#firstly, can we get to know you?
Hello, I am Şeyda Karabacak, 24 years old. I graduated from Ankara Yıldırım Beyazıt University, Department of Psychology in June 2020.
#how did you participate on erasmus program?
Between July-September 2018, I completed a developmental psychology internship after three months at Amsterdam 2Voices Bilingual Preschool in the Netherlands. The institution I work for has two branches in Amsterdam and I worked in these branches rotary during my internship. The institution is a private nursery that is affiliated to the Association Montessori Internationale (a globally based non-governmental organization devoted to the Montessori education system) where children between 1.5 and 4 years old are raised in line with the educational philosophy I mentioned.
#how did you decide to apply for erasmus internship mobility?
My older sister had a great influence on my decision. When I just started my department, my sister spent 7 months in Poland with the Erasmus program. After my exams were over, I went next to her and we travelled through European cities together. I spent 15 days in which my feet swelled from hours of walking and in the evening from running the train or bus. Thinking that I was a tourist in the cities I saw during this period and that I did not know the life and people there, I set the goal of coming back a year later, not as a tourist, but only temporarily to live a life I built. First of all, I applied for the Erasmus Education program, but I could not qualify. Later, I found out Erasmus + internship mobility and I started looking for an internship place, believing that it would give me both work experience in the field and that it would be able to live the dream of being in a new country that I wanted so much.
#what were the difficulties during the application phase?
Finding an internship place was a very troublesome process. While I was searching on the internet, I saw many advertisements that only European citizens can apply. I also applied to the advertisements that arranged internship places for students with consortium collaborations, but I was not accepted because there are more programs suitable for business, engineering and law students in the job pools. When I was looking at the internship postings for the last time, I saw 3 advertisements that I met the conditions, prepared my resume and motivation letter and sent an e-mail. After this stage, my most difficult issue was to determine the internship dates. Because the three institutions I applied to were on vacation during the summer period and the 62 working days I had to complete on my return from vacation did not match the date range determined by the university. For this reason, I found all the holidays of the institution and counted the working days that I should work and decided the date period I would like to be written on the invitation letter. Since the green passport gives me the right to stay without a visa for 3 months, I completed the application phase without the need for a visa.
#how was the process of choosing the place where you will go to the internship?
I became a member of many internship advertisements sites and started following the postings. Apart from that, I sent an e-mail to the psychology labs and lecturers of several universities stating that I wanted to be an assistant. When I could not get an answer, I kept looking for my luck on websites. Some of the sites I follow are: https://www.trainingexperience.org/ and https://erasmusintern.org/. I could not see a suitable ad for a long time and when I was about to stop searching, I came across three intern psychologist advertisements that were given consecutively on one of the websites I shared. There is three months between my active search and receiving positive feedback. The most important point at this stage is to be patient, to keep looking, whether the answer comes or not, to explain yourself to the advertisers, or to ask them to direct you to other institutions that they know are looking for interns.
Two of the three advertisements I applied were kindergartens in the Netherlands and Spain. I first received a reply from the kindergarten in the Netherlands, who was waiting for a detailed mail from me about the details of my application and my expectations. The other place I applied to was the company that wanted to run a project with people of different nationalities in Germany. Although the idea of taking part in an international study excited me very much, Germany was out of my choice because the project took a long time and the dates they wanted me to work in did not match the summer internship period of the university. Since I can get an answer from the place where I applied for Spain one week before the application ends; I decided on Holland Amsterdam 2Voices Bilingual Preschool, which clearly stated its terms and expectations and sent my invitation letter. If the project in Germany and my internship dates were matched, I would probably prefer it there. However, I am also very happy to have gone to the Netherlands because of the many things it taught me.
#what kind of advice would you give to people who want to participate to the erasmus internship program about getting an invitation letter?
It is necessary for them to describe their expectations from the internship and themselves briefly but concisely. Resume, student certificate, transcript etc. must be sent by e-mail. It is also useful to do a little research about the institution you are applying for and indicate how you will contribute to them. I added that I will come with the Erasmus program, the number of days I have to work, and that I do not ask for any fees because I have a grant. As I learned later, my acceptance for this part was also very effective :)
#what did you do during the internship period?
It was among my responsibilities to help the children (1.5- 4 years old) on play choices, gain responsibility, establish social relationships, gain eating and toilet habits who came to the nursery care. What my internship coordinator was expecting from me was to help teachers who had Montessori education at the school, to follow the children and their development, to attend the meetings. However, what I did was not limited with this. There were days when I changed the diapers of the children, waited for them to sleep and often helped with the dishes and other cleaning tasks. My coordinator, Heidi, stated this situation before starting my internship. In short, my responsibility was to help every job in the nursery. I would like to point out that not only interns did these jobs, but the most experienced teachers or founders of the institution were also helping the cleaning.
