“When I could not speak Turkish, life was really tough.”
© UNHCR/Kıvanc Ayhan
On a hot afternoon in Turkey’s capital Ankara, we speak to Enas, 23, and her brother Mohammed, 24 years-old, sitting next to each other in the campus of the university where Mohammed studies. They are two brilliant young siblings, driven away from their homes by the Syria’s now 7-year-old conflict. Clinging on to their education, they explain how critical learning Turkish has been in pursuing their educational aspirations. Speaking in fluent Turkish, they are both beneficiaries of the language support programmes implemented jointly by Turkish language scholarship by Turks Abroad and Related Communities (YTB) and UNHCR.
Mohammed, originally from Raqqa, had to flee to Turkey alone in 2014, leaving his family of five behind. He was studying to be a chemical engineer at university when intensifying conflict interrupted his education. Mohammed says “I left all my formal documents behind. I simply had no time to take anything with me.” His journey to Ankara has not been straightforward. When he decided that he desires to pick up his educational pursuits where he left, he decided to settle in Ankara. That’s also when his family joined him. He adds “I have observed that many people come to Ankara to study. I believe this is the best place in Turkey when one thinks of studying.” He had experiences of working in several cities in Turkey as a daily worker and from this experiences he knew that the only way to establish a better life both for himself and his family is to learn Turkish and continue his university education.
“Thinking of the times I could not speak Turkish, life was really tough. I could barely communicate with people, many times I found myself resorting to sign language to communicate”, says Mohammed. He first attended paid Turkish language classes but then stumbled upon a call for applications for a UNHCR-supported higher education preparation programme that offered students scholarships to attend an intensive language learning programme that would lead to certification that would enable him to meet the language proficiency requirements for admission to university. He says learning Turkish has been very demanding, but also at the same time very rewarding experience. He also adds that is how he started watching Turkish movies to enhance his exposure to the spoken language to become more eloquent. He tells in a joking way that it is also how he came to learn different Turkish dialects spoken in different regions.
He spent one year studying Turkish at an accredited, university-based language teaching institute and graduated with an advanced proficiency (C1) certificate. He was also convinced that the language proficiency certificate that he would obtain through this programme would open the way for continuing his higher education. So, learning Turkish would be the key to give him the second opportunity to be a university student again. Once he felt confident in Turkish, he started looking for opportunities to resume higher education, turned to applying to universities and not long after he was admitted to the Arabic-Turkish translation and interpretation department at Yıldırım Beyazıt University in Ankara. He adds “I went for translation-interpretation, as I thought it would open doors for me professionally.” He says in a very excited way that once he approached an interpreter at a conference, asking for permission to watch her doing her job and he was amazed at her interpreting skills. Given the limited number of good Arabic translators in Turkey, he thinks that he will have a very good opportunity to work as an interpreter.
Mohammed is also actively engaged in the “Middle East Research Club” of the university, trying to contribute to strengthening the bonding between cultures and communities. He enthusiastically adds that he loves being active and tries to contribute to any initiatives that would help him meet new people and make new friends. His language skills have also allowed him to give back to his community. He says that he did interpreting for Syrian refugees at hospitals and worked on a voluntary basis on as part of several projects.
Enas, following in the footsteps of her brother, also applied for and was granted the Turkish language scholarship. Mohammed jokingly adds that before his sister Enas learned Turkish, he was the only one speaking the language in the family. He funnily recalls that everyone in the family would call him to handle things, adding how his life has become easier since Enas learned Turkish. Since Enas completed her high school study in Syria and she has very limited Turkish language proficiency, she felt that she was unlikely to be able to enrol in a Turkish university. Therefore she decided to learn Turkish. She says, in comparison to Mohammed, she learned Turkish from scratch at the language classes without any prior practising. She says she was timid at the beginning in classes, but then as she made progress, she felt more confident starting speaking up.
Enas says she had always dreamt of being a pharmacist since as a child she used to easily memorize the names of medicines. She says her main aim in learning Turkish is to continue her university education and get a job in Turkey. She has recently taken Foreign Student Examination (YÖS) and applied to the translation – interpretation and social services departments of some universities. She has already got acceptance from Kirikkale University, Department of Social Work and she is waiting for the acceptance from Yildirim Beyazit University, Arabic Translation and Interpretation Department. She thinks that if she is accepted to this department, she and her brother might establish a translation company and work together in the future.