Exploring Cultural Diversity in Berlin and Istanbul

January 21, 2014

European Identities class in GermanyWhen senior Matt Barry learned about a Knox College course -- European Identities -- that offered students an opportunity to travel to Germany and Turkey with Knox professors, he was eager to participate.

Part of the reason, he said, "is that this sounded like such a new and different way to see Europe."

The students' 17-day trip to Berlin and Istanbul in December built on their classroom studies and was led by the Knox faculty members who team-teach the interdisciplinary course: Daniel Beers, assistant professor of political science; Todd Heidt, assistant professor in modern languages-German; and Emre Sencer, assistant professor of history.

"I never had a chance to visit either country, and I wanted to be able to experience them with a purpose," said Mackenzie Anderson, a sophomore from Redondo Beach, California. "It's one thing to go as a tourist and quite another when you're with people who can educate you on the importance of these cities and their history."

During the trip, Knox students and faculty walked through German and Turkish neighborhoods, museums, and other sites while discussing topics they had studied in the classroom, including the countries' ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity. They also visited Humboldt University in Berlin and Sehir University in Istanbul, where they met other students. (Photo at top: The Knox group in the Christmas markets of Berlin. Photo at right: The Knox group at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.)European Identities class in Turkey

The Knox faculty members said they designed the course and the trip to help students gain a better understanding of Berlin, Istanbul, and the German and Turkish cultures by making connections across multiple academic disciplines.

"A liberal arts education is about trying to make sense of the world around you through a prism of different fields. Here, we had a prism of three different fields," Sencer said.

Students said they definitely made interdisciplinary connections during the trip.

Barry, an international relations major with a minor in German, said one of the most memorable moments occurred in Berlin when the Knox group visited the Stasi Museum, former headquarters of East Germany's secret police agency.

"Professor Beers drew what we saw together with things we had discussed last spring in his Russian and Eastern European politics class as a way of comparing the different ways the countries of the former Soviet bloc handled the post-Communist transition," said Barry, who is from Homewood, Illinois.

Then Heidt approached the same topic from a different angle and "described how German culture is still affected by having lived under the Stasi for 40 years," Barry added. "We were able to go beyond guidebook-level analysis in just so many ways."

For Sophie Croll, a sophomore from Cambridge, Massachusetts, the trip also enabled her to practice the German-language skills she has picked up at Knox.

"Though still far from fluent, I was impressed at how much I understood," said Croll, who was able to order food, follow directions, and read signs. "I owe most of this to the hands-on teaching approach of the Knox German professors and the extent to which they expect us to dive in and use the language."

Knox's European Identities course received support from the German national organization that promotes international academic cooperation. The Federal Republic of Germany through the German Academic Exchange Service (also known by its German acronym, DAAD) awarded a grant of more than $11,000 for students' travel costs. (Photo below: Knox students at the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park, Berlin.)

European Identities class