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Turkish students visit Sanibel, discuss environmental issues

By Staff | Nov 26, 2008

There was a feeling of internationalism among the mollusks and bivalves at the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum in last Thursday when 10 students and their teachers from the prestigious Koc International School in Istanbul, Turkey began their visit to Sanibel with a visit to the unique museum.

The group’s visit was part of an exercise in the study of global conservation and the environmental impact of urbanization and tourism on world ecosystems, said Dr. Konstantin Georgiadis who heads the Social Sciences Department at the Canterbury School in Fort Myers.

Dr. Georgiadis also serves as a coordinator of the Canterbury School’s participation in the Bridges Program, which links students from Eastern and Western counties together to explore common challenges through the filters of differing cultures.

“We are interested to see how those issues are approached by those with a different point of view,” said Dr. Georgiadis.

The two-year Bridges Program was first conceived by teachers at the Koc School, and was met with enthusiastic acceptance by Canterbury’s new headmaster Tony Paulus.

Although Turkey is half a world away from the United States, issues of tourism and urbanization, and their impact on natural eco-systems are common experiences in both cultures. The ancient city of Istanbul differs greatly in both climate and geography from the warm, sub-tropical breezes that lure visitors to Southwest Florida. However, Istanbul’s rich history, proximity to the Greek Islands and significance as the place where the practice of Christianity was first legalized in 323 AD lures tourists from all over the world as well.

The Bridges Program students from both schools had already gotten to know each other through the use of Skype communication software before last week’s visit.

“They visit frequently — very frequently,” said Dr. Georgiadis. “They can see each other, they talk, they discuss environmental and conservation issues.”

There are about 50 Koc School students involved in the Bridges Program, which comprises two separate sections: The Model United Nations (Model

UN) and Environmental Conservation. Student participation in the two sections is evenly split at the Koc School, said Dr. Georgiadis, while 43 Canterbury students participate in the Model UN section, and 15 are in the Environmental Conservation section.

Inside the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum’s meeting room early Thursday morning, the first 10 students to visit Southwest Florida from Turkey attempted to suppress gasps and giggles as images of living mollusks poked, prodded and leaped across the widescreen TV. Later they were treated to a guided tour of the museum, where they had the opportunity to touch and observe live mollusks before touring the various exhibits. A display concerning the use of shells as currency attracted particular attention when students discovered that Calusa Indians could buy a wife for about 50,000 shells.

Dr. Georgiadis said that they chose to visit Sanibel and the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum in particular because of its excellence as an environmental museum.

“This is one of the best shell museums in the United States,” he explained. “It’s equal to those museums in Washington, D.C., and Sanibel has one of the best examples of environmental conservation efforts in the face of increased tourism.”

The Koc School students later had their opportunity to explore some of that Sanibel eco-system first-hand with a nature walk on the beach, followed by a boat tour of Tarpon Bay. Of course, no visit to America would be complete without a lesson in American sportsmanship, and students returned to Canterbury School later in the day for a game of lacrosse.

On Friday, the students all traveled to the Pedro Menendez High School

in St. Augustine, Fla. for the weekend, where they joined the Canterbury School’s Model UN team in a competition with students from other Model UN programs all over Florida. The students started their journey back to Istanbul on Monday morning, when they departed Fort Myers for Miami.

Another group of Koc School students will travel to Fort Myers in February to assess the progress of the Bridges Program and to discuss the relevance of global issues on local communities.

Students from the Canterbury School’s Bridges Program will travel to Istanbul next June.