A startup guide to studying in Turkey

This page is mostly directed to potential Mauritian students (thinking of) applying for further studies in Turkey but is more or less applicable to others thinking of doing the same. I’ll update this space as and when necessary, please feel free to contact me if you have any questions not covered below. 

Over the past two years, I’ve had several students being directed to me regarding further studies in Turkey, which is why I have decided to compile here a list of questions that usually come up during our conversations, and some that I felt one should know before moving to Turkey. If you’ve reached this page, it probably means that you’ve already sent your application to the concerned organization, have had your interview and just received the email informing you that you have been accepted to study at a university in Turkey. If so, congratulations! If not, I wish you all the best.

So why Turkey?

I doubt that Turkey is ever on the list of choices for Mauritians in terms of countries to go to for further studies. Being fluent in English and French, we tend to logically be drawn to either English or French speaking countries, with the UK, France, Canada and Australia probably being at the top of the list (this has obviously not been fact-checked so don’t quote me on this). However, in the recent years, a small number of students have been making their way towards Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and even Gaziantep for tertiary studies. The main reason for this is without any doubt the many scholarship opportunities (by Turkiye Burslari and Tubitak – check their websites for more details) available for studying in Turkey. I’d have to admit that making a choice between Oxford and Ankara wasn’t as hard as I’d have thought: one was asking for at least £ 10,000 a year and the other offered to pay for my tuition fees, accommodation and was given me a living stipend. Tough choice?

Turkey is literally one of the most amazing countries I’ve ever been too. For the past two years, I’ve been trying to learn more about this not-so-hidden gem and I think I’ve barely scratched the surface. From the historical peninsula in Istanbul to the Whirling Dervishes in Konya to the turquoise Mediterranean coast, the landscapes keep changing and never cease to be amazed. And most of the people I’ve met over the past two years have been more wonderful and helpful that I could ever describe. Of course, Turkey and I had a few disagreements, not to say the very least. We’re still sorting out through some of them, even two years later, but it’s definitely been a hell of experience. So hopefully the following will help make it easier for you to sort through them.

Language

The main concern of everyone I’ve spoken to has primarily been the language. Is it compulsory to learn the language? What is the medium of instruction at the university? Can I get by without learning Turkish? Is it hard?

Having lived in Ankara for two years now, I’d have to admit that life definitely got easier once I got hang of the Turkish language. Even a few words can get you very far. When I landed in Ankara the first time, I had this very Euro-centric idea that people would at least speak some English. Well I learned it the hard way that the average Turkish person certainly did not speak any English. No matter if your medium of instruction (as stated in the document concerning the scholarship details) is English or Turkish, you will have to have Turkish classes if the conditions of your scholarship state so. If you’re lucky to be able to do without, well I’d still recommend that you take a few classes to learn the basics.

You will be appointed the language school affiliated with your university if they have one, or if not, to another university. The whole course is an intensive language programme which takes about 9 months to complete. Can you finish it before the nine months stated? Yes, if you have already been exposed to Turkish language before, you can take a Turkish language proficiency exam to determine your level. If you do pass the C1 exam, you can skip the whole language school process and proceed directly to starting your degree. Knowing that Mauritians most certainly would have never been in contact with Turkish language, I would advise you to learn a few words prior to coming to Turkey. Duolingo recently introduced a Turkish option which could certainly be helpful in doing so.

Is Turkish a hard language to learn? Yes and no. During the nine months I spent at Turkish language school, I learned enough to bargain in the Grand bazaar, to help people asking for directions and to have lengthy academic conversations with my tutors. However, if you asked me to write anything in Turkish, I’d probably pee my pants for being put on the spot. My written Turkish is simply horrible (the same could be said for my French at the moment). However, I’d say that’s probably due to lack of practice. I haven’t had the need to write anything in Turkish since I sat for my C2 exam in June 2014. All my coursework and exams are in English, which mean that I never had the need to actually master academic Turkish. I do get magazines in Turkish to practice which I consider enough for now.

