Space Exploration in Turkey

Published 11/06/2022 in Scholar Travel Stipend
Written by Justin Hogenauer | 11/06/2022

I believe that the work I was doing in Turkey was incredibly impactful and my hope is that I will continue to find future opportunities that allow me to make positive differences in the communities that I work with. As I move into the future, I hope to share these lessons that I have learned and serve as an advocate for science and higher education as a whole.

This past summer [2019], I had the privilege to travel to Izmir, Turkey to work abroad and teach space history and STEM topics as a summer counselor for Space Camp Turkey. While attending a scholarship reception at UC Berkeley, I connected with the event’s keynote speaker, Ms. Mary Tuncer, who just so happened to be the co-founder of Space Camp Turkey. After expressing my sincere interest in becoming an aspiring pilot, she strongly encouraged me to apply for the summer position and the rest was history. The next thing I knew, I had a plane ticket booked for Istanbul and my bags were packed for an interesting summer ahead working at a space camp in Turkey.

Space Camp Turkey, or SCT, invites young students from across the globe to engage in an immersive hands-on learning environment that exposes them to nontraditional STEM topics beyond the typical classroom environment. The educational setting at SCT provides a unique space for young generations to interact with one another, regardless of gender, religion, class, etc. United by their shared interests for science and exploration, these campers represent a diverse image of what education should look like at a global level. The purpose of SCT’s founding was to provide more than just a means for young students to study about space but to use education as a means for bridging the gaps among relations at the international level.

In addition, Space Camp Turkey offers international students the opportunity to learn teamwork, problem solving, and time-management skills in a fun-filled aerospace, engineering, and technology interactive environment. In the course of a typical week, students participate in a range of engaging activities including science experiments, arts and crafts projects, and lecture-style discussions. One of the highlights of the program includes a rocket and balloon launch, where students build and design their own cardboard model rockets and tissue paper hot air balloons that are later launched into the sky. Learning experiences like this provide a unique opportunity for the youth to not only learn about science but to also build upon English communication skills with students from different backgrounds.

Due to the nature of working in a space camp, there was naturally a large focus on space-related topics which included the campers participating in a personalized space shuttle mission and interacting with simulators that mirrored real-life astronaut training. With a state-of-the-art facility at their hands and an assignment to complete a specific mission, campers had the options to work in either the orbiter taking command of the shuttle while in space, in mission control center working on logistics on the ground, or in the International Space Station working on experiments in space. As for the simulators, campers had the chance to engage with nine different machines that simulated an array of scenarios from bouncing with 1/6th gravity as if they were on the moon to experiencing a tumble spin while sitting in a multi-axis trainer. With each simulator ride, the campers learned about the different components of training that it took to get through astronaut training. For many of these kids, the personalized mission and riding in the simulators were once-in-a-lifetime experiences for them and I was incredibly honored to be a part of that memory.

Beyond exploring the physical sciences, students also learned about different cultures from across the world which were represented by the other visiting campers. Each week, SCT hosted a “Special Events Night” which encouraged the young campers to share a taste of their home country’s culture. Performances in the past included choreographed dances, slideshow presentations, talent-based acts, and much more. The beauty of events like this serve as more than just an opportunity for the kids to share their respective talents, but represents a larger message of exposing campers to a more worldly perspective.

Over the course of my two months working in Turkey, I had the honor of working with hundreds of students from over twenty-five countries ranging from Slovenia to Kyrgyzstan to India to Australia (just to name a few). With students aged ten to sixteen, this trip was a first for many of them in terms of leaving their home country and a first for me as well in terms of visiting Turkey. Despite the fact that I remained in Turkey for the majority of my summer, by working with so many diverse students, I felt as if I had personally traveled to each of their respective home countries by the end of each program. The relationships I built with the kids I taught were incredibly heartwarming and eye opening as I got to hear each of their stories about where they grew up. Just by mingling over meals, I got to learn about the cuisine they would typically eat, the languages that were spoken in their home country, the quality of resources in their homeland, and so much more.

In addition to the kids I worked with, I also got to work with some amazing staff at Space Camp Turkey and was welcomed to the Turkish culture with open arms. For my accommodations at the camp, they were incredibly understanding and supportive as long as I fulfilled my work contract of teaching the length of the summer as an English-speaking counselor. As a result, my room and board, along with three meals a day, were included. These benefits significantly helped in reducing my expenses over the summer months and allowed me to focus my attention on the quality of my teaching. During my first few weeks, I had a personal mentor named Lex who was an American with over six years of experience teaching at SCT. Lex, single-handedly, taught me everything I needed to know in order to give visiting campers the best experience possible, from ensuring safety producers to facilitating simulator speeches. Thanks to the personal guidance I received early on I was given a strong foundation and understanding of expectations so that I could perform to the best of my abilities at SCT.

Beyond my work within the space camp, part of the job involved a cultural immersion component that allowed me to get a true taste of the Turkish culture. This was not my first time out of the United States, but as a newcomer to Turkey, there was a significant culture shock to say the least. Despite the fact that I didn’t speak the language, Turks were incredibly nice to me in Izmir which allowed me to explore the dense city with ease, visiting the ruins and all the other bucket list destinations that I had wanted to see in the country. By the end of my two months, I learned so much about the culture, their way of life, and the amount of patience it takes to be any kind of teacher.

After this summer working abroad, I have a profound respect for the work teachers do everyday to engage their students and the value of education. Reflecting back on my past summer, I am optimistic that I have made a positive difference in the lives of the kids I worked with, exposing them to new topics and scientific resources that will enable them to consider pursuing futures in STEM. Additionally, as the Milken Institute aims to increase global prosperity by advancing collaborative solutions that create jobs, I too hope that my teaching at SCT has inspired the next generation to pursue careers in science and education. From the feedback I got from a handful of students, I am optimistic that I will see some returners coming back to SCT to one day work as future Camp Counselors and knowing that I had an influence in them wanting to make that decision warms my heart.

When I started this summer job, I wanted to meet and teach as many diverse students as possible about space history and STEM topics. However, what I realized was that in my role as a teacher, I had the opportunity to inspire kids to do more than just learn about space. As a teacher, I had the opportunity to inspire them to dream big and pursue whatever future the world has to offer for them. This realization aligns with the values of the Milken Family Foundation, which strives to discover and advance inventive, effective ways of helping people help themselves and those around them lead productive and satisfying lives. 

Team Photo

A team photo after graduation including my team of kids coming from all over the globe.