hair, exciting stories of her many suitors during her youth.  She had such a warm heart.  Most of her later life while I was growing up was riddled with many health problems from diabetes to heart ailments.  She was in and out of hospital and required assistance and support from family.  Papa cared for Nanny and also worked as a chef in several Las Vegas restaurants.  I recall him administering daily insulin injections and caring for her, until her death.  His actions, regardless of his motivations, taught me the importance of caring for family, especially when they are unwell.

Nanny and Papa loved their pets.  And, I loved visiting their house to play with them.  They had a fantastic, talkative macaw named Poco with bright green feathers and red accents.  Tommy, their grey cat joined the family later, and he was a very sweet and soft kitty.

I became very attached to Toby and Fritzy, their adorable black, miniature doberman pinschers.  I have happy memories of them and learned to be loving and gentle with dogs and other animals.  Toby was very playful and Fritzy was cautious because he had lived in an abusive home before coming to live with Nanny and Papa.  Papa worked with me to gain their trust and taught me to be very gentle and patient.  When I was around 3 years old, I remember the day when I was able to sit in the arm chair with Toby and Fritzy snuggling on either side of me – I had such a feeling of accomplishment that I gained the trust of both dogs and I could pet both of them at the same time while they cuddled up to me.

I have many other fond memories about Nanny and Papa.  They had a fabulous pink house on the corner of a Las Vegas residential street with a massive, deep pool with diving board where I re-learned how to swim, colorful rose garden, volcanic rock-lined front yard (collected by Papa and my dad in the Las Vegas desert), vintage pin-up picture in the spare bedroom, ‘haunted chandelier’ in the dining room that the dogs would bark at often, comfortable arm chairs with elevating foot rests, large chiming clock, and classic board games like Ants in the Pants, Ouija Board and Monopoly.  I loved going for rides in their luxurious Cadillac, having my hair brushed with a red, soft-bristled brush that was designated just for me, coloring and painting in the kitchen, eating Ritz crackers with peanut butter, packing my red ‘going to grandma’s house’ suitcase, receiving Hanukkah gifts like work-out Barbie in bright blue spandex, pricking my finger on the indoor cactus that looked soft, swimming and holding my breath in the pool (having a potty accident and running to the bathroom with a big mess!), jumping off the diving board and doing lots of showing-off tricks, and working up an appetite to eat dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant, Macayo’s, with amazing chips and salsa where I fed my dad maraschino cherries that he pretended to devour.

Although I haven’t had much contact with Papa over the last 16 years after Nanny’s passing, his legacy will remain with me as part of my identity – my name.  I’m often asked if I’m French and I always say, I’m actually American with Turkish/Jewish heritage but my last name is my step-grandfather’s who is of French Canadian decent.  Complicated, I know, but this has been an important element of my identity.  I love my name.  It’s unique, and I don’t know anyone else called, Michelle Deniz Drousé.

From her balcony, Juliet proclaims, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.” Juliet is frustrated that her love, Romeo, is from a rival family, thus making them enemies simply because of his name.  At the core, a name shouldn’t make people enemies and presuppose relationships.

I agree with Juliet.  But, I also believe that a name is a reflection of one’s identity.  It’s the first thing you say upon introducing yourself.  It’s on your identification cards, passports, driving licenses, bills, and it’s your signature.  It is a representation of who you are.  But, it’s up to you to develop the persona with ethical motivations and a good reputation linked to the name – and I’m doing my best to learn from my family, friends and community, so that I can connect with others and leave a positive legacy.

I’m really happy that my dad organized a reunion with Papa in Las Vegas a few years ago after being estranged for most of my adult life post-Nanny’s passing.  Papa was frail but feeling well enough to visit.  We took him to the barber where we got him a shave and a haircut and then took him to a local’s casino for a meal and a bit of gambling.  That moment, seeing him again after 15 years, was cathartic and emotional for me.  And, I’m glad I shared that with my sister, Nicole.  I wish I could be with my family during this time, and I’m sending my love to you from a distance.

I wish I had a photo of Nanny and Papa with me in London to share with this article.   Instead, I’ve included a photo of roses – symbolizing my loving memory of my grandparents who comprise part of my identity that I carry with me on my life’s journey.

