But a conversation with a cook during breakfast at his dorm made him realize that he wasn't welcomed by everyone here.
“He came to me and said: ‘Hey, what are you doing here? Go back and fight in Syria,’” recalled Maktabi, 27.
He has heard such sentiments so often, from taxi drivers and in stores, that Maktabi now avoids revealing his nationality.
“When they hear that I’m Syrian, they will treat me bad," he said while sitting in a restaurant started by another refugee. "They show their anger, I don’t know why."
The eatery is one of many in this area known as “Little Damascus,” “Little Aleppo” or “Little Syria,” depending on whom you ask.
In the conservative Fatih neighborhood where many refugees have settled, the streets are lined with stores selling Syrian perfume, jewelry, food and spices.
The Arabic writing on signs normally signal that the owners are Syrian, and that you are in an area unlike most of Turkey, which uses the Latin alphabet.
These signs are becoming increasingly common, to the unease of many.
Turkey has the largest refugee population in the world, including more than 3.6 million registered Syrians, according to the U.N.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan opened his country’s border to refugees when the war begin in Syria in 2011, and officials of his religiously conservative government talked of the need to support their fellow Muslims. And Monday marks the third anniversary of a historic deal with the E.U. to stem the flow of migrants going into Europe, in return for billions to support refugees in Turkey.
But the mood has since changed and tensions are now rising amid concerns about competition for jobs and cultural differences. This has led to a rare unifying sentiment across political lines that Syrian refugees must eventually leave.
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And in early February, local media reported that a fight had broken out between Turks and Syrians in the district of Esenyurt, another area where many have settled. A video posted online apparently of the brawl shows a group of men chanting: “This is Turkey, not Syria!”
Ahmad Alhasan, 17, a high school student, has learned Turkish in the five years since he arrived from Syria, but said he still gets mocked when he chooses to speak Arabic in public.
While Alhasan was swimming with his younger female cousins, a group of Turkish men approached them and called them the Arabic word for "donkey," Alhasan said.
“When it comes to my safety or the safety of others with me, that’s when it disturbs me,” he said.
Turkey is divided between citizens who want the government to reflect the religious beliefs of the country's Muslim majority and those who staunchly cling to the secular roots of a republic founded on the basis of separation between state and religion.
“It’s not a matter of morality. It is simply a matter of stopping the civil war,” Cevikoz said.
On the campaign trail, even Erdogan promised to “facilitate the return home of all our guests.”
But Samir Hafez, a Syrian member of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), insisted the majority of refugees were likely to remain but said "even a few hundred thousand" leaving would potentially reduce pressure on the government.
“Turkey wants them to go back to where they belong,” he added.