Brandon Teoh graduated from the International Foundation Year – Health Science programme in 2015. He did phenomenally well on the course – he worked his socks off and got 4 A*s in his final IFY exams. After DIFC, Brandon chose to pursue his medical studies in Charles University in the Czech Republic. He’s in his second year now and we’ve been swooning over his amazing photographs of his adventures in the Czech Republic via his Instagram account.
So, we thought we’d ask Brandon if he would be kind enough to tell us a bit about what it is like to study in Charles University.
How are the studies going? Can you tell us a bit about the course?
So far everything is fine. In first year, the schedule is more hectic. We have 6 subjects such as Anatomy, Histology, Biology, Latin, Czech and Biophysics. Apart from Biophysics, in other subjects we have one or two micro tests for every subject each week – so, basically every day we have a test. For example, in Anatomy, we have around 25 micro tests in one semester. We have to pass at least 60 percent of these tests – so that’s 15 tests. The passing mark is 60 percent and we have grade 1,2,3,4. 1 is the highest grade when no mistake is made, 3 is pass and 4 is fail. This is the same for other subjects; the micro test is not that hard but it is not easy either. If students study from the books that professors recommend or notes written by our professors, I think the micro test is not a problem. After a student has passed at least 60 percent of the micro tests, they can take the final exam which normally is an oral exam, but for Histology we have another extra test which is to look at the slides of specimen and for Biophysics, a written test and oral test are together in the final.
In Winter semester, we have only one final which is Biophysics. In Summer semester, we have Histology, Latin and Anatomy finals. Czech language final exam will be in second year. If student’s don’t get at least 60 percent of micro test pass, they have to take credit exam (credit exam has more questions and included all the topics). After they pass a credit exam, they can take final exam.
In first year, we have 80+ students in English program, but in second year, only 60 students were left. Because the student could not pass the final exam, some of them have to retake first year (only when they have only one subject don’t pass).
In first year, every student will get a HK dad or mum (HK parents are upper years, it can be second, third or fourth year student). This HK parent system is to help first years go through the problems they have. For me, I have a Norwegian HK dad. He is really nice, he organised a mock test for me when I had a spot test.
What is the class like?
In first year, we were divided into 3 groups with around 29 people in one class. And these 29 people will subdivided into another 2 or 3 groups. We have lectures and practicals. The lecture will be at the lecture hall of the main campus but the practical is at the department of the subjects. In the lecture, professor will teach the knowledge we have to know for the practical and before practical class we have the micro test I mentioned before. The reason that the micro test is at the beginning of the practical class is because they don’t want us to come to practical without enough knowledge.
The professors are normally doctors in hospital or some people who worked on research. Most of them speak fluent and perfect English. The professors are quite nice and they will answer every question from the students, because the thing is English program have 80++ students which is not a lot, so asking question in class is possible. In 2016, the number of international students in first year is more than 100 already, so these years they are raising the number of accepted international students.
Some of the classes are at main buildings but some of them are at hospital, biology building, medical library and so on. Medical building is 5 min walk from main building, hospital is 6 min bus from main building.
Why did you choose Charles University?
I chose Charles University because it offer really good quality education and its cost is lower compared to other countries.
What do you find most enjoyable about the course?
As my favourite course is Anatomy so far, so that is my most enjoyable part of the course. It is really fun to have dissection classes, as this is my first time to look inside the human body layer by layer. In the anatomy class, around 8 or 10 people will share a cadaver and professor will explain to us.
Normally Czech people in my city don’t speak English at all, but some of them do. However, in Prague, a lot of people speak English. The first time, I came to this city, I was really shocked as I found that I couldn’t communicate with the Czech people at all. But after my Czech got better, I started to understand a little bit what Czech people say at Tesco, bread shop, Café… I enjoy learning a new language and I have so many chances to practice it when I speak to Czech people in my city.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far on the course?
Having a test every day in first year is the biggest challenge for me. The test is not hard, but it still requires you to keep studying every day. The first two months are fine, but after that I started to become tired. After two weeks of feeling down, I started back to study and I think we just need to get used to this exam system. So far I do not have any serious problem in my study.
Oral examination in final is another challenge for me also. Because I need to speak in front of my professor. I never had oral examination in high school, and the topics I have to cover for the final are a lot. Sometimes, the professor will ask you questions that are not from the lecture or any notes. So for oral exam, I have to really understand every topic. For written exam, I don’t have to know 100 percent of the knowledge from the books and I still can pass it especially when it is in multiple choice form. But for oral exam, I might fail when I just know 99 percent of the knowledge, as professor might ask the other 1 percent that I didn’t study. But so far, I have never failed any final exam.
What do you like about living in the Czech Republic?
Hradec Kralove is the fifth biggest city in Czech Republic, but this town is quiet. That is what I like, as I can more focus on my study as there are less distractions. The living cost in Czech Republic is really cheap compared to other European countries. In my first impression, Czech people are not that nice. But after I learned Czech, and get close to their culture, I feel that Czech people are actually nice. They just look serious and actually they have warm heart inside. Czech Republic is a lot cooler than Ireland, and they have a lot of snow. I enjoy learning to ski or sometimes public ice skating in Winter.
Because many Czech people in this town do not speak English and international students are not that good at speaking Czech yet (there are a few hundred international students here), so I found that I am more close to my classmates here. Sometimes, they will cook some food to me like Indian food, German food, Arabic food….and I will cook some Korea or Japanese food for them. We are helping each other here. The relationship is more close between classmates when we are all in a town where we are not that good at speaking their language.
How do you feel the IFY helped prepare you for your medical studies?
I feel that IFY helped me a lot to improve my basic knowledge. For example, in Biology, there is a lot of basic knowledge like electron transport chain, Krebs cycle and so on. Sometimes, I feel that I can more easily understand what professor said in the lecture. So, I think IFY students don’t throw away all the notes from IFY after you complete the foundation, as you can revise again the basic knowledge.
What are your plans for the next few years?
So far I just hope I can pass the rest of the years, because every year there will be some student who will leave our school because of not passing the finals. In second year, we will have one week of summer practice in hospital, third year will be two weeks and we can choose the country we want to do the practice or we can just stay at our university’s hospital. For sixth years, basically whole year is only practice. Some student will still stay in Czech Republic to do practice, some of them back to their country or some of them just go to other countries to do the practice. But every two months, we have to come back to our university to take state exam. We have five state exams in sixth year; after we pass all the state exam, we are able to graduate from this university.
To find out more about how you can progress to study Medicine at Charles University, like Brandon, get in touch here