Turkey, through a teacher’s lens
American Journal, 27.07.2011
Have an exciting summer vacation story to tell? A Gorham High School world history teacher sure does.
Shauna Baxter Dunn visited a home 9,000 years old.
Dunn, a faculty member of the Social Studies Department in Gorham, saw first hand archaeological digs during a two-week learning trip to Turkey.
When school opens in August, Dunn’s students will see and hear stories about Turkey and the land’s ancient civilization that she teaches as part of Gorham’s history curriculum.
“I want them to learn about Turkey through photos and stories I experienced,” Dunn said this week, but she’ll develop a presentation without focusing on herself.
The Turkey Cultural Foundation, a nonprofit organization supported by private funds, sponsored the trip. She did pay airfare and a small fee to cover some other costs. She paid $20 for a visa in an airport in Turkey.
The trip was an expedition, not a vacation, although she did get to swim in the Aegean Sea.
“It was a study tour,” Dunn said.
In Catalhoyuk, an archaeological site discovered in the 1950s, she stepped into an unearthed home “dating back 9,000 years.” Art decorated its walls.
She also met a Turkish government leader and talked on the streets with the country’s people. She toured major cities, but found time to explore a little village, its homes and its shops.
“I tried to get a glimpse of how people live,” Dunn said.
Dunn was one of three Maine teachers in a group of 30 teachers – 24 women and six men - from the United States on the tour. The other two Maine teachers were James Flanagan of Brunswick High School and Bruno Yomoah of Deering High School.
Bonnie Joy Kasian, a consultant attached to the California office of the Turkish Cultural Foundation, said it sponsors the trips for educational purposes about the culture, history and current affairs of modern-day Turkey.
“It’s not just words in a book. It’s hands on,” Kasian said about the experience afforded teachers.
More intensive than a tourist trip, Kasian called the venture an immersion in Turkish culture.
“Hear the music and taste the food,” she said.
The ancient land once known as Anatolia was conquered by Persians and later fell to Greeks under Alexander the Great. Subsequently, it came under the rule of the Roman Empire.
What is now Turkey was ruled by the Ottoman Empire from 1299 through World War I. Modern-day Turkey was founded in 1923 and has a Republican parliamentary democracy, according to information on the website of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook.
Turkey and the United States are among the 28 member nations in NATO. The United States and Turkey have a “good working relationship,” Kasian said.
Dunn said Turkey is also a member of the Organization of Islamic Conference – the only member to be part of NATO.
“President Obama’s first overseas visit as president was to Turkey, and this was received well in Turkey,” Dunn said.
This month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Turkey to participate in meetings about Libya.
Turkey borders countries in the news – Syria, Iraq, Iran.
“Turkey is 99 percent Muslim, but a secular country,” Dunn said.
Some of its people Dunn saw were garbed in western-style clothes, while others covered their heads. In a scarf shop, Dunn met a Turkish woman, who was a computer teacher.
“She started talking to me, she spoke English,” Dunn said.
Dunn didn’t have the impression in Turkey that there was a worldwide recession. Dunn said Turkey would like to enhance its economic relations with the United States.
“Turkey is at a crossroads,” Dunn said, “because it literally bridges two continents, and says it wants a zero problem policy with its neighbors, according to the director general. And yet Turkey is surrounded by states with different politics, religions, histories, so given its location, history, and the recent Arab Spring, I would think this laudable goal, looking east and west, so to speak, would be hard to maintain.”
“According to her (Director General for the Americas Barutcu Gokdenizler), Turkey wants to be a force for good in the region, a region that sits partly in Europe and in Asia. Turkey looks west in that its strategic objective is to become part of the European Union,” Dunn said.
The population is approximately 77 million, Dunn said, and Turkey has the youngest population in Europe, with about 27 percent under age 14.
The trip opportunity for Dunn developed a few months ago. In April, Dunn attended a workshop in Portland about Turkey and was then eligible to apply for the trip through the World Affairs Council of Maine, which had been awarded a grant.
In Turkey, the teachers’ accommodations were four and five-star hotels.
“We were staying in lavish places,” Dunn said.
She visited two schools, one a school for orphans in the city of Istanbul, where the U.S. group spent four days.
Then, the group traveled more than 2,200 miles by bus in western Turkey.
A veteran traveler, Dunn served from 2002-2004 with the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan, part of the former Soviet Union. She also studied in China in 2008. She believes her travels help land her teaching job in Gorham.
“Shauna has been involved in other travels in previous years and all of these opportunities have enriched her teaching here in Gorham,” Gorham Superintendent Ted Sharp said. “She is an adventurer and I applaud her for it.