Intern Abroad

Archive for February, 2024

Internship in the field of refugee aid in Turkey

February 9th, 2024 | by
  • Theology and Global Development Ma.
  • Turkey, Izmir
  • İmece İnisiyatifi Derneği
  • 08/2023 – 01/2024
  1. Application / Finding an internship

© Ida Helfensdörfer
The clock tower, the symbol of Izmir

After I had already done an Erasmus+ internship in Istanbul right after completing my Bachelor’s but had to break it off after a short time due to the Covid pandemic, I decided at the end of 2022, shortly before the end of my Master’s degree, to take advantage of the opportunity again and do another Erasmus+ internship in Turkey. I initially planned to go to Istanbul again. During my first internship abroad, I worked in a German-Turkish kindergarten. This time I wanted to work in the area of refugee aid because I had already gained a lot of experience in this area in Germany and I was interested in how refugees live in Turkey and what support offers there are for them. So I first applied to a few non-governmental organisations in Istanbul that were active in this area. However, many of the organisations did not even respond to my application and I was ultimately unsuccessful. So I decided not to limit myself to Istanbul but also to look for organisations in other Turkish cities. During my internet research, I quickly found what I was looking for and came across an NGO in Izmir called “İmece İnisiyatifi Derneği”, which I had already noticed a few years ago when I was looking for an internship position. I applied and received a response the next day with information about the organisation’s volunteer program. About a week later, I had a casual introductory conversation with the volunteer coordinator and I received a confirmation for my internship. Now all I had to do was apply for Erasmus funding, which was not particularly complicated. Everything was settled in April 2023 so that I could start my trip in August 2023.

  1. Accommodation & Living expenses

Unfortunately, I was not that lucky with my accommodation at the beginning. The volunteer coordinator at the organisation I worked for told me that there was a special house for the volunteers where I could rent a room. Unfortunately, even when I asked, I did not get any really precise information about the apartment. But since I had not found an alternative before leaving, I said yes first. Unfortunately, when I got there it turned out that the apartment was not as it had been described to me before and that I as a woman should have lived there alone with a male colleague. I did not feel comfortable with this living situation and therefore decided to look for other accommodation. I moved between different apartments several times until I finally ended up in a nice three-person shared apartment with two Pakistani girls who were doing a semester abroad in Turkey.

© Ida Helfensdörfer
Ilıca Beach in Çeşme

I got in touch with the girls through a WhatsApp group for exchange students in Izmir. I got along really well with my new flatmates right from the start and I was happy to have finally found a shared apartment where I felt comfortable. We rented an apartment in Karantina district, where I shared a room with one of the girls. I paid the equivalent of around €80 for the rent + additional costs (which are not very high in Turkey). This was a very reasonable price for such an apartment, thanks to my flatmate, who was able to negotiate the rent down quite a bit with the landlord. However, it is generally quite possible to find a room for €200 or less in Izmir. Negotiating is certainly always a good idea in Turkey. The other costs of living are of course lower in Turkey compared to Germany, although also Europeans feel the extremely high inflation that Turkey is currently struggling with. Nevertheless, I was able to live very well there on my Erasmus scholarship.

  1. Everyday life / The internship

The organisation where I completed my internship has various projects for refugees and focuses its work primarily on women and children. Initially, I was able to work for a few weeks on an educational project for refugee children from Syria. Every morning my team and I went to a village where many refugee families had settled. The organisation had placed a large bus there, which had been converted into a classroom inside so that classes could take place there. The aim of the project was to provide the child

© Ida Helfensdörfer
Maths class with the kids

ren with basic education and, above all, the basics of the Turkish language in order to prepare them for attending a regular Turkish school. My job was usually to play games or do other kinds of activities with the children outside the bus. After class, we occasionally visited individual families at home to strengthen relationships with them and talk to them about their current situation and their needs.

Later I spent most of the time working on another educational project for refugee children from African countries. Most of the children came from Congo or Angola and had fled to Turkey with their families. However, they live there without documents and therefore have no access to rights, health care and education. Therefore, the organisation has created a community center in Basmane district where the children live. There the children are taught, receive a hot lunch and can simply be children. Together with a permanent teacher and other volunteers, I was responsible for teaching the children. There are two classes at school – one for adolescents in the morning and one for younger children in the afternoon. I taught English, geography and maths to both groups. I also helped with handing out lunch every day. Of course, games, dancing, small celebrations and other activities that we organised together for the children were an important element from time to time. Sometimes just listening to a child or holding them in your arms was enough to make them feel seen and understood.

  1. Free time / Tips

© Ida Helfensdörfer
The Ancient City of Ephesus

Just a few weeks after my arrival in Izmir, I already had a large number of friends there. Some of my friends I met through my internship, including some volunteers from many different countries around the world who worked with us on the projects for a few weeks. I also had my flatmates, who in turn put me in touch with their friends. I also went to an African church every Sunday, which I found through my African colleagues. There, too, I quickly got to know people from many different countries. So in Izmir I was well integrated into a multicultural community. That way I almost never spent my evenings and weekends alone. There was always someone to take me somewhere – whether it was for a Turkish breakfast, bowling, shopping or just a walk by the sea. So I hardly found time to travel to other parts of Turkey, but I didn’t find that to be a bad thing. There was still enough time for some trips to the surrounding area of Izmir. The ancient city of Ephesus, the Çeşme peninsula and the fishing town of Foça are certainly worth seeing. Of course, there are also some sights within the city of Izmir, although for me Izmir is not primarily a place for great sightseeing. For me, it’s more of a place where you can sit by the sea with friends, shop at the bazaar, explore the different parts of the city in a relaxed manner and also use the ferry as a means of transport for that.

  1. Conclusion

© Ida Helfensdörfer
View of Izmir from Kadifekale Mountain

In fact, I would have loved to extend my internship by another six months. Ultimately, it was due to a lack of communication from the organisation that I didn’t get a residence permit for Turkey and had to pack my bags after half a year. So sometimes I would have been desirable to have a better communication with the responsible people in the organisation. Nevertheless, İmece does great and important work for refugee children in Turkey who would otherwise lack any prospects in life. As an intern, I was quickly able to take on responsibility and realised that I could make an important contribution to the education of these children.

All in all, I can only say that the time I was allowed to spend in Izmir was the best time of my life. I can only encourage anyone who is thinking about going abroad to do so. In any case, you will grow beyond yourself and gain experiences that will shape you for the rest of your life. I am particularly happy and grateful for all the great people I have met in this short time and who will hopefully remain a part of my life for a long time to come.