Innovation on Earth

Global Citizenship Resources for Innovation Academy and Beyond

Archive for the category “Turkey”

Travel. You’ll experience more kindness than terror.

Anyone who watches the news these days can’t help but feel some fear. How can people be so terrible? The world is a horrible, frightening place, right?


The crowded streets of Isanbul, Turkey

If you are feeling this way, I have one suggestion — travel. Go out and see the world. Maybe you’ll see some people and places like I’ve seen…

Burj Khalifa

Me and the tallest building in the world (Dubai, the United Arab Emirates)


In Indonesia, I took a midnight ferry from the island of Bali to the island of Java to hike a volcano at night. It was totally worth missing a night of sleep, but I was definitely scared arriving in a new place under the light of the moon.

Java Mosque

A mosque in Java, one of the first sites after getting off the ferry

There was nothing to worry about. Our guides were right next to us the whole hike up the volcano. When my foot slipped a little on a rock, they were next to me in a heartbeat, helping me navigate the next steps. The views at sunrise made it all worth the worry!

With Guide

Me with one of our guides

In Mali, at first I was convinced that I’d get Malaria or some tropical disease. I lathered myself with bug spray every night and checked the corners of my mosquito net.


The room where I stayed my first night in Mali

After a few weeks with the host family with whom we were staying, I knew that I was being looked after. They made sure our food was safe, and that we had bottled water, local currency, and internet access. The little kids even helped us wash our underwear by hand.


Getting some help with laundry

In Lahore, Pakistan, I was told not to go out by myself, even during the day. Only nobody told me that until the day AFTER I went out shopping on my own.


The streets of Lahore (back in 2001)

I didn’t have any problems, though. In fact, this salesman asked me lots of questions about why I wanted to buy Muslim prayer beads to show my students. He ended up giving them all to me for free! And then I bought a shirt from another person who insisted I come into his house to meet his family and have tea!


The nicest salesman ever (who wouldn’t take my money!)

In Istanbul, Turkey, I was pretty confused riding public transport. People warned me to stay away from crowds, and then I ended up taking this video while riding a bus that got mixed up in post-game traffic.

Don’t worry — I was fine. Everyone I met in Istanbul went out of their way to be friendly to me. People on buses scanned their cards to give me free rides when they saw I wasn’t a local. A random travel agent introduced me to a public school teacher who invited me into his classroom.

I could go on with more stories from more countries. The images and stories on this blog entry all have one thing in common though. They are all from countries where the vast majority of the population is Muslim.


Travelers in Capadoccia, Turkey

I know I’m just one person. I can’t speak for everyone, but personally I’ve found Muslim countries to be some of the most friendly places in the world. As far as I can tell, they are the most focused on hospitality compared to other places I’ve traveled in North and South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe. Please don’t get confused and think that terrorists are representing Muslim people. Islam is a religion that teaches peace.

Balloons in Dogon Country MaliSo the next time you feel afraid, remember that 99.9% of the world’s people are kind and good to others. If you don’t believe me, go find out for yourself.

Happy Back to School (where applicable)!

Getting to know some students during the summer of 2007 while volunteering at a school in Kati, Mali (West Africa)

Tomorrow is our first day back at Innovation Academy Charter School. I always have some first day jitters, but I’m really excited to meet my new classes. It makes me wonder — is it the start of the year in other schools around the world? In my mind, September always brings a fresh start, but in South Africa, the winter is just ending now. In China, it’s still the Year of the Dragon until February. I wish I could see for myself… what’s happening tomorrow at schools around the world?

Students in Sikkim, India during one of my first experiences volunteer teaching in another country (2001).

I came across an interesting article today… and I think it comes pretty close to answering my question. It’s called 20 Classrooms Around the World and I saw it thanks to one of my colleagues from the Teachers for Global Classrooms program, the talented David Burton of Oklahoma).  The photographs are amazing, showing beautiful diversity — from Argentina to Yemen… from the faces of the children to the desks and chairs they occupy. I feel very lucky to have captured some of my own photographs of schools around the world during my travels.  I feel equally lucky to be home, starting a school year in the one school where I want to be teaching right now.  It’s good to be here, but I also feel just a little bit closer to some friends far away.

