Özge Biligili and Meltem Naz Kaşo

Generation UU

Özge Biligili, Marjan Oudeman and Meltem Naz Kaşo

Two generations of Utrecht Excellence scholarship holders

Utrecht, 2 October 2015 – around sixty students of various nationalities have gathered in the Oude Hortus at the University Museum. What do they have in common? They’ve all been selected for an Utrecht Excellence Scholarship (and/or Holland Scholarship). After a warm welcome and congratulations from the President of the Executive Board, Marjan Oudeman, the scholarship holders get to know each other and their sponsors. They excitedly discuss their experiences. Pictures are taken of the group with their scholarship certificates held high. Two of them, an ex-scholarship holder and a newcomer, both with Turkish roots, tell us more about their background, choices and experiences with the Netherlands and Utrecht University.

My friends told me that the best education can be found in Utrecht.

Meltem Naz Kaşo

A shining example

The Utrecht Excellence Scholarship (UES) aims to assist excellent non-European students who lack the financial means to study in Utrecht. This scholarship offers the university the chance to reel in international talent and knowledge. A win/win situation according to alumna and guest speaker Dr. Özge Bilgili, who sets a shining example for the new arrivals. She was awarded the UES for the two-year Master’s programme in Migration, Ethnic Relations and Multiculturalism at the Graduate School of Social and Behavioural Sciences in 2007. Without this scholarship, she would not have been able to do this Master’s degree. Afterwards, she would not have gone on to get a PhD at Maastricht University. And she wouldn’t have been able to share her knowledge about (trans-)nationalism, ethnicity, international migration and integration with global academics and policy-makers through her work as a researcher and lecturer at the United Nations University – Merit and Graduate School of Governance Maastricht today.

The new arrival

First-year student Meltem Naz Kaşo started the two-year Master’s programme in Gender and Ethnicity at the Graduate School of Humanities in September. She has been interested in identity and its formation from a young age. She started her education in Turkish public schools, alongside children whose parents were not well off financially. Her family was more fortunate, but had to work hard to achieve it. Meltem: “Every generation went one step further; my grandmother was illiterate, my mother was the first to attend university in Turkey and graduated with distinction, and I have enjoyed an international education.” With some luck and financial support, but particularly through great effort and motivation, Meltem obtained her International Baccalaureate at the United World College of the Adriatic and her Bachelor in Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago.

Choosing the Netherlands

Özge received thorough international preparation at the American Robert College, an American high school in Istanbul. Meltem lived in France, Italy and Armenia, among other places. “After my Bachelor’s degree in America, I really wanted to continue my studies in Europe. My friends told me that I should go to the Netherlands, because it offers the highest quality education, especially Utrecht. And the socio-economic circumstances in the Netherlands are much better than in Turkey; there is more (gender) equality.” Özge has not experienced problems with unequal rights in Turkey first-hand, but has always been conscious of the issue. She too chose the Netherlands for a reason: “I did a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology at the French Galatasaray University in Istanbul, and went to Paris on an exchange semester. However, I didn’t like the French education system. My teachers recommended the Netherlands. My main interest was already in migration at the time, and Utrecht offered a high-quality programme in the field.”

Discovering yourself in a new country

Meltem: “It’s always good to get outside your comfort zone, explore a new atmosphere and collect new stories. In a different country, you see everything from a new perspective.” So far, she has marvelled at the directness of the Dutch. “Everywhere I went, people say that I am direct, but here even I’m surprised sometimes! People in Turkey are more reserved.” Özge thinks this is a positive quality. “Everyone is very clear and people say what they think. It might sound rude, but it is sincere.” Another positive aspect of the Netherlands is the relaxed atmosphere. “In Turkey you have to fight for everything and you’re just plodding on, whereas here you can take the time to think about what you really want.” This is also her advice to other students who’ve just arrived: “Take your time and enjoy. Don’t let others direct you, but try things for yourself and discover new ideas.”*

Added value

Özge feels the Dutch are very open, but not always equally well-informed. “Some Dutch people I met during my Master’s degree did not know enough about other cultures. That’s why it’s important for non-European students to speak up and for the Dutch to listen to what we have to say. That way, they might change their view of certain things.” Meltem: “What I’ve noticed so far is that people are very critical, regardless of their background. They recognise their own subjectivity and prejudice, and discuss it very openly.” According to her, the Utrecht Excellence Scholarship facilitates the exchange of knowledge between different cultures. “Non-European students are incredibly valuable to the university, because they bring new ideas and perspectives into the mix. The presence of a modern, outspoken and well-educated Turkish woman alone shatters the stereotype that certain people have and makes them think twice. Of course I am grateful that this scholarship allows me to study here, but I also have something meaningful to add.”

*A few of her favourite discoveries are café Tilt (to play games with friends), the Wilhelminapark, Ledig Erf and café Derat (small yet cosy).   

Would you like to give a student the opportunity of a lifetime? You can, by donating to the Utrecht Excellence Scholarships for international high-performing students from outside Europe. Their talents not only strengthen the university’s intellectual and international position and development, but also contribute to the economy in their home country.

You can send your donation to IBAN NL 43 INGB 000 00 14475 registered the Utrecht University fund, and indicate that it is destined for the UES.

100% of your donation will go towards a scholarship!