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After volunteering for a cultural exchange company teaching Turkish families conversational English, Ridgway resident Dale E. Fox wanted to set the record straight by writing a book about the misconceptions and stereotypes Americans have of Muslims.
"The real purpose of writing the book was to be able to share and communicate the different things I learned about the Muslim country," Fox said. "I had never met a Muslim person and had no idea what their culture and society would be like going in."
On June of 2009, she stumbled on the opportunity while surfing the web and discovered the volunteer-based company, Geovisions, which was advertising the opportunity to live with host families in Istanbul, Turkey. Having worked for the DuPont Corporation as an information technology consultant for 30 years and just receiving a history and political science degree focusing on Mediterranean and Middle Eastern history from the University of Pittsburgh, Fox was in need of adventure.
Fox lived with host families in October and November of 2009, spending the majority of her time in Istanbul and Izmir.
"There were many concerns about me traveling as a woman alone and going into this adventure and not knowing the families," Fox said. "I ended up extensively traveling by myself and found the country incredibly safe, much safer than I feel in many places in the United States. They are very big on law and order, and it was very interesting because there was very little police presence and yet there wasn't a lot that went on. I never once was in a situation where I felt fearful."
Fox's responsibilities with Geovisions required her to work 15 hours per week as a home-based tutor.
"They work in all different countries all over the world, but they are one of the few that has programs in the Middle East, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey," Fox said. "It's all based on home-based tutoring where you go over and volunteer, you actually pay to volunteer for this, it's like a volunteer vacation. They cover your room and board, and you have all of this free time where you can go and explore your territory as far a field as you want to go. It's a great program."
Fox enjoyed her experience volunteering for Geovisions so much, she worked for them for a year out of their headquarters in Connecticut.
"In my book I wanted to show the diversity that is found within the country," Fox said. "People often view a Muslim country as very stereotypically, as all of the same, although the reality is that in these countries there are many different points of view that are just as diverse about religion and politics as they are in the United States. In other words, anything I saw in Turkey, there were similar things going on in the United States, in terms of life, politics and points of view.
Fox also noted another misconception of how Turkey is thought of as primarily a desert environment.
"When Americans think of the Middle East, they think of sand," Fox said. "They aren't properly classified that way because they are a combination of central Asian culture, European culture and Muslim culture. It's this combination of these major cultures. Geographically, the stereotypes are completely off and it is a very mountainous country for the most part and they are surrounded by major bodies of water on the three sides. They have the Black Sea, Aegean sea and Mediterranean Sea. They have these incredible paradise-like beaches that are just some of the best in the world and then you have an interior that is very rugged and mountainous."
While teaching in Turkey, she e-mailed stories about her daily adventures to friends and family, many of which persuaded her to publish them as a book.
"A lot of the Turkish people were excited when I told them I was thinking about writing this book because they wanted to be portrayed as they really are," Fox said. They were very sensitive to how Americans thought of them. It would upset them terribly to be thought of as poor, ignorant, or potential terrorists. They felt so bad that they would be thought of that way when they were so far from that. They are very educated and cultured for the most part and very aware of world politics. They were better educated in world issues and geography than we are."
Fox's book, "Turkey Uncovered" was recently published by XLIBRIS and paperback, hardcover and electronic copies can be purchased from their website. In two to three months it will also be available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, along with an E-reader version.
"People are the same all over the world and I suspected that when I went over," Fox said. "This was one of the things I was trying to see, if this culture, that many people would look at as being very foreign and different. How different were they really underneath? And the answer is that they were absolutely no different. They are concerned with the same things in life that we are."