STUDY & LIFE EXPERIENCE IN CHINA MEDICAL UNIVERSITY

By Philip Pinnock

SUCCESS!

That was the motivation that kept my eyes on coming to China- Success. Moving to China to fulfill my tertiary education has proven to be as much of a break-through, as it has been a challenge. It is not a decision that I regret and, for any lucky future international student of China, I do not think it will be either. The beautiful & cultural environment of China is a place for anyone to learn, experience and challenge the life they have been blessed with. There is adventure, love and most importantly, scholarship to acquire. So, regardless of the apprehension and destructive critique that repress your decision to study in China, just remember, if a young man from the small island of Jamaica took the leap of faith one year ago and is now on his way to becoming a successful medical doctor, so can you! All it takes is the first step: applying to your new school in China.

My journey to studying in China started when I was still in Jamaica two years ago, enrolled in first year at a local university. Like many of my colleagues, preparing to enter medical school at home was difficult, both academically and financially. The chance to follow my dream appeared bleak. Fortunately, as every cloud has a silver lining, my dream became brighter when a friend announced her acceptance into medical school…in China! Following up on the details, studying in China sounded incredibly interesting (and, not to mention inexpensive!). I took her success as a sign to obtain my own. And China was the perfect place to do it!

Personally, my lifelong dream always involved practicing medicine so it was only fitting that I paid attention to those offering the MBBS degree when I was applying to universities in China. We are all familiar with the power of the internet nowadays, and it was definitely an indelible tool in my search for Chinese universities. Search results revealed that studying so far from home in China was actually popular worldwide; there were a number of sites for admission agencies, discussion forums and school ranking charts. Information was at my fingertips, anytime & anywhere! I recall spending a number of hours on a very helpful online agency named “aoe.com”, that offered live online chat with a representative. Still naïve and curious about the idea of life in China, I would bombard the agent with my conspicuous questions and doubts. Thankfully, the agent was always willing to assist and always had knowledge to share; that greatly influenced my decision in choosing China Medical University as my next ‘home away from home’.

The road to admissions was not always so reliable. Besides the inconvenience of losing sleep at nights when conversing with AOE (because of the 13-hour time difference between Jamaica and China), I also stumbled upon a few sites that had outdated information, or were simply copies of the next. There were agency websites that were too limited in the number of schools they advertised, and at the time, I did not realize prospective students could apply directly to the schools themselves. Thus, when it all came down to making my way to China, there was only one agency that could have won over my trust: China’s University and College Admission System (CUCAS).

CUCAS made applying to universities in China exciting and easy! Their website offered the largest database of schools for the widest range of academic disciplines I had ever discovered, including MBBS of course (who knew, right?!). Their school ranking articles and detailed descriptions of schools kept me abreast and informed. And, with the available option to contact Peggy and the CUCAS team via email on a daily basis, I had no reason to go anywhere else. In July 2012, I began taking my application to studying in China seriously. Now, it was about looking for the best medical schools for enrollment. To my astonishment, I was too late to get accepted into a few of the top ranked schools in China; schools such as Peking, Fudan & Zhejiang Medical closed application entries during the first five months of the year (between January and May). I needed to start school the following academic year so I went back to consulting CUCAS for available alternatives.

It is always difficult for a foreign student to choose the ‘right’ school. If you are like myself, having no previous background to China makes it tough to answer many questions you will have. Where will I live? Which city should I consider? Why some schools are more expensive compared to others? Who will I meet there? And the list goes on and on. Lucky for us “newbies”, there are helpful resources available to settle any query. Aside from the wealth of knowledge from CUCAS, I found it useful to read Wikipedia.com for cities in China, so that I would not be surprised by the unfamiliar snow-white winter climate of Shenyang, or the elaborate public transport infrastructure in Beijing. Watching videos on YouTube about international students and teachers in China helped me see reality in the dream. Before, I did not know of the internet censorship in People’s Republic of China, or how popular the bargaining trade was in this foreign culture. Also, I used to look through social media site Facebook, for a group or page related to Chinese universities. Notably, there is a Dalian Medical University student-based group on Facebook that captured the beauty of DMU and had enticed me. Their page showcased vibrant cultural activities around campus for international students, and I really liked the look of the campus. If I was curious, I could leave a post on the page and get a helpful response from a student from DMU! Getting a student’s perspective on studying in China was crucial in my decision making. After all, we would be one in the same soon enough!

