Medefine – Cardiff Medical School
Timothy Woo, David Li

Being an international student studying medicine in the UK represents a challenge that is more than simply tackling the difficult and large expanse of material covered at medical school; rather, it encompasses a diverse range of other challenges ranging from settling into a brand new environment and adapting to an unfamiliar culture (as is the case for those who have moved directly from their home country), meeting and making new friends of differing backgrounds, and most crucially, in most incidences having to support themselves and their wellbeing whilst being stationed thousands of miles away from their homes and families. Although I do not classify as an international student, I do nonetheless harbour past experience of having to relocate from Hong Kong to the UK at a young age for secondary school, and this has allowed me to put into perspective the experiences of those internationals studying at Cardiff Medical School right now.

Studying at Cardiff is a very stimulating experience, where students learn through small groups investigating a series of clinical cases, and in each one, integrating physiological, anatomical, psycho-social, and pharmacological teachings all together. As such, students learn through collective discussions and supporting lectures and workshops. Having spoken to international students, some do feel that at times it may be comparatively difficult to be as engaged and pipe up in group discussions as they might have wanted to, and this may in part be due to their personality, but also perhaps to a certain degree their cultural etiquette, especially given that the majority hail from East Asia countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and Hong Kong, where it is not uncommon for students to study in a less interactive manner in comparison to their UK-based peers. In addition, it is there is a tendency for international students to aggregate in a block in lecture halls, although many international students nevertheless have successfully made many local companions in the process. Indeed, this author has observed that in fact many locally-based ethnic students (known colloquially as BBC’s – British-born Chinese) have made an excellent effort in bridging the gap between local and international students, making them feel even more at home, and aiding in their settling in. The majority have reflected very positively on their experiences of first year medical school at Cardiff, and indeed I myself have been involved often in their numerous memorable social gatherings outside of class. Moreover, academically, many internationals are coping and performing exceptionally well. There is a very strong sense of unity and cohesion within the international cohort, and they are highly supportive of each other, in particular sharing information and learning resources through social media, of which we have set up Facebook and WhatsApp platforms to do so.

My colleague, however, hails from China, and is considered an international student, despite the fact that he had studied secondary school in the UK previously. At Cardiff, he has very much been involved in a vast amount of activities from being on the committee of the surgical society, to presenting posters at conferences, and to competing for the healthcare basketball team, and is a very prominent member of the year group. Thus, he is an excellent example of the variety of activities that international students here at Cardiff get up to beyond the classroom, and is a fair reflection of the admirable efforts of international students to make the most of the opportunities available to them. Meanwhile, other examples include one student becoming a committee member of the emergency medicine society, another being involved heavily with a global leadership programme known as AISEC, and most prominently, a group of international students (in collaboration with international dental and psychology students at Cardiff) forming from scratch a music band – “Stage Up” – that has performed to patients at our hospital. It has received overwhelmingly positive feedback in the process, and has been recognised for its work by the Dean of the Medical School.

Overall, Cardiff is a fantastic city to study and live in; it is very student friendly, with a wide range of activities available from nights out to outings at the Brecon Beacons. Cardiff Medical School offers a very safe and stimulating learning environment, adopting a case-based teaching system that centres around a spiral curriculum. There is excellent early exposure to clinical and communication practices; in addition, beyond lectures are a host of academic-related societies that one may be involved with, for instance paediatrics, emergency medicine, and surgical societies. The authors believe that through being together with the international students and working with the medical school, as well as with Medefine, we can effectively bring about positive changes to further enhance not only the academic, but also the living experience of these students in Cardiff, and indeed in the UK.

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