The ups and downs of studying abroad

By Nur ‘Aadila Abdul Rahman

Studying abroad propels students to face challenges that demand them to match a certain threshold in preparing their life which emphasised the realm of academic achievement where one has to learn to adapt oneself well in a completely new or foreign environment.

A 22-year old Malaysian student, Faiq Hilmi bin Hasnol, recently shared his story about the ups and downs he faced while studying abroad in a place far away from homeland – Turkey.

The moment that changed his life entirely began on 21 September 2014 when he left his beloved country, Malaysia, heading towards Erzurum in Turkey for the first time to pursue his bachelor’s degree.

Faiq described his first thoughts that wandered in his mind when he first stepped into the airplane – “that going abroad to study was always my biggest dream”.

“I had mix feelings about this journey. My mind could not stay at ease thinking how I’m going to survive and who’s going to look after me if anything were to happen. The communication is definitely difficult since I have no knowledge of the language whatsoever and the Turks barely speak English.”

Turkey is divided into seven regions and Erzurum is located at the Eastern Anatolian region. During the Ottoman period, the town had a large Armenian population, but the community was forcibly deported during the Armenian genocide of 1915. Later, Erzurum was the site of the first nationalist congress in 1919, which was attended by Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk),  who issued the declaration of the Turkish war of independence from Allied occupation.

Modern Erzurum has grown into the major urban centre of Eastern Turkey. It is the site of a large military base. It is one of Turkey’s most pious, conservative cities, and it has two universities with more than 100,000 students.

Situated 1,757 meters above sea level, Erzurum is surrounded by mountains which explains the unbelievably wild and extreme winter. The temperature could drop as low as -40 degrees. It’s brings the ‘brain-freezing’ to the whole new level.

“An indescribable and beautiful feeling…”

“I experienced my first ever snow in Erzurum. It was indeed an indescribable and beautiful feeling to experience it for the first time,” said Faiq describing how he felt when he saw snow for the first time.

Despite being the only Malaysian in the city, Faiq did not feel left out, in fact, he enjoyed living in a place surrounded by many international students who were very helpful too him.

“I befriended people from around the world, mainly from Africa, East and West Asia, Middle East, and not to forget, from South America such as Colombia. I enjoyed living in diversity and started to see humans as human beings. At this phase of my life, I began to understand the beauty regardless of gender, sex, belief and colour of skin.”

Before 1928, Turkish was written using a specific form of Arabic writing. In order to modernise Turkey, the administration had adopted and adapted forms of the Latin alphabets in the 20th century to replace the Arabic writing.

It was hard for Faiq to learn about the language as it was new to him and he had no knowledge about the language before. “I spent my first year attending an intensive Turkish language course at Language Centre in the University. I managed to complete the course successfully. I surrounded myself with local people who really helped me to improve my language in pronunciation, reading, listening and speaking. The locals in Erzurum were not used to foreigners. So, communicating with them gave me a hard time.”

After a year learning Turkish language, finally his journey as a first year student in Food Engineering began. He found that the course was not as he had expected. “At first I thought this course suited me well since I had so much passion in human nutrition and diet. Unfortunately, it was not about nutrition but more about engineering. My mind was like asking, is that what Food Engineering is all about?”

Faiq described his first semester taking the course as “not plain sailing” as he would have imagined because of the language barrier and the lesson itself. “My first semester was like hell. I did not manage to understand a single thing in class. The instructor was not very helpful especially when he started to explain things in Turkish language, which was the real challenge that I had to face.”

“I ended up passing only one subject… and now time to decide on my direction”

Despite learning Turkish in his first year, he said the academic language they used during lessons and in the books were much more complicated. Faiq highlighted, “Passing a language school won’t guarantee you will do well in actual academic class. I ended up passing only one subject out of eight I took during my first semester.”

Although it was hard for Faiq to cope with the course, he did not intend to give up. He continued with the course with hopes that everything would turn out well. Unfortunately, the same story repeated in his second semester. “It was worse than my previous semester because I failed the entire subjects. At that moment, it finally hit me that I had got into the wrong train heading to the wrong destination,” said Faiq.

