From celebrity sheepherder to international scholarship student
How does a sheepherder from the expansive Turkish mountain range surrounding Tunceli become a Bachelor’s student at Tilburg University? First-year student of International Business Administration Mahir Gündoğdu made his seemingly impossible dream come true – thanks to his own perseverance, his celebrity status on national television, and a generous donation from Mr Kahraman, formerly from Tunceli himself, who’s lived in the Netherlands for decades.
Mahir attended a local primary school. He went without private tutoring, but he had the good fortune of having three good teachers who helped him and other students in any way they could. While herding sheep in the mountains he devoured books. At school, Mahir stood out, proving a good student. “In Türkiye, to get into a good secondary school you need to do well in your ‘school recordings’, a kind of test to set your level,” Mahir relates. “I practiced endlessly and eventually succeeded in obtaining the required score. That’s how I got into the prestigious Robert College in Istanbul.”
At thirteen, Mahir left for Istanbul, a two-hour flight from his hometown. “Like other students, I was a boarder, going home in the summer only. It was the best time of my life. Through school I managed to win a scholarship. Local media picked up on my story and liked it. That’s how I came to be followed on YouTube and in newspapers.”
My ultimate goal was to study abroad
“My ultimate goal was to study abroad,” he continues. “Abroad is where I see more opportunities for myself.” Tilburg University caught his eye. “The city, the degree program, and the courses are a match with the kind of entrepreneur I want to be. Just before the summer I was told I’d been admitted. All I needed to do now was to secure funding, because I didn’t have the means to pay for my studies myself.”
Finding a sponsor
And so Mahir sets out to find a sponsor, while at the same time working with the International Admissions Office of Tilburg University and the Dutch embassy in Türkiye to sort out his visa and paperwork. “Being followed by Turkish media helped, and RTL4 also picked up on my story. That’s how Mr Kahraman learned about me. He emigrated from Tunceli to the Netherlands in the 1980s and had a hard time settling in. Now that he’s successfully integrated, he’s eager to help me realize my dream. Tilburg University Fund looked into the matter and his credentials and pledge of support checked out. When they told me, I was over the moon: I’m going to university in the Netherlands!”
People’s openness and the human dimension of things made me feel welcome
At the start of the academic year, Mahir flew abroad for the first time, destination Tilburg. “People’s openness and the human dimension of things made me feel welcome. But living here also took some getting used to: I missed my family, the food, our culture, and my friends from boarding school, who’d been my constant companions. Then, with the Covid-19 lockdown and winter weather setting in, things became pretty depressing for a while.” Now, though, he’s perked up and is finding his bearings. “I’ve become more self-reliant and have learned new skills. As a boarder at secondary school, I was used to not living at home, but everything was taken care of for us: cleaning, cooking, laundry. Now I do all these things myself.”
What does he like about Tilburg? “I’m happy the surroundings are green; they remind me of the hills back home in Türkiye. I cycle everywhere and that helps me keep fit. Tilburg is also a nice place to live and it is situated quite centrally in Europe: it makes for easy travelling to other countries. And because there are many international students, I meet people from different backgrounds and cultures. I like that. Next year, I want to join an association and meet even more people.”
Mahir is the first of his family to go to university. “I am proud of that achievement, but I’m also aware of the responsibility that comes with it: I am a role model for others and I must behave accordingly. When I’ve completed my Bachelor’s, I hope to do a Master’s in the Netherlands and possibly find a job here. My future is outside Türkiye, I think. But my roots will always be in my hometown of Tunceli.”
Become a donor
With your donation to the Tilburg University Fund, you can support various Tilburg University projects. Projects that can achieve just that little bit more with a financial impulse. Or initiatives that require a financial contribution to get started.
Date of publication: 27 July 2022