Shortly before the start of this past school year, high school visual arts teacher Paul Tuszynski had the opportunity to take a trip of a lifetime.
Through the Turkish Cultural Foundation (TCF), Tuszynski was one of four Minnesota teachers to be chosen for the 14-day trip to Turkey.
"It was an amazing trip," Tuszynski said. "It was such a neat opportunity."
Photos courtesy of Paul Tuszynski
On a 14-day trip to Turkey in July, Tyler resident Paul Tuszynski stopped to pose in front of the Mevlana Museum and Tomb of Rumi in Konya.
Since returning home, Tuszynski, who teaches at Russell-Tyler-Ruthton, Lynd and online at Hendricks, has been giving periodic presentations about his experience in Turkey, including ones to the Tyler Kiwanis Club and at the Balaton Public Library. On Dec. 7, Tuszynski will give a presentation for the teaching staff and on Dec. 12 for the students at RTR High School.
"To do an hour presentation, I really have to strip it down pretty bare," he said. "To go over 14 days worth of stuff is a lot."
The process also requires Tuszynski to be extremely selective about which photographs he uses. In all, he snapped roughly 5,000.
"You can't even comprehend everything you see," he said.
Tuszynski first heard about the trip from another teacher, Pam Blake, who teaches in Elkton (S.D.) and lives in Tyler. At the time, Minnesota teachers were not eligible for the TCF opportunity.
"Pam went to Turkey two years ago and sent me a link to the TCF website this year," Tuszynski said. "They had a full-day opportunity to go and learn about the country of Turkey. I just thought it would be a good opportunity to get some CEUs (continuing education units). Every five years, you have to renew your teaching license, so you need to have 125 credits every five years to do that."
Tuszynski learned that he could earn five to six credits for attending the presentation at the University of Minnesota. After, he learned that for the first time ever, Minnesota teachers were being offered the chance to apply for the nearly expense-free trip.
"It was an eight-page application with essay questions, asking what you'd do if you had the opportunity to go to Turkey," Tuszynski said. "I explained what I would incorporate into the classroom and that I enjoyed photography and trying new foods, anything I could think of that would seemingly be a good fit to send me on the trip."
As it turned out, Tuszynski did get chosen and was notified in May. By July 10, he was on a plane to Chicago to catch a 10-hour flight to Istanbul, along with 26 teachers from across the country. From the time he stepped off the international plane, Tuszynski began getting immersed in the culture.
"We waited in line to get our visas and there were people from every country you can think of," he said. "There were people from Denmark, Pakistan, China and Japan. Everybody's all together in this line, in their own little group. The diversity around you was amazing."
Three of the challenges early on, Tuszynski said, were getting used to the 90- to 112-degree temperatures, adjusting to the eight-hour time difference and having to pay to use the restrooms. Right from the start, though, he said the Turkish people were very hospitable and generous.
"You'd go places and they'd offer you cay, which is black tea," he said. "And you always felt safe. In general, they were very welcoming, friendly and helpful."
The first few days, the teachers toured Istanbul, the county's largest city with 15 million people.
"The Grand Bazaar, there was a pretty impressive place," Tuszynski said. "It's like a covered version of the Mall of America. They sell anything you can think of."
Along with spices, teas and an unlimited supply of fruits, Tuszynski said there were lots of handcrafted items.
"They're really well-known for their ceramics, which are detailed and all handcrafted," he said. "Nothing is machine-made. Every plate, even though it's a set, is a little bit different."
Since Islam is the main religion in Turkey, there were a lot of mosques, Tuszynski said, adding that Muslims do a call to prayer five times each day.
"One of the most interesting things about mosques is that you remove your shoes, whether you are wearing sandals or socks and shoes," he said. "You'd put them in a bag and take them over to a big shelving unit, then dispose of the bag when you leave."
Tuszynski also pointed out that women have their heads, including their hair, covered while inside mosques. Men and women were also required to have their legs covered. Outside the mosques, traditions varied.
"(Mustafa Kemal) Ataturk was the president back in the '20s and he was kind of one who revolutionized Turkey," Tuszynski said. "It used to be very patriarchal, and it still is as far as the mosques. But he opened up the opportunity for women to vote. He no longer forced women, or it wasn't decreed by law, that they had to be covered anymore. That became a choice."
Much like Presidents Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, Ataturk was revered everywhere they went, Tuszynski said.
"Any public building had a picture of Ataturk," Tuszynski said. "It was pretty amazing."
Of the many mosques that he visited, Tuszynski especially liked the Hagia Sophia, which originally started out as a Christian Basilica and was then converted into a Turkish mosque. He added that Turkey was the birthplace of Christianity.
"The architect was so in love with the Christian version, he left it," Tuszynski said. "So there's Christianity up on top, with the gold foil, and angels in the corner. But yet you've got these Turkish discs with Allah being proclaimed there. It's very interesting to see those two different religions, Muslim and Christianity, in the same space."
Tuszynski especially enjoyed the food in Turkey, though it took him some time to get used to eating olives, cucumbers, tomatoes and very salty cheese for breakfast, along with breads with jams, honey and unflavored yogurt. But he said they were treated like royalty, staying in five-star hotels the whole visit.
The group also visited the cities of Gelibolu, Troy, Bursa, Kusadasi, Aphrodisias, Pamukkale, Catalhoyuk, Konya, Cappadocia and Ankara. Some of the visually spectacular things Tuszynski said he saw were iron doors that were 30-feet tall, detailed columns, grand avenues, impressive landscapes, monuments, an enormous auditorium and whirling dervishes, who are a small sect of people who go into a trance-like state as they spin around for more than 30 minutes at a time.
"They packed it in," Tuszynski said. "We were exhausted. We would start at 6:30 or 7 a.m. and we wouldn't get in until 10:30 or 11 p.m. You didn't get a lot of sleep. It was well worth it, but it was very busy days."
The ruins of Ephesus was one of Tuszynski's three favorite places. Remnants of the Great Theater and the Library of Celsus are still found in the city of Ephesus, once famed for the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Tuszynski said he was also awestruck with Pamukkale, which has a snowy white landscape because of natural hot springs and travertines, terraces of carbonate minerals left by the flowing water.
"It's this giant mountain of this calcium chloride with all these heated, mineral pools, which you are allowed to walk through as long as you took your shoes off," Tuszynski said. "It feels just like marble. The water is so blue and it's filled with columns and historical stuff. There are also these tropical flowers growing around it."
Another of Tuszynski's favorites site was Cappadocia, where entire cities were built within the sandstone hills because of persecution by Muslims, he said.
"Christianity started out this way. The people kind of hid. It was just amazing to see these apartments with staircases, bathrooms, ventilation chambers, kitchens and anything you can imagine. It was basically underground," he said.