From here, it led Faiq to face many more challenges. The biggest challenge was when everything turned up against his will. He said, “All of a sudden, my life became insipid. The place turned dull. Bit by bit my passion waned. I began to doubt myself and the wild thoughts weakened my spirit. I questioned myself the reason I woke up every day, repeating the same routine over again, expecting good results and attending classes without even understanding a thing being taught.”

As his passion and interest in the course was fading, it was time for Faiq to conclude a decision on his studies. He said it was hurting his progress when he continued to stay there. He did not want to learn something just for the sake of passing examination. As a matter of fact, he wanted to gain a proper understanding of the knowledge he had sought.

Factors like language barrier and the environment had led him to come to a decision to quit his study. It was not an easy thing to do as it cost him a lot. But as he said, “I was fully aware of the decision I made which cost me to lose all my scholarship. But I believe that in order to gain something, you must lose something.”

Faiq did not immediately fly back to Malaysia after he quit his study. He spent his few weeks there before coming back to Malaysia looking for opportunities to continue his study at another region of Turkey – which is Istanbul. “I look out for each possibility that I could find. What motivated me was that I still want to complete my bachelor’s degree and rebuild my parent’s hope in seeing me getting a degree,” said Faiq. After persistently searching, he finally received a few offers from universities in another city which lies in two continents – Istanbul.

Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey and the fifth largest city in the world by population, is considered both European and Asian. In addition, it occupies two different continents. One part of Istanbul lies in Europe and the other part lies in Asia. Istanbul’s European part is separated from it’s Asian part by the beautiful Bosphorus Straits, which is a 31-kilometre long waterway that connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara. This waterway forms a natural boundary between the two continents.

“Another opportunity… continuing studies in another field in Istanbul”

After going through all the university offers that he received, he finally found one that perfectly suited him which was a four-year bachelor’s degree programme in International Relations. Faiq explained that the course was not as difficult compared to the previous course because the teaching medium was English which made his education process much less difficult than before.

Faiq explained his reasons for taking the course: “I chose this course simply because I was keen to get a better understanding of what exactly is happening in this world. It was said a few years ago by a scholar that if human race is wiped out in the next 50 years, it will not be because of a disease, virus or an asteroid hitting the earth, but, because of foreign policy and international relations.”

He was happy with his new course. “I made the right decision to change course before any damage was done to my future. It’s a new starting point. I change my course, change university and even moved out to another city.”

Since Faiq moved to Istanbul, he did not stop there. He started to involve with the Malaysian community and gained pocket money by doing part-time jobs.

“Often, I offer my services as a tourist guide to Malaysians visiting Turkey, and sometimes I did part-time at the Government-linked company (GLC) in Turkey. Since I no longer have a scholarship, these part-time jobs really helped me to ease my burden as the cost of living in this metropolitan city is high. Furthermore, it also helped me to gain experience,” Faiq said.

Finally Faiq was satisfied with everything. He was happy studying well and have a clear picture of what he wanted.

“Unexpected twist… and life learning experience”

“I realised one can still face an unexpected twist along the way no matter how much forethought and planning is put into it. When that happened, it must be embraced with grace.’

Faiq quoted a wise man who once said, ‘You only fell down once in your life, you just scrapped your knees. So, don’t exaggerate too much. Life is long when you live with it.”

The time spent in Erzurum was Faiq’s life learning experience. He became physically and mentally stronger. He never regretted any decision he made. “I know that good decision leads to greater version of you and bad decision leads to good stories.”

His advice to those who wanted to study abroad, “Go for it! Find opportunities and do not waste the opportunity given.”

“To be honest, there are so many scholarships offered by the government from all over the world each year, other than what the Malaysian government offers, such as MARA (Council of Trust for People) and the PSD (Public Service Department).”

Faiq added, “Search the internet or go and ask people around. Everything depends on you if you want it or not. Nevertheless, no matter where you are studying, if one studies without a just heart, one will not accomplish anything.” ***

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