Our beautiful building in Tyngsboro, MA

A public school that I visited in May in Istanbul, Turkey

My classroom, ready to be filled with students tomorrow!

Students at the School for Migrant Children in the Fangshan district of Beijing, China

A glimpse of our new track and field off in the distance! The workers are finishing up.

Sport facilities at School 57 in Kyiv, Ukraine

Peaches from trees in the IACS garden that I picked last Friday. They are now jam!

Last summer, I toured the garden of a school in Inhambane, Mozambique (and picked some eggplant)

Our majestic school library

A classroom library at a private school in Istanbul, Turkey

Student work is now hung up on walls (Homebase Gandhi made this for their Global Citizenship Project).

Student work on display at the Zaporizhya Classical Lyceum (Ukraine)

Looking forward to seeing these silly friends tomorrow…

And already missing these friends in China, wishing them a fabulous first day of school, whenever it comes!

Wherever you are, I wish you a fresh start on your journey ahead.  There’s a lot to learn this year.

Blog Round Up

If you’ve been reading this blog, you probably know my student Anna.  Her comments after each entry truly demonstrate what this blog is meant to be: a conversation.  If done well, each entry should begin a dialogue that inspires learning about living well in a world of diverse cultures.  I am proud that many students, in addition to Anna, have gotten involved.  They’ve been commenting on entries, doing research beyond this site, and talking to each other.  Some students even started a global action club at our school, which I am helping to get off the ground.  This blog isn’t meant to be about me, but about them.  As I continue writing from China this summer, I hope to experiment with even more creative strategies to get young people involved in this exploration of global citizenship.

I interviewed Anna and two other students, Sarah and Juliano, about what they’ve learned through this site. It’s always best to hear directly from the experts, so please view their video blog debut here:

Readers: What have you learned from this blog?  What ideas do you have to continue building this site and get more voices involved?

Students at Innovation Respond

I am back at Innovation Academy and have begun sharing my experience with students in person.  It’s been wonderful to see how the students were able to learn through my experiences in Ukraine and Turkey. They really are starting to think of themselves and our school as part of the global community.  Check out what they had to say after reading the blog:


An Innovation Academy student checks out Cossack dolls that were gifts from staff members at Zaporizya Classical Lyseum

“I found it surprising that in many schools in Ukraine parents have to pay in order for children to get a grade or so their children will get accepted.  I found it interesting that they learn a lot of languages (from an early age).”

“Ms. Krakauer went to visit a church in Ukraine.  She said that there are a lot of bells ringing, and the church was painted with bright colors!  This could be similar to our religion because in Catholic churches they ring bells (that’s hung in the church) to show when it’s noon or 6 pm, to announce funerals, and to celebrate a wedding!”

“On Orthodox Easter, Ms. Krakauer ate at a restaurant and it was clear that people eat a lot in Ukraine.  The video mentioned that it is custom to eat until you are stuffed.  It also mentioned that it was good luck if the egg you received wasn’t cracked first, showing some possible superstitions.”

An Innovation Academy student holds up a letter from a Ukrainian student he is going to write to

“I loved looking at Ms. Krakauer’s post about the weird food she tried.  I would love to try cherry varenyky.  It sounds really yummy with the honey. I would also like to try salo because I love bacon!”

“I feel that Ms. Krakauer was very brave to try lard.  I find it challenging because it is a new food that I would never go near.”

“One thing that Ms. Krakauer did that I think would be fun was visit Khortytsya Island because it sounds like it’s a historic place and it sounds like a beautiful place! I would love to see a wild boar!  It sounds so much fun to use a bow and arrow.”

“I was surprised that there was a type of therapy room.  I have never seen one in America. It was so cool looking!”

“She had Easter in Ukraine. It was different than the US Easter. They had a feast and did Pysanky eggs there so elegant compared from what I made.  I would like to make Pysanky eggs.”

