More than a dozen underprivileged high school students from Turkey will be in town for the next eight weeks to learn English at Tennessee Tech University.
The 15 students, accompanied by a chaperone and two members of the Turkish media, will arrive on campus next week to begin their studies.
“They are from disadvantaged homes, but they’re really smart,” said Charles Wilkerson, TTU’s director of international education. “This program is funded by the Turkish government to try to elevate disadvantaged youth.”
The program has been around for at least two years. Last year, students went to England. They could not return there this year because of the Summer Olympics, so they started scouting for a university in the U.S. that was in a safe location, had a low cost of living, and had an existing English as a Second Language program.
“TTU was one of the only campuses that fit all three criteria, so they are coming here,” Wilkerson said.
Turkey has one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and its students are seeking more opportunities to study abroad. A group of Turkish college students visited TTU as part of a service learning partnership earlier this summer.
“Turkey is one of the areas I’m seeing a lot of traffic from, along with Brazil and Saudi Arabia,” Wilkerson said. “The students there are interested in going abroad, and a lot of businesses are going to Turkey.”
Though the ESL students coming to Tennessee Tech are too young to attend a university, Wilkerson said he hopes to stay in touch with them in case they later decide to attend college in the U.S. He plans to talk to them about what it takes to study abroad.
“Since these students were already picked by the government, there is a chance the government will support them to come back here if they fall in love with it,” he said.
The students will stay with host families in Cookeville and will travel around Tennessee on the weekends. TTU president Phil Oldham and his family will welcome the group to Tennessee Tech with an ice cream social at Walton House, the president’s residence.