Graduates work for free ride
An international engineering graduate student could pay more than two times what it costs Oklahoma students to attend OU, but a group of Turkish students have found a way to attend for free.
And it did not cost OU a dime to pay for their financial aid.
Since the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi won the Turkish election in 2003, the government began to prioritize sending Turkish students overseas for graduate studies by sponsoring their studies in full for five years.
If the students choose to go to the U.S., the scholarship would generally be used for two years for a master’s, two years for a doctorate and one year for professional research.
There are 1,000 availabilities within the program every year, according to Semiha Caliskan, an OU geography graduate student who obtained her bachelor’s in Turkey and two master’s in Sweden and Germany, respectively.
Most of the scholarships are co-sponsored by a Turkish company and, in many cases, a state-owned company. Türkiye Petrolleri Anonim Ortaklıgı is the biggest sponsor so far, sending a total of 244 students overseas in 2010, according to the company website.
For each year spent abroad, scholarship recipients have to spend double the amount of time working for the sponsoring Turkish company. Otherwise, they are required to pay for their tuition for the entire duration in addition to a fine.
“I do a two-year chemical engineering master’s here. So I have to go back to Turkey and work for four years,” graduate student Lutfiye Hacioglu said. “But that also means guaranteed employment back home.”
To qualify for the program, Turkish students are required to take the Akademik Personel ve Lisansüstü Egitimi Giris Sınavı (ALES) exam prior to applying to any graduate program.
Ceyda Gunsel, a chemical engineering graduate student said students list out three companies they want the scholarship from, choose the subject and institution they want to study in, make 10 choices and prepare to score well on the ALES.
“ALES is like the [graduate record exam] in the U.S.,” Caliskan said. “But it’s easier for a Turkish student.”
She said a student from Middle East Technical University, one of the most prestigious universities in Turkey, could score 800 on qualitative data on the GRE, but only 300 on the verbal section.
“GRE is like you have to know the Latin root of the word. We are not exposed to languages like this on a daily basis,” Caliskan said.
Despite the need to return to Turkey after graduation, some other Turkish students blend into OU quickly and begin to call Norman home.
Emre Tokgoz has obtained a master’s degree in math, a master’s in computer science, a doctorate in math and is pursuing another doctorate in industrial engineering — all at OU. He also married his wife from Norman, and is now working as a graduate teaching assistant in the math department.
Sezer Sevinc, a geology graduate student and scholarship recipient, now calls Norman home, but said it’s just different.
“In Turkey, we have a tightly knitted life because we live in apartments. But here people live in houses. That is why I think the distance has created some individualistic people here,” Sevnic said.
But different can be a good thing.
“On the up side, everything is in order in the U.S.,” he said, “I work in a geo-mechanic lab. In Turkey, things would be done randomly. But everything has an order here, and everybody is informed about what they are doing.”