Anyway, I do know others however who just finished language school and are now starting out at university, with Turkish language as a medium. It’s a struggle at first but once you settle in and get used to it, it’s a smooth ride from there on. Some of the universities whose medium of instruction is in English include Middle East Technical University (Ankara), Bilkent University (Ankara), Istanbul Technical University (Istanbul), Yeditepe University (Istanbul), Boğaziçi University (Istanbul). Other universities only have some chosen programme in English language. However do not take my word for it. I’d recommend that you contact the departments you’re interested in directly before applying. I feel it is however necessary to mention that despite the medium of instruction being in Turkish, Turkish professors do not expect the same level of Turkish as the natives, and would sometimes even allow the foreign students to write their exams and coursework in English.

You’ve decided to make the craziest decision of your life (no regrets) and have accepted the scholarship.

Your first step would be to make an appointment at the Office of the Turkish Consular General in Mauritius so they can talk you through the procedures to moving to Turkey.

Address Currimjee Jeewanjee & Co Ltd, 38 Royal Street, Port Louis
T + 230 206 6200 | F + 230 240 8133
email turkishconsulate[at]currimjee[dot]com

Visa Application

You will have to first sign the Scholarship Agreement contract, provided either by email or by the Consulate. You will be informed of the signing dates of the agreement by your scholarship body. Before you sign the agreement, you will require original documents of the following:

  • Passport (preferably valid for at least the length of your stay in Turkey)
  • Diploma or graduation certificate
  • Transcripts
  • Health report (issued by an official health organization within the last 3 months – I got mine done at the Victoria Hospital (Candos) but there are several private hospitals who also do it)

Since there is no Embassy of Turkey in Mauritius, all the documents mentioned above along with the letter of acceptance, scholarship agreement and others as stated by the consulate will need to be sent to the nearest embassy, in our case, Antananarivo in Madagascar. After having had everything checked by the consulate, you will be required to go to DHL with the provided address. The postage charge for the delivery of the documents to the embassy and redelivery back to the scholar will need to be covered by him/her. However, there usually is no visa processing fee, if nothing has changed since I applied for mine. Please note that only original documents will be accepted for the visa application process. If however you are afraid of losing your transcripts/certificates, you may ask if they’ll accept a certified copy.

You’ll be award a temporary single-entry education visa valid for 30 days. Do not panic (I did). Once you arrive in Turkey, you will be required to register with the Directorate General of Migration Department (DGMD) within the given 30 days after which you’ll be issued your residence permit.

You received your visa. What’s next?

You will receive the details of your flights tickets and appointed dormitory by email, if your scholarship body has agreed to cover these costs. Turkish Airlines will have several flights a week from Mauritius to Istanbul as from October 2015 (supposedly) so you’ll probably be issued a ticket with them. If you’d rather arrange your travel plans by yourself, you may do so and then send the invoice to the scholarship body for a refund. Once in Turkey, you’ll be required to go to the given address of your appointed dormitory for registration. If you’re lucky (I wasn’t), there might be a welcoming committee at the airport to help you through this process. However, do make sure you have the address at hand just in case you’ll be juggling your way through the city to the dormitory.

Dormitories in Turkey

It is probable that no one would speak English at the dormitory – I may be wrong. You will be required to present your scholarship acceptance letter, a copy of your passport and a few passport-sized photos (number depending on the dormitory) at the very least. At first, you’ll be appointed as a temporary guest until you present a letter from your university certifying you have completed registration and are now enrolled in your course. You will usually have around 3 days to complete this process.

Adapting to life in Turkish dormitories can be quite hard. Most likely, you will be sharing a room with other students – Turkish or of other nationalities. Rooms usually accommodate from 2 – 6+ people depending on the dormitory. You’ll be sharing communal bathrooms and toilets, with the older dormitories possibly equipped with squat toilets. Some dormitories also offer meal plans, usually involving breakfast and dinner, with communal dining facilities. Some may also be equipped with kitchen facilities.

