Kachina Martin has always used the Hagia Sophia as an example in the art and world cultures courses she teaches at Muhlenberg High School.
But while she's known its historical significance, that didn't measure up to actually visiting the beautiful monument in Istanbul, Turkey. Built as a cathedral in 537 by the Emperor Justinian, the beautiful landmark served as the center of Orthodox Christianity for 900 years before being converted to a mosque when the city was conquered by the Ottomans. It was converted to a museum of the Turkish Republic in 1935.
"To just stand there and be surrounded by all that space - it was incredible," Martin said.
Last month, she and 27 other teachers from across the United States traveled to Turkey as part of a two-week trip sponsored by the Turkish Cultural Foundation. The foundation, which works to raise awareness of Turkey, immerses the teachers in Turkish culture in the hopes that they'll take what they learn back to their classrooms.
Martin said she came back with great material for not only her classes but also those of teachers who teach other subjects.
"For me, it's really exciting to be able to learn about different ways to work it into the curriculum," Martin said.
The group traveled across Turkey by bus, stopping in various culture-rich locations.
"The folks at the foundation were really good about making sure that anything we did - from what we ate to what we saw - everything was truly Turkish," Martin said.
The food, she added, was amazing.
"We went to a lot of really small, incredibly run mom-and-pop places and ate a lot of really authentic food," she said.
But one of the best parts about education-related trips is that teachers are among their own, said Martin, who earlier went to Japan on a trip designed for teachers.
When out with other friends, she tries not to bore them by getting excited about teaching strategies and curriculums. But when traveling with a group of teachers, everyone's on the same wavelength.
"It was really neat to hear what other teachers are doing around the country," she said.