For the Turkish exchange students that recently visited Colorado Academy from Uskudar American Academy in Istanbul, the most surprising aspect of the trip was also their favorite. “The people” says sophomore Ece Ketenci. “The people are so nice. They are so friendly.”

The six exchange students – sophomores Öyküm Bike Sakız, İdil Kokulu, Zeynep Çukurçeşme, Ece Ketenci, Ömer Kartal, and Efe Aydın – said they weren’t expecting everyone to be so friendly. It’s one of the many surprises they encountered at Colorado Academy, along with a few firsts.

“It was my first time in an American studies class, which was my favorite,” said Omer. “Mr. (Barry) Simmons just made us feel so welcome and was so excited about sharing American culture with us.”

Over the two weeks of the exchange, in addition to living with host families, visiting colleges and Denver landmarks, and learning how to ski, the Turkish exchange students attended classes. Chatter about the hands-on aspect of the Innovations: Tiny House course, which challenges students to retrofit a bus into a tiny home, formed much of the conversation.


“We can’t always live scared because that’s how those people are trying to make us feel,” says Omer.“ I guess we all should keep living our lives to show them they can’t do anything to us.”


“Right now, we are cutting wood and then putting it into the bus,” says Omer. “We don’t have anything like this class at our school, so it was really new and fun for us.”

Launched in 2014, this marks the second year of the Turkey exchange, which first began when Upper School English teachers Tom Thorpe and Betsey Coleman received a grant to develop curriculum that incorporated Turkish literature, art, and culture in the ninth-grade English curriculum. Bridging Europe and Asia, Turkey is known for its rich cultural heritage, but recently made headlines for a different reason. Just days before the exchange was to take place, the Islamic State claimed a terrorist attack that killed 10 people in in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, near the famous Blue Mosque. Despite proximity, the students said they weren’t deterred by the unfortunate events.

“We can’t always live scared because that’s how those people are trying to make us feel,” says Omer.“ I guess we all should keep living our lives to show them they can’t do anything to us.”

Living their lives meant skiing in the mountains, hiking, shopping and experiencing American culture inside a home, where they got to see firsthand their cultural similarities and differences.

Says senior Piper Bittman, who hosted Ece, “Even though she was from a different country and spoke a different language, there weren’t as many barriers as I thought there would be, if any really. It was an experience that surpassed my expectations.”

The Turkish students echoed that sentiment and stressed the importance of an exchange during the Upper School town hall, where they told their peers at CA that “programs like this help to break down stereotypes and build bridges between our cultures for a better understanding.”