May they both rest in peace. Allah rahmet eylesin.

Expat Networking & Service: Pi Beta Phi

Pi Beta Phi Logo

When I joined Pi Beta Phi (Pi Phi) as a freshman in the fall of 1997 at the University of California, Irvine, I was looking for a home away from home. Little did I know that I’d be doing the same search 12 years later. Except, this time, I’m on the other side of the world in London, United Kingdom!

With over 80 Pi Phi alumnae living in the United Kingdom and countless Pi Phi collegians studying abroad, having an established international network of sisters is priceless. Although we all joined Pi Phi for different reasons and may have had different experiences as collegians and alumnae, we all share a common passion – to connect with educated women to engage in friendship, social/service outlets, networking opportunities, and leadership development.

Living as an American expatriate in another nation, on another continent is challenging. When I found out that I had to move from sunny Southern California to unpredictable London, I was nervous to leave friends, family, colleagues, groups, work, and a region that I knew so well. The idea of establishing new roots was daunting. But, I recognized that I had some tools that I had hoped would come in handy in the future.

I recalled my dark blue new member manual from the fall of 1997 with the words “Pi Phi Forever.” At the time, I didn’t fully understand that that meant. I’ve repeated these words as well as “Pi Phi for life” many times during recruitment (formerly known as rush) to encourage women to join my chapter, and in retrospect, I was using those words as marketing tools. However, after graduating and becoming an alumna advising chapters on the US west coast, I started to understand the full meaning of “Pi Phi Forever” and “Pi Phi for life.” Pi Phi is truly more than just four enhanced college years – it can enhance the rest of your adult life. And for me, it really has.

Although I’ve only been in London for a short time, I’ve already connected with many Pi Phis living in the UK. I’ve met some in person, talked to others on the phone, and exchanged countless emails. Alumnae have offered to help me as I transition into London life and are excited about re-energizing the Pi Phi London/UK Alumnae Pocket.

Creating social and networking opportunities are at the forefront of the London/UK Pi Phi Alumnae Pocket’s mission. As expats living in the UK, making connections with other Pi Phis helps us stay linked to a great organisation and support each other abroad. We are looking forward to our Pi Phi Phiesta fall event on 16th of October to mingle and network with fellow expat Pi Phi sisters.

In addition to social activities, we are supporting Pi Beta Phi literacy initiatives. Pi Phi’s partnership with First Book is a fantastic opportunity to join efforts and support providing books to homes in disadvantaged communities. One easy way to participate in supporting First Book is to regularly “click to give free books” on The Literacy Site. Every click leads to free book donations on behalf of First Book and Pi Beta Phi, so be sure to visit the site and click often!

As an international group, we are also holding a book drive to support Room To Read, an organisation that supports literacy and education in a variety of developing countries. They partner with local communities throughout the developing world to provide quality educational opportunities by establishing libraries, creating local language children’s literature, constructing schools, and providing education to girls. Through the opportunities that only education can provide, Room To Read strives to break the cycle of poverty, one child at a time. The books will be donated to Room To Read via Better World Books.

We are looking forward to a great networking and service events in the future.  If you are a Pi Phi (collegian or alumna) living in the UK and would like to get involved, please email mdrouse5.piphi@gmail.com for more information.

The Car-City Confluence: Town Planning and Mobility

On 22nd July 2009, I welcomed the opportunity to share my perspective as an experienced town planner and project manager to the Ford Strategic Design Group in London and offer insight into the California development process.  The presentation’s purpose was to provide an overview of town planning and highlight key elements of environmental analysis for new development master plans and regeneration projects relevant to transport, namely, the automobile.  It included a featured a sustainable transportation case study on the Orange County Great Park and Great Park Neighborhoods, a 4,700-acre regeneration project in Irvine, California (40 miles south of Los Angeles, California).  Ending with recommendations for Ford to collaborate with emerging developments, I offered California-based opportunities that promote a reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and support zero-carbon emission climate change strategies, while facilitating community mobility.

