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Meet Aisha Khan from the United Kingdom! She and her sister are first-year students in Pharmacy at Plovdiv Medical University and … they absolutely love it! In the following you will find more about her experience as a student at one of the best universities in Bulgaria:
How did you decide to study at Plovdiv Medical University?
I first came to Plovdiv as a holiday when I was in my first year of college. I was unsure of what I wanted to study so my dad suggested that we look at the medical university here to get an idea of what to do after my A Levels. We were taken on a tour around the university which sparked an interest in me as the facilities and lecture halls (auditoriums) were of higher quality than I had expected. I still wasn’t sure what to do as I did not have my heart in being a medic or dentist so I decided to study Psychology at an English university. My younger sister (who is a few years younger than me) decided to do her studies abroad as the entry requirements were too high in the UK. We then found out that there was a new English course in Pharmacy that had been running for one year prior, a course that interested both my sister and I. I decided to move with her as we both had the qualifications necessary for Pharmacy.
What was your first experience of Plovdiv?
I found Plovdiv to be really humble and quiet city, not what I am used to back in England. What also really attracted me was the vintage feel I got from the town as it’s really pretty and historical. One of my favorite hobbies is photography so when I first came here I honestly couldn’t wait to explore and take pictures as there is quite a few things to see here. The locals are also easy to get along with and the streets are pleasant. I found it safe, calm and especially clean!
How is life in Plovdiv?
Life here is very chilled out and relaxed. The only thing I actually worry about is waking up on time for my morning lectures! I was surprised at how cheap the food is yet the quality of the fruit and veg is good. In general, the cost of living is very cheap. I can consume healthy nutritious food without having to worry about my bank balance which is a great bonus. There’s generally a lot of things to do so you have no excuse of getting bored. For example there’s two malls (both within walking distance), parks, a rowing channel and the beautiful old town which has amazing views. Both me and my sister regularly look forward to take a walk up to the old town after a day of university to help wind down and relax at the peak. It is always a calm environment and positively re-energises us.
What do you like and dislike about living there?
I like the whole atmosphere of living here. There are no hassles and you don’t have to worry about distance as practically everything is close by. Where I live at the moment, there is a 24hour non-stop shop on our street which is super handy. Another thing I like is that there’s a range of different foods to suit the needs of people from various different cultures. For example, there are many halal, Greek and Turkish restaurants so there’s that sort of homely and inviting element. I also like that there are outdoor coffee machines on practically every street which are pennies cheap.
One of the things I dislike is the language barrier however there are still a lot of people who do speak English. Personally, another thing I dislike is the way people queue as sometimes you might be disregarded but the key is to always stay polite.
What is your impression of Plovdiv Medical University so far?
I have noticed that the teachers are very considerate of the different levels that the students are at in terms of familiarity of content. In certain subjects like Chemistry and Maths, I sometimes ask very basic questions but the teachers explain it thoroughly with care and enthusiasm. In Maths my sister and I had not covered some of the content in school or college whereas the Greek students had, but the teacher was more than happy to explain each point in detail.
All the teachers are different from each other, however, they all share the similar quality of being helpful and approachable. For example, the Bulgarian teachers understand that we are all on different levels of familiarity to the language so they ask us questions according to our level of learning. The Greek students in our class are better at the language so they get asked harder questions which is a relief! The teachers are all understanding and very passionate about the subject they teach, they all speak English and help us through the questions and exercises. We are able to take our time and let learn in our own time.
The university itself is very easy to get around with great modern facilities. Outside the main lecture building there is a garden area with a lot of seating so it’s really nice to chill there between lessons or even go to the cafe. To be fair there are other small areas around the campus with benches so it’s pleasant to chill anywhere as it’s quite pretty.
What are the challenges of a first-year Pharmacy student?
In Pharmacy, we have 3 campuses to get to: The medical university, HEI building and the medical college. Most of our stay is in the university campus but we also have Physics and Biology (and Biophysics in the second semester) in HEI and our chemistry lectures and practicals happen in the medical college. This can be a challenge as it takes around 15-20 mins to walk from the university to HEI but to get to the medical college you have to get there by taxi as it is not within walking distance. This being said, there is a colleague of ours who cycles to the medical college, it just depends where you live. This can be a challenge as in our first semester we had two days where it was busy as Tuesdays and Thursdays meant we were walking and travelling a lot as we had to get to all 3 campuses but the normal day ended around 4 pm. Our second semester is quite chill as we only have to get to HEI and the medical college for one day of the week.
What subjects are taught during the first semester in Pharmacy?
In the first semester we studied general and Inorganic Chemistry, Biology, Physics, History of Pharmacy, Higher Maths, Bulgarian language and Latin. For Chemistry and Biology we had separate lectures and practicals so different things were taught in each lesson with two different teachers. We also have to study Latin as the anatomy names of bones and muscles are in Latin language.
