Nazish Shaikh and Natique Parvez are two of the 15-odd Indian students who are following post-graduate courses at the Xinjiang Medical University in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
Both from Maharashtra, they worked in government hospitals in New Delhi – Guru Tegh Bahadur and Hindu Rao among others – for three years before moving to China last November.
Earlier this week, Shaikh and Parvez chatted with HT over Chinese sweets about their lives in Urumqi and what got them to this remote corner of China – some 2200 km from Beijing.
Both came to XMU on scholarships after the University began to offer post-graduate courses few years ago.
“This is a well known university and also less expensive than other colleges say in Fudan and Beijing. It is a teaching hospital and the facilities are very good,” Shaikh said, sitting with Parvez in their relatively spacious hostel room in the university.
They usually attend an hour’s lecture every day before heading to the hospital to do rounds of the wards; for them it’s learning and studying on the job
“It’s great exposure for us. We are looking at so many different kinds of patients,” said Parvez. The facilities offered at the hospital and university is better than many of the best hospitals in India, both said.
Cutting across the language barrier is of course a problem.
“We tried to learn the language in the first few months. But it’s very difficult. Better if we devote time to studying medicine,” Shaikh said flipping through note books in which he used to practice writing Mandarin.
Sometimes, it is difficult to interact with patients who mostly speak only Chinese. “But in such cases our experience helps us to the diagnosis,” said Shaikh.
The language problem hasn’t stopped more than 8500 Indian students – many of them doing their MBBS courses -- from enrolling in various medical universities across India.
Costs, according to students, vary between 35,000 Yuan (Rs 3,50,000) to 50,000 Yuan (Rs 5,00,000) per year.
But unlike Shaikh and Parvez and their friends, Manoj, many Indians land up in China without proper research about prospective colleges.
“Because of incorrect information received from agents or other sources, it has been seen that many students come to China without the required financial resources or support…Students are exploited by some agents in India who present a false picture of what life is like in China and by unscrupulous educational institutions,” an Embassy of India advisory cautions
But XMU reputation has attracted students from many countries but mostly from Pakistan. There are more than 600 Pakistani medical students, by far the largest group of foreign students at the u university.
“They are very helpful. Our views about Pakistan have changed,” Shaikh said. Minutes earlier, the two and a group of Pakistani students together performed the evening prayer on the corridor of their hostel floor.
And earlier, Pakistani students were keen to point out which hostel – and even which floor – Indian students could be found.
For the small Indian group, a few friendly faces in an alien land would surely be more than welcome.