Based off my experience from 2013-2019.
I started out my journey really hopeful. I was very excited about leaving for an European country to pursue my medical education.
The day I got there was cold and bleak and I who personally was not accustomed to the cold was shivering. The place was not the kind of a bustling mid tier city I have known my whole life up until that point. The rustic vibes were rather strong with me having my fair share of doubts if I was in some village with only an airport to show its urban-ness.
Later that day when my contractor took me to the college campus and showed me around, I saw the dilapidated buildings that were part of the then Crimea State Medical University situated in Ukraine.
IS IT UKRAINE OR IS IT RUSSIA?
As my classes started out with anatomy as the foundation of medical education and with many minor subjects and languages coming along, the first year was a really busy one.
Before I could sit down and really explore the new place where I was now living, Crimea got annexed by Russia following the civil unrest in Ukraine which kind of proved disastrous for the country economically and also losing its autonomous peninsula, Crimea, to the Russian Federation.
The system of daily learning and next day testing was new to me coming from India. Me who was never a fan of the rote learning promoted in India was only happy to comply with the new system. The marks so obtained in class do play a role in the final marks for a subject as the teachers do refer to the average class marks while conducting the exam on a subject.
Most departments had dedicated teachers who were happy to impart us with the knowledge that they possess.
They practical training provided to me was below par compared to the Indian government counterparts (The practical training provided in many private medical colleges in a India are a different story though. There, the practical training provided is way less than what I received in my college).
Even though the education was of good quality in most departments, there were black sheep too. Some departments were cast in the shadow of taking bribes to let students pass their subjects. Some of them were just false news propagated by disgruntled parties but that was not the case with all of them. Me being a sufficiently good student, never had the misfortune of coming across such situations myself.
There were a few departments who were not interested in teaching at all. But these were far and few in between the good ones with the one notable exception of the Surgery department. The surgery department was not interested in giving any practical training and all the teachers stuck with just theory for a really involved, “hands on” subject. Few of the teachers in surgery were not interested in teaching at all. They would just open up a poorly made presentation for us and then leave us to sit in class with the presentation on a screen and that was their idea of teaching.
The hostels were dilapidated, as was everything else in Simferopol, Crimea. Even if the rooms were not up to any recent standards in plumbing or electric work or even construction, I had no choice other than to adjust to my surroundings. With time, I was used to almost all of it. The only persisting gripe was that if something breaks, we had to buy the replacements and even then, the staff mostly refused to come fix the plumbing and electricity unless we pay them “unofficial fixing costs”(ie. bribes). Once I had to live for many months with only one tap in the toilet working. Everyday things, not limited to bathing, brushing, washing dishes and getting drinking water had to done from the tiny bathroom.
The only three things that I was interested in was studies, playing computer games and drinking. I am happy to let you know that I could do these three things to my heart’s content. But this left me with no time for socializing. Most of my college thought that I was some sort of antisocial intellectual who hated human contact.
It was not until my last year in 2019 that I with the support of a handful of very good friends that I started having any semblance of a social life. I am eternally thankful to them for making me get a haircut after 1.5 years and forcing me to dress like a normal person. This did wonders for my social reputation and lifestyle.
There were many up and coming businessmen in my college. Most were just small fishes who were trying to supplement their monthly allowance from home selling food, providing laundry services, etc.
But there were 2 that really stood out:
1) One exploited the desire of people to complete their medical education. Few people with questionable reputation used to collect money from students acting as the middleman between them and the teachers. These guys in the guise of bribing the teachers to let them students pass their exams will take money from gullible academically poor students and sit on it. If the student passes by their own hard work, these middlemen keep the thousands of dollars that they collected. If in case, the student didn’t pass, the middlemen would return their money and tell them that the teachers couldn’t fix their exams as a university inspection was going on.
This really interested me cause that’s when I learned that some people have no morals where ever they are.
2) The second kind of businessmen exploited an opportunity that arose when the US sanctions hit Crimea. Students were flabbergasted when their debit cards stopped working. But then a person had the idea of going to mainland Russia from our tiny sanctioned peninsula on their behalf and withdraw money for them for a fee ranging from $3-$15. This business which started in 2014 still continues up to date with no end in sight.
I just told this story to point out the fact that living in Crimea as a foreign national is not a convenient affair and that few people exist with whom your bank card and its details will remain for the rest of your Crimean stay.
CRIMEA: THE LOWDOWN?
Now that Crimea is not the neglected backwater which it was under the Ukrainian rule, the place received a new breath of life.
Development is happening in a rapid pace. Essential maintenance for our college buildings and hostels started out as I was finishing up my course and getting ready to leave. The city also received makeovers with essential infrastructure being built including an improved airport and roads.
Even after all the not so flattering stuff I have said about Crimea, there is no denying the fact that Crimea is a beautiful place. If you are ready to spend a modest amount of money and undertake a 2-3 hour trip, you can end up on some of the most beautiful beaches that you have ever experienced. The peninsula is teeming with rich history which can be experienced in its many museums. The hill ranges are noting to scoff at either.
My Crimean experience was nothing that I ever expected. Even if it was inconvenient and down right annoying at times, I would like to remember it fondly as my home it was for 6 years which I would like to visit again in a not so distant future.