Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees worldwide, as the number of people forcibly displaced across the world due to conflict, violence and persecution hit record levels. Currently, 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees live in the country. Among them, there is Ismail. He is a 23 year old from Aleppo. Ismail just graduated with a degree in electrical engineering and recently became the Director of the Turkish Program at Paper Airplanes.
He first found out about the organization when he was preparing college applications in 2016. Ismail joined the organization as a beginner student in the English program. This week, I had the pleasure to interview him in English and ask him about his journey to Turkey. He told me:
“ I came to Turkey in 2014, with my family. It was obviously a tough experience: leaving my home and my country… I didn’t know anyone here at first and the culture was very different from the one I came from. Thank God I had my family with me. Many people travel on their own without anyone”.
Living in Turkey is hard and many in the Syrians community are unhappy about their life in the country, because of the growth of anti - refugee sentiment in the country. The lack of socio-economic inclusion is a big factor as well: nearly two million refugees live below the poverty line in Turkey. For Ismail, one of the biggest obstacles refugees encounter is the language barrier.
“The language plays a huge role in the hardships of refugees’ life. Here, it is impossible to find English, or even Turkish, programs for free. You usually need to pay so much! It is definitely too much for many refugee families: they spend all day working to make ends meet and pay for bills, housing and food… It becomes hard to find money to pay for language classes”.
When I asked him about his relationship with the language, he told me he learned Turkish through formal and informal ways:
“When I came here, there was not an Arab speaking school to complete my studies, so I decided to work. Job places were full of Turkish people! That’s how I managed to learn some speaking language. Then I enrolled in a beginner Turkish class. I kept practicing in my daily life when I worked as a cashier and I still do every day when I go to the market or around town…”.
Knowing the language of the country of destination is a fundamental asset for refugees. Without it, it becomes impossible to get access to the labor market, education or even health services. Even being fluent in Turkish, as Ismail is, it is hard to find job opportunities. The unemployment levels in the country motivated Ismail to continue in his studies.
“After I graduated I looked for a job opportunity, but I couldn't find any. It really is hard for refugees to find jobs in this country, because Turkish students have priority in government job opportunities… All jobs in the private sector require experience and as a fresh graduate I don’t have that.”
He is now applying to pursue his master degree in electrical engineering, with the help of Paper Airplanes. He explained: “PA has an advising organ that helps you find scholarship and higher education opportunities. They advised on what to prepare for.”
After graduating from the English Program, he became an English Program Student Coordinator and was later offered a job as Turkish Program Manager Director.
“I wondered whether to accept the place or not: I was in college, still studying for exams, but the English Program Manager and the Managing Director advised me and encouraged me to take this responsibility. I thank them so much for that. I wouldn’t be where I am now without them!”.
The Turkish Program mainly targets Syrian and foreign students, usually between 20 and 35 years old, based in Turkey. Classes are offered in two levels: beginners and intermediate. Teachers are Turkish native speakers and mainly focus on speaking skills.He told me about the struggles and satisfactions of the job:
“When I first got hired we didn’t have enough tutors to meet the demands of applicants. Ever since, we’ve been working on tutors recruitment. In the first semester we were able to make only 5 pairs, in the second semester it was 15 pairs, in the third semester it was 21 pairs. We could finally meet almost all of our student needs! The majority of them [are] so happy to have this opportunity online and for free. And more importantly to speak with a native speaker.”
Ismail is very proud to be part of Paper Airplanes:
“Language programs make it easier for Syrians here to stay and settle in Turkey. Paper Airplanes is really helping the Syrian community, by providing all its online courses for free. What the organization is doing is really essential at this point”
About the author: Giada Santana
I am an Italian - Dominican student majoring in Philosophy, International Studies and Economics. However, I spent my final year abroad focusing on International Development at the University of Sussex. Here at Paper Airplanes I collect interviews, write for the blog and help with social media posts. When I'm not doing that, I love practising yoga, reading and creating playlists on Spotify.
The views and opinions represented in this post belong solely to the author of the blog post, and are not representative of the views and policies of Paper Airplanes and its staff members.