In Biology, we used microscopes to look at different parts of the cells then had to draw them out and label them in our workbooks. We learnt about things like different blood types and did little tests/experiments to determine how to find out which blood sample was from which group. In lessons such as Chemistry, we were given questions from our booklets then worked out calculations and went through them collectively as a class. We also did experiments such as mixing various chemicals with another to determine which solution contained salts. In the other subjects the lessons mainly comprised of lectures and workbooks.
In the first semester we had a total of 5 lectures and 6 exercises along with Sports once a week. However, the exercises were alternating for Maths lectures: one week we had a lecture then the consecutive we didn’t so it was like this till the end of that semester but we still had our seminars every week. In our second semester we have 3 lectures and 7 seminars, but this time Information Technology lectures and exercises being in alternative weeks – so one week we have a lecture then the next week it is replaced with a seminar.
My favorite subject was Physics. I found this most interesting and the new information taught was useful to know. I understood it well and I liked the way Physics explains medical components to its physical properties. I especially enjoyed learning about ultrasound and different types and uses of it. Personally I also really like Chemistry, minus the calculations but they are basically like A levels like calculating moles and general equations. I however really like the practical side of Chemistry, this semester we are doing a lot of experiments and things like titrations which I love.
How are exams and colloquims like? How do you prepare for them?
Firstly, the difference between exams and colloquiums are that colloquiums are a small test/quiz that we do during class time whereas exams are the end of semester tests. Majority of the time, the colloquiums only take up a small portion of the lesson but you shouldn’t think that you don’t need to revise for the colloquiums. This is because if you fail these then you cannot sit the exam for that certain subject until you pass them. The grading system is slightly different here for both exams and colloquiums. You get scored from between 2-6, 2 being a fail, 3 being a pass then so on with a 6 meaning top marks.
In the first semester we had a total of 5 exams: all subjects excluding Bulgarian and Latin. Not all subjects have colloquiums but we had them for Chemistry and Maths. There was a total of 3 colloquiums for Chemistry and 2 for Maths. For Chemistry, the colloquiums were mainly for practice for our exams however for maths there were 3 sections/topics we needed to pass. For example, if we passed the first part but failed the second part in class, then the January exam consisted of only the second and third part, not the first. Basically, if you pass the first and second sections in class then you only take the third section in the examination.
I usually use the materials provided through PowerPoints given by teachers. There are also workbooks we get at the start of the semester which has majority of the information we need. In Bulgarian, it’s necessary to buy a workbook as they are used in each lesson so we practice from there and our notebooks for colloquiums. I find it most useful to rewrite the new words and phrases at home that are given in lessons to familiarize myself with the content. For other sciencey subjects such as Physics, I like to search online for more information to get an increase of general knowledge of the particular subtitle/topic we are covering. I like reading through websites and take notes or by drawing spider diagrams for each subtitle. We are also given MCQ (Multiple choice questions) booklets in physics so I find it useful to go through these as these are similar to the content of the exam. For Biology I use a similar method, but what extremely helped me for the exam was going through practice tests on a CD that we bought by choice from the professors of the Biology department. I also like to write out definitions of key words, which can be applied to all subjects, to help myself understand fully because there is a high potential this will be in questions for the exams. We are taught straightforward stuff and when something is additional information or whether it is directly relevant for our exams, we get told clearly so that revision is easier.
How much free time did you have throughout the first semester?
In general, throughout the first semester we had quite a busy timetable with 7 different subjects. We still had a fair amount of free time on Wednesdays and Fridays as we started university early in the morning and were finished before noon. Throughout the day we were generally fairly busy as we had to usually travel to separate buildings for our next lesson but this was a nice exercise break. The most time spent in lessons were for Bulgarian language which we had for 4 hours twice a week. We would also occasionally come to university for extra lessons during a Saturday if we were slacking a bit so that we could catch up and keep on top of the programme. Our Bulgarian lessons really helped us make great progress in speaking and reading the language which was very beneficial for day to day communication. Other than these few occasions, we would have a nice full weekend to regenerate ourselves for the upcoming week.
What would you advise future students to do in their first semester?
I would advise the students to always get to lessons on time or slightly earlier as it is important to be on time and it also makes a good impression with the teachers that you will be spending time with for the semester. It’s also important to make sure you engage fully in lessons to show your teachers your enthusiasm.
To be honest you should focus on all subjects but in my opinion I had to focus most on Physics and Biology. This is because the questions that come up in the exam were very particular so you need to know your content quite well. I wouldn’t say the subjects are hard, it’s just that you need to take time to properly revise as the questions asked are asking for precise things. It’s also important to focus on Bulgarian lessons and not see this as a doss lesson. The things the teachers teach us are extremely appropriate, not like GCSE’s when you’d get taught Spanish about random things that you wouldn’t use in real-life situations. Some locals can be very interested in you and have a little conversation with you so you start to pick up some words and phrases learnt from the lessons to converse back with them.
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