Afghan students win scholarships to study in Turkey
“How did I get here? Well, I’m going to tell you a story,” says Abdul Qahar Bakhshi, a 24-year-old Afghan student studying his undergraduate degree in Izmir City on a scholarship from the Turkish government. “Living in Turkey is very interesting,” he says, “but moving here, sitting exams and learning Turkish were some of the most stressful days of my life.”
It’s not a coincidence that Bakhshi ended up furthering his education in Turkey. In 2005, as a high school student sitting the entrance exams for university in Afghanistan, he ranked top of his class. The Dean of Alberuni University, a law school to which Bakhshi had applied, noticed his results. Having just been tasked to find a suitable candidate for an education scholarship offered by the Turkish government, he put Bakhshi’s name forward.
“I walked to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Higher Education holding my results sheet,” says Bakhshi. He was offered a life-changing experience as one of 60 Afghan students from around the country to be awarded university scholarships by the Turkish government that year.
The Turkish government began offering Afghan students scholarships in 1992. Since then 2381 scholarships have been awarded to some of the brightest Afghan students, offering them a place to advance their studies in Turkey.
Being away from home
On arrival in Turkey, the group was split up and sent to different cities. They then spent the first year learning Turkish. Bakhshi remembers it being a difficult period. “When I first came I was naturally missing my family a lot, especially my mother. After learning a few words in Turkish, I made some friends and, one day, one of these friends who was aware of my homesickness, invited me over to his family home. I went with him to his village and I was very nervous. But his family were wonderful people and I will never forget how much feeling the love of a family helped me during that period,” he says.
While learning the language was hard, Bakhshi successfully passed the Turkish language university entrance exams. He was accepted to study International Relations at Ege University. The school has some 30,000 students in Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city.
Mohammad Reza Wefaq is a 24-year-old engineering undergraduate now studying in Ankara, Turkey’s capital city. “I was studying in Bamiyan University in Afghanistan before I came to Turkey,” he says. “The Turkish government pay 100 per cent of my costs to study here and without it I would never have been able to pay the fees. I, too, have found the people to be lovely. My friends here are wonderful.”
Noticing the differences
Despite having to adjust to life in university dormitories and on a student budget, both Bakhshi and Wefaq say they have found the opportunity extremely worthwhile. “One of the most surprising things is how open people here are to foreigners,” says Wefaq. “The culture is so rich and ancient, but it is expensive, and I don’t think Turkish food is that delicious,” he added.
“Living in such a country will have its advantages; the standard of living will be higher than in under-developed countries like Afghanistan,” explains Bakhshi, who unlike Wefaq has never travelled abroad before. “Until now I have not travelled around the world except Turkey because I was in Afghanistan during the war, and my family did not go anywhere for various reasons.”
The difference in education standards has pushed both the students to better themselves. “The teaching is hard,” explains Wefaq. “The teachers push you harder, the level of teaching is higher, and we learn more compared to Afghanistan.”
Bakhshi agrees, adding that to have a modern society in Afghanistan in the future it’s people must be educated now. “At the end of the day, when you go from a place where there has been war for three decades and you come to a modern country, your mind gets ideas and changes in a positive way,” he says. “Before I came to Turkey, my mind was closed due to social pressures.”
Taking this new-found knowledge and openness back to their homeland is the next chapter in each student’s story.