As students go back to school, they'll be talking about what they did during summer vacation. But one Sioux Falls teacher will bring his experiences to life in the classroom. Roosevelt teacher Tom Holmes spent a couple of weeks in Turkey, absorbing the culture, learning the language and it was nearly all paid for by a Turkish non-profit organization.
Before students arrive for class, world history teacher Tom Holmes takes a minute to organize his desk. After a two-week trip overseas, Holmes has a new collection of books, brochures and memorabilia.
"Wherever I went, I tried to pick up any sort of souvenirs I could," Holmes said.
Holmes was one of around 30 other American teachers who traveled to Turkey through a study course sponsored by a charitable organization called the Turkish Cultural Foundation. The outreach program brings in dozens of groups every year, and Holmes says it's because leaders in that country think Americans have a negative opinion of them.
"I think it's because Turkey is a largely Muslim country and with the war on terror, people feel as if they're being stereotyped in part," said Holmes. "They're a secular democratic state, not a Muslim state, and they'll tell you that. They try to separate church and state, and allow for religious freedom in their country."
Holmes says it was an intense two weeks. The teachers spent ten to 12 hours a day constantly learning, touring historic sites, speaking the language and soaking up all the information they could.
"It was a study tour so we were lectured to either on a bus as we traveled or on the site as well; an onsite educational experience," Holmes said.
Holmes says Turkey is already included in his curriculum because of its location and historical significance.
"It's located along two major trade routes: Silk Road, the Black Sea trade, the Mediterranean and such, so there's so much history there," said Holmes. "At one point I looked over and saw my sandals I'd been wearing and they were covered with dust. I thought, there's 9,000 to 10,000 years of human history on that pair of sandals."
Holmes says he'll take these experiences and pass them onto his students in the classroom.
"So many times world history has been taught as one fact, one detail. You memorize a name for the test and you forget it, and it really shouldn't be looked upon that way," Holmes said.
Instead, Holmes is coming up with ways to involve his students in his overseas journey. They'll get to see Turkey and its traditions in a whole new light.
"You're changed in subtle and profound ways and I like to think I'm a better person. I know the experience has enriched me as a human being," Holmes said.
And he hopes the kids will gain the same appreciation for Turkey as a result.
All together, six South Dakota teachers went on the trip and were also sponsored by the South Dakota World Affairs Council.