Thursday 3 December 2015
Turan Gafarli is an undergraduate student at QMUL thanks to a full scholarship from the Government of Azerbaijan Republic and is currently in his second year studying History and Politics. He was recently interviewed by BBC World about his experiences as an international student in the UK.*
What made you want to study at Queen Mary?
I always really wanted to study in the UK, and especially London. When I was applying through UCAS, I specifically chose London-based universities, and Queen Mary met all my requirements. It has a great reputation and offered a joint degree in History and Politics which was perfect for me. East London is great for student life; it’s definitely quieter than central London and has a very diverse community. Prices are more student friendly too!
Why did you want to study internationally?
I had lived out of Azerbaijan for seven years before moving to the UK, and was ready to experience even more different cultures than my own. I was also given a scholarship by the Azerbaijani Ministry to study in the UK.
What do you think are the benefits of an international education?
One benefit is the multicultural student body. If I’m studying Israel and Palestine, there will actually be people from those places in our seminar which helps us see different perspectives and listen to first-hand experiences. It definitely adds colour to the student experience. Another benefit is experiencing independent student life in a new culture with a new educational system, which is a good learning experience. I also think an international education will help me stand out amongst my friends back home. It’s definitely been the best decision of my life.
What do you think is the importance of building up strong social networks when you’re studying abroad?
When you’re far away from family, you need friends for support, especially if you’re an international student. While academic life is important, having an active social life is important too. I have friends from Azerbaijan, the UK and other countries, though most of my friends are Eastern European because of our common culture. As a politics student, I get on well with others and enjoy having discussions with people from all over the world. I think that friendships I am building today will continue during my professional life and help me to shape my career.
What other extra-curricular interests do you have?
When I want to take a break from studying I enjoy playing my guitar, although taking it through customs was an interesting experience! Other than that, I go to concerts, pubs, conferences with friends and just try to enjoy London’s metropolitan environment. You can find something here to suit every lifestyle.
How do you feel about recent changes in government policy that affect international students?
I think recent changes to international student policy have been a disaster, especially for those studying degrees specific to finding a job in the UK such as Law. Many Azerbaijani friends of mine who are masters students and wanted to settle here after finishing their degrees are really struggling. Four months is an unrealistic time frame in which to find a job, particularly in this economy.
Personally, I didn’t plan to stay in the UK as I want to go back home and contribute to my country, although I think my degree is pushing me to pursue postgraduate study. But for those who wanted to stay, this really is disastrous. International students spend three years paying more expensive fees and contributing to the economy, and could contribute even more if they stayed, worked and paid taxes.
What’s your favourite thing about studying at QMUL?
My favourite thing is definitely independence. Being abroad gives you a lot of freedom, and London has a lot going on. If I type ‘what to do in London this weekend…’ into Google, hundreds of search results come up. There are many affordable activities for students too. As a politics student I’m enjoying having the opportunity to speak my mind. Free discussion in seminars makes finding an open solution to problems easier and more creative.
Do you have any top tips for living in London?
My main tip would be to enjoy more than just London nightlife. Obviously that’s fun too, but there’s so many other things to do, from parks, museums and libraries to skyscrapers (which you don’t need to go all the way to New York for). Furthermore I recommend students to do research before anything they do in London, from shopping to eating. And also take pictures of the fascinating architecture of the city! I can also recommend an Azerbaijani restaurant called ‘Azeri Cuisine’ in King’s Cross, which is affordable and has a friendly environment.
What are your hopes for the future?
I have to go back to Azerbaijan to fulfil my compulsory military service, but after that I would like to gain my masters and PhD. My aim is to be the top European historian specialized in the 20th century in my country, which would also make me a good candidate for diplomatic jobs. I would like to represent Azerbaijan in the UN someday too.
My final advice for fellow students would be to participate fully in student social life instead of just sticking to academic work – there is also a world beyond the library and halls. Experience as much as possible and enjoy it!
* Turan was filmed by the BBC in his halls of residence, in classes and around campus. He speaks about his desire to progress in academia and the close relationship he has with other Azerbaijani students at QMUL. You can watch the video here (please note there is no English translation or subtitles).