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New immersion experience will take students to Turkey for a month

RELEASED: Oct. 1, 2010

For more information about the Turkey immersion project, contact Dr. Paul Kaldjian at 715-836-2321 or, Dr. Kate Lang at 715-836-4765 or, or Dr. Scott Lowe at 715-836-2993 or The faculty also have created a website, which they will update regularly with costs and other program information.

EAU CLAIRE — Students with an interest in the Middle East are being encouraged to participate in a new University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire program that will culminate with a nearly monthlong immersion in Turkey during summer 2011.

Up to 30 students can enroll in two semester-long courses during the spring 2011 semester. The classes — which will focus on the history, geography, culture, customs and religion of Turkey — will prepare the students to immerse themselves in Turkish daily life for more than four weeks next summer.

"This will be an intense, life-altering immersion into ways of life that are distinctly different from anything our students are likely to have previously experienced," said Dr. Paul Kaldjian, an associate professor of geography who is one of three faculty who will teach the courses and travel to Turkey with the students. "This will not be a fishbowl experience — we want them to dig into the daily lives, realities and relationships of the local life there. We'll provide guidance and support, but they'll actively participate in the rhythms of the city."

Kaldjian will lead the multidisciplinary immersion project with Dr. Scott Lowe, professor and chair of the philosophy and religious studies department, and Dr. Kate Lang, associate professor and chair of the history department. All three faculty members have extensive knowledge of the Middle East and have spent time in the region. Kaldjian has been conducting research in Istanbul since 1997 and in 2007 he led a community tour through Continuing Education titled "Istanbul's Landscapes of Food." This immersion course will draw from relationships he has developed over the years.

During the spring semester, students will enroll in courses that will focus on the historical background, physical geography, culture and religion of the Middle East and prepare for the immersion experience. During this time, they will learn about current events, food, transportation systems, appropriate clothing and other practicalities that will be helpful during their travels.

By completing the course work in advance of their travels, students will be academically and intellectually prepared before going abroad, Kaldjian said. Having that knowledge base will allow the students to take full advantage of their time in Turkey, he said.

"They'll be able to better understand, appreciate, process and delve into this experience," Kaldjian said, noting that it also will be helpful that the students already will know each other well when they arrive in Turkey. "They'll be able to jump in from the moment they arrive."

While interest in the Middle East is growing among Americans — including among UW-Eau Claire students — many continue to associate the people and practices of the region only with violence, Lang said.

"People in our society have so many misconceptions about the Middle East," said Lang, who advises students in UW-Eau Claire's Middle East studies minor program. "I can think of no better way for our students to learn about Middle Eastern cultures than to combine academic work with time visiting a Middle Eastern country."

Kaldjian said students will be surprised by what they will find in Turkey.

"Our students are going to experience hospitality in ways that will amaze them," said Kaldjian. "They'll try new foods and learn new ways of doing things that they can't even imagine."

Students can earn up to nine credits by enrolling in the spring courses and the summer immersion experience. The credits will count toward three general education categories, and will provide nine of the 23 credits needed to earn a Middle East studies minor.

The program is open to all students regardless of their major, Kaldjian said, noting that the immersion experience will introduce students to everything from Turkish hip-hop music to the various environmental, social and health issues facing the region.

"While we expect the program to interest students majoring in history, religious studies or the sciences, we hope it also will attract students from majors like nursing or music or business," Kaldjian said. "We want this to be something that fits into all our students' academic and personal lives now, and we want it to be something that will serve them in the future. We want this to be a cornerstone experience in their lives — something they can look back on and learn from as they build their futures."

During their first two weeks in Turkey, students will have intensive daily language lessons and will spend time getting to know Istanbul, Lowe said. In the second two weeks, the students will participate in job shadowing, service-learning and small research projects, he said.

Students will be matched with artisans, trades people, merchants, professionals and homemakers, said Kaldjian, who will pair students with the many people he's met during his previous travels to the region. Students will observe and join in daily activities, he said.

During the second half, the group also will explore regions outside Istanbul, Turkey's cultural and economic hub. As they travel to the Black Sea region, Central Anatolia and Thrace, they will experience varied environmental and agricultural regions, Lowe said, noting that Turkey is a culturally, historically and environmentally diverse country.

Turkey also is a safe place for students to begin to explore the Middle East, Lowe said.

"It's a good place for students to go where they can push the boundaries of what is familiar to them," Lowe said. "It's a place that will challenge and interest them, but a place that's not so intimidating that it will flip them out. It's a good entry into the Middle East."

The faculty leaders are still finalizing costs but total costs would not exceed $4,000, including tuition for the summer session, Kaldjian said, noting they are working to keep costs down so the program can be accessible to as many students as possible.

The pilot project is partially funded with Blugold Commitment dollars, monies all UW-Eau Claire students now pay in addition to regular tuition. The Blugold Commitment funds are used to support innovative programs that enhance students' college experiences.

Using Blugold Commitment dollars to help fund the immersion project is especially motivating, the faculty said.

"The students trust us to use this money in a way that will provide them with meaningful experiences," Kaldjian said. "We take that trust very seriously. We are doing all that we can to make this both meaningful and cost effective."

For more information, contact Dr. Paul Kaldjian at 715-836-2321 or, Dr. Kate Lang at 715-836-4765 or, or Dr. Scott Lowe at 715-836-2993 or The faculty also have created a website, which they will update regularly with costs and other program information.



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