“I think something challenging that Ms. Krakauer had to do was watch and try to understand a play.  It would be challenging because it could be in a different language.”


Students were excited to get little gifts from Ukraine and Turkey, including this evil eye “good luck” pin.

The Turkish Hamam was a sort of spa-like place with face masks and saunas.  They had a full body peeling.  Ms. Krakauer says in her blog that since people don’t have bathing rooms in their houses, they go to a public place to bathe.  This shows that the Turks practice old traditions, since this hamam idea dates back to the Ottoman Empire.”

“Ms. Krakauer had an experience of a riot over a football game. I think it would be challenging because it would make me feel worried because I would get hurt.”

“Ms. Krakauer was wondering if she would offend the Muslim religion and their people if she wore short sleeves or a tank top.  This would be different than my Catholic religion because we wouldn’t be offended.”

“There seem to be a lot of mountains in Turkey — tall mountains.  Ms. Krakauer’s hotel was built right into one of them!  That shows that the people who live there use the resources they have.”

A sweet thank you note!

“One thing that Ms. Krakauer did that I think would be challenging is trying to figure out what bus to go on, or what it costs to go on on the bus.  When I was in New York, I had trouble figuring out which bus to take, and figuring out where to get off.  I would find it challenging because I wouldn’t know the language, so I wouldn’t know what things to say, or what some people say.”

“She saw Turkish taffy and Turkish cheese is white.  She also saw fish and some sort of meat.  Their food is different from ours.”

“In Cappadocia there were underground cities where people used to live to escape getting killed during the many battles.  There are hundreds of underground cities all over Cappadocia where people lived. They carved out the cities from the basalt rock left over from years of volcano eruptions.”

“Ms. Krakauer encountered Turkish culture in the Istanbul marketplace when she was haggling over prices.  This shows that the Turkish shopkeepers want to get the most amount of money possible.”

And if you didn’t get a chance to check out Nate’s video response to the students in Zaporizhya, check it out here:

Students in Zaporizhya recorded their own video responses here and here. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of the relationship between countries.  What other ideas do you have for ways that our school can connect with others globally?

Want to learn more? I’ll be holding Global Gab sessions at Innovation Academy for any interested students, parents, or teachers.  Come join us from 3:30-4:30 on Tuesday, May 22 (to learn about Ukraine) or Tuesday, June 5 (to learn about Turkey).

A Muslim Country?

Is Turkey a Muslim country?  According to the CIA World Factbook, 99.8% of people in Turkey are Muslim (people who practice the religion Islam).  Women who are Muslim normally wear head coverings and men who are Muslim generally wear beards.  Of course, people who are less religious might not follow these practices, but many do.  However, while I was in Turkey I learned that in public schools and government buildings, women are not allowed to wear head scarves and men are not allowed to wear beards.  The government wants to keep religion out of public spaces, but they are doing this by restricting people’s religious practice.  This seems sad to me. Shouldn’t people get to choose how they want to dress and practice their religion?

When I walked down the streets in Turkey, I saw people of all shapes and sizes, light skin and dark skin, covered heads and modern dress.  Like America, Turkey is a diverse country!  Take a peek:

Turkey is a crossroads country between Europe and Asia, so it has a long history for both Christians and Muslims.  I saw many mosques throughout my travels, but I also saw churches, from very ancient to more modern:


I also got to go inside a few mosques, some of them very famous:

Overall, I don’t think that Turkey should be defined as a Muslim country, even though many people are Muslim.  People are people. If we only see their religion, we miss out on lots of other aspects of who they are.  Even so, I loved learning about the things they find sacred, and how Muslims practice their religion. Here’s one of my favorite photos that I took on my last day in Istanbul, which I think shows the contrast between the old and the new, as well as the religious and the secular. As you can see, mosques are only one part of the landscape of Turkey.

