Caught In A Coup Kiley McPeek '18

When Kiley McPeek ’18 accepted a summer internship in Turkey through the CALS Global Fellows Program, she knew she had a remarkable opportunity to receive valuable work experience while gaining an increased understanding of international business, politics and culture. But the Cornell volleyball player got more than she bargained for when on the last day of her internship, July 15, tanks rolled through the streets of Ankara and Istanbul as a coup d’état attempt was under way.

Several hours earlier, McPeek had been on those same streets. She and fellow Cornellian Kavin Lam had gone out for a dinner to celebrate a successful internship. As fortune would have it, Lam needed to find a spot with Wi-Fi in order to take a conference call and the pair decided to head back to the apartment they shared.

“Approximately 30 minutes after we got back into our apartment, the coup started happening,” says McPeek. “The café where we were eating dinner was pretty much where the whole thing started. It was right next to the Bosphorus bridges where all the tanks came out. Thankfully he wanted to go home or we would have been stuck in the middle of that whole mess.”

Instead, they were stuck in their apartment, which was roughly 30 minutes away from the most concentrated military action.

“It wasn’t directly outside of my apartment, but I could still hear everything happening,” McPeek explains. “I just kept thinking, ‘Is that going to be right outside or am I far enough away that I’m going to be ok?’ So that was kind of terrifying. The waiting game of not knowing what was going on exactly and not being able to make a plan. That was the scariest and the hardest part to deal with.”

Luckily for McPeek, she had the support of the Cornell University to help her through a stressful four days. The support started before she ever left the United States, as the CALS Global Fellows Program requires participants to enroll in a pre-departure course that focuses not only on working in multi-cultural environments, but on maintaining one’s health and safety while abroad.

“We knew from the class to right away to call the American Embassy in Istanbul and the Cornell emergency hotlines for students abroad,” says McPeek. “It made me feel awesome knowing that Cornell was working to get us home. They were in constant contact with us. They would email just to say ‘Hope everything is okay. Hang in there. We’re working on it.’ We knew somebody was behind the scenes trying to get us home.”

Although McPeek “didn’t sleep a wink” the first night of the uprising, she and Lam felt safe enough to leave their apartment after two days to get groceries and cash. On the fourth day, once the airport was open, they got word that the university was supporting an evacuation for the Cornellians in Turkey. That afternoon, a car picked them up and took them to Istanbul's Atatürk Airport, where military tanks had been replaced by several soldiers wielding machine guns. The group went through four rounds of security checks before boarding a flight for Germany, and McPeek arrived back in the U.S. on July 19.

Despite the wild ending, McPeek still rates her experience abroad as outstanding. She worked for Cornell alumni Mehmet Kosematoglu ’89 for his company, Tedi Discount Tekstil, a start-up that is growing rapidly in Turkey. McPeek was able to explore all facets of the company, from talking with the real estate agents that scout potential store locations to working with members of the warehouse crew. In the end, her semester project was to deliver projected budgets for the company to keep growing over the next five years.

Clockwise from top: McPeek at the Blue Mosque; Kavin Lam '18, Mehmet Kosematoglu '89 and McPeek in front of a Tedi store; Lam and McPeek in Instanbul.

“Right up until the final day, my experience with the internship was so great,” McPeek says. “And being in Istanbul was so incredible. I would love to go back once everything settles down.”

Before planning any return to Istanbul, McPeek will spend the next two years narrowing down her career path. An applied economics and management major with a concentration in finance, she is contemplating a future in either financial consulting or sales and trading. Following her freshman year, she interned with the Chicago Board of Options Exchange, and she’s in the process of finding an internship for this summer as well. She’s looking at a wide-range of options, saying there is just one stipulation – “My mom has banned me from going abroad this summer.”


Photos courtesy: Patrick Shanahan, Dave Burbank, Kiley McPeek '18

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