International students say that living in Turkey has dispelled many preconceived notions they harbored about the country. For Fredinant Hasmuca, 31, a theology student at Ankara University, his acquaintance with Turkey started with misleading history books in Albania.
"Before I came [to Turkey], what I knew about Turkey was what I had learned from history books. According to these books, Turkey was a colonialist country that was a continuation of the Ottoman Empire. This is because our history was translations from English or French history books without investigating Albanian or Ottoman archives," Hasmuca said.
He said people in Albania started to get to know Turkey after 2010, when organizations like Turkey's state-run aid body, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA) and the Yunus Emre Institute - a Turkey-based cultural institute - launched their activities in the Balkan country.
"Those books translated from English or French deceived us about [Turkey's] history. Now, almost all people in Albania like Turkey, especially President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan."
Hasmuca said Turkey "is a meeting point of Greek, Roman, Islamic and Western civilizations," where one "may have the opportunity to compare different civilizations."
He went on to explain how the Gülenist Terrorist Group (FETÖ), the group behind last year's failed coup attempt in Turkey, prevented non-FETO-linked students from traveling to Turkey to study.
"I wanted to study theology and came to Turkey. To be able to study theology in Turkey, you have to be a religious school graduate, but I was a regular high school graduate," he said.
"Another way was to get official permission from the Albania office of Turkey's Presidency of Religious Affairs, which was controlled by FETÖ at the time. They used to send only their own students, so I was not able to get this official permission as well."
Hasmuca was only able to apply for the theology school after taking Quran classes for four years in Istanbul.
ENVIRONMENT OF TOLERANCE
Yusuf Wara Abubakar, 36, from Nigeria, a PhD student at Gazi University in Ankara, first came to Turkey in 2013. But his first acquaintance with the country began with the stories his grandmother told him.
"My grandmother used to tell us stories about the Ottoman Empire. These were stories she learned from her ancestors. That was the first time I heard about Turkey.
"She used to say that Turkey was an Islamic country that was against colonialism. As you know, Nigeria was under British rule during the 19th and 20th centuries. These stories impressed me so much that I did lots of assignments about Turkey in high school," he said.
Abubakar said before he came to Turkey, he used to think it was an Arab country.
"I persuaded a friend of mine to study in Turkey, and so we came [here]. We were surprised when we first saw Turkey."
Abubakar said his friends studying in European countries were facing "racist" treatment, unlike the "tolerance" in Turkey.
"My friend in Germany said they were not allowed to enter to some shopping centers there. They even treat students studying there as if they were refugees. But in Turkey, people are tolerant wherever you go," he said.
FRIENDLY OLD LADY
Abdul Wahid Abubakar, who hails from Ghana, is studying civil engineering at Gazi University.
"I heard about Turkey in 2002 during the World Cup. I saw its flag and understood that it was a Muslim country," he recalled, referring to the moon and crescent figures. He added that he also used to think Turkey was an Arab country and that people spoke Arabic.
Abdul Wahid said he came to Turkey in 2007 at the age of 17, he recounted his first experience with Turkish hospitality on a trip from Istanbul to Kayseri where he went to high school.
Abdul Wahid said when he and a few other friends first arrived in Turkey, they traveled by bus from Istanbul to Kayseri. They did not know who to trust or where to get off, so they stayed on the bus for the whole duration of the trip just to be safe. It was a 12-hour ride.
"I thought it would just take half an hour because in my country, if you travel 12 hours, you will definitely go abroad. So we didn't get off the bus even to have a break. We thought we would get lost," he said.
"An old woman sitting next to us understood our situation. When the bus stopped for a break, she bought food for us and silently put it next to my seat. We couldn't say thank you, as we didn't speak Turkish at the time, but we expressed our gratitude through our body language."
THAT WAS HOW HE MET TURKISH PEOPLE
"I don't know who that old woman was, but I always pray for her," he added.
According to Abdul Wahid, studying in Turkey and learning Turkish is an opportunity with great advantages in Ghana.
"Even my friends who only went to high school in Turkey and returned to Ghana were able to find jobs easily."
He said the only difficulty he had was the cold weather in Turkey.
"I hadn't seen snow before in my life."
Abdul Wahid said he had friends studying in America and Europe.
"Maybe their living standards are better there, but the humanitarian situation here in Turkey is far better. All students studying in Turkey know about Palestine and what has been going on in the Middle East.
"People in Western countries are either unaware of or insensitive to these humanitarian crises. We are aware of the developments in the Middle East and Palestine because Turkey is sensitive to these issues and more sincere," he said.