Different dormitories will have different rules and you’ll be required to respect them or risk being expelled. Most dormitories will have a curfew, usually 22:00-22:30 after which you’ll not be allowed to enter or leave the dormitories except under special circumstances – usually if you’re travelling. If however for some reason, you decide to not stay in the dormitories provided and would rather have a place of your own, you may do so but at your own cost. You may also be able to make a request for a change of dormitory, given a valid reason.

Enrolment at university

You will be required to enrol at your language school (if you’re attending Turkish language classes) and your university separately. Details of both along with the required documents would have been provided to you prior to your departure from Mauritius. Again you’ll require your scholarship acceptance letter and passport-sized photos so make sure you make a couple of copies before coming to Turkey. Should the medium of instruction of your course be Turkish, you may be required to have certified translated copies of the required documents. Again, due to there being no Embassy of Turkey in Mauritius, translations can only be done after your arrival in Turkey. You will need to find an office where your documents can be translated and notarised at any notary office – please contact your university to confirm if this is required. Usually there are several offices with the inscription ‘Noter’ in the city centre who are able to do this. Your university may also be able to recommend a place where you could get this done. Translation and notary costs will be covered by you.

Applying for your Residence Permit

After enrolling at university and registering at your dormitory, you will be given documents from both to support your application for your residence permit. You will be required to first register online at https://e-ikamet.goc.gov.tr/. Choose “First Time Application” and fill in the required details. You will also be able to choose the date and time for your appointment. I recommend that you choose the earliest time possible, usually 9 am just so you can get everything done in one day.

If you’re based in Istanbul, it might be a bit hard to get an appointment due to the number of requests they receive. The usual tip is to try early morning or late at night. It is alright if your appointment is after the 30 valid days stated on your temporary visa as long as you have a confirmed appointment.

You will then be required to apply in person at the provided address with the following documents:

  • The resident permit application form (signed), downloaded after you complete the online application.
  • Original copy and photocopy of the passport and the page with the entrance stamp into Turkey
  • 4 passport sized photos
  • Your scholarship acceptance letter
  • Documents provided by your university and dormitory
  • Valid Health Insurance (provided by your scholarship body)

You will also be required to pay 55 TL for the processing of your application. You will be informed at the DGMD of where to go. Usually this will be at a tax office (usually for first time application) or a bank (for extension). You will receive your residence permit via post or you can collect it from the DGMD after 15 days.

Residence permits are valid for one year and you will be required to renew it at the beginning of each academic year.

Bank Accounts

The details for your bank around where your stipend will be deposited will also be communicated to you via email. This can however take a bit of time, at least a month, which is why it is recommended that you bring enough money with you to start you up in Turkey. A vague estimate would be at least $300. Once you have the details of your bank account, you will be required to go to the nearest (unless otherwise specified) to activate your account. Payments are usually made on the 25th of each month.

Using your phone in Turkey

You can easily get a Turkish SIM card from any phone shop in the city centre. The three main companies include Turkcell, Avea and Vodaphone. I’d recommend using Avea as they have a student package usually and is usually the cheapest. You will be able to use this SIM card for 30-60 days after which you will be required to register your device. I’d recommend doing this as soon as you have received your Residence Permit, and hence your Foreigner’s ID No. You will need to go to a tax office (the same as where you paid for your residence permit fee) with your passport, residence permit, IMEI number of your device and the required fee (currently ~130 TL). After being given your receipt, you can then register your phone online at https://www.turkiye.gov.tr/ following the instructions given on your invoice. Alternatively, you may go to a phone shop to do this, for a fee. Apparently your phone will be registered for only three years after which you’ll have to register it again. I say ‘apparently’ because there is no fixed regulations concerning this process; different people seemed to have had different experience (which you’ll realise is quite normal here in Turkey). Some people therefore choose to buy a second-hand phone in Turkey which could actually amount to being less expensive than registering your phone.

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