WMU alumni’s life demonstrates meaning of globally engaged
Transatlantic sailor, combat soldier, humanitarian, and crime investigator are just a few of the titles that describe the work and life experiences of Jordan Wilson, a 2011 graduate of Western Michigan University’s Global and International Studies program.
Becoming globally engaged came easy to Wilson, who traveled overseas for the first time as a young boy and who has visited more than 30 countries. He is now a graduate student at New York University in Manhattan majoring in global affairs.
“When I was 10, my mother took me on my first overseas trip to Germany and we later traveled to other places, like Thailand and Italy,” said Wilson, a 2006 graduate of Lawton High School. “Those trips really sparked my interest in international studies at an early age. I was also an aspiring secret agent as a result of watching too many James Bond films. The most important thing I’ve learned from all my overseas travel is the importance of understanding your place in this world and the need to question your existence to find meaning and substance in life outside of the day-to-day trappings.”
In February of 2006, Wilson turned down a four-year college scholarship from the Army’s ROTC program, though he was eager to enter the military and to prepare for a globally-engaged career. Instead, he worked out a deal with his high school administrators to graduate a couple of months early so he would be eligible to complete infantry basic training at Fort Benning in Georgia before he started college. Wilson believed he should enlist and serve in the military before completing a bachelor’s degree.
Jordan initially enrolled at WMU in fall 2006 and spent one semester studying in Kalamazoo before moving to Florida to enroll at the University of South Florida. He met two like-minded adventurers there who joined Wilson in summer 2007 for a 30-day, transatlantic trip via a sailboat from Florida to Morocco.
“The trip across the Atlantic was incredible,” said Wilson. “For 30 days I was completely cut off from the world. I realized how peaceful it is to simply…exist. I think that was the first time I really experienced life, void of all worries and distractions. I’d be lying if I told you that it didn’t get boring at times, but it was also quite liberating.”
Wilson added a couple of stamps to his passport in the summer of 2008, when he volunteered to teach elementary school children at an orphanage in Hohoe, Ghana, followed by a trip to Lebanon as a starting point to backpack throughout the Middle East.
“I wanted to see and assess the situation in Iraq as a civilian before I went as a soldier, so I boarded a bus from Damascus to Baghdad that cost just $40,” he said. “I wanted to witness Iraqi culture and to hear the Iraqi’s opinions and stories first-hand. I admit, I also was curious to see war. I read it once somewhere that war is "the mother of all things." When all else has failed, war brings out the raw, extreme side of human nature. It was something I had to see to understand.”
Traveling in such a hotspot of combat and political unrest, it’s no surprise that Wilson had to handle some delicate negotiations trying to cross borders. He ran into trouble trying to exit Syria into Iraq because he wasn't of Iraqi descent and he did not have family living in Iraq. He was pulled into the immigration control post and had to convince a Syrian military commander that he would pay whatever “taxes” were required before he was allowed to cross the border into Iraq.
“When I got off the bus at Iraqi immigration control, I ran into the U.S. Marines,” he said. “After speaking with the Iraqi officials in charge of the checkpoint, I was told that it was up to the Marines to decide if I could continue on to Baghdad. The Marines said they couldn't let me travel on and have it on their conscience if something happened to me. They contacted the State Department to inquire what to do with me. Next thing I knew, I was on a helicopter to Baghdad and was told that some people wanted to talk to me about the details of my trip.”
Wilson was allowed to stay in Baghdad’s Green Zone for a couple weeks under military watch and for questioning, before he was escorted to Baghdad International Airport to return to Jordan.
“It took the military some time to figure out what to do with me,” he said. “The trips I made that summer really helped me gain a new understanding for West African and Middle Eastern people and culture.”
In fall 2008, Wilson completed an internship with Interpol in Washington D.C. through the Washington Center. His duties included wide-ranging investigative work, handling Interpol communications on an international level, and working with state and local authorities on criminal matters.
“Nearly every country in the world is a member of Interpol, which meant that I was working with people of different nationalities on a daily basis. “I found this line of work fascinating, and decided that I would pursue this type of career in the future,” Wilson said, who is currently concentrating his studies at NYU in transnational security.
He expanded his list of volunteer experiences in summer 2009 when he traveled to India to volunteer with an organization founded by Mother Theresa of Calcutta, founder of the Missionaries of Charity. “I worked at the home of the dying, doing simple tasks like washing clothes or dishes and helping patients shave,” he said.
Training with the Florida Army National Guard for deployment to Kuwait in Operation Iraqi Freedom began in fall 2009. Wilson deployed in January 2010 with the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team as the attaché to the deputy commander. His responsibilities included operational planning for the movement and transportation of the deputy commander for his tour of duty, which included Operation of Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn. Wilson’s unit escorted and provided convoy security for various supply routes throughout Iraq on trips that lasted three to ten days traveling only at night.
When his tour of duty was over in December 2010, Wilson decided to return to WMU for the spring 2011 semester to wrap up the required courses to finish his bachelor’s degree in global and international studies, with an emphasis on political science in Russian and Eastern Europe.
“As a former soldier, I have been personally affected by U.S. foreign policy and international relations,” he said. “I am now determined to rise to the top of my field to better our nation’s future. I returned from my deployment equipped with a renewed focus, discipline, and confidence that allowed me to excel in my last year of studies at WMU.”
As one of Michigan’s top-ranked schools for outreach and service to veterans, Wilson was pleased by the benefits he received while enrolled at WMU, including the Returning Veteran’s Tuition Assistance program. With his vast interest in international travel and topics, majoring in WMU’s global and international studies program was a natural choice for Wilson.
Wilson in Moscow
“I spent my years in middle school trying to teach myself to read, write, and speak Russian,” he said. “As I was hoping would happen, I was selected by Rotary International to study abroad as a high school exchange student in Siberia when I was 15. My Russian language skills advanced quite a bit from studying at WMU and working with a Russian woman living in Kalamazoo who offered to give me Russian lessons. In my senior year at WMU, I returned to Russia to study at Saratov State University.”
He finished his contract with the Army National Guard shortly after graduating from WMU in December 2011 and moved to New York City in January begin a master’s program at New York University.
“It has always been a dream of mine to live in New York City and the university has such a great program because of its location and partnerships that provide many opportunities to intern with various NGOs, governmental agencies, and even the United Nations,” Wilson said. “I hope to one day become a Foreign Service officer and work overseas for the U.S. State Department or to become a researcher for an interesting think tank.”
Story by Nate Coe