A lot of summer school programs provide 30 or 40 hours of instruction over a week. Four Missoula teachers spent that much time simply getting to their continuing education experience.
That's how long it takes to travel from Missoula to Turkey, which high school teachers Cheryl Hughes, John Marks, Janice Bishop and Patrice Schwenk did this month.
The four Missoula teachers joined 20 others from throughout the United States. The World Affairs Council and the Turkish Cultural Foundation sponsored the trip. They all spent 10 days traveling the country, visiting schools, historic and archaeological sites, and scenic attractions.
They also got a whirlwind background on Turkey's churning political and social scene. The country is struggling to win full acceptance to the European Union, while also carving a leadership role among its Asian and Arabic neighbors. Internally, its people are debating the co-existence of a secular government and Islamic social traditions.
And while all the teachers said they felt safe in their travels, Monday's bombing incident in Istanbul was a reminder how volatile the situation can be.
"They have their internal struggles," said Marks, who teaches social studies at Hellgate High School. "The ruling party is right now being taken to court to decide if they've moved too far toward Islam. There's the head-scarf issue (if women must wear head coverings in public). But I see them positively working through a lot of these things. It's important to remember that Turkey and Israel are the only two democracies in the region."
Much of the tour itinerary covered Turkey's historical wealth of resources. The country features some of the finest examples of Roman Empire construction, as well as relics of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. The teachers visited several places steeped in Christian heritage, including the tomb of the Apostle John and the site where St. Paul preached to the Ephesians.
As a librarian at Loyola Sacred Heart High School, Schwenk took the opportunity to gather as many Turkish folk tales and stories as she could. She also was favorably impressed by the comprehensive nature of most Turkish school libraries and computer resources. However, she did want to help some rural schools increase their book supplies by doing some local fundraising efforts in Missoula.
The teachers brought back a number of items they plan to deploy in their classrooms this fall. Sentinel High School English teacher Hughes found a brass bell while touring a Sufi spiritual center that she intends to use for calling her class to order. Marks and Big Sky High School social studies teacher Bishop took hundreds of photos, which will be worked into their world culture and history classes.
"It makes such a difference, when you're showing the students a PowerPoint presentation, that you can say 'I was here,' " Bishop said. "The temperature was this, or I tasted these things. Kids get the idea that 'I can go there too, and experience these things for myself.' "
In addition to their classroom "extras," the Missoula teachers hope to spread their Turkish experience to the wider community. They plan to arrange lectures with visiting Turkish officials and experts. They also want to encourage more students to take advantage of overseas opportunities, such as internships with some of the foundations and agencies they worked with in Turkey.
"Having curiosity is essential," Marks said. "People are very gracious around the world, but if we don't respond to that in a positive way, that's not good for America."
Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.