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Students from Turkey visit Canterbury School

By Staff | Nov 19, 2008

MICHAEL PISTELLA Canterbury School’s Gilbert Evans handles a horseshoe crab at the school’s environmental center’s touch tank as KOC students from Turkey, Oyku Turker, Alkpaan Celik and Irem Cesur, look on with interest and a little apprehension.

Ten students from Koc School in Istanbul, Turkey, are visiting the Canterbury School in Fort Myers this week as part of an international exchange program designed for students to study the environment and participate in a Model United Nations conference.

Tony Paulus, head of Canterbury School, organized the Bridges Program for American and Turkish students to study environmental conservation, historical geography and cross cultural connections. For three years Paulus was general director of Koc School and used his overseas connections to initiate the program.

At the same time, students from both countries are preparing for a Model U.N. conference in St. Augustine this weekend.

“The kids from Turkey are fully bilingual,” said Paulus. “Forty percent of them will apply to colleges and universities in the United States.”

The design of the Model U.N. conference is rigorous, with students researching a country and forming policy on a number of issues based on the country’s best interests.

“The Model U.N. clubs at Koc and Canterbury are strong, there are a lot of places for them to come together,” said Paulus.

Nur Ozluck is a teacher from Koc and a chaperone of the students visiting the United States. She said her students had to study the nations of Belgium, the United Kingdom and France for the conference, and it is common for them to receive their higher education at American universities.

“The education system is different in Turkey,” she said. “Students have to take an exam carried by the state. If they receive a high enough grade, they can be students at Koc.”

All of the Turkish students in Fort Myers are bilingual because they have taken English courses every school year, said Ozluck. Many of them have also visited the United States before.

Fifteen-year-old Ceren Yuksek said this is her third visit to the country and her second to Florida. When she was young she visited Orlando, and she has been to New York. Ceren is also a veteran in her Model U.N. team after traveling to Egypt last year for another conference.

“I’m excited about the sightseeing,” she said. “We also have 2 1/2 days of the conference.”

On Wednesday, students from both schools met in advisory groups and toured the Canterbury campus. They also discussed the Earth Charter in Carl Melamet’s AP environmental science class.

Staff at Canterbury directed the students on Wednesday to an impromptu visit of the Torpey Touch Tank to view marine life and handle horseshoe crabs and lightning whelks.

The group will also tour the beaches of Sanibel Island, visit the Shell Museum and “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge, and take a pontoon tour on Tarpon Bay. Besides touring local attractions, the students from Koc will get a taste of what it is like to be an American student and teenager.

“We are going to the Edison Home, then go to where the teens hang out like Coconut Point and Gulf Coast Town Center,” said Kelly Mercer, 18, a senior at Canterbury School.

Kelly is on the Model U.N. team, representing South Africa, and said she is part of the Bridges Program. Later, Kelly and other students from Southwest Florida will travel to Turkey to participate in the environmental program in June and a Model U.N. meeting in April.

Teenagers and their families at Canterbury are also personally hosting the Turkish exchange students in their homes.

“They are staying with our families,” said Kelly.

Throughout the week, Ann Marie Mershon, an author and former English teacher at Koc School, spent time discussing Turkish culture and her travels throughout the country. On the other hand, students from both schools have met online before using Skype software.

“This program will enrich students’ college preparation while bridging the cultural divide between East and West,” said Dr. Konstantin Georgiadis, head of Canterbury’s Social Science Department and the coordinator of the Bridges Program.