A teacher at Baltic High School has learned firsthand about the culture of Turkey, and she hopes to incorporate what she has learned into her Baltic classroom.
Marissa Kleinhans, who teaches English and literature at BHS, and three other South Dakota teachers recently returned home from a 10-day educational tour of the western and central areas of country.
The group learned about Turkish schools, historic relics and cultural traditions.
Upon her arrival in Turkey, Kleinhans found that her preconception of the foreign country was continually shattered.
Before the tour, I had a vague image of Turkey as some Middle Eastern country, maybe with a desert-brown landscape and extreme heat, Klienhans said.
She talked about the beauty of the landscape, describing the olive groves and the turquoise sea.
But what did it for her, she said, was the food.
Roasted eggplant, goat cheese, kabobs, yogurt, sun dried apricots, pita bread, baklava, fresh seafood, hazelnuts and the best olive oil on the Mediterranean, said Kleinhans, listing her favorites.
This is the second year that the South Dakota Council on World Affairs has received funding from the Turkish Cultural Foundation to support a teachers workshop, where Kleinhans applied for the grant that allowed her to take the trip.
In her application, she wrote an essay outlining how she would share the cultural knowledge of Turkey both in the classroom and with the public upon her return. After the workshop, four South Dakota teachers were chosen.
South Dakota Council on World Affairs Executive Director Harriet Swedlund said that the goal of the trip is to expose teachers from the United States to Turkish culture in a way so they can return to their schools and acquaint their fellow teachers and their students with a broad concept about Turkey and its culture.
That could be about architecture, art, major projects, major sites, Swedlund said. It helps Americans understand how Turkey fits into the rest of the world, and how it's a partner to America, she said.
The trip was funded by the Turkish Cultural Foundation, which is a privately funded foundation started by Turkish people with a mission to help Americans understand Turkey.
Klienhans said that relating classroom curriculum to personal experience helps it become more relevant, engaging and real to the students. She hopes to expand her students understanding of foreign culture by sharing her Turkey experience.
Most of my students haven't traveled overseas, much less to the Middle East, so sometimes their perceptions of foreign cultures are limited. This experience will allow me to become their bridge from the foreign to the familiar, she said.
That's the goal of the Turkish Cultural Foundation. The organization's goal is to build a relationship between Turkey and other countries. The foundation, created in 2000, aims to preserve, support and promote Turkish culture at the worldwide level, according to its Web site. It also funds education for disadvantaged Turkish students.
Kleinhans said her 10th grade world literature course will see the most Turkish influence. She plans to incorporate personal artifacts, photos, food and dance into her lesson plans. She also hopes to collaborate with other Baltic teachers to create units that place focus on Ottoman and Mesopotamian cultures.
"I think students can get the enthusiasm and the perspective of having been there and seeing it and doing it in the sense that they are hearing it from a teacher who is bringing it to them firsthand; it's not just coming out of a book," said Swedlund.
Kleinhans also will post pictures and a blog on her school Web site for students to view.
Kleinhans will share her experience with Baltic community members this school year when she will give a presentation. That date has not yet been scheduled.