Raman Preet Kaur, medical student and Medipath International member, shares her experience and advice for newcomers
Edited by Lindsay Martin.
My name is Raman Preet Kaur and I am a 4th-year student at the Medical University of Sofia.
I was born in India but since the age of 13, I have lived in Germany. At first, I experienced a culture shock as I come from a small town in India, but I picked up the language and found some good friends who helped me to integrate into German society.
I finished my A levels and applied for medical school right after as I had always wanted to become a doctor. But the waiting list was long, and I wasn’t going anywhere, so instead of wasting time, I started nursing school.
After finishing my nursing degree, I was still waiting to get accepted to medical school. Another year passed and I was no longer limiting myself to only German applications, so I started looking for alternatives. I had just gone through some hardships and decided to see the world, so I applied to Vienna and they took a liking to my application, but the waiting time was another year. Fortunately, one of my friends who was studying dentistry in Sofia gave me insights about life in Bulgaria and told me about the medical university of Sofia.
She told me that Sofia university had a lot of multiculturalism and being among English students from many nationalities really piqued my interest. I had always wanted the opportunity to study in an English-speaking university as it meant I could work anywhere in the world as English is a universal language. If I decide to not practice in Germany, I could work in England, maybe Canada or I could go back to India one day and open a clinic for the people with less access to basic healthcare.
The University also had an affordable price, and thus all my criteria were met by the Medical University of Sofia and I decided to apply. I was told that I could start after the summer which was very soon. I was a bit scared because moving to a new country was huge, as it meant leaving a comfortable environment of family and friends, but I knew I had to step out of my comfort zone to not only grow as an individual but to achieve my life-long dreams. Nonetheless, I got accepted and the rest is history.
Medipath international is a non-profit organisation founded in Sofia by an incredibly talented trio, Dr. Michelle Bakardjiev, Dania Al-Tamimi, and Oyinlola Bello.
The co-founders built a team made up of medical students from different parts of the world.
The Medipath international team constantly works to organise new events with the aim of helping medical students enhance their knowledge and skills for a better understanding of the clinical practice.
The Team does not only provide workshops but also hosts seminars, virtual lessons and international symposiums with a special focus on emergency medicine and much more!
These events aim to extend the spectrum of learning experiences available to medical students and make clinical knowledge more accessible by providing workshops and many other types of courses.
In my opinion, Medipath international has opened an amazing platform not only for medical students in Sofia but also at the international level. They choose key speakers and doctors from different countries in order to provide lectures and give insights into their experiences in different countries.
As of last year, Medipath international hosted its first emergency symposium with amazing lectures, interactive workshops and activities. One of the popular workshops was the body interact table which helped students enhance their clinical skills.
As our first emergency symposium was extremely popular, Medipath is coming back with a second emergency symposium in October 2020, which will be held virtually. The team is working to provide an unforgettable experience full of interactive workshops, lectures by key speakers, quizzes, and much more!
The most surprising thing about Bulgaria has to be how rich it is in history and culture. They used to be communists, they contributed to the creation of the Cyrillic script, they have a castle for tourists to visit in Veliko Tarnovo, Bansko has a skiing mountain, and of course, there are the famous Varna beaches. I was also surprised by the amount of work they are putting into the city of Sofia.
One of the first things I found convenient was that I could take direct flights from my home city. My whole journey from my home to Sofia was less than 3 hours, which was a big plus for me because it meant I could go home whenever I wanted, even if it meant just for the weekend. And also, the taxis in Sofia were much cheaper than in Germany which was another big plus!
Another one of my favourite things here is the food variation, as I did not expect Sofia to have Indian restaurants which made me feel at home. There’s a lot of other good restaurants as well which are vegetarian friendly which also came as a bit of a surprise to me. They have 5 or more Shopping malls and I should mention they have so many book cafés, all of which are my favourite things.
One of the negative aspects though was that it is sometimes hard to communicate with Bulgarians because not many people speak English. If you try to communicate in English, they won’t appreciate that very much, but I learned slowly that if you try to learn their language, they will show more appreciation.
I have to say it was intimidating when I first moved to Sofia. Even though I had some experience with moving to different countries it was still different. This was because it wasn’t only the culture which was different, but also the mentality of the people. However, you learn to adapt to these things eventually and you learn how to deal with them.
There are also positive aspects of course. I can say I have definitely grown as an Individual, made lifelong friends, and together we have had amazing experiences, both in school and out.
I consider myself to be an open-minded person and I love to travel. If I could gain new experiences while being in a new country, I would love to do that. And of course, as a doctor, you need to be fluent in the language in which country you wish to practise in. Since my degree is in English, I am planning my residency in an English-speaking country. My friend and I have even discussed some of the possibilities for the residency, but so far that is just an idea. There’s a lot of options to explore and I have a few more years to decide about where exactly I will be practicing.
I would recommend learning the basics of the Bulgarian language. It is going to make your life here more fun, much easier, and the locals will treat you in a more positive way. Without the language, you will miss out on big parts of the country and its story because you will not be able to communicate with the locals who have a lot to say. It will help you integrate and make your stay here in Sofia much nicer as you will feel less like an outsider.
Moreover, going into rotations without being able to communicate with patients is going to be a disaster as you won’t be able to take an accurate medical history if you do not understand what the patient is saying. You will gain more from learning the language trust me!
Except for the language, I would say spend a lot of time with your family before you come down here because studying medicine is not an easy process in any country! So, study very hard! But don’t forget to enjoy your first years in Sofia as much as you can and explore as much as possible.
As one of my favourite authors, Paulo Coelho said,“keep an eye on your goal, but don’t forget to look around you, that’s the secret to happiness.”