I was crying when the plane took off from Soekarno-Hatta International Airport. My family and friends waited patiently until they could not see the plane on the runway. I was thinking if I made the right decision to leave my career behind. I got a scholarship from the Turkish government (YTB) to study at Istanbul University, the most prestigious university in the country. My journey to get the scholarship can be found here.
The full scholarship covers the flight ticket, accommodation, living cost and medical insurance. So, basically on the paper, the awardees do not need to spend their money to support their life in Turkey. However, that is not the reality. The living cost is much bigger than the money that they give. They placed me in the private dormitory in Yakuplu, Beylikduzu which is very far from the university. I had to take a minibus, a bus and then a city tram. It took more than two hours to go to the university every morning. In the winter, it was longer and sometimes it was cancelled. Although students get discount, transportation cost is not cheap. It is even not comfortable, people fought to get on the bus or tram and yelled to get off it.
I stayed with two other students in a tiny room with a single bed. Practically, there was no place to chill. I can understand if three people stay in one flat with the different bedroom but it was quite hard to stay together in one small bedroom. In summer, all private dormitories were closed and they moved us to the public dormitory and it was six people in one bedroom. At that time, I did not even know how to study anymore. It was very dirty and no service for cleaning available in the dormitory and no word can describe how awful the toilet and bathroom were. Nobody cared about hygiene.
They promised to provide meals for breakfast and dinner. They did but most of the mornings, it was only the plain bread without butter or cheese and most of the nights, it was only peas and olives. I lost six kilos in my first month in Turkey. Most of the time, they were also very late in transferring the money support for living cost.
I spent all my savings to support my daily life and buy appropriate food. At least, I would not die because of all the stress. I even consumed a lot of instant noodles to save money.
I finally adjusted my lifestyle as I realise that I came to Turkey with a scholarship and my primary intention is to study and get the degree. However, it was harder than I could have ever imagined. Living in Istanbul is not easy. It is the busiest city in Turkey, even though Ankara is the capital. It forces people to behave inappropriately.
I saw much racism and hate from Turkish people to black people. Once, the driver kicked off a black lady from the bus when she had an argument with a Turkish. This Turkish woman humiliated her by saying that she is poor and coming from Africa. She got money by being a prostitute in Istanbul. Surprisingly, all the Turkish people in the bus were just quiet.
I saw many of my black friends got bullied because they have a different skin colour. Turkish people laughed at them and did not want to serve them when they were shopping in the market. Turkish man yelled at me and my friends because we were talking in English on the bus and attacked by kicking one of my friends as he continued to talk in English.
One time, when we were on the bus, a Turkish man with his teenage son touched the skin of my friend from Rwanda. After they touched it, they checked their fingers if they turned black or not. They laughed, so did other passengers on that bus. My friend felt humiliated and we decided to get off from the bus.
They have this strong nationalism feeling and love their first president, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. We cannot criticise or discuss it in public, otherwise, we just might get attacked. Because of this over nationalism, it makes them hate foreign people. I got discrimination and a lot of shouting every time I dealt with the public administration such as getting my residence permit card, applying for insurance, even registering at Istanbul University after I finished my language course program.
But that was not my worst moment in Turkey, as I finally reached a point when I had to give up. People say giving up is not an option. For me, giving up should be an option. There is the time when we have to quit and find other solution to reach our goals, know when to continue fighting and know when to stop and quit. I gave up when the programme director of MSc International Business in Istanbul University humiliated me in front of academic staffs and Turkish students. I got bullied by people my age when I was in high school but all my life I never got bullied by teachers or lecturers.
For almost two weeks, I had to convince him to give me a chance to study the programme, as I have awarded for the scholarship. He insisted that as I have the different programme for my undergraduate degree, he could not allow me to study for the master. It has to be the same programme. I studied International Relations in my undergraduate degree.
I argued and showed him my transcript and explained that some of the courses are even on the same line. He did not care about my work experience as a business analyst and my certifications in business analysis. I tried to convince him with my high score in Turkish Language preparation course, IELTS and high GPA from my undergraduate degree to show that I am an achiever and I am willing to work hard to get the best. Instead of discussing it, he shouted in front of other people, bullied me by repeating what I said with the mocking voice. He pointed my certificates and transcript with mocking face expression. Shockingly, all Turkish academic staffs and students laughed at me. He then came back to his office and slammed the door right on my face. I was speechless.