For access to the full presentation or to provide comments/feedback, please email mdrouse5@gmail.com.

Incredible Istanbul

Ortakoy Mosque with people enjoying the view.

Ortakoy Mosque with people enjoying the view.

Iskender Pala Writing
“The relation of a city to water is the kind of primal wedlock; and it is first the water, the most extravagant lover of all times, who embraces the lovers belonging to no one but each other.  No city is possible to build up where no water flows; and it is water that builds them up.  When brilliance and grace pours forth into the streets, all the lavish wall fountains, springs, cisterns come to light all around.

One’s lifetime in the city is on par with what a stream of water does so being always protected by the never-ending time… Water is the basis on which all life comes about. As in the way plants blossom when aroused by water.  Only then comes the hope for fleshy fruits to sprout over their branches.  The Holy Koran can be quoted in point as saying “from water have we created all embodied in a form with life” which, in Istanbul, takes shape into a spirit with mostly flow-easy, but sometimes level looks.

Water is the humankind.  It is to the water that humans are born and decease.  They wash you up at birth, they wash you up at death.  Water implies crossing a threshold; a transition, a new phase, an act of transcending the older one.  The way being in Istanbul feels epitomizes feeling wholly rejuvenated in a city.

Water is the beloved.  Into the water do all the poets with a yearning for the beloved gaze.  Expressions of the ultimate remembrace come often through a yearning, a saudade for water.  The saudade permeates Istanbul…

Whirling Dervish Painting - View from Above.

Whirling Dervish Painting - View from Above.

Water is the lover.  Lovers have always visited their sojourns in water, sobbing out sad stories bringing tears not only in their eyes, but also in others’.  Istanbul is a bushfire of love concealed as a teardrop…
Water is the panacea to both the love and the brushfire; it is the ultimate reunifier, and a sedative for many yearnings.  Water is itself love, at its purest, just like the chemistry of H2O itself with elements to not only burn, but also extinguish fire.  Just think of the romance of the wild-at-heart fighting back tears.  Istanbul refers to water at its state of love, to water reuniting the seas that flow apart.

Istanbul is peal made in water; just water, perhaps, to quench your thirst…But whatever the thirst is for, Istanbul is a generous as water just as in rain whose job is to rain.

Come over!… Of whatever time and place you might be, just come over!… Istanbul is full with life.”
<Iskender Pala>

Street Dog & Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet)

Street Dog & Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet)

Istanbul 2010 – European Capital of Culture
Istanbul, Turkey has been named the “European Capital of Culture” in 2010 (www.istanbul2010.org).  A city that literally forms a bridge between the Occident and the Orient, it welcomes visitors from all over the world to experience its beautiful setting of contrasts and culture.

Although I’ve never lived in Istanbul, I regard it as a second home (or third home now that I’ve moved to London!).  Most of my maternal family has lived in Istanbul at some point during my life and I’ve had the pleasure of visiting eight times since I was six years old.  In my adult years, I’ve traveled more often to Turkey and attempted to visit every two years.

My recent visit was the first since I had moved to London as an expat American-Turk.  Because I’m less than a four-hour flight away from Istanbul, my visit has been a little less hectic than usual, mostly because I know I will be back again soon.  Although friends and family love to surprise me with fabulous outings to Ortakoy, Nisantasi, Taksim, Sariyer, Sultanahmet, Sezen Aksu concert, and the Hidrellez Festival.

Personal goals for this visit were to spend time with my anneanne (maternal grandmother), visit with other family and friends, and expose David (my partner) to my other cultural identity.  He’s known me as a “yank” and now he’s seen me in action as a Turk as well.

I made a wish and tied it in the tree at the Hidrellez Festival (Ahirkapi).

I made a wish and tied it in the tree at the Hidrellez Festival (Ahirkapi).

My identity is something that I can never fully describe.  Now that I’m living in London, it’s become even more difficult.  I find myself protecting America, the UK and Turkey when I speak to people who aren’t familiar with those countries.  I have ties to all three places and feel obligated to serve as an unofficial ambassador.  In the ambassadorial spirit, I’d like to touch on a few Istanbul experiences associated with: language, culture/religion, and the natural/built environment.

