Of wisdom and flights

  • Education
  • Sunday, 17 Jun 2012

Coping with a new study system is not easy but the writer has adapted to it and even learnt some pointers about booking airline tickets.

AS A current University of Manchester medical student and having come from a national primary and secondary school background, I find that the methods of learning in Manchester are miles apart from that in Malaysia.

It seems such a long time ago that we were pulling apart our History textbooks, trying to piece together bits of information about the Islamic Civilisation and the Malacca Sultanate.

In some respect, things have not changed much. Here, first year medics cling on to Martini’s Fundamentals of Anatomy and Physiology despite knowing well that what you learn in there is not enough to ace the exams.

Textbooks aside, another critical part about learning are classes or lectures.

In Manchester, we have nearly 400 first year medics and everyone crams into the same lecture theatre to listen to lecturers of different backgrounds and specialities.

In some ways, this is not that different from my Biology class of 35 students in Form Five, albeit scaled up.

What makes it different is the number of hours.

I believe that the university, being a problem-based learning university, is unlike many other medical schools in the United Kingdom.

We have up to seven hours of lectures a week but off-hand, I believe that’s effectively the maximum.

Last week, I had four hours of lectures. A senior told me that there could be weeks where only two hours of lectures a week is conducted in the second year of medical school.

All this leads to the point I want to make. In the United Kingdom, learning is less structured and is very much “up to you”. How much you learn and how deep you pursue a subject is practically up to you.

Unlike the Malaysian curriculum in school where everyone qualifies with similar depths of knowledge, the learning experience here is very much dependent on you taking your own initiative to delve deeper into what tickles your fancy.

This lead to problems for people like me. Used to being spoon-fed information and simply having to regurgitate that information in examinations, it took time to get used to this new system.

In normal circumstances, lectures are an excellent way of structuring your “syllabus” as what is covered during lectures usually comes out in the examinations.

But with total lecture hours being up to and not exceeding seven hours a week, lectures only cover the basics and the occasional odd-ball topic.

The choice of what to study therefore falls in your hands. However, once you are in it and coupled with traditional Asian work ethics, you soon get into the groove and do what you do best.

On a completely unrelated note, I would like to touch on the business of flights.

Many people face a dilemma: to book a one-way ticket for the first flight to the United Kingdom and subsequently book return flights from there, or to just book return flights from Malaysia.

My opinion is to take the first option. Yes, one-way flights are usually more expensive. And because you are (generally) flying in September which is the peak season, you will probably pay a ridiculous price for your first ticket.

However, booking return flights from the United Kingdom means you will always be able to set a return date.

When you fly back to Malaysia, you will usually know when you need to return to the United Kingdom as you have to fly back before the new term begins.

If you were to book return flights from Malaysia though, you won’t know when your return leg to Malaysia will be.

This will mean that either (a) You have to book an open return ticket which is potentially more expensive and chances are, you will not be taking part in any flight promotions or sales, or (b) You have to key in a random return date, knowing full well that you will probably have to change it and possibly incur a hefty penalty fee.

However, if you are certain of your departure and return dates, then you can take full advantage of any of the occasional airline promotions.

It may be useful to note that many airlines have special baggage allowances for students.

If you inform them that you are a student and can provide proof of it, they may provide you with a baggage upgrade allowance.

When I flew to Manchester, I was given a free upgrade to 40kg, from the usual 23kg check-in baggage allowance.

However, different airlines will probably have different regulations. It is therefore wise to check with them before making any decisions.

Flight payment depends on the chosen airline, the time of booking and departure dates. Direct flights to the United Kingdom tend to be more expensive while those transiting in the Middle East are normally cheaper.

If you have to transit, take note of the transit time. Long transit hours like 12 hours can be annoying.

Check too that transit times are not too short. I once had to transit at Heathrow Airport in London, and only had one hour and 35 minutes between my flights.

What with having to switch terminals and obtaining a new boarding pass, the short transit time caused me plenty of stress.

I was informed by the ticketing company that “the recommended time is one hour and 30 minutes so you should be fine if you rush”.

I eventually made it but only because it was Christmas Eve and the airport was empty at the time.

I hope these tips will be helpful to potential students going overseas and hope to share more random insights in the future as a student.

Oong Zhu Chuen is a medical student at the University of Manchester and the observations and opinions reflected in the article are his own. We welcome feedback from those who have studied or who are pursuing courses overseas to share their thoughts and experiences by writing to us at educate@thestar.com.my.

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