Education Students Gain New Perspective on Turkish Culture

Kappa Delta Pi students embark on a two-week tour of educational institutions in Turkey.

All eyes around the world have been on Turkey recently due to public protests and the ensuing backlash from the government and police force.

Despite the social and political unrest in the area, 12 Kappa Delta Pi students and three faculty members chose to follow through with their plans to visit a variety of Lasallian schools in Istanbul, from May 22 to June 5. The Manhattan College group had a chance to experience first-hand one of the most significant time periods in Turkish history.

Exploring the Turkish World of Academia

The two-week trip, sponsored by Manhattan’s chapter of Kappa Delta Pi, the education honor society, took form when the group began looking for a destination that resonated with the College’s mission.

“We decided that in addition to connecting with the broader world, it would be a real opportunity for our students to connect with our Lasallian heritage,” explains Karen Nicholson, Ph.D., associate professor of education.

In response to the students’ interest in Lasallian schools abroad, Kappa Delta Pi connected with Brother Henri Helou, FSC, who currently works with St. Joseph’s High School in Istanbul. Br. Henri coordinated a pen-pal program between the students at Manhattan College and St. Joseph’s, so that both sides of the partnership were more comfortable meeting one another once the Manhattan College group arrived.

In addition to St. Joseph’s, the students also visited other educational facilities in the area, including Sarimese Primary School, Fatih University and Kocaeli University, where they gained insight into the Turkish education system and applied what they learned about the culture to their own teaching styles.

In true Jasper fashion, the students volunteered at a special education school one afternoon and were so moved by the experience, they decided to return three more times before departing from Istanbul.

“Going to Istanbul was one of my first real experiences abroad, so I didn’t really know what to expect,” says Michele Palazzo ’13,’14, a dual childhood/special education major.

“While being able to witness the Turkish people fighting for their freedoms right now was an experience that is hard to put into words, I will say that I was amazed at the beauty of the city, as well as the people.”   

Life Amid A Revolution

Aside from the educational visits, the students explored the beautiful city of Istanbul and visited sites, including Sultanahmet, Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern and the Grand Bazaar. However, they were advised to stay close to the school facilities because of their close proximity to the protests.

“After seeing families with young children and young adults similar to myself taking part in a peaceful protest for their country, I realized that these people were strong and creating an example for everyone about how to stand up for not only what you want, but what you deserve,” offers Vanessa Verde ’13, a special education major. “I was proud to experience the uniting of another country as it happened right in front me and couldn’t wait to come home and tell my family and friends what the protests were really about.”

Both the students and professors agreed that the overall experience was genuinely rewarding, and they felt welcomed by the hospitality of the Turkish people that they met.

“During these trips, the students get to meet some incredible people — different in some ways but very similar to themselves in so many respects,” says Brother Raymond Meagher, FSC, assistant professor of education.

“Listening to and talking with the Turkish people face-to-face gave our students a very different view of the issues and conflicts happening in those parts of the world. Our students were able to see the world through the eyes, minds and hearts of their new friends, especially their pen pals.”