Saturday, November 12, 2005

COAMS #6 - The CULTURAL SHOCK at Medical School

(November 12, 2005 at 11:52 AM )

Did I talked about the first time I entered medical school, I thought that EVERYONE HERE WAS MAD??? I cried on the first day of university. Yeah, hate to admit that. Laugh at me and I’ll delete this. I had been away from home for camps, visits, vacations, yet this was the first time I felt home-sick. And I didn’t know who to complain to, everyone was encouraging and perhaps more excited than me. So, I started writing my diary. Somehow, writing helps me think, writing calms and soothes the emotion.

To me, coming to university was a ‘culture shock’. The biggest obstacles, okay, maybe I should put it this way, MY biggest problem was - the language barrier. Noone told me that ALL Chinese in university communicate in Mandarin. Well, it’s not that I totally don’t know Mandarin, but it’s just that I didn’t thought I could survive Mandarin ALL DAY LONG. Of course the Malays talk in BM but there were only a handful of Indians. So, well, it’s just BM and Mandarin. Hmm… Welcome to the -WE-DON’T-SPEAK-ENGLISH- world. I don’t know how well I hid my hatred towards this place at that time. I did consider pretending that I don’t know Chinese or joining the Christian Fellowship (which is pointless as the Christians here uses Mandarin as well).‘Why must I adapt to them? Why couldn’t they adapt to me?’ I thought.

I remembered clearly, a senior paused and asked, ’Who doesn’t understand Mandarin here?’. Thankful, I raised my hand only to hear the reply ‘you can get your friend next to you to translate’. I really couldn’t blame him because there was like only 5 hands up and majority rules. But of course, at that time, I was disappointed and it only made me hated this place more. I made a point to try speaking in English to the juniors only to find that most of them were more comfortable with Mandarin. I wanted to help people like me, yet little did I know, I was simply torturing others, so I switched back to Mandarin.

I realised how naïve I used to be. Later, I found out from my friends that it wasn’t just UKM, the same condition is present in USM, UPM, UM… u name it. They complaint and recovered, I remained stubborn, refusing to adapt, until months later… Well, I should consider myself lucky that I didn’t have to communicate with my Chinese roommates in BM (like my friend, Boon Lee). I did wonder though what happened to all those people like me- the Georgians, Paulians, Convent Girls and ACS. They simply vanished into thin air and I had my entire life history wiped out. OK, they went to collages and only a handful studied form6. Oh well….

I’m OK with Mandarin now. In fact, sometimes I subconsciously speak Mandarin even to the Malays, which was kind of embarrassing.

Being already depressed during first semester, discovering that ALL MY COURSEMATES ARE MAD only make things worse. MAD as referring to the way they study -MAD. It was kind of scary, I have to admit. Some can just study for hours, like some machine programmed to work. Of course, at that time I didn’t realised that some people genuinely enjoy studying. And I really envy those people - people who possess the PASSION to be a doctor. What separates me from them, besides the language barrier is that PASSION.

Like I said before, DOCTOR to me at the beginning, was just a profession, interesting, secure, challenging and a little ‘cool.’ Well, if you can’t decide what course to take, might as well take something that would help the people. Hoping that the ‘satisfaction’ will drive me, I took the back seat.

Being welcomed by lecturers who made us felt that medicine is a nightmare itself was a nightmare. Medicine is a lifetime sacrifice, they said. I started to deceive myself that I’ll learn to like this course, like the way I was deceived by TV series that doctors in white coats are cool; and perhaps by Dominic, this UM medical student who gave us such a motivating speech during form6. Nevertheless, I forgotten that for those PASSIONATE ones, it was a whole different story. And no, I did not get to keep the eye from the dissection hall.

Later on, I realised that I’m not alone. Many of my course mates didn’t have this PASSION. Some wanted to be pharmacists, veterinarians, one of them wanted to be a pianist, another a ballet dancer. If I was bold enough to follow my dreams, I would probably be studying journalism instead. But, hey, I’m no Robert Frost. The Tertiary Education Ministry Board would probably commit suicide once they find out how many of us didn’t really wanted to study medicine THAT badly. I did felt a little guilty for those who wanted this place more than I do but did not get it. But of course there were those who REALLY wanted to be doctors. Yeah, I envied them.

Honestly, medicine is not such a bad course after all. Perhaps it was the way I hated UKM when I first arrived, the ‘cultural shock’ that made me bias towards the course. Everything was fine except for the exam part. Simply because I naturally hate exams (who doesn’t anyway? I blame our exam-oriented educational system).

I enjoyed the dissection sessions we had for anatomy, one of the few things I often looked forward to. I loved PBL (Problem-Based-Learning) sessions where we were given medical cases to solve, they made more sense to what we learnt in lectures. The Basic Clinical Skills were fun too, though we had like only 2 sessions. And I loved the anatomy tutorials. And I hated all the tests, regardless mini test or exams- all of them! Lectures? Some are interesting, some were just merely reading from the text, sometimes I wonder-hey, maybe I’ll take his job-. But no, I don’t sleep in lecture halls. I either pay attention or skip them.

