Not Just a Number: Syrian Students Spotlight

Not Just a Number: Syrian Students Spotlight
Interview with Nawzat Sadek
Balikesir University


Nawzat with his sister

1.) Tell me about yourself. Where did you grow up in Syria? When and why did you leave? Where did you first go in Turkey and how did you end up in Balikesir? 

I grew up in a small town in Damascus called Al-Kiswah. I'm left handed so that tells a lot about my funny personality. My father is a CEO at a factory and my mother is an Electronic Engineer.

As a child I always dreamed of studying abroad maybe in the UK, and that encouraged me to focus on the English language and I got very good at it.

Unfortunately, I left Syria in March 10th, 2013 while I was studying at Faculty of Economics at Damascus University. I had three semesters left before my graduation.

I left because a lot of people my age were getting arrested for no reason and were never heard from again, and so for many reasons that made my family worried about me, so they decided that's it was time for me to go.

I left Syria to move to Kayseri where I lived for a year. After that I started applying for Turkish Universities, and finally with some help and a little bit of luck I was accepted to Balikesir University.


With his family before he had to leave Syria

2.) Did you move with your family? What was hardest about moving to an entirely new country? What did you miss the most about Syria? What was the most shocking thing about Turkey when you first came?

I left Syria by myself... it was unbearable. I know that I said I always dreamed of studying abroad, but it's completely different when you're leaving unwillingly and unprepared.

Probably the only thing that comforted me then was the hope that I would be back to Syria after a short while (that didn't happen).

Our experience in Syria taught us to make short-term plans, so I don't think a lot about the future these days, I just focus on the present time and how to manage each day. 

The language problem was the hardest thing, I couldn't ask for help with directions because it's was too hard to find people who were good at English. I had to point and use body language to find my way out of the airport.

The people were so kind and Turkey's very similar to Syria except the language. 

I miss everything in Syria-walking down its narrow neighborhoods, knowing my way out of them. I miss the friendly gatherings, my old home, everything in Syria is missable.

3.) When you moved to Turkey, did you immediately go to school? How was the Turkish education system/classroom different than in Syrian schools? 

When I moved to Kayseri I wasn't planning to study there, I just wanted to wait for things in Syria to become safer for me so I could go back. I lived with my cousin who was already settled there and started working because I saw it as an opportunity to learn a third language.

After seeing the situation in Syria wasn’t going to get any better, I got my diploma translated and started applying for Turkish Universities,  with the help of my aunt who was living in Balikesir and the help of kind Turkish people who helped me with the paperwork. I've been signed and accepted.

I cannot say that there are big differences between Syria and Turkey in the education system, but our education program seems to consider more information in a short amount of time, overwhelming students with information about the department which we choose to study, while the Turkish program reduces the amount of information to make it more related to our current time, making it more practical.

And Turkish schools have the class attendance policy, which made me fail in some classes because I missed a certain number of classes. I had to go to work to get by and was forced to miss classes. 


During TÖMER exams

4.) What subjects did you like to study when you were in Syria? Did that change once you came to Turkey?

I love engineering and being able to work on small details in order to make a flawless piece of work (bridges, machines, etc.) And I'm really happy to be accepted in such a Department in Turkey.

5.) Tell me about the process of applying to University in Turkey. Did anyone help you (an organization or school or family)? Were there difficulties you faced (like language or documents)? Did you have to take the Turkish Standardized Exam to get in?

As I said I got help from my Aunt and some Turkish people in Balikesir. They helped me with the paperwork and I signed up
online. Luckily for me I didn't have to take the Turkish Standardized Exam because not very many foreign students signed up for Balikesir University that year. They focused on the school rates and grades (mine was 85%) and I applied for the Engineering Department, got accepted, and was sent to a Turkish Language Course called "AKA TÖMER."

6.) Once you got in, tell me what it was like to go to University in Turkey. Did you make friends quickly? Was the course harder or easier than you thought? 

At the TÖMER class we were from all different places and we had that "yabancı"(which means foreigner) thing in common, so we bonded really quickly and it was there that I met Omar (my current roommate). We had a wonderful connection with the teachers.

