Dennis L. Keschl and Constance F. Keschl
“Cultural Exchange Trip to Turkey”
Sponsored by the
Turkish Cultural Center of Maine
The Cultural Exchange Trip to Turkey sponsored by the Turkish Cultural Center of Maine (TCCM) was a truly outstanding opportunity for me to see a part of Turkey that I did not see when I was there over 15 years ago, and gave my wife an opportunity to experience first-hand, the country that I had told her was a “must-see”!
The tour was impressive in the areas covered (education, culture, history, government, business, and current family life styles), accommodations, dining, scheduling, and the knowledge, experience, and language translation skills of our Turkish friends from the TCCM (Mr. Eyup Sener and Mr. Onercan Soytekin).
While our exchange lasted just nine days and encompassed travel to Istanbul, Izmir, Konya, and Ankara, suffice it to say that it was a full nine days. A day-by-day accounting of the various schools, businesses, and governmental facilities is not possible in this brief testimonial, but suffice it to say that we enjoyed a total immersion in the new “modern” Turkey and witnessed a growing economic power in the Middle East.
We were provided with an excellent history of Turkey and the various cultural influences on the country through visits to historical sites, museums, and overviews by educated and knowledgeable tour guides. While predominately a Muslim country, we quickly realized the value that the people place in the secular nature of their country, as established in their constitution by the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. It was apparent from the members of parliament that we met, as well as the many business leaders and families that we visited, that a secular society was essential to the modernization of Turkey.
One focus of the tour was to see firsthand the “Gulen” inspired educational institutions. These schools, sponsored and funded by businesses and individuals throughout Turkey, are helping to ensure that a modern Turkey is sustained by a continuing supply of well-educated people who will provide governmental and business leadership far into the future, enabling Turkey to grow its economy and develop a more prominent role in the Middle East. We visited with many families who freely sponsor these type of schools (and students attending them) in many parts of the world, including the United States and many countries in Africa. My wife and I were impressed by these families and the value that they see and place in providing for excellent educational opportunities for their children. They truly recognize that a well-educated youth is essential to their growing country. Similar to “charter schools” which are a growing feature of the education systems in many states in the United States, these are student and educational focused institution focused on excellent student achievement and high quality educational outcomes.
The businesses that we visited and the many businessmen that we met demonstrated their strong belief in the need for quality education to move their country forward. As we saw, they are employing some of the most advance technology in their industry, marketing their goods and services throughout Turkey, the Middle East, the European Union and even the United States. Businesses are aggressively pursuing a goal of growing their international trade by over $500 billion in the next ten years…an impressive goal indeed!
Our visits with preeminent modern Turkish poets and authors proved equally inspiring. It was a pleasurable experience to have a modern poet reciting his poetry in English as we enjoyed our breakfast meeting with them. Furthermore, freedom of the press seems to be alive and well in Turkey. We visited “Today’s Zamon”, the equivalent of New York Times, and saw a modern newspaper in production. I now regular review the online “English” version of this paper to get in-depth news from around the world.
The exchange was a wonderful opportunity that gave us an insight into a country that, at the beginning, some may have thought was a third world nation, but left realizing that Turkey is a country that is not only a thriving, but has a fast growing economy and it is far from being a third world nation, but instead it rivals many EU countries. All of our experiences, from the visits to schools, mosques, churches, businesses, governmental offices, and even to the bazaars, were extremely rewarding. However, for my wife and I, experiencing Turkey in the homes of the families that welcomed us as new-found friends, was the best part of this exchange. We will not forget their hospitality, generosity, and openness…and certainly not the variety, quality, and quantity of the food we were served! We learned, as people, we are not all that different; we want our children to grow and prosper in a peaceful world.
My wife and I had a wonderful time and we learned more about the Turkey of “today” than we could have imagined. I have and will continue to recommend Turkey as a “must-see” vacation opportunity to everyone I know.