Language
Although I’m not as fluent as I’d like to be, my conversational Turkish is sufficient to communicate basic thoughts and responses to family and friends’ many questions.  After my nervousness subsided, I successfully translated for David what was being said around him.  I paraphrased most of the conversation topics as my brain began to hurt.  Luckily, most of my family and friends know a bit of English, so they would help along the way.

I found my Turkish improving as I engaged in challenging situations.  Unfortunately, my grandmother was not feeling well during my trip.  I was thrown into situations that I had never navigated in the context of healthcare.  My sozluk (dictionary) was of no help as I communicated with doctors, pharmacists, and laboratory personnel.  These difficult situations forced me to muddle through explanations allowing my Turkish fluency to progress.  I still have quite a way to go to be fluent in a professional manner, but I’m proud of my accomplishments in less than 2 weeks.

Hurrem Anneanne (grandma) giving Namik Dayi (uncle) a farewell smooch!

Hurrem Anneanne (grandma) giving Namik Dayi (uncle) a farewell smooch!

Culture/Religion
Culture is a set of shared community values that have become an accepted “way of life.”  For example, greeting each other by kissing twice on the cheek is a cultural norm in Turkey.  David was a bit shocked that men also kiss each other on the cheeks as he was only used to that occurring between opposite genders.  But, he was relieved to see that you only touch cheeks rather than lay two big wet kisses on the other person!

Turkey is undergoing an ideological shift toward embracing Islam as part of the political arena.  This departure from the secular democracy espoused by Ataturk (father of modern Turkey) is demonstrated not only in the political context but also in the day-to-day, secular way of life.  As an example, covering hair in accordance with Islamic rules for females is a matter of choice for most Istanbul women.

However, growing tensions are visible between women who cover their hair as well as their bodies in black burkas and long gowns and those who chose to keep their hair uncovered.  I experienced a hostile verbal encounter on the street between my pro-secular-government friend and a woman covered in black.  Personally, I have mixed feelings.  On one hand, I am a proponent of free speech, expression and religion.  As long as no one is physically hurt or threatened, I encourage people to live in accordance with values that make them feel comfortable and encourage the fundamentals of being a good person.  On the other hand, I’m quite proud of Turkey’s secular democracy and the distinct separation of church and state.  As long as the fundamental political structure remains the same and Turkey continues to be a bridge between east and west, I respect everyone’s personal cultural and religious choices.

Sisli Streetscape demonstrating a lack of development regulations.

Sisli Streetscape demonstrating a lack of development regulations.

Built/Natural Environment
What can I say about the built environment in Istanbul?  From a city planner perspective, I’m not sure whether to be incredibly shocked by the extremely organic and obviously unplanned built elements, or to be proud that the city environment has taken a unique design that cannot be duplicated.  It’s hard to grasp how old the city is.  As the capital and center of three major empires: Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman, it’s undergone transformation after transformation – a true example of urban redevelopment, regeneration and revitalization.

“No city is possible to build up where no water flows; and it is water that builds them up.” – Iskender Pala

Istanbul is a city encompassing two continents – Europe and Asia – bisected by the Bosporus Straight.  The Bosporus and adjoining water bodies connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea is magical and carries centuries of man’s history.  Some of the most breathtaking places in Istanbul consist of Bosporus Straight views.  The mélange of old and new architecture on rolling hills is bordered by scenic views of the water.  Istanbul’s built environment and natural environment are symbotic and work together to create an unforgettable place.

Nisantasi Commercial District in Sisli one street away from the old part of town.

Nisantasi Commercial District in Sisli one street away from the old part of town.

In our current age of technological advances, Istanbul is embracing sustainable development concepts and investing in developing transportation and cultural infrastructure.  I look forward to Istanbul demonstrating these built/natural environment elements, and especially the social component of sustainability with a focus on people programming as the European Capital of Culture in 2010 (www.istanbul2010.org).  I encourage you to visit Istanbul too and share your thoughts with me.

