Nigerian student of medicine: I sometimes get stared at, but it’s a beautiful place

As the chances of being accepted to study medicine in the UK were very slim, Nkem Nwabunie decided to study in the Czech Republic. She spent six months preparing for her studies at London. She was choosing between Masaryk University in Brno and Charles University in Prague and eventually decided in favour of Brno.

Nkem, who is from Nigeria and spent some time living in the UK, sometimes has to face unpleasant stares from passers-by in the streets of Brno although she doesn’t let this worry her and simply says “hello” to them instead. While in Brno, she is enjoying its beauty, the low prices, and the chance to study.

“I learnt about the opportunity to study in the Czech Republic from my agent when I asked her about study programmes outside the UK. The chances to get to medical school in the UK are very slim and I know a lot of people who have tried repeatedly and failed,” says Nkem, who moved to London from her native Nigeria when she was fifteen.

“I took advantage of a six-month foundation programme, which prepares students for the study of medicine in the Czech Republic. I learned the basics of Czech, received advice on how to choose the best university, and they also took us on a trip to Prague and Brno,” recalls Nkem, adding that she decided on Masaryk University after visiting the campus in Brno.

“The local Faculty of Medicine is a very attractive option and compared to Prague, it is easier to focus on my studies in Brno – there are fewer distractions like sights and tourists,” she laughs. She is currently in the fifth year of her studies.

Even though she could already speak basic Czech, Nkem has mixed feelings about her first days after arriving in Brno. “I found it hard to find my way around the city; I couldn’t find my flat and had to call the coordinator to explain the way to me. When I was in the city centre and couldn’t find a taxi, I tried asking passers-by to help me. Some of them completely ignored me, which was quite hurtful. Eventually, two young girls called a taxi for me,” says Nkem. “It helped when I found friends who were in the same situation as me and had gone through similar experiences and problems,” she adds.

Demanding study programme, easy-going city

Nkem says she is enjoying her life in Brno. “Brno is a beautiful city, I like it very much. It’s great that there’s a restaurant on every corner and very affordable prices and I often go out to eat with my friends. My favourite Czech food is trdelník. Then there is the fact that I can go to the cinema and even if I see five films, it’s still not expensive,” laughs Nkem, who is used to the prices in London.

According to Nkem, studying medicine in a foreign country is difficult, but it has its bright side. “Some days are hard and I feel very homesick, but I’m used to being far away from home and my friends always make me feel better. It’s great that I’m meeting people from other cultures and I have new experiences that make me stronger. If I stayed in the UK, I wouldn’t be who I am today,” says Nkem.

However, a different cultural environment also brings a challenge to Nkem in the form of unwelcome looks or comments. “People here are less polite than in the UK. I get stared at in the streets and get comments like ‘black’ or ‘chocolate’. It’s very impolite, but I don’t take it personally, it’s mostly harmless. It was hard at the beginning but now I understand it. When someone is staring at me, I say ahoj to them. But Brno is becoming more and more diverse and I see more foreigners in the street every day,” says the future doctor. Nkem, who would like to become an anaesthesiologist or an orthopaedic surgeon, does not know yet if she will work in the UK after her graduation. “I might go back to Nigeria,” she says. “I don’t think I’ll stay in Brno, but if I ever go back to the UK, I will be able to speak Czech to Czech patients with my perfect medical Czech,” she laughs.

Masaryk university