Third-year MBBS student Siddharth K came from India’s southern tip of Kerala to study medicine in China’s southwest when he was just 17.
After the Sichuan quake he abruptly left for home. But he returned after three months.
Last May, the Hindustan Times had first reported that dozens of Indian medical students were spending nights on a football field in Chengdu, after China’s worst earthquake in 32 years killed over 87,000 across rural Sichuan in the mountainous southwest.
The students were then desperate to return to small towns across south India as the Sichuan University had transformed into a makeshift hospital. Guards had patrolled dormitory corridors to prevent panicky students leaping from balconies as thousands of tremors had rocked Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province.
The third-year medical batch of the Sichuan University has the maximum Indians, over 60 mostly from Andhra Pradesh — out of 79 foreign students. These days, they discuss the building boom more than this month’s latest tremor.
“We passed that barren road one morning and returned by evening to find it lined with full-grown trees,’’ Siddharth told HT in the Tandoor restaurant located across the transplanted trees.
Chengdu is back to being a boomtown of 11 million people. The rubble is from the frenetic construction of high-rises and the city’s first metro line that officials are determined to finish next year.
“Sichuan is now used to tremors,’’ says Jean Thomas, a Kerala native and first-year MBBS student who joined a month ago. The fees are increasing every year, even after the quake.
Thomas pays 4,900 dollars (about Rs 2,28,094) in annual tuition fee. “In a private university in Kerala the admission fee and donations cost several lakhs of rupees,’’ pointed out Thomas.
The students are the maximum Indian expats in Chengdu, a city with barely a dozen Indian families and some Indian techies.
The Chinese students study in a separate batch and the groups rarely mingle.
Cheaper fees payable in installments, easier admission and English language teaching have drawn over 6,000 Indians, especially from the MBBS-aspiring southern states, to Chinese medical universities.
“A Chinese MBBS costs us Rs 15-18 lakh compared to over Rs 20 lakh in a private Indian university,’’ says third-year student Abraham Jacob who plans to practise in India after clearing the Medical Council of India screening test on return.
“The best part is no ragging,’’ smiled Siddharth. “Seniors even help newcomers shop for spices and cook.’’