Four South Dakota teachers recently returned from a 10-day educational excursion to Turkey sponsored by the Turkish Culture Foundation through the South Dakota Council on World Affairs (SDCWA). Turkey, famous for its cultural blend of East and West, offered many things for the schoolteachers to experience.
Marissa Kleinhans, Baltic High School; Karen Thaler, Mickelson Middle School, Brookings; Gary Pederson, Memorial Middle School, Sioux Falls; and Sally Rice, Edison Middle School, Sioux Falls; joined teachers from six other affiliates of the World Affairs Councils of America for the trip.
The goal for educators was to absorb as much history, scenery and culture as possible in order to relay their experiences to their students.
"Encountering Turkey first hand has been an inspiring experience that these teachers now share with friends and family, colleagues and pupils across the state," said SDCWA Executive Director Harriet Swedlund.
"They understand first-hand and are finding many opportunities to communicate knowledge of the vital role Turkey has played for centuries as a global crossroad," Swedlund explained.
Kleinhans, an English and literature teacher at Baltic, felt the experience allows her to act as a bridge from the foreign to the familiar for her students.
"My students have quite a few misconceptions about Turkey, like I did before the trip," explained Kleinhans.
"The great thing is that they're curious and open to new ideas; they started asking questions about my trip on their very first day back to school," she said.
Pederson, a middle school music teacher in Sioux Falls, is composing a piece of music for his band to perform based on his adventure.
"It is based on my impressions of Turkish music and how much that music is influenced by both eastern and western cultures," said the instrumental music teacher.
"I could not have written or taught this with confidence without having been to Turkey."
Thaler, a 7th grade language arts teacher in Brookings who has traveled internationally before, wants to share with her students that different people and places are something to be explored and understood, not feared.
"Turkey is a place where East and West come together, but not just in history. It's an important country today, and students need to see it as more than just a relic of the past, " Thaler explained.
"All three secular schools we visited had much to teach us, but the children of Karacasu touched our hearts," said Rice, a Sioux Falls middle school fine arts teacher.
"Our gifts were most needed in their remote village.
"There were no classes in session for us to observe, but the computer lab was open, so we did get to interact and play games with the kids," she recalled.
The teachers were chosen for the trip from applicants attending a workshop about Turkey held by the South Dakota Council on World Affairs last spring.
This is the second year SDCWA has received funding from the Turkish Cultural Foundation to support the teachers' workshop, underwrite travel and provide for post-travel programming.
The Turkish Cultural Foundation promotes understanding of their unique culture and of its historic and vital role as a crossroads between Asia and Europe.
For additional information, contact Swedlund in Brookings by phone at 605/688-5416 or by e-mail at Harriet.Swedlund@sdstate.edu.