Listerine

Mish at Hamley's 2009A mini is crashing through the wall! So, I posed in front of it. Just before this photo, David and I were chatting with one of the “magicians” in the London Hamley’s toy store who was demonstrating a magical glowing finger. He heard my accent and asked if I was from the US. I replied, “yes” and he announced, “so you’re a septic!” And I agreed. He asked, “you know what they call anti-Americans?” … “Listerine!”

Allow me to translate:

“American” = “Yank”

“Yank” rhymes with “Septic Tank”

“Septic Tank” is shortened to “Septic”

“Antiseptic” = “Listerine”

My expat lesson learned: Two nations divided by a common language

Current CV & Statement of Intent

If you have connections with London-based public sector, private sector and NGO organisations seeking an outstanding project manager, town planner, environmental manager, administrator, or director, with a track record for meeting deadlines in complex environments, I’d like to make a strong case for myself and encourage you to review my CV.

My excellent leadership, management, organisation, and communication skills in a team environment have contributed to planning successful, award-winning communities as well as establishing and supporting healthy, community-based charities.

Of particular interest, I possess ten years of working leadership experience and a masters degree with the following:

  • Managing teams of colleagues and consultants on regeneration/development and user-led design projects and on community-based multicultural, environmental, women’s and student charity organisations involving recruitment and performance management;
  • Managing user-led innovative designed solutions for social and environmental sustainability projects to enhance quality of life for UK’s aging population and reducing water consumption in southern England.
  • Managing regeneration, masterplanning, and community development projects for large-scale communities of regional significance as well as smaller, local developments;
  • Representing City of Irvine Mayor Pro Tempore to the community as well as advising and negotiating with elected officials on a variety of regeneration and community projects;
  • Managing, preparing and reviewing regeneration/development environmental analysis disclosure documents; policy, design, and standards documents; and construction plans including all reports, plans, graphics, databases, and multimedia presentations;
  • Managing all elements of project contracts using best practices to maximise outcome and meet deadlines, including: establishing scopes of work, scheduling, resource allocation, budget monitoring, quality control, resource re-allocation and budget amendments, highlighting financial risks and taking appropriate action, and effectively reporting updates;
  • Coordinating with multiple external stakeholders including international dignitaries, community/ trade groups, developers, elected officials and agency staff, architects, scientists, engineers, environmentalists, charities, community groups, and local residents;
  • Coordinating with internal departmental regulators including planning, police, housing, environmental and accessibility consultants, and transportation, building and civil engineers;
  • Developing and implementing long-range community-wide goals, policies and objectives; and
  • Tracking environmental regulations and legislation supporting sustainable development practices, including climate-change, multi-modal transport, and decentralised energy solutions.

My goal is to engage with organisations with missions of creating sensitive, sustainable communities that balance the needs of people, economic development, and the natural environment guided by a strategic plan. Additionally,  I seek organisations that promote diversity and seek to bring people of different backgrounds together peacefully in unique, sensitive built and natural environments to support sustainable development.

I encourage you to contact me at +44(0)776-384-9393/michelle@michelledrouse.com if you see potential for me to add value to your organisation.

Making Pickles

Mish in Antalya, Turkey 2006

Am I Turkish? Am I Ukrainian?  Am I Jewish?  Am I Muslim?  Am I Christian?  Am I American?  My cultural identity is a bit confusing.

My mother was born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey and immigrated to the United States to attend college.  Her family sent her to stay with her aunt in Las Vegas, Nevada to ensure she obtained a good American education at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.  At school she met my father, an American man whose Jewish great grand parents emigrated from Kiev, Ukraine.  After 13 years of marriage, my parents divorced, remarried and started new families.  My mother introduced me to my future stepfather when I was 12.  Although he was also a multi-generation American, his family was Norwegian/Irish Christian Baptists.

I grew up in a household that was definitely multicultural.  Not only did I celebrate Turkish/Muslim holidays like Şeker Bayramı and Kurban Bayramı, I received Hanukkah gifts under the Christmas tree for most of my early childhood.

