Esref Gunaydin is a 72-year-old student from Turkey who, at his age, decided to travel to the Czech Republic to study for one semester in the Erasmus+ program at the Faculty of Technology at Tomas Bata University. Read about how this positive and inspiring student’s dream came true!

UTB oldest student

What inspired you to pursue an Erasmus exchange program at this stage in your life?

In my early life, when I was in high school, I had a great teacher who noticed my passion for physics. I was always curious about physics and my teacher told me that I just needed to explore it more. Despite this early passion, I opted to pursue Economics at a university in Turkey, eventually embarking on a three-decade-long career in banking as a manager. After retiring, I decided to pursue my dreams and study physics. Beginning my academic journey in Turkey, I will now complete my final year of study here in the Czech Republic. 

What motivated you to choose Tomas Bata University for your Erasmus exchange? 

The decision to participate in the Erasmus+ program and journey to the Czech Republic came from my desire for an enriching experience. The Faculty of Technology presented a great program. Through my effort, I successfully navigated the various examinations, driven by my genuine passion for the subject matter. I am now delighted to have the chance to be here and look forward to making the most of this valuable opportunity.

How do you find the academic environment and teaching methods here compared to your home university? 

While my university in Izmir, Turkey, offers a rich academic environment with extensive professional practice opportunities, it is hindered by outdated lab equipment and overcrowded classes. Studying Erasmus here at UTB in the Czech Republic has been great. The smaller number of students allows for a more personalized learning experience. The teachers make no difference among the students, theyre helping us, and they make sure we understand. In Turkey, it’s not that possible. Additionally, the availability of high-quality lab equipment enhances the educational experience.

Are there any specific courses or subjects you’re particularly interested in exploring during your time here? 

I have eight courses and Im very passionate about two of them. One of them is Introduction to Biotechnology and the second one is Applied Spectrometry where Im alone and its really fun, Im not used to that, but I appreciate it because Im learning better this way.  

What challenges have you faced as an older student participating in an Erasmus program so far? 

Despite being the oldest student, I’ve found my fellow students and professors to be kind and respectful. Interacting with people hasn’t been an issue for me. However, when it comes to challenges, one notable difficulty is the limited English proficiency among the local population, particularly among older people.

Have you had the opportunity to explore the local area around Tomas Bata University? If so, what have been some of your favourite places or activities?   

I have a strong affinity for Zlín, particularly the picturesque Tomas Bata red houses. The area surrounding the Faculty of Applied Informatics also holds a unique appeal because of the views of the city. Lastly, the skyscraper that also provides an amazing view.

How do you typically spend your free time outside of your academic studies? 

In my free time I’m reading classic and scientific literature, particularly focusing on recent publications in physics, as part of my commitment to ongoing self-education. I want to educate myself every day, to catch up with the most recent information so Im reading the most recent books, scientific articles and publications in the field of physics. I also like to cook and even though its difficult to find Turkish ingredients, Im trying to cook Turkish meals here. Exploring Zlín on foot is another favourite thing of mine, and whenever possible, I play a game of table tennis for relaxation.

Do you see some significant cultural differences between Turkey and Czech Republic? Is there something that you miss about Turkey while being here? 

In contrast to the noisy streets of Turkey, where honking is constant amidst traffic, the atmosphere in the streets here is much more relaxed. Additionally, people tend to obey traffic signals, even when there are no cars in sight. Czech cuisine differs greatly, offering a variety of tastes that are not so specific for me. I miss Turkish food, especially dishes like Kuru Fasulye, a stewed bean dish, and I miss the warm weather of Izmir, where I live. 

Is there something you really like about life in the Czech Republic so far? 

As I already mentioned, the respect and calmness in the Czech traffic are admirable, and if everyone would be following the rules like this in Turkey, that would be great.  

What advice would you give to other older individuals considering participating in Erasmus or similar programs? 

In my home university, I have friends who are actually the similar age as me. In Turkey, its not something unusual. And I would tell them: Just do it. Dont worry and if you are hesitating, definitely come to the Czech Republic, because the evironment is great, the people are nice and to have this experience in your life is just amazing. There arent big differences you would have to worry about, you dont need to be shy and most importantly, you dont have to worry about your age. 

How has this experience impacted your perspective on education, travel, and lifelong learning? 

I have already travelled a lot, to Asia, Arabia and Europe. But it was always just travelling and not study experience, so the impact on me is definitely huge, because this study stay gave me an opportunity to improve myself and to gain experience that I can use to explore the nuclear physic related to cancer treatment. After finishing my degree here I definitely want to come back and be part of some impactful project.  

What are your plans or goals, both academic and personal? 

I will never give up studying, and Im planning to pursue my master´s degree in nuclear physics. Then I want to continue with a project within my field especially regarding the treatment of cancer through nuclear physics and maybe even pursue a Ph.D. degree. The study journey will always be with me, its not just my academic but also my personal goal. In addition to that, I want to continue traveling, and Im planning to visit Poland, Norway and Switzerland.  

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If you want to know more about life in the Czech Republic, read the article Life in the Czech Republic through the eyes of foreign students.👀


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