Loving School

A new friend I made in Goreme, Turkey

Throughout my trip, I visited 7 different schools in Ukraine and Turkey. I saw schools that serve pre-school kids all the way up through high school, and schools that work with kids who are gifted, special needs, or average.  Each school was different from the others in some way. All of the schools that I visited had teachers who really cared and wanted to be there for the students.

A student at Zaporizhya Classical Lyceum says hi

The last school that I visited at the end of my time in Istanbul was the first private school that I saw.  It was very apparent that they had money to get the best for their students.  The facilities were beautiful.  If you watch the video below, you’ll see just a glimpse of their amazing resources — computer labs, projectors, gym spaces, giant chess sets and ping pong tables in the open areas, great food for lunch, etc.  It was truly impressive.  Even more  amazing were the people, who come from all over the world to teach there.  It made me stop for a minute to consider a move to Istanbul to work there.

Don’t worry — I won’t really move to Turkey.  I love my community and my job too much. I feel lucky to work at a school like Innovation Academy that fits me so well, and I don’t think that money buys a good school.  This private school, for example, still has to teach the Turkish national curriculum, and they still need to spend large portions of their time preparing for standardized testing.  In the elementary grades, they are able to do really creative, interdisciplinary work, but once students hit middle school, they need to focus on preparing for exams. Hearing the teachers talk about this problem made me think of our challenges at IACS, trying to balance MCAS preparation and more holistic projects that have real-world application. Some issues are universal to all schools, no matter where they are.

I love working at Innovation Academy, and I am thrilled to go back to school tomorrow after this three week trip.  It’s been a long time and I am excited to see all my students and coworkers.  How many students love going to school? This whole experience has made me wonder, “What does make a good school?”  Is there any universal answer that would be true around the world? Any readers out there have a magic answer? Please share your ideas!

A master teacher and some of her students in Kyiv







Animals Here and There

I’m home!  It’s especially nice to see my family, friends, and little birdie, Tashi.  She is pictured here, on the left. As you can see, she is happy to see me also.  🙂

The journey was long.  I left my hotel in Istanbul at 9 am this morning, and now it is 9 pm in Massachusetts.  The trip was much longer than 12 hours though, because I had a layover in Germany and there is a 7 hour time difference between Turkey and here. So, it feels like 4 am to my body!  Luckily, I have Sunday to work on recovering from my jet lag. I also had some good travel luck today: a) I met a new Turkish friend at the airport in Istanbul who invited me to get free food in the VIP lounge, b) I got put on a plane with mini-TVs at each seat, which I didn’t have last time, so I got to watch two movies I’ve been wanting to see, and c) I had both a window and an aisle seat to myself because the plane wasn’t full.

In honor of being back and seeing my pet, I thought I’d post a video showing animals of Turkey (as requested by some students in comments).  Unfortunately, the parts of Turkey that I visited aren’t big for wild animals, so most of the animals you’ll see here are domesticated.  There are lots of dogs and cats on the streets, and I even ran into horses in some remote areas.  My favorite animal footage you can see here is the cat that wandered into the Hagia Sophia Mosque and sat in one of the exhibit areas.  I also like the seagulls, which follow the ferries because people throw bread off the sides for them.  None of the animals here will be totally new to you.  If you want to see exotic animals, I’ll have to post some footage from my trip to Southern Africa last summer.  That will have to be another time.  Speaking of “another time,” I plan to post a few more times about Turkey, so check back soon.  After that, the blog will continue, but posts will be less frequent.   However, I’ve enjoyed working to raise global awareness through this blog, so don’t say goodbye to “Innovation on Earth.”   Come back soon!




Mmmm… Turkish Cuisine

If you’ve never eaten Turkish food, you must try it!  Delicious! Here are two videos I just made to make your mouth water:

And learning to cook Turkish food in the evening class that I took:

p.s. I leave tomorrow morning and start the journey home.  I’m not writing a “goodbye to Turkey” post yet, because I’m not ready now.  There’s still so much that I want to share about my time here.  Expect posts coming up about religion in Turkey, my visit to a private school today, and possibly some other highlights of Istanbul! I’m too tired for final reflections tonight and I still need to pack. I can safely say that while my trip has been fabulous, I am very much looking forward to coming home!

