Somehow Familiar but Still a Stranger: Syrian Students in Turkish Higher Education

ATTAR G. E., Kucuksen D.

JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL MIGRATION AND INTEGRATION, vol.20, no.4, pp.1041-1053, 2019 (ESCI) identifier identifier


The number of Syrian students attending higher education institutions in Turkey in 2016-2017 academic year is nearly 15,000. Mersin is a city in the southern part of Turkey, and the number of registered Syrians in Mersin is around 150,000. With rapid increase in the number of Syrians at education age, research on Syrian youth attending higher education has become significant. Mersin University has the 4th highest number of Syrian students among 182 universities in Turkey. This paper examines individual, environmental, and structural problems experienced by Syrian students attending Mersin University. The paper utilizes the conceptual tools of micro-sociology by analyzing the experiences of both Syrian students and their Turkish classmates. The analysis focuses on whether Syrian students are seen as "strangers" or not, both from their own experiences and from those of Turkish students interacting with them. In this context, in-depth interviews are conducted with 15 Syrian and 8 Turkish students. The narratives of Syrian and Turkish students are analyzed via the themes of avoidance of contact, spatial discrimination, interacting with the unknown, and prejudice. Findings reveal that both groups of students keep a distance from each other; they prefer to be spatially separate at campus and at classrooms. Moreover, Syrian students state that they could communicate more easily if they overcome the problems with their use of Turkish language. The last but not the least, Syrian students are sometimes subjected to different kinds of prejudice, especially about the university entrance process, and also exposed to negative behaviors.