For me, it was instant messaging my friendly AOE agent asking them to compare the schools I was interested in, but could not choose between the two. Actually, I would have gone to a school of lower ranking if it had not been for the help from AOE. I completed the online application form on CUCAS and applied to two of my favourite universities. In just one week, I received acceptance to both universities! One month after, in the mail came my letter of acceptance package.

Preparing to leave home in Jamaica was more emotionally challenging than it was physically. I recommend that every prospective student makes a check-list of tasks to accomplish before departing, so as not to forget anything (or anyone) important to you. Before you know it, time will run out and you have no time to say Goodbye. Ensure that you plan ahead. With mother’s supervision, I packed an ample supply of warm clothes that could face the toughest winters of Jamaica. (Later on, they were of little use in Shenyang & I had to resort to buying local apparel!) Since I expected to struggle for the first few weeks, I also stocked a small, but efficient medical kit to treat different cases of illness that may arise; from stomach aches to unexpected rashes.

On September 17th 2012, I and my best friend (also accepted to CMU via CUCAS) landed in Shenyang, Liaoning! As stated by the scheduled travel arrangements with CUCAS, our “Laoshi” (Chinese for “teacher/advisor”) picked us up from the airport and got us registered on campus. Her English was remarkably good; it was our hope that many other locals were just as proficient. We soon came to realize that was not the case, at least within our area. At the time, international students could not live on-campus so the school offered a special discounted rate for students lodging at a nearby hotel. It was convenient and pleasant for temporary accommodation, but it would not be permanent. The room lacked space for study and accommodating classmates for group study or even just lunch together. There was no kitchen area as well. We needed a place of our own.

With no experience in China before and absolutely no means of communicating with locals (neither of us knew enough Chinese to make conversation), our Laoshi introduced us to two international senior students our very first day. They were two young ladies- a Ghanaian and the other Hispanic-American. Classes were not scheduled to begin until two weeks and having the two girls with us made our first ‘adventures’ around Heping (the name of the district) made everything easier to learn and understand. It was better than having Google Translate app (a must-have for any foreigner in China with language problems), because the Ghanaian senior was very fluent in Chinese. She demonstrated the importance of learning the language and using it to maximize your experience in China. They also shared suggestions and experiences that molded and encouraged. It turned out we were all Christians and the girls invited us to an English-speaking church in Xita. With their help we also got Chinese cell numbers, learned how to bargain in the market, and rent an apartment for two! My friend and I decided to share an apartment to help waiver living expenses. Plus, having a roommate helps keep each other focused for study and company in case something goes wrong. We took the advice of senior students when choosing a place to live. There were a range of accommodation styles available, over a range of prices. We needed a place that was in close proximity to campus, because we were warned of how difficult going to school would be in the frigid winter if one lived too far. Renting a place involved days of house-hunting, and discussions with house owners about rental agreements. Fortunately for me & my friend, we were able to find a spacious duplex apartment in the complex right across the road from campus. Our Ghanaian senior friend was instrumental in conversing with the house owners for us in Chinese, and she was able to drop the monthly rent by ¥200! It’s always possible to bargain the price when renting a house, advised our senior. After all we were only students, and foreigners at that so we did not have any money to waste! Also, when renting a house, be sure to state all the items that you will need before signing the rental agreement. That includes bed, study desk, microwave and hot plate/stove. Your house owner may not be so kind after money has been paid. Aside from taking advantage of the art of bargaining wherever possible, such as shopping at street markets for fruits and vegetables rather than the supermarket or, buying from wholesale markets like Wuai in Shenyang, there were other means we adapted to save an extra kuai to a hundred. The school mart was easily accessible and offered small snacks and groceries at lower prices compared to the local grocery stores. Commuting to school was always by foot, but farther destinations were mostly taken by bus (fare: ¥1) or subway (¥2 & up) if we wanted to save time. Shenyang also offers rechargeable student discount bus cards, which allows us to hop on for only ¥0.40! Taxis were convenient too, but it was only feasible when we could carpool. In the downtown district, taxi fares start at ¥8, which is relatively expensive compared to the other options. However, they are definitely life-savers when on the road after 10pm, since public transport closes and taxis operate 24 hours a day!