Different Sides of Istanbul

A lovely dinner with Ceyda, my sister’s Turkish penpal from middle school!

Istanbul is a HUGE city, and just when I start thinking that I know something about it, I am surprised by something new.  I think this is because Istanbul is often on both ends of the extremes:

  • Rich and Poor
  • Safe and Dangerous
  • Touristy and “Local”
  • Easy and hard to get around
  • Europe and Asia
  • Quiet and Loud

Here is some evidence that Istanbul can’t be pegged as one single “type.”

Shopping: Yesterday, I visited a famous old market called the Grand Bazaar, located in the Old City.  It was touristy, but it’s been around for years, and is very authentic in many ways. Today, I had a very different shopping experience.  In order to visit a school, I took a ferry across the Bosphorus River to the Asian side of Istanbul.  I came across a mall, and thought it would be interesting to check out.  It wasn’t exactly what I expected for a Turkish mall:

The public school that I visited today

Schools: The public school that I visited today was nice, but some aspects were hard to see.  Most classes have 30-40 students, and many students wore dirty or ripped uniforms.  They were eager to learn about the United States and tell me about their school, but most of them said that they don’t like school. They were also very rowdy, and the teacher had to raise her voice to speak over them. She also told me that most of these students will not attend college.  I’m guessing this is due to financial obstacles.  Despite the challenges, I was impressed by the kindness of the teachers and they were enthusiastic about using project-based learning approaches. The students gave me their email addresses as they are interested in American penpals.  Tomorrow, I am visiting a private school, so it’ll be exciting to see how it is different. You can meet some of the students and teachers in this little video:

The restaurant we ate at has a private boat which took us across the sea (from Asia to Europe) back home from dinner

Public Transportation: I have been spending tons of time on public buses, trams, and ferries.  All of them feel very safe, and I am blown away by how helpful people have been to me.  Since I don’t speak Turkish and don’t have a bus card, I often have to ask for help from locals to get where I am trying to go. I’ve had multiple people pay for my fare, get on the wrong bus in order to help me out, and go out of their way to stay with me and get me help. It’s really amazing. I feel like I’ve got little Turkish guardian angels everywhere, looking after me.  Today was one of the only times that I felt unsafe, when at the end of the day, my bus encountered a riot of sorts. People were celebrating a big football match win (two Turkish teams), but it got out of control a few cars away from where we were, and the police had to come break it up.  I was debating what to do.  Getting off the bus and running seemed like a bad idea, because then I’d be IN the mob. So, I stayed put with my new Turkish bus friends, and got out my camera:

As you can see, Istanbul is full of surprises. What will tomorrow bring?

Goodbye Cappadocia

I’ve been in Istanbul for two full days now, but the rocks of Cappadocia stay with me.  Marina and Jaques, the couple that I met from Belgium, told me that they’ve been back more times than they can count. This is no ordinary place, but also these are no ordinary people.  Marina and Jaques showed me the area as only a “local” could.  When we encountered a steep rock, and there was a newly installed ladder, they complained that the new tool ruined the fun of climbing. Despite the fact that Jacques was old enough to retire from his job, he deftly climbed the toughest rocks and lent me a hand over the biggest ones. When I scraped my elbow, Marina said, “Yes, we always return from our trips with scraped elbows. And we say that we had a great trip.”

I keep thinking about this — that sometimes you need to get a little scraped up in order to have the best experiences. I never would have met Marina and Jacques if I hadn’t ventured off into the wilderness on my own, even though it was a little scary and lonely.  Not only did I end up with wonderful hiking partners, but they then showed me back to town to meet their local guide, Hassan, and his family. I made them some balloon animals and hats, and they insisted that I have tea at their home. I’ve barely noticed the elbow scrape.

Here’s to Cappadocia — this little film is just a draft, because I could spend hours sorting through my footage — but I hope it gives you a sense of what a special place this is.

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