Feyzanur Demirci, or Feyza, as she likes to be called, was recently accepted into an accelerated Master of Business Administration (MBA) program at Monmouth University. A huge accomplishment for anybody, it holds even more weight for Feyza. “I was trying, like, 100 times more than an average student, because I knew what it took for me to get to where I am,” she said.
Feyza came to the US from Turkey when she was just 12 years old. At the time, she knew very basic English, only a few greetings and phrases. Academics were a major challenge for her, as the classes she was in were being taught in a language she knew very little of. She said of her time in middle school, “I don’t even know what happened, it was such a blur.” But she began to feel more adjusted to her new surroundings in the eighth grade. “Nothing really made sense,” she said, “but I was learning more of day-to-day conversations, asking questions, [learning] what things mean.”
The social aspect of school was another layer that made adjusting to life in the US particularly challenging for Feyza. “It was really hard to fit in and make friends,” she said. Though it isn’t uncommon for young teenagers to feel this way, the language barrier was an added hurdle that complicated the social scene for her. Her lack of fluency in English was even used by bullies to tease her. “I would get bullied about the language, like if I said a word wrong, or if I said it in a weird way. I would think of what to say in Turkish and I would try to translate it to English, but then it wouldn’t come out right because there is no translation for it,” she said.
Her academic challenges continued through to high school. During her junior year, Feyza, like all 11th graders in New Jersey at that time, had to pass the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) in order to graduate the following year. She failed the HSPA in the spring of her junior year, with high scores in math but extremely low ones in reading and writing. She retook the exam in the fall, and again missed the mark, this time by only a few points. Her frustration grew almost to a boiling point. “I was like, if I don’t pass this, I’m not staying here for another year just for that. I will literally go to another state and do my senior year there, I don’t care. It was so stressful,” she said. But her teachers rallied around her. “A random teacher would see me in the hallway and be like, ‘You’ve got this!’… The teachers were so, so, so, so supportive,” she said.
In the spring of her senior year of high school Feyza persevered and finally passed the HSPA, and it was on to Brookdale Community College for her. There, she had to take another standardized test to be placed in her classes. With similar results as her HSPA—high math and low reading and writing scores—she was placed in mostly remedial classes for the first year. She said, “Brookdale pushed me back by, like, a year and a half.” For Feyza, this was a major reason to work toward an accelerated master’s program, so that she could finish two degrees and be caught up with her peers.
During her spring semester at Brookdale in 2016, Feyza’s father had to return to Turkey for an indefinite amount of time to get his visa to live in the US permanently. This was an immensely difficult time for her. She said, “I was literally so depressed that semester because if they had told him, ‘No, you can’t go back,’ I wouldn’t have been able to see my dad for years because I had school, I was working, all this other stuff.” The stress of this time was immensely difficult for Feyza. So difficult, in fact, that she ended up having to drop one class and passed the others with Cs.
Luckily, Feyza’s father was able to rejoin her and her brother in the US after nearly five months, almost the entire length of that semester. With tears filling her eyes, she said, “When he came back, I was like, ‘OK, this is it, I have to make him proud.’”
For Feyza, part of making her father proud meant applying to Monmouth. But even still, she faced some self-doubt. She said, “When I was applying, I was like, ‘I don’t even see the point of applying.’ I was trying to talk myself out of it. But I ended up getting accepted and everything. That was huge for me. I was like, ‘I got into a private school! I don’t even care about scholarships; I’ll take the loans!”
Feyza explained that her family members were very proud of her accomplishment, but were not surprised at her success, as it is just in her nature to achieve what she sets her mind to. Her close friends shared the same sentiment. Amy Chiao, who has known Feyza since their first day of high school, said, “Feyza hasn’t given up, in spite of everything she’s been through, and that’s what makes her so inspiring.”
Amy isn’t the only friend that Feyza has inspired. Jasmin Zendaki, who Feyza said has seen her through many transitions in higher education, said, “Whenever I see her, she is always growing and inspiring others to work hard.”
At Monmouth, Feyza has balanced being a full-time student, working at least two jobs at a time, and helping run her family business, all while still achieving academic success. Feyza explained that she doesn’t settle for less than excellent. “When I came [to Monmouth], I knew I wanted to be the best at whatever I put my mind to,” she said. Feyza learned in early April that she had been accepted to Monmouth’s five-year MBA program, a huge milestone for her and a culmination of years of hard work and dedication. But her aspirations do not stop with her master’s degree. Education is of the utmost value to her; she even has a doctoral program at Harvard on her radar.
Contrary to the bullying she faced in middle and high school, Feyza feels that diversity and her cultural background have been received well on Monmouth’s campus. “I think it’s valued a lot, especially in classrooms. Ever since I’ve transferred, I’ve kind of been in my shell… So, until this semester I never really knew that,” she said. Recently, Feyza began to cultivate a sense of community at Monmouth by attending multi-cultural events and pushing herself out of her comfort zone at the encouragement of her friends.
Beyond the support of her community of peers, Feyza can also expect encouragement and resources from faculty members in the business department. Dr. Susan Gupta, the MBA Program Director, said students like Feyza who know English as a Second Language (ESL) are well supported within the program. “The professors in the business school keep a close watch on our ESL students and inform the MBA program office if the student is struggling. We then meet with the student and discuss the issues they are facing and decide a course of action to support them in the successful completion of the degree,” she said.
As a result of Feyza’s undying determination, she will walk across the commencement stage in 2021 having earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. When she first came to the US, she struggled to even move on to the eighth grade, but she will soon have achieved some of the highest accolades in American education. This is not lost on her. She said, “I had every reason to fail and be behind and not feel good enough, but here I am today, and I’m still pushing.”