A Case Study: An Iranian Master’s student discovered she was dyslexic during her Erasmus exchange in Turkey.
Introduction: An Iranian student spent two semesters at a Turkish university under the Erasmus Mundus program. The university’s language of instruction was English, although most students spoke Turkish between and outside classes. As Mehtab’s mother tongue is Farsi, she was takıng courses in a script she was not so familiar with. Furthermore, because there is no awareness of Dyslexia in Iran, she was not even aware of the fact that there could be an explanation for the difficulties she had had during her education in school in Iran.
The situation: The student was taking Master’s level courses (she had to follow lectures, do readings and research and complete assignments) and needed to write a thesis.
Experiences of the student: To get into university I had to pass GRE math part and IELTS or TOEFL exam. It was the darkest part of my life so far. I could pass the math quite easy (after two months of practicing). However, I had to try four times to pass the English exam. Every time my reading and writing scores were lower than the acceptable grade.
As soon as I started my education in English, I noticed that in my classes I was quite behind compared to my classmates. I knew it was not a problem with language because I could understand everything almost well, express myself and do good presentations as the other students. However, when it came to reading many articles and books, there was never enough time for me; I was too slow in reading and even worse in writing. So I ended up concluding that there is a problem with my eyes because at the end of every day I had a headache and texts and words were moving in front of my eyes. I went to an optician and she told there was no problem with my eyes.
At that point, all I could do was to spend much more time working and try even harder. It was a nightmare for me if in class we were supposed to read an article or even a page and give our ideas. I needed twice as much time as others to skim a text.
Events: The critical time was at the end of my Masters. I failed the first two juries. I was putting a lot of work and effort in to my thesis, however the jury were particularly criticizing me for not ‘working enough’ and not doing my best. What they could see was a piece of writing with lots of spelling mistakes and no structure. Words said by jury members were “The work was written in a rush and without careful attention”; “There is no effective structure in the work and it should be revised”; but I didn’t know how to do that; they assumed I knew what they meant. I felt very unhappy and angry, because I was unable to show them my real abilities. My spelling mistakes didn’t let them to see what I actually did. And after I failed to pass my second defence, I felt myself totally unable to continue my education. I talked about my feeling with the Disability Coordinator at METU, who advised me. I then started to feel some hope, and that I was not alone. Then I moved to Manchester, and registered for another Masters at Manchester University. At least I felt I was making a new start and people didn’t know about my failures.
The solutions: At the University of Manchester Disability Support Office, I was able to get the assessment and a certificate saying I am dyslexic. That by itself gave me back my confidence. I also got some software which helped me for reading and writing and structuring my thought. I think all universities should have access to those softwares. The best part was when I met my new supervisor; I was worried about how to tell her I am dyslexic. I was surprised and very happy when she said “I’m dyslexic too”; she was my role model, and showed how much a dyslexic person can do!
In future: I would like to do something to reduce problems for other dyslexic students, especially others who feel like I did, who didn’t know what was happening or who to ask. For me the weakness was in the system: it is not the weakness of individuals in the system. Professors in an academic department cannot be expected to understand about dyslexia, or know how to provide suitable conditions for a student with dyslexia; this is the responsibility of the Disability Unit. It is very important that people working at Study Abroad offices are aware of possible conditions like dyslexia, and that they understand that a student might not just have difficulties with the new language, or be lazy or stupid. As well as having to adjust to the new country and institution, an international student might also have difficulties in her mother tongue because of being dyslexic.
Notes: Since Mehtap’s dyslexia has become clear, her brother and her mother have also understood that they too are dyslexic.