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How studying abroad inspired me to help others

Aram Tufan shares his experience as an international student in London and how this led him to create Happy Student to help others studying abroad

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    Aram Tufan

    Founder of Happy Student
    August 1 2023
    Happy multiracial friends having fun together walking on city street


    Originally from Batman, Turkey, I moved to the UK to study at the University of Westminster in London and it was a transformative experience for me. 

    I chose London because it is renowned for its inclusive environment and excellent education system. Studying there provided me with the platform to pursue my degree in business administration and make significant strides towards my goals. 

    It was a challenge when I moved to London to study as an international student. Establishing a new life away from my comfort zone, friends and family was difficult. I had to learn new etiquettes, rules and regulations, all while navigating a language barrier. 

    As international students, we have limited time to make the most of our educational journey and three years can pass quickly. 

    Some international students struggle to adapt owing to the culture shock and they end up returning to their home countries. Looking back, I felt that a smoother transition and better adaptation would have allowed me to fully embrace the cultural experiences London had to offer. 

    When I was a high school student I had to run away from my hometown to Istanbul because of homophobia. In Istanbul I was helped by my LGBTQIA+ friends with housing, safety and English language education fees.  

    After I found a supportive LGBTQ+ society at the University of Westminster, I started my journey to create an app that would offer support for international students or anyone who feels as though they don’t have a community. 

    As with every new idea, it was crucial to validate it through thorough research. I wanted to know if other students, beyond my immediate circle of friends, had the same difficulties. After discussing my idea with my personal tutor, I was advised to apply to the “Students as co-creators” programme to conduct further research.  

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    My project was selected and I gained access to a variety of resources, including guidance from PhD students and professors, and funding to conduct comprehensive research. I sent out a survey to other students to find out which year of study they were in, what subject they were studying, whether they were international or domestic students, and the difficulties they faced.  

    We received responses from more than 100 students. I also conducted interviews with university staff from the student well-being team, career department and other student support departments to find out what students were asking them for and what available resources they could provide.  

    The results were enlightening. It wasn’t just international students who were struggling to adapt; domestic students also faced difficulties in settling into a new environment. This solidified my decision to create Happy Student. 

    At the moment, the app provides information such as how to register with the NHS, how to access mental health support services, how to set up utilities, how to open a bank account and how to navigate transportation. It also offers government resources for legal support, and assistance with the Biometric Residence Permit, internet connectivity, mobile phone contracts and more.  

    The Happy Student app was originally conceived for students studying in the UK. However, after being invited to the Microsoft Start-ups Programme, I began collaborating with Microsoft’s Education Department to bring it to universities in the US.  

    My ultimate aim is to expand the project globally. 

    My advice to other students aspiring to become entrepreneurs is to persevere and work towards their dreams, no matter the obstacles they face. It’s important to find the unique selling points of their ideas and develop a compelling pitch and product.  

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