In just a few days, I will lead my Royal Oak Model UN (ROMUN) students on a two week trip to Turkey. Our small cadre will visit not only the major cities of the Ottoman Empire, but the ruins of Troy, the sites of early Christian history, and a small rural village where we will work alongside Turks on local projects.
Needless to say, the excitement builds quickly, and I should start packing!
Even so, I wanted to take some time to start this round of my travel blog by explaining why Turkey is our choice. I will let the students document their own discoveries and experiences in this space in the coming days, and we'll upload some photos along the way.
REASON #10. History! There is little need here to review the entire history of the region which has served as the center of four empires, which was the scene for more than half of the Old Testament (Noah's home to Abraham's call), and which was the foundation for a secular Islamic state. We will be inundated with the lessons from sites which have so deeply carved our own culture.
REASON #9: Volunteerism. Along the way, we will have some volunteer experiences. First, we will visit Tekirdag and contribute to an international peace forest. Near the end of our trip, we will live in Mustafapa Village and spend some days working on the Village School, perhaps teaching, and learning basic agricultural techniques, just as they’ve been practiced for centuries.
REASON #8: Language. Merhaba! While many will speak English, immersing ourselves in a different language (and trying to learn it) presents great challenges in creative communication. More, the fascinating turns of Turkish (vowel harmonies and inverted syntax, for instance) differ hugely from the Romance languages taught in school.
REASON #7: Islam. Turkey’s Muslim faith under a secular government will prove a terrific study. The ancient mosques dominate city skylines. While Turkey is culturally diverse and quite liberal in many of its Islamic practices, it is also a country in transformation, tested by its more conservative believers.
REASON #6: Politics. Our group recently completed Esra Ozyurek’s Nostalgia for the Modern, a fascinating discussion of the mythologizing of Turkish modernizer Kemal Ataturk. Ataturk becomes a private icon for secular utopia as both conservative and liberal forces strain the country’s political identity. Is Turkey an EU prospect or a Middle Eastern mainstay?
REASON #5: Student choice. ROMUN’s international trips have always been the choice of students (within reason!). Our students have been planning this trip for two years, drawn to the cultural challenge and historical significance. They also insisted we not travel the “tourist route” of Western hotels and restaurants. They seek immersion.
REASON #4: Model UN development. Our team has represented Turkey in our frequent debates/conferences, but direct experience and engagement with the people of Turkey can only build our team’s resources and experience. And while we were unable to schedule our planned meeting with the Foreign Ministry, we know our conversations will inspire us.
REASON #3: My own missed adventure. Ironically, I was offered a teaching job in Istanbul in 1991 (just as Desert Storm commenced). I deferred and instead took a job teaching in Royal Oak. Here is my personal chance to see Frost’s “Road Not Taken” and visit Robert College in Istanbul.
REASON #2: Raising awareness. For readers of this blog and others we speak with afterwards, we see this trip as an opportunity to better understand countries of which we know too little. When we are ignorant about difference, we create opportunities for fear.
REASON #1: We can. This is an opportunity many never have.
Thank you in advance for reading our next several chapters! I will post on occasion, as well, but most of what you read in the coming days will be from our ROMUN students.
And you can also follow our more frequent Twitter updates: @schisnell or our Twitter feed posted on www.chisnell.com.