I sat in front of the faculty building, probably about two hours, did not do anything, thinking about what I could do, as I have finished all my savings and left my career in Indonesia. I was thinking it would be a total failure if I came back to my country and did not get anything, except Turkish language skill which is only spoken in that country. It is not useful at all.
It was already dark and I finally went back to my unpleasant dormitory. I did not mean to cry but suddenly tears were falling out from my eyes. I was not sad but I guess that was a reaction to all the stress I had to deal with.
In the next day, I tried to talk to the programme director’s assistant about the solution that I may have to still continue studying. I had not given up. After waiting for a couple of hours, he gave me an option to study one year extra for the programme preparation. I had to study courses from the undergraduate degree, joining more than four classes every week. It means I will finish my master degree in four years total. But I still did not give up, I have come this far. I spent the next hours to register again and dealt with other discrimination from the university until I got an official letter to enrol in undergraduate courses.
I contacted the scholarship committee, sent emails and called them by phone to ask about the possibility to extend the study time and adjust the money support as the university gave me one year extra but I got no reply. I finally went to Ankara to meet them in person but they kicked me out of the office because nobody can speak English. I tried to explain my situation in Turkish and I guess they understood but they still asked me to come the other day. They could not set a specific date for an appointment and asked me to send the email. I did, I sent an email and until today, I have not received any reply. I did not go back to Ankara because it takes seven hours to go there by bus and it is quite expensive to go by plane.
For two months, I was trying to follow the course but it was very basic, I did not get any new knowledge and I did not agree with the information the lecturers shared in the class. Most of them were critics to other nations and an emphasising on how developed and great Turkey is, about how other nations depend on Turkey. Most of them talked about how amazing Turkey in the Ottoman Empire. It was over nationalism, as I mentioned. They are stuck in the past.
All of the courses were taught fully in the Turkish language. As I am not native and just learned the language in eight months, sometimes I asked Turkish students to help me understand or just to borrow their notes and I could read it again later. However, it was another discrimination issue. They hated me because I received the scholarship while they had to pay for their tuition fees. Turkish government under Erdogan regime give more scholarships to foreign students and they do not like it. Most of the Turkish people cannot speak English, even the basic conversation, even the educated students. It was hard for me to get to know them and make a friendship. No international student in my class and I was completely struggling with the situation. I also cannot describe how bad the university building is, the classroom condition was a nightmare.
I tried to spend hours in the library, translating Turkish to English, asking international friends to share their knowledge but I have lost my passion. I had come to the end of my patience and I gave up. It was just not for me. It was just not for many foreign students too. Many scholarship awardees went back to their home countries after dealing with similar stress that I had been through. I resigned from the scholarship in 2015 and did not finish my study at Istanbul University. A lot of friends cheered me up by participating in fun activities and it was a good memory.
I do not regret my decision to come to Turkey. Turkey is beautiful with many breathtaking views, rich culture and tasty foods. I had a chance to visit almost all parts of Turkey, enriching my travel journey. I met great friends who help me passing through the lowest point of my life. Most importantly, the international experience that I achieved during my time there. Even though some of them are bad but I am grateful that it gave me strength and motivation to pursue my childhood dream, living and studying in the UK.
I used the rest of my time in Turkey by working as a Research Assistant in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) The Statistical, Economic and Social Research and Training in Ankara. I also worked as a Coach for Children Summer Programme of Zentara Women’s Solidarity Organization in Fethiye. Surprisingly, I made a good relationship with Turkish friends when I worked there. It left me with great memories after all.
I finished my master’s degree at the University of Leeds in 2017. A couple of months before I graduated, I searched the LinkedIn profile of the programme director at Istanbul University. I wanted to tell him that I was about to graduate from the best MSc International Business Programme in the UK and rank second worldwide. The rejection from the university, the ignorance attitude and bad management of YTB scholarship committee made me achieve my best. However, his LinkedIn was not active.
Instead, I found the programme director’s assistant profile. I wanted to say the same but he actually supported me at that time and tried to offer the best solution and talked to the university. I still sent him the message and said thanks for helping me.
Some of my friends have graduated from the universities in Turkey with the support of the scholarship committee and some of them are still in the country. So, everyone has the different experience but before you choose the university, join the YTB scholarship and come to Turkey, think about it deeply and do some research. It is not wrong to prepare the worst scenario and set up the plan to handle it.