Globe-trotting Honors Graduate Eyes a Career Teaching in Asia

Globe-trotting Honors Graduate Eyes a Career Teaching in Asia

Living abroad as a child, Chelsie Güner waited until college for first Pop Tart, football game and meal at the Olive Garden

Image of Chelsie Güner at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi.
Güner at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.
Photo courtesy of Chelsie Güner

‘Every country has helped me form a different part of myself.’
–  Chelsie Güner

Ask Chelsie Güner her home town and she’ll hesitate, uncertain how to respond.

She isn’t stumped.  It’s just that the honors student has lived a life in so many continents, and in so many languages, she’s not sure she can offer a one-word answer.

“Dubai? Yes, I guess so – that’s where my parents are living these days,” says Güner, who has stayed put in the United States long enough to graduate this month as a Paul Robeson Scholar from Rutgers’ Art History Department, becoming a member of the National Society for Collegiate Scholars and the National Society for Leadership and Success along the way.

Enrolled as an international student in Douglass Residential College, the Teaneck native is the daughter of a New Jersey-born mother who teaches English as a second language on the college level and a Turkish-born father whose banking career takes him to all corners of the globe.

During Güner’s childhood, home rapidly shifted from the high rises of Tokyo to the western reaches of London to the 150-foot sand dunes of Doha, Qatar, and included extended summer stays with her paternal grandparents in Istanbul.

“Every country has helped me form a different part of myself,” she says, adding that although she wouldn’t trade a minute of what she calls her “crazy, crazy life,” the adjustments have sometimes proven … well, trying.

For one thing, when she returned to the States for college, she’d never eaten a Pop Tart. She'd never been to an Olive Garden, or attended a football game. “It took me a year to learn the Pledge of Allegiance,” she quips. “It’s a wonder I don’t have more of an identity crisis!”

Far from it. Rather than leaving her feeling fragmented, Güner’s worldwide sojourns have given her a profound appreciation for art and foreign cultures, as well as a rudimentary ability to make herself understood in Japanese and French.

Although her father spoke Turkish to the children at home, it wasn’t until she studied at Rutgers under Ferhen Tunagur that she felt comfortable in that tongue.

After two years at the American School in Doha – her first exposure to coeducation after years of girls-only Catholic schooling – Güner moved on her own to Istanbul, where she took classes at Boğaziçi University, a public university whose campus sits atop a hill overlooking the Bosphorus Strait. From there, she applied to Rutgers, where her mother had taught ESL several years earlier.

Güner has found a way to combine all her academic passions as an art history major in the School of Arts and Sciences with a double minor – African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian Languages and Literatures (AMESALL), as well as political science.

Her undergraduate honors thesis, “Pre-, Mid- and Post-Iconoclastic Main Apse Mosaics in Byzantium,” focuses on the artworks of Hagia Sophia, a former Greek Orthodox basilica in Istanbul now used as a museum. Güner only half-jokes that “years after my mother dragged me to all those churches when I was little,” her 100 pages of independent research have given her a newfound appreciation for the imagery and symbolism in the institution’s mosaics.

She shared her love of art through an internship at the Gallery Aferro in Newark, whose founders describe it as a facility working towards an arts community that is accessible to everyone. One of Güner’s responsibilities was developing a curriculum to teach Newark children about artists and the work they do.

“I am definitely an advocate for using art to empower people,” says Güner.

More recently, the North Brunswick resident has been learning what she calls “the business side of art” as an intern with Christie’s, the New York auction house. Rotating through three different departments – rugs and carpets, 19th century furniture and porcelain – Güner might find herself researching a specific type of china pattern one day, and searching through a film about chair legs another day.

Image of Güner with her mother and brother in the desert near Ash-Shahaniyah, Qatar.
Güner with mom, Linda, and brother, Liam, in the desert near Ash-Shahaniyah, Qatar.
Photo courtesy of Chelsie Güner
She has also found time to serve as a Red Pine Ambassador; as a junior and senior, she chaired the organization that offers Douglass Campus tours to prospective students and their parents. In addition, she has coached New Brunswick and Piscataway youngsters enrolled in the Rutgers Future Scholars Program, and has tutored Rutgers students at the university’s Plangere Writing Center.

What’s ahead for this globe-trotter who, at age 23, already has 25 country seals on her passport?

For the immediate future, she’s applied to teach in either Thailand or South Korea through CIEE, a U.S. nongovernmental, nonprofit agency that promotes international education. And then?

“If there were some way to combine teaching and field work in art and archaeology in the Middle East, hanging out in the sun and digging to find ceremonial objects, all the while teaching someone about art – now that would be something I’d love,” Güner says.