Studying abroad is the most effective and accessible way for students to develop needed skills since it pushes a student to get out of their comfort zone to experience another culture, language, environment and education system. It teaches them to appreciate difference and diversity and enables them to recognize –and then dismiss – stereotypes they may have held about people they never met.Interaction between people from other countries with different backgrounds prepares future leaders in all sectors to address major issues from curing diseases to fighting terrorism and hunger across the globe.
Students abroad in figures
According to the latest figures by the UNESCO Institute of Education, there were 44,471 Turkish students enrolled outside their home country for university in 2017. This number has not dropped below 40,000 since 2008. This means that Turkey has been consistently sending a significant number of students to study abroad.
Among the top destination countries for Turkish international students, there are both traditional study abroad destinations such as the U.S., Germany or the U.K. and non-traditional destinations such as Bulgaria and Azerbaijan.
There are different reasons why students choose a country or university to study. University prestige is one of the factors in this decision-making process, especially when considering the popularity of university rankings lately. However, this is not necessarily the only factor. Students consider other practical reasons such as their familial or social ties in the destination country, the closeness of language and culture and geographical proximity.
Student experiences during international education are a peculiar phenomenon. The scholarly literature is moving toward seeing internationally mobile students as self-forming agents who actively develop themselves in the country context that they study in.These students with international education degrees develop themselves utilizing the available possibilities in the contexts they study. As a result of this process, international study graduates can obtain significant skills, knowledge, social networks that they may not otherwise obtain if they studied in their home country.
Studying abroad has an empowering aspect through which individuals obtain not only a chance to develop themselves but also better prospects to contribute to their home country.
Yusuf İkbal Oldaç, a doctoral researcher at the University of Oxford, investigates the perceived contributions to the home country of Turkish students who studied in one of the four highly popular destinations for Turkish students — i.e. Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Germany and the U.K. Although these selected countries have different characteristics and not all of them have universities with similar prestige levels, there are still thousands of Turkish students studying in them, Oldaç noted.
According to early study findings, many participants reflected on how they can contribute to their home country in one way or another, even the ones who have not returned to Turkey after their graduation.
Since there is a more established knowledge base for how those who returned to their home countries after graduation can contribute to their society, I would like to give examples on how those who have not returned to Turkey explain their contributions.
In the meantime, it should be noted that none of the study participants are government scholarship recipients for studying abroad.
This is important to note as there might be different dynamics for those who studied abroad with a government scholarship.
For example, one person who graduated from a Bulgarian university and stayed there afterwards discussed how he and other international students became civil cultural ambassadors to Bulgaria. He gave details about the cultural activities they organized, which includes bringing whirling dervishes to the capital Sofia and establishing student club connections between Turkish and Bulgarian universities.
Another participant who stayed in the U.K. after his degree education there discussed how he may help Turkish economy through facilitating foreign currency flow thanks to the company he is working there currently, an international company that invests in infrastructure around the world.
Another participant who studied in Germany talked about how him staying in Germany can help build a Turkish diaspora there and contribute to the voices of Turks being heard both locally and internationally. Finally, a participant who studied in Azerbaijan and stayed there afterwards discussed how the company he established in Azerbaijan contributes to Turkish economy in millions of Turkish lira, as they have strong business ties with Turkish companies.
In short, studying abroad not only help students develop themselves, but also provides them with better prospects to contribute to their home country. This seems to be the case even when international degree education graduates do not immediately return to their home countries after graduation.
For this reason, it is very significant to support Turkish students' access to quality educational institutions abroad.
The Fair Opportunity Project
The Fair Opportunity Project (FOP) is a Forbes 30-under-30 award-winning nonprofit organization that aims to make the U.S. (and now the U.K.) college application process fair, accessible and free for all students around the world. Now thanks to Hüseyin Atakan Keskin, a Turkish student at the University of Oxford, this project has just started to help Turkish students out.
A team of students from Harvard, MIT, Chicago, Yale, and Brown, along with the help of top educational consultants, created a free U.S. College application guide which was sent out to more than 64,000 public high schools in the U.S. and downloaded in every state and in over 200 countries. Now this free guide, along with two other valuable resources, is available for Turkish students, families and educators.
Hüseyin Atakan Keskin, the FOP's international director, and Cole Scanlon, the co-founder of the project, are master's students at the University of Oxford who transcribed this renowned project for Turkey. These two friends have been working over the past year to make FOP accessible to Turkish citizens, along with the help of other Turkish students who volunteered to participate in this project.
Their main guide contains all information necessary for students to make a competitive application for the U.S. schools. The Guide (Kılavuz) meticulously explains how students should plan their time in high school; how to write compelling college essays along with essays were in the accepted applications to Ivy League Schools; how to apply for scholarship opportunities and many more details that constitutes a profound college application.
In their website, Keskin says that merely knowing the details to apply for the top U.S. schools and scholarships is not sufficient to be accepted. He says, "to get accepted into these top universities around the world, you need also make significant changes in your lifestyle, the way you view the world and your studying and working habits."
"Furthermore, parents also need to raise their kids in conjunction with the global system and influence their kids' decision-making processes accordingly. This is why we have also created the Mentality Guide (Zihniyet Kılavuzu) for both students and parents," he adds.
Those who dream of getting into the University of Oxford or the University of Cambridge can now access the project's "Oxbridge Guide," which was created by another Turkish student, Kayra Uygun, who studied at Ankara Science High School and is currently working for his undergraduate degree at the University of Oxford in mathematics with a full scholarship. Both the Mentality Guide and the Oxbridge Guide are additional materials only created for Turkish students.
* Istanbul-based lawyer