Can you tell us something about yourself? Where did you come from? How long have you been studying in Brno?
My name is Muhammad Ali Siddiqui and I'm a 4th-year medical student at Masaryk University as well as the Vice President of the Masaryk International Medical Students Association (MIMSA). I'm from the United States of America but have spent the last 6-7 years in the United Arab Emirates as well as Saudi Arabia.
Why did you decide to study at the Faculty of Medicine of Masaryk University? Did you know anything about the university or the Czech Republic before you arrived?
After I graduated high school, I had been accepted into multiple pre-medical programs across America but was worried about the financial repercussions of going to school there. Although I'm an American citizen, because I had lived abroad for so many years the institutions there would have considered me an International student and I would have therefore had to pay the international fee which summed up to around $60,000 - 70,000 per year. I stumbled across the General Medicine program at Masaryk University on the internet and was interested because of its financial appropriateness as well as its short duration (6 years compared to the normal 8-10 years taken in America). My knowledge of the Czech Republic and the university itself was very minimal when I decided to study here, so it was quite a big jump for me.
Studying at the Faculty of Medicine is generally quite challenging. How do you perceive the quality of study at the Faculty of Medicine of MU?
Coming from a relatively rigorous high school curriculum, I expected to be able to settle into the struggles of medical school without too many problems. My first year here was a reminder that I had to improve every aspect of my life- the standards set by the university in terms of theoretical knowledge came to me as a surprise. Preclinical departments are invested in making sure our foundation of the basic sciences is thorough and sufficient enough to function as a doctor. Furthermore, their involvement in research reminds my colleagues and me of the ever-changing medical landscape.
How do you perceive the current situation? You're far from your family, your friends. Do you have a trick to handle this situation? Does it help you to study? Are you discussing the situation with your classmates?
Although the current global situation is disturbing and I miss my family, I find comfort in the fact that I am surrounded by like-minded people who look out for one another not only academically but mentally as well. This has been the biggest coping mechanism for me- I constantly have a group of people around me that I can study and socialize with. Although my productivity has definitely taken a hit (I study better at libraries), I try and keep up with the contents of my syllabi to the best of my ability. On top of this, I work out at home every other day as it is an invaluable source of relief in what seems to be a stagnant phase of my life.
What is the situation in your country? Are you in touch with your family?
America has been hit pretty hard by the pandemic- with the most cases globally most states have been put on lockdown and social distancing has been promoted intensely. My family currently resides in Saudi Arabia and thanks to programs like Skype and WhatsApp I can check in on them constantly.
The pandemic shows the importance of healthcare. So far, the Czech approach has proved to be a good way. Do you think this approach is applicable to other countries?
The Czech Republic's approach with the state of emergency and city-wide lockdown is commendable. Although cases are rising every day, implementing obligatory masks and closing stores has seemed to slow down the spread and provide hospitals with enough time to prepare for incoming patients. Whereas other countries in their efforts to maintain the economy haven't reinforced such strict measures, I respect The Czech Republic's emphasis on protecting the population's health (most notably the elderly). I think that more focus should be taken by other governments in an attempt to flatten the curve- this is the only way the global healthcare system is going to be able to handle this virus.
And finally, a personal question. How do you like it in the Czech Republic? Is there something that surprised you in good or something you still don't understand?
At first, I thought I had made a huge mistake coming to the Czech Republic for my studies. I had never stepped foot in Europe before and it was an extremely challenging transition to the lifestyle here. Although I had spent most of my school life in international communities, adapting to a small city was difficult. 4 years later, however, I'm proud of the progress I’ve made in settling in here. Although the stressful academic climate can give this city a bad taste for medical students, I've come to enjoy all that it has to offer. Everything that I need is reachable by walk and the public transport system is extremely intuitive and accessible. I've built so many friendships with people, some that I hope will last for years to come. Brno forces you to become an independent person who isn't afraid of dealing with any cultural or language barriers, and that's one thing that I'm grateful for.
Thank you for the interview.