LEMONT FURNACE, Pa. — Penn State students returned from an eye-opening and immersive study abroad trip to Turkey, which provided them with unique cultural experiences, exposure to world religions, and opportunities that broadened their horizons.
The trip, a culmination of planning and hard work, was a labor of love led by Aris Karagiorgakis, assistant teaching professor of psychology at Penn State Fayette, and Hakan Can, professor of criminal justice at Penn State Schuylkill.
Karagiorgakis said the trip aimed to provide a global experience for the students, exposing them to various religions, cultures, and ways of life.
"(We) explored the pagan symbols in the ancient Hagia Sophia, which, for nearly 1,000 years, was the largest church in the world, and witnessed its religious evolution from Byzantine church to Ottoman empire mosque, to museum, and finally to present-day Turkish mosque," he said.
Julie Seliga, a Penn State Fayette student from Smock, Pennsylvania, said Can was a valuable asset during their trip to Istanbul, in part because of his Turkish heritage.
"Having him there to translate and talk with the locals for us was great," she said. "Having someone who knew the history firsthand helped make the experience ten times better.”
"Knowing how old some of these buildings were and that they were built so long ago was cool. Trying to fathom the history of my surroundings was difficult."
—Julie Seliga , Penn State Fayette
Roger Myers Jr., a Penn State student from Fairchance, Pennsylvania, found the program enriching.
"The opportunity to explore different cultures allowed us as students to gain a deeper understanding of faith and spirituality," he said.
During the trip, students engaged in after-action reporting, reflecting on their experiences. Can noted the effectiveness of hands-on learning and the importance of cultural immersion in creating an unforgettable educational experience. The diverse religious landscape of the city was a focal point of their adventures.
"Their responses really excited me in many ways because it shows how much they’re learning during the trip,” Can said. "This is a city that actually has all of (the major religions) and that's why we went to Jewish temples, ancient Roman churches, and mosques."
By visiting these sacred places, the students witnessed firsthand the cultural harmony of people from different religious backgrounds living together, allowing them to make informed decisions about their own beliefs and values.
"I went into the trip expecting to want to learn about their culture and how people are acting. But the architecture was so striking. That usually doesn’t intrigue me," Seliga said. "I was surprised to find myself really interested in that the entire time. Knowing how old some of these buildings were and that they were built so long ago was cool. Trying to fathom the history of my surroundings was difficult."
Karagiorgakis believes that study abroad experiences are transformative opportunities that cannot be duplicated in a classroom.
“Students not only learned about another culture, but learned even more about themselves, and their own culture,” he said. “There is no better way to become global citizens than to travel abroad.”
“It was a huge step for me since it was my first time ever on a plane or leaving the country,” said Tessa Lynn, a Penn State Fayette student from Somerset County, Pennsylvania. “It pushed me out of my comfort zone and completely immersed me in new experiences, food, and cultures. Those aren’t things we’re often exposed to in Fayette County. Now that I’m back, I feel more likely to try new things here, too.”
“It pushed me out of my comfort zone and completely immersed me in new experiences, food, and cultures. Those aren’t things we’re often exposed to in Fayette County."
—Tessa Lynn , Penn State Fayette
Penn State Fayette proudly boasts its active participation in the Penn State International Studies Programs. We provide students with a variety of opportunities to study in foreign countries for varying periods of time — a week, a summer, a semester, or a full year.
Interested in studying abroad? Contact the Student Success Center for more information.