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By Flora Nixon

Generally speaking, few studies have examined the experiences of Turkish students in the United States, whose population is estimated to be around 10,000 by the Turkish Embassy in the U.S. Some studies concluded that Turkish students with mental problems who had spent only one or two years in the U.S. found the host country unfavorable, although the ones that had stayed longer had more favorable views towards the U.S. and American life. Moreover, there have been some attitude changes in Turkish high school exchange students in the U.S. It was found out that this cross-national encounter brought about a growth of competence, empathy, self-esteem, and belief in internal control among students. Such experience helped to counteract ethnocentric tendencies and nourish tolerance among the Turkish students who had mental problems.

Adjustment to a new culture is thought to be an essential psychological process because of its effects on the performance and functioning of the individual. Turkish students in the U.S. colleges may encounter various cross-cultural adjustment problems such as adapting to new roles, academic difficulties, language difficulties, financial problems, homesickness, lack of study skills, and lack of assertiveness. They need to realize a wide range of culturally defined and typically unfamiliar roles in a short time while they are under considerable stress because of their state of health. However, once Turkish students who experience problems with mental health learn and adapt to the requirements and roles of the new culture their experience is likely to bring successful results. At the same time, inability to adapt may affect their psychological (e.g. stress, depression) and physical (e.g. headaches) health, which may present serious hurdles to the achievement of their educational goals. It is believed that the faster international students adapt to the new culture, the better they will do academically.

Due to high cost of getting a higher education in the U.S. for these students (typically 4 times as expensive as for domestic students) and due to immense pressure to succeed academically from their families, sponsoring organizations, or governments, Turkish students with mental health issues may be at particular risk of developing even more stress-related mental and physical difficulties (Aubrey, 1991). There is no doubt that Turkish students, as a whole, are more at risk for both physical and psychological problems than are their domestic counterparts. As already mentioned above, Turkish students often are challenged with language barriers, immigration difficulties, culture shock, social adjustment, loneliness, and homesickness (Mori, 2000). Despite these difficulties, Turkish students with mental problems underutilize college counseling centers, and when they do ask for counseling, they are often dissatisfied and tend to drop out prematurely (Zhang, 2000). Reasons for such tendencies lie in a cultural value orientation that discourages looking for professional help, as well as differing cultural perceptions of mental health and mental illness. Consequently, it is crucial to provide counseling to Turkish mental students that are sensitive to cultural values and worldviews of other nations.            Nowadays, Turkey ranks ninth among countries that send college students to study in the U.S. each year. The number of Turkish students in the U.S. has become even greater (10,983 in 2000-2001), moreover, there’s an increase from 4,978 in 1992-1993 (Institute of International Education, 2002). Despite the increasing numbers, the Turkish student population in the U.S. has rarely been studied, and not much is known about the adjustment problems and help-seeking behavior of these students. The general shortage of knowledge about perceptions of mental health and mental illness and ways of coping among Turkish individuals has been linked to the relatively new status of the psychological and psychiatric professions in Turkey (Yazgan, 1997).

Furthermore, Turkish society is now in a transition period. This period is described by a dynamic tension between Eastern and Western attitudes, values, and lifestyles; this period is propelled by an effort to become a fully accepted member of the European community. Two contradictory views of cultures and lifestyles exist in Turkish society: the West versus the East, the modern versus the traditional, and the urban versus the rural. Most Turks represent a blend of these opposite positions, rather than embracing one or the other. Consequently, the Turkish culture is better understood if these opposing characteristics of culture are viewed on a continuum, rather than as mutually exclusive polarities. All Turkish people, regardless of their state of mental health, combine spiritual, altruistic, other-centered, community-oriented, and interdependent values, values that are often associated with Eastern cultures, with individualistic, rational, logical, pragmatic, and materialistic values, values that tend to be associated with Western cultures. Basically, such a general societal dichotomy of beliefs is represented in the views that the Turkish people have toward mental health and mental illness.

Indeed, there’s a negative perception that is attached to students who have mental disorders. In a country that has historically been a crossroad for many cultures and has witnessed centuries of societal changes, Turkish people seem to be extremely resilient. Yet beliefs about supernatural beings that trigger mental illness are common in Turkish culture, especially in rural areas. At the same time, more educated and urban Turks are more likely to attribute mental illness to psychological (family discord), social (financial inadequacies, societal disorder), and medical reasons (Eskin, 1989) That is why Turkish students in the US are often reluctant to seek counseling assistance, either at college counseling centers or through community agencies.

Works cited

Aubrey, R. (1991). International students on campus: A challenge for counselors, medical providers, and clinicians. Smith College Studies in Social Work, 62, 20-33.

Eskin, M. (1989). Rural populations’ opinions about the causes of mental illness, modern psychiatric help-sources and traditional healers in Turkey. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 25, 324-328.

Institute of International Education. (2002). Open doors. Retrieved from: <http://www.opendoorsweb.org/index.html>

Mori, 5. (2000). Addressing the mental health concerns of international students. Journal of Counseling & Development, 78, 137-144.

Yazgan, M. Y. (1997). Child psychiatrists in Turkey: Only 25 for ten million children and adolescents. Retrieved from <http://www.med.yale.edu/chldstdy/IACAPAP/997/997-11.htm >

Zhang, N. (2000). Acculturation and counseling expectancies: Asian international students’ attitudes toward seeking professional psychological help. Dissertation Abstracts International, 60(7), 2392A.