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December 3, 2019

7 ways Syrian students in Turkey are integrating

Integrating into a new community takes time. As a refugee or asylum seeker, you often have to learn a new language, understand new cultures and make new friends. All the while, missing your home.

Over the summer of 2019, university students in Turkey took huge steps to support each other in adapting to their new environments. At Kahramanmaraş Sütçü İmam, Mersin and Hatay Mustafa Kemal universities, 9 official student clubs have been sponsored by SPARK and the European Union in Turkey to promote sports, arts and cultural activities that build friendships and promote leadership among Turkish and Syrian students.

1. Painting murals

The playground of Yunus Emre Primary School was in serious need of a revamp. The school of 900 pupils with almost half being Syrian children, had faced challenges coping with the high number of new students in recent years.

Young members of Yeniler Student Club from Mustafa Kemal University provided lunch boxes, t-shirts and stationery assistance to the school’s pupils, as well as spent the day face painting, playing basketball and painting a mural to brighten up the playground.

2. Basketball tournaments

There is little that unites people more that sports. A basketball tournament at Hatay Mustafa Kemal University welcomed 14 mixed Syrian and Turkish, male and female teams from all skill levels, competing over 7 weeks to be crowned champion.

Yeliz Yılmaz, a Turkish language and literature student recalls: “Before the tournament I had some prejudices towards Syrian students, mostly because I don’t speak Arabic, so I can’t communicate with them. However, the tournament was a nice ice-breaking event. It helped us to create a dialogue with Syrian students and led me to understand that even though they are from a different culture, there is no difference between us”.

Team players came to the sports hall of the university with their families and friends where they laughed, jumped, chanted and enjoyed the game together.

3. Sharing lunch

As well as providing a day full of workshops and seminars on refugee and women’s rights for their peers, the Workshop Youth Student Committee at Kahramanmaraş Sütçü Imam University distributed lunch boxes to support their fellow students through busy exam periods.

Syrian and Turkish students wrote personal messages onto cards and shared them with each other alongside the lunches. The messages allowed the students to change perspectives of each other, improving empathy.

4. Nature conservation

The climate crisis is an increasingly important topic for youth all over the world. Syrian and Turkish students from the TEMA student club at Mersin University found ways to improve their environment.

TEMA student club arranged trips to the eco-village of Kızılkayalar and Göksu Valley, where students trekked and planted trees. The trips allowed members of the club to relax together, play music and bond over shared interests.

5. Movie nights

Student clubs at Mersin and Mustafa Kemal universities arranged film screenings of movies focused on peace-building, migration and relevant societal issues that relate to the Syrian crisis. The films gave students a welcome distraction from the stress of the exams and provided the chance to discuss critical concepts in talks after the screenings.

The Cinema Club of Mersin University also organised a trip for Turkish and Syrian students to Adana Cinema Museum, so they could dive into the cultural history of  Turkish cinema.

6. Boosting computer skills

The Information Security student club from Kahramanmaraş Sütçü İmam University organised a two-day course on Android programming for future employment opportunities.

The same club also co-organised a week-long series of seminars and workshops with Kahramanmaraş Sütçü İmam University to celebrate Internet Week. Experts in IT and academics gave lecturers on the safe use of the internet, data privacy and security and social networks to around 550 students.

For Abdulkadir Hussain, his participation in the trainings paved the way for more interaction in his daily life in Turkey. He recalls: “There I met Pınar, a Turkish student, who became a very good friend of mine. We meet almost every day and talk. It helps me to improve my Turkish”.

7. Board games

Yeniler student club organised a two-day entrepreneurship training for its members and other students of Mersin University, where they built businesses using a board game. Participants formed their teams, created brands for their ‘businesses’ and learnt how to promote through using online and offline platforms.