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Top Student at Dundee: My Challenges Studying Overseas

20 Oct 2017

Anyone can tell you that when you are overseas, you will start yearning for food from home. Some will even go all out to satisfy this craving. This is what happened to Tan Poh Chai when he was studying medicine at University of Dundee in Scotland. In order to satisfy his craving for Malaysian food, he took a train to London for about seven hours just to eat char koay teow, prawn mee, nasi lemak and cendol in one of his favourite restaurants and returned to Scotland on the same day. “Food always makes me happy”, said Poh Chai, who started his medical studies at IMU and then transferred to University of Dundee in August 2014 for completion of his degree. “One of the challenges I faced was the education in the UK. The learning style is quite different from Malaysia and is mainly self-directed. We need to seek for knowledge ourselves because they rarely have tutorials or bedside teachings. The students there are very outspoken, enthusiastic and opinionated, they always share their thoughts and contribute ideas in the clinical settings.” “To fit into their style, I learned to identify my own strength and weakness, recognise the learning needs in each clinical block and discuss my personal development plans with the lecturer/mentor. I also took initiatives to join the theatres and clinics to learn things from the consultant. Whenever I have a question, I will look it up or clarify with the doctor. This experience has taught me to become an active learner.” Besides food, being away from home especially during festivals would normally lead to feelings of homesickness. Poh Chai was fortunate as he had a group of friends from IMU who had transferred to the same University as him.

“We meet especially during special occasions like Chinese New Year. What we did was to have steamboat and party in the flat, this somehow overcame the feeling of being homesick. During the exam periods, we formed a study group to discuss topics and practice OSCE together. When I was moody, I will speak to my friends who are always there to listen to my complaints. Furthermore, they always give constructive feedback and motivation to help me through the difficult phase of my life.”

“Having said that, UK is a lovely place because everyone is friendly and willing to help. Although the weather in Scotland can be very harsh, the people have definitely warmed my heart. I remember one time during winter, as I missed the last bus and my phone’s batteries died, an elderly couple gave me a ride home and offered me a hot drink.”

Tan Poh Chai has since graduated with his degree and was one of the top students at University of Dundee. “Having passion in what I do is the reason why I never find studying medicine a burden. Additionally, it is crucial to have proper time management with a good balance between work and leisure. I apply various learning methods to enhance my understanding in the subjects such as a mind map, medical videos and group discussions. Most importantly, I always have faith in myself and never give up whenever failures/difficulties strike me hard.” Poh Chai added, “I enjoy medicine in general and I love most of the specialties as long as it involves helping patients. Therefore I am still keeping my options for the future open. It also depends on who I meet and the opportunities I have during my future career to decide which specialty I will go into.”

Poh Chai’s Top Three Tips to Juniors
Enjoy what you do. Don’t worry if you found that your work does not excite you, you are simply going through a process of finding it. Just keep going!
Surround yourself with those who support and build you up. It makes your journey in medicine easier and more memorable.
Look after yourself! Medicine is a lifelong learning – pace yourself and plan your learning properly. Don’t hide or accumulate your problems, speak to someone and seek solution.

Poh Chai’s Favourite Quote
Don’t be afraid to fail. Be afraid not to try.

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