#how was your ordinary day?
I was working 5 hours a day, every day of the week. At the beginning of the shift, I help each child choose a job that suits him / her (it is seen as children's work, not play). According to the system applied in school; children enjoy free choice, control of their mistakes, movement, silence, social relations established by themselves, tidy and clean environment, a discipline based on free activity and repetition of exercises. I was helping them take responsibility in an environment that would provide them and when there was a job they couldn't do (putting the letter in an cover, cutting fruit, completing puzzles, sweeping the floor, washing dishes, etc. - yes, the children do these things too), I was present in the classrooms for help. My day was very busy as there were not enough teachers working at the school, my priority was to help the children and then deal with environmental cleaning.
I loved the decoration of the school (large and high ceilings, large windows, small desks for students and a tiny playground) and the environment it was in. My workplace, which passes the canal at the entrance of the largest park in the city and next to it, contained images suitable for postcards.
#thanks to this experience, was there anything that change your perspective?
Understanding how special and different the children, who at first thought they were all similar, were in the last days of my internship changed my perspective on developmental psychology and children. I had my most enjoyable moments towards the end of my internship while watching the children get used to each other and the school. I will always miss answering their questions, their loving embrace and the bond between us.
#have you had any difficulties with accommodation?
Before I left, the most worried thing that I had was finding a place to stay. Because the university dormitories I applied for did not accept me. According to what I later learned, even if you do your internship at a university, it is very unlikely that the dormitories will accept you if you are not staying for a long term. When I asked for help from the institution where I would do my internship, they said that accommodation was my responsibility and they recommended that I search the postings. That's why I became a member of home posting sites and housing groups on Facebook. The owners in the advertisements I found, asked me to send a certain amount of the rent before my arrival but I did not find it safe sending money to someone I don't know without seeing the house, so I did not rent a room from there. I stayed in a hostel for a few days and during these days I met people who rented their room through a friend of mine then I decided to search for a house.
On the first day I went to Amsterdam, I saw the room and rented it like that. Although the rent of the room is far from the center, it was 500 euro, since we shared a room with two people, my monthly rent was 250 euro. I was very glad to find this place because my monthly grant was 500 euro and all rooms I looked for were starting from 500 euro. If I did not keep that room, my entire budget would be missing for rent and it would be impossible for me to make a living by the grant.
#considering your department, what advice can you give to the people who will participate in the erasmus program in the future?
If they want to work in a university in the field of psychology, this usually consists of project assistantship or data analysis, so they should give importance to SPSS, statistics and research methods courses. If they are curious about the apply psychology part, I recommend that they draw a road map (whether it is academic or apply-oriented) while following the innovations and developments in the field they want to work and looking for advertisements.
#can you tell us about Amsterdam? :)
People of many nations, from immigrants to expats, live together in Amsterdam. They are really kind and helpful in every respect, of course every nation has an exceptional segment. However, I have never seen that people's clothing, race or color are the subject of discrimination. When you get on the bus or train, the staff or passengers greet you, start a short conversation about the weather or a general topic. They speak English very well, no necessary to learn the local language. Another feature is that they are overly disciplined and hardworking, you cannot see them chatting while working. They are very punctual, everyone will come to work right on time, if you're late, they can say they don't like it and you shouldn't repeat it again (I was late on my first day of work).
The negative aspect is that it is one of Europe's most expensive cities. You should rent out most of your budget, you will save big if you cook your own food. For socializing, I suggest meeting in parks (Vondelpark is my favorite) or at the traditional festivals and concerts of Amsterdam instead of meeting at cafes or events.
For transportation, buying or renting a bicycle reduces your costs and a solid lock is essential to prevent it from being stolen. Since it is a country with cycling paths even on intercity roads, you can go wherever you want by bike and you will not get tired in long distances thanks to the straight roads. I did not buy a bicycle because it is a small city, but if I go again, the first thing I do would be to buy a bicycle. Almost all of the people have it. They go to school and work by bicycle and it surprised me at first, to see very stylish men and women in suits on bicycles.
#how was the erasmus student profile in your context?
There were three interns at the school where I work. Since it is a small institution, they distributed the interns to the periods and branches in order to avoid the density. I had another Turkish friend who started my internship when I started. We both alternated internships at different branches. A student came from Finland in the last week of my internship. Unfortunately, we could not establish a friendship relationship with them outside of work because most of my colleagues were older than me. I also became a member of Facebook groups with erasmus interns and made friends by participating in meetings held outside of work whenever possible.