Perhaps it is unfair to put the blame on TV, parents and friends. The year I had my STPM, Grandma had a fall. She could barely walk back then and had to use a wheelchair. My uncle and cousin tried traditional medicine, messaging oilments, bandaging herbs. My cousin, Kian Guan happens to be studying Chinese Medicine. It’s not that I don’t trust traditional healers, it’s just that we tried everything, even acupunctures, but the condition did not improve. I felt helpless. Finally, we brought Granny to the hospital, she had her femur fractured and had a minor surgery. I don’t know how she endured the pain. Granny is now on walkers but things were never quite the same. She lost the freedom of walking freely.

Let’s put it this way- yes, I’ve the interest, but not the passion, not yet I suppose. Hey, I have 3 years till I graduate. Perhaps time will tell.


  1. So, after 4 years being in UKM, looking back at things, were you glad you took medical there? =P

    I would say I was in a similar situation as you when I first entered university. For me, my foundation year (note that I did not took STPM) was in Melaka and every Chinese there speaks Mandarin while the Malays would speak BM. Heck, even when you order food in Melaka, you'll have to converse in Mandarin! Being someone from a national school(Sekolah Kebangsaan), I could barely even speak a single word of Mandarin though I'm able to converse in Cantonese.

    It was a total cultural shock for me. I even remembered there was once where I've tried to imitate someone's pronunciation to order that particular food. Little did I know, the guy spoke in Hakka and not Mandarin! So yeah, when I told my friends back home, they were laughing like nobody's business... Well, at least I got my pronunciation right... though it's in Hakka....

    Anyway, I was in Melaka for only year but I've learn plenty of things from there. My Mandarin got better but unfortunately, my English was deteriorating at an extreme rate. But overall, it's a good experience for me I would say.

    So, I guess normally it's the surroundings that shapes us and not we shape our surroundings... More like blend in into the majority~

  2. wow! this was 4 years ago, reading this brings back those memories... so, you had the similar CUlTURAL SHOCK, ey..

    let me share with you a story.. it's about my friend,BL.. well, when she first entered university, she had similar Cultural Shock.. and her roommate was a Chinese who had like really really poor English.. So, BL wannted to sweep the floor, so she was asking for a broom, which she didn't know what was it in Chinese.. So, she was doing this imaginary sweeping action with her hands and all.. and her roommate didn't know what was a broom, and couldn't figure out wat BL was trying illustrate... in the end, BL blurred out 'penyapu'.. and all the confusion was cleared!! imagine 2 chinese girls, sharing a room, had to speak BM to communicate... How much more MALAYSIAN can that gets?

    i have to admit, my English had been deteriorating tremendously too.. i used to write for my school magazine... but now, writing doesn't come as easy as before.. i tried to use as much English as possible,.... good thing our lectures here are all in English, a minor few of my friends spoke to me in English, and i still have my bLog, to make me feel closer to home and my old self... ^^ and my Mandarin did improved..

    and to your question, after 4 years in UKM, looking back at things, was i glad i took medicine here?? The answer would be YES! Or else, i wouldn't have anything to blog about!! haha!

  3. haha! that was funny! Truly Malaysian indeed!

    Anyway, my lectures were conducted in English too but some of the lecturers are not from Malaysia. So, imagine the horror when they speak English + their own slang... It's not the British or the American slang but the Middle East or the Indian slang!!!

    Though sometimes it may be funny as some of their pronunciation is some sort of... like an obscene word... hahaha...

    BTW, I'm sure blogging is not the only answer right? hehehe... How about lets say... the whole medical profession thingy? :)

  4. >Ray>> haha! those funny slangs,..

    the whole medical profession thingy?... hmm.. maybe..

  5. hey, i've been through a similar experience too and it's definitely a BIG culture shock. I find that Chinese speaking ppl will never accommodate non-Chinese speaking ppl in their conversations which makes everything so difficult. It's good that you've pick up mandarin. Maybe it's cos all ur frens speak mandarin. As for me, four yrs down the road since the culture shock and I'm still as 'banana' as ever. I end up mixing with ppl in the same boat as me ie the Kebangsaan ppl..sad :(
    neways, I like ur style of writing, you express really well! Keep up the good work! Will be coming back for more..hehe :) Cheers!

  6. >cute little angel>> i see that you are a medical student too ^^ and a english-educated background too.. i don't like the term 'banana'.. i thought it was an unnecessary segregation.. if they were to term us 'banana', what should we term them? -pineapple? nangka? cempedak???

    p/s: thanks for dropping by, hope to hear from you often :)

  7. Hi! I came across your blog and find it interesting! :D I would like to ask what was your STPM results like to enable you to get into UKM? 'Cause I'm a STPM candidate this year 2010. :D


dear friends, firstly, thanks for leaving your comments.. they are very much valued :)

secondly, do remember to leave your name =)
i'll like to know how can i address you ^^ thx

oh yes, if you do not have a blog/URL, just select open ID and leave the URL section blank :)

Author's Note

Dear friends and readers, Thank you for dropping by and leaving comments/ shoutouts. More importantly, thank you for being there... please accept my apology that, lately, i may be busy with work and not have time to reply youir messages/comments, but rest assured, each and everyone is read, and highly appreciated :) have a nice day! ^^

of love

Today, i heard a story which was not a story of falling...
of living in the dark end of winter turmoil..
instead, it was a love story..
of a couple who did not live happily ever after...
but they live, loving each other..