First semester of school was a comfortable time for me. We started with four courses: 2 core & 2 non-core subjects. Classrooms were adequate but old-fashioned. I was surprised that chalkboards were still the teacher’s platform for writing in class! The board was equipped with a projector and screen and it was always used for teaching lectures. Learning in class proved difficult at first, because some of the professors do not have good command of English or, their accent affects proper pronunciation of words. On the other hand, there are others who are very articulate and make learning informative and intriguing because they have experience working/studying in places abroad such as the United States, United Kingdom or Canada. I found that the best way for me to study and prepare for exams was going to all the lectures, saving the presentation slides from class and reading them after school. At class, the lecturer basically reads and explains the information on PowerPoint slides he/she has prepared. Pay attention to what he/she highlights as “important to remember” because at my school, it will surely be on the exam paper! At the end of semester, professors may distribute a review of all the topics discussed. Using it during exam studies will always ensure you cover all grounds. After each class, we can retrieve the presentation files from the class computer so you can read them over in your spare time. Reading in my room was never advantageous to me, so I went with my ‘study-buddy’ to a near-by Starbucks, where it’s always a conducive environment. They even offered free Wi-Fi and, in China, you can always just go and enjoy the setting for free. Even though CMU campus had a library with a computer room and study area, most foreign students from my school used this option.

Since September of this year, China Medical University opened a new campus in the Shen Bei (沈北) district of Shenyang. Now, only fourth and fifth year medical students are attending classes at the old campus. For me, life at CMU has changed drastically since moving to the new campus. The biggest change for me is living on campus dormitories, which has been pretty good thus far. International students live in two towers, separate from Chinese students. Boys and girls live in separate buildings and each floor has 16 rooms and a kitchen. The kitchen has hot plates, a microwave and a washing machine for laundry. Every room includes a bed, wardrobe, internet jack, study table and desk. And there is space to add other small furniture to make your room as comfy as you’d like. Plus, you have your own bathroom with shower (hot water heater installed), toilet and sink. Currently, there is no curfew so you can live within your personal schedule. Quality of the classrooms has also improved, as the international school now has its own building. The teaching building is within 5 minutes’ walk east of the dormitories. Laboratories are top notch, with new microscopes and lab equipment, larger lab rooms and modern technology such as projector screens and flat-screen TVs. West of the dorms is the 1st Canteen. There, Chinese cuisine is served three times daily and for the Muslim community, a Muslim styled canteen. There, they do not serve pork. The food in China may not suit the taste of most foreigners, although I was able to find dishes I enjoy. Needless to say, that took many disappointments to come by, and plenty of time spent practicing eating with chopsticks! The only utensils offered at the school canteen (and in most restaurants in China, except the expensive ones) are spoons and chopsticks. You can always pack a fork when you eat out, in case you might need it. There are a number of delicious dishes, varying in meat, starch and vegetables to choose from. I always look out for my favourites: 锅巴肉 (GuoBaRou), a crispy, sweet and sour meat dish or 炒饭 (Chǎofàn), fried rice). Meat dishes are between ¥5-6, while side dishes (rice, bread, noodles, vegetables etc.) are ¥0.04-3.

What makes the new campus most beautiful is how integrated the campus community is. Now Chinese students and international students can interact and immerse into a diverse atmosphere of cultures. It is so easy to meet Chinese friends and participate in clubs and societies together. There are sports teams like football, basketball, volleyball and badminton for boys and girls to participate and compete against each other as well as for their school. Having Chinese friends will help you adjust to the new environment quickly, by learning the language and having a helpful companion when you are in need. And they are always willing to learn a thing or two from us! You can teach them how to say “Hello” in your language, or show them a dance move from your country. Having a brand new environment has its luxurious advantages but the campus is still under development so there have been a few setbacks. There are no shops or restaurants on campus since the shopping center is under construction. Its remote location makes it difficult to do business in the city, or even going to the nearest town, Jijia. Besides chartering a private taxi to your destination, there is only one bus that will take you to Jijia or another nearby town, Hushitai. The bus stop is located just outside the school’s West Gate. During windy days, dust gets whirled into dust clouds on the streets; it is crucial to wear dust masks on your way to class.

All in all, I enjoy every minute of my life in China, and with the right attitude so will you. It is an experience unlike any I can ever have back home. There is much to discover during your time here, and I recommend everyone to make the most of their opportunity, while maintaining balance of business and pleasure.

Dormitory room

Dormitory room

Campus during the Summer vs the Winter

                                                      Campus during the Summer vs the Winter

View of CMU Old campus South Gate            View of CMU Old campus South Gate 

 

Food from the canteen

                       Food from the canteen

 

Author Details:

Name: PHILIP PINNOCK

Nationality: JAMAICAN

University: China Medical University

Major: MBBS