Erasmus students meet in Istanbul

The Erasmus Student Network, or ESN, is the unit of this nonprofit international student organization that deals with the orientation of Erasmus students. ESN units help Erasmus students arriving in the country where they are to live.

Present in 33 countries in Europe and at 342 universities, ESN started operating in Turkey in 2006. It has 23 branches at several Turkish universities and is one of the most active ESNs in Europe.

The ESN can, in a way, be called an international student club that deals with the orientation of incoming Erasmus students. Because they have good contacts with other EU offices, they are able to receive contact information of students beforehand and send welcoming messages to students before they arrive.

In their orientation programs, ESN units try to help students on issues such as possible problems they may encounter in Turkey, what to watch out for, Turkish money, information about schools, course registrations and accommodation.

Another role that ESN plays is helping Turkish students who have come back to Turkey from their own Erasmus programs abroad readapt. Students who spend a long period of time in an international environment abroad mya have difficulties readapting to their own home countries, the ESN units report. In order to ease that period for returning students, the ESN tries to create an international environment that helps soften their transition.

Outgoing vs. incoming

ESN members come together for an Annual General Meeting, or AGM, every year. Several international projects are discussed at AGMs as well as the selection of a new administration. Schools are introduced and networks strengthened. This year, this meeting will be held in Turkey between April 8 and 11. Some 500 students are expected to attend the event, which will last 10 days including the meeting and other activities.

ESN Turkey representative Server Ağırman said the ratio of incoming Erasmus students to outgoing ones was almost one to three: “If 6,000 students go abroad from Turkey in Erasmus programs, only 2,000 come to Turkey.”

“The main reason for this is that Turkey is not well known. Some prejudices against Turkey also play a role,” Ağırman said. “With this meeting, we want to promote Turkey through those who live in Turkey. Erasmus students who come to Turkey talk about Turkey and explain Turkey to their friends when they’re back in their countries.”

Foreigners have many prejudices against Turkey, Ağırman said, adding that the country has always been a good issue for use in Europe’s internal politics.

“You see pictures all around Europe of Turkey depicted as black-burqa-wearing women. Turkish students try to correct this image, but it is hard without seeing it with your own eyes. This is why we want one-on-one communication,” Ağırman said. “A European student chooses to go to Spain instead of Turkey. But there are also students who choose Turkey. European countries are like each other; their cultures are similar. Turkey is a mystery for them; it is a puzzle. Frankly, many are here because it was their last choice or last option. Some come here because they already have a friend here in an Erasmus program.”

Walk to Taksim

AGM meetings last four days, but other activities are organized three days prior to and after the meeting itself. Cultural tours will be held before the Istanbul meeting and an opening ceremony will take place at Kültür University. After the ceremony, the participants will get together at Tünel, home to Beyoğlu’s historical funicular, and walk to Taksim Square, carrying their country’s colors and flags. The walk also aims to draw attention to Turkey’s accession to the European Union, Ağırman said.

Workshops will start the next day, on topics ranging from leadership to belly dancing. There will also be an education fair called Info Market at the Bahçeşehir University campus.

A new project called ESN House has been launched to help incoming Erasmus students. Since even local students have accommodation problems, ESN House is extending a helping hand to those from Europe.

“Local dormitories have curfews. We have separate dormitories for girls. These are strange factors for European students,” Ağırman said. “To find a place to live for six months in Istanbul, to find roommates, to decorate the place and to find a real-estate agent who speaks English are all very difficult.”

The ESN House is located in a five-story, 15-room building. Some 17 Erasmus students are staying there. “Their beds, their rooms, other necessary furniture are all in place,” Ağırman added. “There is an application form on the Internet. We chose among many applicants. I wish we had 100 rooms.”

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