#how was your friend context during the internship period?
I had a circle of Moroccan, British, Indian, Austrian, Dutch, German and Turkish. I made new friends at student meetings I went outside of work. There were also people I met and befriended on my travels.
#what was the hardest part of living in a foreign country?
It was difficult to try to establish my own regulation and to adapt to the rules of the people with whom I lived and worked. On my second day at the house I stayed at, I experienced the first major difficulty when a thief broke into the house and a large amount of money of the owner was stolen. Although this situation caused a mutual trust conflict between us, we were able to establish a relatively calm relationship after the thief identified.
It was also difficult to refer to the Criminal Check report prepared by the Dutch government, which the school asked me to do. In order to get this report, you send your passport information to the government with other required documents and application fee (around 40 euros), and you are searched worldwide and your record is checked, you can start the internship after receiving this report. Unfortunately, the school I worked, sent me the wrong address and documents several times, so I could have gotten this report too late and although I don't have this report, they said they wouldn't prepare the internship completion documents.
Although I was very careful about spending during my stay, I also spent an extra 300 euros in addition to the grant.
#what was the best part of living in a foreign country?
The best thing it gave me was to get to know people of different ages and cultures in a short time, to take a place in each other's lives for a while, to see new places, to travel alone, to spend time and to enjoy it.
#what did you do during this process that you haven't done before?
It was not my first overseas experience, but it was the first time I was alone while I was going through hardships, mostly traveling alone and building my own route. Other than that, I got on the motor for the first time, made unusually long trips, cooked my own meals, tried to heal myself when I got sick, I was separated from my family and friends.
#we know this question is quite difficult to answer. what kind of contributions would you say this experience have made for you? :)
I learned to adapt to people and to endure difficulties. At first, I was amazed at the bonds I made when I broke up with people I didn't like at first, I learned to love and care for children and for the first time I lived a small life that I built with everything, even if I did wrong things many times. I got to know better the field I would be a member of in the future. I knew Amsterdam as well as the locals and started to give directions.
#would you like to share a memory that you think you will not forget?
While I was planning a trip to Germany, I missed the bus even though I went to the terminal an hour ago. I thought that my bus did not come because the places where the buses would go on were not written, unless it was necessary to follow the code instead of writing every stop as here. Later, I learned that the bus was already gone and I was left with my belongings on the highway. I could not get a new ticket because there was no office. Since I handed over my house key, I could not return to Amsterdam either. While I was sitting on the road for a while and thinking about what to do, I managed to reach my route to Germany, albeit delayed, by reaching my family and buying me tickets online.
#is there any information that useful for you and do you have any suggestions?
If you are going to the Netherlands, first thing to do should be to buy a bicycle and be very careful on bicycle paths, bicycle accidents happen very often. If you are going to walk on foot, stay away from the colorful parts of the road, they are the paths reserved for cyclists and they may get angry with your occupation and push you aside. Follow the discounts at Aldi and Albert Heijn supermarket, eat hot waffles, tompouce, fish and cheeps, and croissants. Follow the free concerts and visit the Vondelpark concert venue. Be sure to spend good weather in the parks. If you are interested in antiques and nostalgia like me, go to the markets, my favorite market is Albert Cypmrkt. You should definitely see Edam, Volendam, Island Marken and Zaanse Schans on a daily basis, if you are assertive in cycling, you will experience a long but worthy visual feast. Keep an umbrella and sweater in your bag at all times, even in summer.
#do you have any information about the ESN in Netherlands?
There is a very active ESN in the Netherlands. When I checked their pages before going there, there was a lot of information to make life easier. If you are going to a university, ESN helps you to assign a mentor to get used to the country, learn the transportation network, even meet you when you arrive the country and your accommodation. This is the good part. However, since I did not do an internship at the university, I could not benefit from these opportunities provided for housing or students. I went through a process where I had to take care of these myself.
#is there anything you want to add? :)
If you apply for the erasmus mobility, you will prefer the schools that your university has contracted with. If you have decided to do an internship abroad, you need to find many things, including introducing yourself to the institution you will work with, receiving acceptance, and an invitation letter. You have to plan this part well.
#finally, do you have any messages you want to convey to those who read this interview and to the ESN AYBU family? :)
Although I have been back from my internship for more than 2 years, I thank you very much for helping me to reconsider my erasmus life with all of my excitement, adjusting process, enthusiasm, disappointment and joy while writing, I hope it will be useful to those who want to go through the same paths :) I will be eagerly awaiting further interviews.