With a strong effort from our teachers we learned Turkish pretty well and it wasn't as hard as I thought.


Nawzat and TÖMER classmates on a trip

7.) Are there a lot of Syrians in your school? Do you have a strong support network in Balikesir? 

There are some Syrian students at the University, but I'm the only one in my Department. I couldn't find a lot of Turkish friends so I hang out mostly with the other Syrians.

I have something in common with some of the Turkish people in Balikesir, which is being Circassian. We share the same history and our ancestors once lived together in our former country Circassia which is occupied by Russia now, so they treated us pretty well.


A Reunion with friends from Syria 

8.) How do you keep your Syrian identity strong? Do you still cook Syrian food, listen to Syrian music, etc? Have you told your friends (like Matthew) about you home country?

My roommate Omar is Syrian too so I speak Arabic most of the day, and Syrian food is the only food we make. We used to wake up in the morning and have a cup of Syrian coffee while listening to Fauroz, the most famous singer in Syria.

And of course we tell a lot of stories about Syria to all of our friends and how much we miss it.

9.) How would you say Turkish people see refugees today? Are they welcoming or has it been hard to be from Syria and living in Turkey? How have you dealt with these misconceptions about Syrians?

Most of the Turkish people are so kind to us, calling us guests instead of refugees, and have helped us to stand on our feet. They always ask if there is anything they can do to help us. They are with no doubt the kindest people I know. 


With American friends

But there are some groups that blame us for everything bad that's happening in Turkey, claiming that we take money from the government. They even accused the Syrian students of having full scholarships, which is completely not true.

I failed some of my classes because I couldn't attend them-I had to work for a living!

They don't appreciate the circumstances we had to go through and they tell these lies to effect the people’s opinions toward the current government that decided to welcome us.

Everywhere we go we find the good and the bad, but I do feel that we're losing their love.

I always try to clear up this misunderstanding but my Turkish language skills are newly learned and my lack of fluency makes me unable to explain myself property when talking about these political matters. 

And whom would they believe? Me? Or their oppositional parties who makes these misconceptions?

I can talk about this subject a lot but I hope someday people see the truth for itself and leave us out of internal policies.

10.) What do you think Turkey can do to make it easier for Syrians to study? Do you think other countries also need to do more to help the college-aged refugees?

I think Turkey has done and is still doing a lot for Syrian refugees and students, the only problem we students have is related to financial status. Maybe they can offer us halftime jobs at the Universities or help us secure ones in the cities.

Maybe they can help us complete the degrees that we used to study in Syria rather then making us start all over again.

I think all countries should help-we are losing a whole generation that already lost their homes, and Syrian people are well-educated...they can become effective members in the society they're living and in their areas of study.

I think all countries should help-we are losing a whole generation that already lost their homes, and Syrian people are well-educated. With the help that’s needed, they can become effective members in the society they're living and in their areas of study.

11.) Why is college important to you? Why is education important for Syrians?

Education is important to everyone, for all the people who want achieve and give back to this world, to their country. And for us Syrians, education will allow us to build our Homeland again.

12.) What are your plans for the future and how do you see your university education helping you?

Our experience in Syria taught us to make short-term plans, so I don't think a lot about the future these days, I just focus on the present time and how to manage each day.

But even if the conflict in Syria doesn't end for a while, I hope to be an effective person in Turkish society.

My university education will open the doors for me, so I can understand my department a lot more and be able to be functional and productive in my field of work.

13.) What was the hardest part about leaving your homeland?

I miss my family, every morning this is the hardest part of my day-not seeing them around me.

My family supported me in Syria financially and emotionally and I'm all by myself now...
I miss when I didn't have to be tired all the time.

I miss the the feel of being home: safe, clear minded, and free from worries.


Nawzat and his sisters hanging out in Syria

THO Note: We thank Nawzat for sharing his incredible story, and hope that this interviews helps our readers understand the obstacles that refugees have to go through to get an education. We hope that the US and Europe will do more to fund these scholars and invest in the future of Syria.