- The ultimate Study-Gap Year!
Penny Wu, a South African who took the leap to study medicine in China found more to her studies as a foreign student than she ever imagined. We asked her about her experiences of studying abroad and the diversity that comes with living in the East.
Where are you currently located and at what university are you studying at:
I am currently in a city called Wuhan and I am studying at Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST) at their Tongji Medical College.
Why medicine, why not a pilot or an astronaut?
I could say I always wanted to be a doctor blah blah blah (which is actually true) BUT I’m doing it now for the challenge, the adrenaline rushes and all the people I can meet! How many people will I really get to meet as a pilot or an astronaut?
The options are endless for a qualified doctor. I’d have the option to be a mad scientist and work in Labs or be a medical professional that they consult when they make movies and tv shows. I could be a professor and teach or I could start my own school if I wanted to! I could set up clinics around the whole of SA where people could get medical advice or I could simply be a normal doctor. Or, I could just do everything which I have just mentioned!
So the big question, why China?
Not being able to get into medical school in SA, I decided to get into another medical profession – chiropractic. I still think Chiropractic is amazing and would love the chance to finish what I started. But I was given the chance to study a degree I really wanted and finish it really quickly so I went for it. Wouldn’t you grab whatever opportunities with both hands if you got exactly what you wanted?
The course in China is only 6 years including Internship which means I’ll be a qualified doctor before other people who matriculated the same year as me even though I spent 2 years studying something else in SA becaue they would still have to do 2 years of internship and 2 years of Community service after they finish all their studies. On top of that, the technology is much more advanced in China, not to mention the excellent facilities and resources available at the universities compared to SA universities. Talking about good resources, I had lots of professors teaching me in first year whereas in SA I found that most first years get lecturers instead of Profs.
Most of the professors who taught us had published textbooks and I even had a professor who worked at Stanford as well as Japan in the past plus an associate professor who graduated from Harvard!
Your entire course is lectured in English, does that sometimes make your living environment slightly surreal considering that Mandarin is the language that you are surrounded with?
It is a bit odd to be speaking English in class and be surrounded by other foreign students the whole day, then only to walk out of class at the end of the day and see all the Chinese people and shops out there with Chinese writing, but you get used to it. You learn to embrace this change and see that you’re actually really lucky to see a piece of both ends of the world every single day.
You make up part of a large contingent of foreigners studying medicine in China, besides South Africans what are other countries are represented in your class?
To be honest, as far as I know, I’m the only South African doing the medical course in English. I definitely think it is because South Africans simply don't know that this opportunity is out there!
Other foreigners include students from Mauritius, Thailand, Somalia, India, Pakistan, USA, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zambia, Canada, Switzerland, Nepal, Ghana and I’m pretty sure I left out a couple others.
How did you prepare yourself before you headed to China and how often do you return home to South Africa?
I go home at least once a year. There’s no place quite like home! I really miss the nice weather and all the space we have in SA. But I guess it’s just one of the sacrifices you have to make to fulfil your dreams.
In terms of preparing myself before going to China, I didn't really do that much preparing. I researched a little bit about where I was going and just went for it! I packed as much as I could into the limited luggage allowed by airlines these days and just hoped for the best. In the end, everything turned out fine. I took whatever I needed which I had left in SA when I went home for the holidays.
Tell us about China in term of its environment and people?
The people don’t usually get to see foreigners much so they stare a lot! Each area of China is so different that I really can’t speak for any area other than where I am. The people are very friendly to foreigners and they get quite curious so end up asking a lot of questions. The buildings, transport system and the technology is way ahead of SA but the pollution is awful. You see a million people cleaning up everywhere everyday but it just never seems quite clean.
Would you recommend your study path to others?
Absolutely! 6 years of studies including internship, an adventure away from home, excellent technology and facilities, and a huge variety of options after studying something so specialized! Need I say more?
What has been the coolest part of your adventure in China?
There’s really no one specific coolest part. I definitely enjoy meeting and learning about all the students from other countries. Going on the High speed rail that goes at 350km/h is pretty awesome too. I would say the whole experience can give any one person quite a cultural shock and make you realise how much we still have to learn!
What message do you have for the youth of the world looking to think out the box and achieve their goals:
One piece of advice that my dad gave me when I started my business is one that I believe all successful people know and implement without even realising it. It applies to becoming successful and achieving all your goals in all aspects of life whether it be studies, business, relationships or anything else really.
This is what my dad said: There’s always a way to get something done. If you can’t go through the front door to achieve what you want, then go through the back. If you can’t get in from the back door, then go through the side door. If you can’t get in from the side door, go through the windows. If you still can’t get in through the windows, then dig a friggin’ tunnel already! Whatever you do, just find a way because there is always one!
And that is exactly what I did without even realising it when I was determined to find a way to get into Medicine