INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey --
Surrounded by textured colorful walls, classical piano riffs signaling the class bell and the chatter of middle schoolers, eight Incirlik Airmen made their way across campus.
Understanding that having a presence in the community is an essential aspect to nurturing alliances, Airmen spent a day with more than 1,000 students and faculty during a local school visit May 9, 2019, in Adana, Turkey.
During the visit, they discussed their jobs and role in the Air Force, STEM opportunities and American culture.
“I’m very proud of what we did because we reached out to the community and showed a very positive side of what we do and who we are as Americans,” said Staff Sgt. Mischa Martin, 39th Medical Operations Squadron physical therapist technician. “It’s a necessity because a lot of our support comes from the community around us. Being able to show face and actually be a positive role model for the kids plays a huge role.”
As more students piled into the auditorium for the first portion of the visit, others danced eagerly in their seats with excitement, prepared to ask questions and show off their English skills.
“They enjoyed this very much and it’s obvious if you just looked at their faces,” said Naci Urkmen, the school’s English department head. “It was a privilege for us and we should do this more often because it benefits both sides. For our kids who are trying to learn English it was very useful because they use the language daily and this allowed them to interact with Americans.”
The visit was beneficial to the Airmen and the wing as well because it allowed Airmen to foster positive relationships and solidify their presence in the community while bolstering their understanding of America and helping the students improve their English language skills.
“I feel like the best way to learn a language and be effective is by having conversations,” said Martin. “Without those conversations you’re basically just reading from books and learning words. By adding that conversation aspect to it really helps solidify your skills. The things that you learn become a reality.”
Both the Americans and Turkish agreed interacting with one another and sharing their cultures provided a unique experience they’ll never forget.
“I’ve been to many countries and if you don’t have interactions with the people, tasting the local foods and seeing their daily lives it’s not as beneficial,” said Urkmen. “If you just come and go you don’t get to understand the people, but this way you establish a deep connection with the people. You start to feel something different about the Turkish people and their way of life and vice versa.”
Similarly, Airmen should experience all different cultures to provide opportunities for growth while bolstering the long standing relationship between the U.S. and NATO allies.
“I’d do this again in a heartbeat,” Martin added. “The whole experience made my heart happy…those kids left a lasting impression on me.”
When countries emphasize diversity and welcome opportunities to share cultures and experiences, communities can work together to ensure they are making decisions to benefit both parties.
“It will be an unforgettable experience that they will always remember,” said Urkmen. “Seeing an American on the television is something different but interacting with them face-to-face is definitely unique, and if given the chance, we should do this more often.”