My Davidson | A Student Blog Tea, Trees, and Türkiye: A Research Trip Abroad

an ancient amphitheater with mountains and blue skies in the background

Phasalis Ancient City Amphitheatre (Antalya, Türkiye)

Katieanne Peterson ’24 and Noah Landau ’25, students in ϳԹ’s environmental studies department, reflect on their winter break trip to Turkey to study wildfires and their cultural and environmental impact.

About the Authors

Noah Landau ’25 (he/him) is an environmental studies major from Round Lake, Illinois. Outside of the classroom, he is involved with Bee Club, The Farm at Davidson and the Jewish Student Union.

Katieanne Peterson ’24 (she/her) is an environmental studies and German Studies double major from Atlanta, Georgia. Outside of the classroom, she is involved with women’s club soccer, Rusk Eating House, Sunrise Club and the Student Alumni Board.

“Çay anyone?" asked ϳԹessor Ulus. We quickly shook our heads no and laughed; it was already the fourth or fifth cup of the morning. Tea was our first introduction to Turkish culture, and it was a tasty one. 

With no one needing another cup, we headed to the site of the 2021 Manavgat Fire, the largest wildfire in Türkiye since 2008. Spanning all around us and to the rolling hills in the distance were the burnt and charred remains of a once beautiful red pine forest. All that remained was bare soil and newly planted saplings. It is noteworthy that forests in Türkiye hold culturally significant value, so seeing this destruction was even more devastating. Examining the site, we had the opportunity to discuss with the leading Turkish professors on wildfire management, fire prediction modeling, soil science, and forest succession how, with OGM (Orman Genel Müdürlüğü/General Directorate of Forestry), there could be improvements and prevention of these massive destructive fires. With OGM we learned how forest fire management and prevention is tackled with immediate response technology, drones, and constant surveillance of the forests.

a greenscape after a wildfire with blue skies and clouds in the distance

The burned site of the 2021 Manavgat wildfire

Having experiences on campus through courses in environmental pollution, forest ecology and ecosystems, soil science, and through biodiversity research, we both had a strong base of knowledge before going to Türkiye. With this background, you can only imagine how few pages we had left after taking notes in Türkiye! While research was the main focus of the trip, we also had time to explore the cultural, historical, and leisure spots around the country. What is a cultural experience without food? Sharing many Meze (appetizers) at meal times meant we got to try so many amazing Turkish foods: Ezme, Şakşuka, stuffed vine leaves, eggplant with yogurt, humus, and much more. We enjoyed various cheeses, breads, olives, and tomatoes at breakfast, including simit and Poğaça. Köfta, adana kebab, baklava, Turkish Delights, clementines, rice pilaf, and stews were some of the other fan favorites. 

Beyond food, we visited ancient cities, like that in Sine; museums; the Presidential Library; Anıtkabir, Baazars; and caves.

a large mosque set on a blue sky background

View of the Beştepe Millet Mosque in the Presidential Complex in Ankara, Türkiye

a young man stands in front of an ancient amphitheater

Noah on the steps of the amphitheater in Side Ancient City

On one of our favorite days on the trip, we rode on the Olympus cable car up to a snowy peak, had a brief snowball fight, and then headed back down to the beach. Right afterwards we were swimming in the waves of the Mediterranean. We searched for seaglass and shells and soaked up the warm Antalya sun on the rocks above the crashing waves. Where else can you do both weather extremes in one day?!

a young man stands on a snowy mountain top with a blue sea in the background

Noah at the top of the the mountain is Tahtalı Dağı, also known as Lycian Olympus, with the Mediterranean sea behind him

a young woman wearing jeans and a sweater stands on a beach smiling

Katieanne on the rocky beach near the city center in Antalya

It was amazing to travel, explore, and experience one of our favorite professors’ home country, while developing new friendships with everyone at the same time. While travel can be challenging in a group, the professor-student relationship outside of the classroom setting only strengthened as we had to work together in ways only found when in this unique environment of new experiences. We formed strong bonds with our classmates and professors while on this trip, while also taking the diverse and intellectually stimulating concepts that we have learned at Davidson and applying them in real world settings. We gained skills in professionalism through our interaction with government bodies, and grew in personal, academic, and professional knowledge in the concepts around forest fires and pollution associated with it. After the trip, there is still more work to be done, including an independent study with ϳԹessor Ulus on the soil samples from the forest fires. With research, we plan to help the Turkish government by uncovering how soils are affected by large wildfires and how heavy metals, such as mercury, can be a factor in such systems.

a group of young people take a selfie on the stairs of a mountain

Our group hiking down from a visit to Kahrain Cave 

a group of young men and women stand on stairs in front of a building

Our hosts from OGM at the regional wildfire response training facility in Antalya

Even as we reflect on campus now, we can still hear the waves of the Mediterranean calling our names. We want to give special thanks to the support the Clark Ross Fund provided for this amazing experience. The fund allowed for students of all backgrounds and abroad experiences to not worry about the financial burden that comes with travel. Traveling to Türkiye was an unforgettable experience and we are sure we will go back again… maybe with a limit to how many cups of tea we drink!