Being exposed to many different cultures and religions during my youth provides me with a unique perspective on multiculturalism, and what I believe is the essence of being an American.  The “melting pot” turned “salad bowl” analogies resonate with me strongly.  Envisioning a melting pot demonstrates a loss of one’s original culture and yields a completely new one.  The salad bowl, on the other hand, infers that your original culture is successfully maintained while creating a heterogeneous mixture with the others.  In my opinion, both scenarios apply when you are either indigenous or an immigrant in America, and each generation has a unique experience.

Although I have a diverse genetic and adoptive culture through my paternal ancestors, I was most influenced by my Turkish mother.  My personal challenge is attempting to hold on to my Turkish culture and not allow it to completely melt in the pot.  And, if a cucumber represents being Turkish in America’s salad bowl, I’m turning it into a pickle and telling everyone about it (by the way, I highly recommend Turkish pickles called turşu).

Raksat Al Zaman Oriental Nights 2005

Raksat Al Zaman Oriental Nights 2005

Mastering “Turk-lish” as I translated between my English-speaking dads and my anneanne (maternal grandmother), fusing traditional Black Sea folkloric techniques with modern jazz dance, and not knowing that there is a big difference between using sen (“you” used in informal settings) versus siz (“you” used in formal settings) when I met the President of Turkey, are just a few examples of my earlier experience making pickles.

I am proud to identify myself as a Turkish-American, and I am fortunate to be exposed to other cultures, including my Jewish heritage (which I have recently begun to explore).  Although I don’t feel “Turkish enough” among Turks and “American enough” among Americans, I have created a new space for my identity and attempt to bring my cultures together as often as possible, and in as many social and physical spaces as possible.

Shaping the built environment, mentoring women leaders, and learning about my own heritage and other cultures in the community, collectively have become my passion.  In 2004, I was a founder of the Orange County Turkish American Association and subsequently served as the Chairman of the Board for three years.  In addition to providing cultural programming for Turkish Americans in Orange County, we also dedicated our time to education and outreach in the community.  Participating in events such as the Irvine Global Village Festival, screening Turkish films for the Irvine Multicultural Association, and performing Middle Eastern dance and music has exposed me to a rich multicultural community in Orange County.

Unfortunately, space is always a challenge.  Multicultural activities are usually initiated by the non-profit community and spaces need to be affordable and accessible.  In response to this need, I became involved in is a grass-roots community organization called the Orange County Multicultural Coalition.  This group consists of multicultural organizations and individuals dedicated to supporting the development of a Multicultural Center at the future Orange County Great Park.  This master planned metropolitan park encompasses approximately 1,300 acres at the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in Irvine, California.

Sustainability is the cornerstone of this future public space and it includes a variety of elements from a sports park to a wildlife corridor that offer social, recreational, and ecological conservation opportunities to the community.  Planners often focus on the environmental and economic elements of the sustainability definition, but how can we enhance the social equity component?  As a member of the multicultural community and as a planner by profession, I view the Orange County Great Park as a unique opportunity to highlight social equity in the context of a sustainable, physical space.  Whether this space becomes one building, a series of buildings, structures, and/or gardens, developing a Multicultural Center could represent social equity efforts in the context of sustainability.

Sustainability’s “social equity” is hard to define.  Personally, I view it as a mechanism to improve quality of life by enhancing and highlighting social capital such as community organizations, multiculturalism, interfaith organizations, languages, education, and civic engagement.  The Multicultural Center could capture these elements.  It could encourage equal access to these opportunities to address common needs in the community and consider diverse interests in a fair manner.  “Could” is the operative word, and we need to continue encouraging its development and other spaces like it in our communities.

This brings me back to pickles.  Whether you think about our community as a melting pot, salad bowl, or something else entirely, you have a role here.  Your work as a planner, parent, interfaith supporter, friend, entrepreneur, world traveler, and/or legislator, can contribute to a more sustainable community, especially if you focus on augmenting your social capital.

Making pickles is not easy.  They take time and energy to make, they look and taste very different from a cucumber, and not everyone likes them in salad.  But, I think pickles make our community salad delicious and pull together the ingredients by highlighting their differences.

Go ahead; make your own pickle and add it to your community salad.  I bet someone will enjoy it.

<Article Published in Orange County American Planning Association Spring 2008 Newsletter & Winner of Diversity Award>