2) Masaryk University: Get a quality education in a city pulsing with energy
Founded just a year after the birth of Czechoslovakia in 1918, Masaryk University bears the name of the country’s esteemed co-founder and its first president, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk.
Over a century later, the university has established itself as one of the most reputable and distinguished higher-education institutions in both Czechia and Europe as a whole.
Masaryk University has ten different faculties, and over 200 departments with an extended range of studies for students to choose from in bachelor, master’s, and doctoral programs. It is no surprise that thousands of international students end up choosing Masaryk University to achieve their academic goals, making Brno a melting pot of diversity and open-mindedness.
Tiago Miguel Figueira is a Portuguese student hailing from Lisbon, who is currently in his fifth year and studying to become a doctor at Masaryk’s Faculty of Medicine. He explains what makes Masaryk University and Brno so special for international students.
“We all speak English, we’re all from different countries, we share different experiences. And it's really interesting to see how everything connects, how other parts of the world have their own points of view, and it's really fun and interesting.”
Moving from Portugal’s bustling capital city Lisbon to Brno meant trading in his old life for a new one, adapting to Czech culture and the city life it offers.
“The food's really good, especially goulash. In terms of culture, Brno is very small. For me, it's a very small city because I come from Lisbon. So it has more tradition than a bigger city, I would say. Some traditions are quite interesting.”
With a population of fewer than 400,000 people, around a quarter of those residing in Brno are in fact, students. This evidently leaves its imprint on the city’s culture and lifestyle, given that five universities are located in the Moravian metropolis, including Masaryk University.
Martin Vašek is the head of the Welcome Office at the Centre for International Cooperation at Masaryk University, which is responsible for welcoming international students from abroad and easing the process of transition to a new country and way of life. He says Brno is very much a students’ city which facilitates the challenges that international students face upon arrival.
“The foreign students who come here are not on their own, but with the other university students in the city. This is very much a student city. You can really see the difference when the students are there during the semester, and then during the summer when the students go home. The city is sizeable enough to offer not only a quality education but also culture, and opportunities to go out and meet other fellow students.”
One of the faculties that really make Masaryk University stand out is its Faculty of Medicine, which admits 200 students each year into its medical program and has become a popular option for international students interested in the field.
Sina Skandera, a fifth-year medical student, chose Czechia over her home country, Germany, and really appreciates the quality of life and education that Brno and Masaryk University offer.
“I think that really everyone knows everyone, because I think that a big part of the international community is the medical students here. We have Erasmus students and other programs have some international component, but really the biggest part is the medical faculty. Because we are here for such a long time, a minimum of five, six, seven years, we have become this core group of people who spend a large part of their 20s together in one city, and it's really nice. I think you really make friends for life in the end, you know?”
The most beneficial part about studying medicine at Masaryk University, according to both Sina and Tiago, is the simulation center, one of a few such centres in Europe, made to replicate a normal hospital environment with emergency rooms, intensive care units, and operation theatres where medical students can gain practical knowledge vital for their profession. Sina explains what makes it so useful for their studies.
“You can practice anything that you would practice in real life in the hospital, basically, in a protected environment. It gives students the opportunity to learn to work with given instruments and to get a feel of how procedures are done. It's just amazing because we really get to train how to be doctors without harming anyone, without having the fear of dealing with real patients with real diseases. Once we actually go to the hospital, we already have a bit of a baseline idea of what we're supposed to be doing.”
Each faculty at Masaryk University has its own international office specifically reserved for assisting students from abroad. Zuzana Palacková, who works at the Faculty of Medicine’s international office, highlights the importance of foreign students bringing their perspectives to Masaryk’s ever-growing community of learning.
“This English program already has a long tradition because it has been open for more than 20 years. The faculty’s professors and staff are used to catering to international students. And it's always good to have a different perspective. What is important is they have the option to get some training in their home countries. So we get to know more about the health system in other countries as well. ”
After the fall of communism in 1989, Masaryk University opened its doors to students from all over the world.
Palacková shares a story of one student’s reaction after visiting Masaryk once again many years after graduating, which highlights how far Brno and the university have developed in terms of becoming more open to diversity.
“Recently, one of our graduates from Toronto, Canada, came to visit the campus and he was really amazed. He said that it was really surprising how many people in the city now speak English. I mean, in the restaurants, in the pubs, in small cafes. When he was studying, English wasn’t used that much, but now there are many young Czech people who can speak English, and they work in cafes, they work in restaurants, so it makes the life of international students much easier.”
Today Czechia has many universities offering a great environment and a quality education, so what exactly makes Brno stand out? Tiago explains why he picked Brno over Prague.
“Time. Time to study. Because in Prague, which is a big city, you have a lot of distractions. And here, there are some things happening, but you have time for yourself, to work and study.”
Sina also mentions that Brno is small enough to make foreign students feel at home there.
“Even though Brno's the second biggest city, in the Czech Republic, I think it's really, really small. Like when you go outside to the city center, it’s guaranteed you will meet someone from your university, a friend or someone who's in your study group, which maybe some people don't like, because you can never go outside undercover basically. But I think if you appreciate that in a foreign country you are always connected and always with people you know, then it's really, really nice. Of course, sometimes it can get a bit much, I think, but if you like it, and you want to have that community vibe, meet your friends all the time, at the gym, in the park, then everything's really, really nice.”
The organization representing medical students in Brno is the Masaryk International Medical Student's Association, known as MIMSA for short. Sina, who previously served as the President of MIMSA, speaks very highly of the organization’s work.
“We represent the students at the university. But we also do a lot of social activities, sports activities, and especially study support. And I think it maybe takes on a bit of a bigger role than in, say, your home country, because in your home country, you have friends and family, you speak the language. So you're already much better connected to the city, you are in your home environment. But here, when the students arrive, they arrive in a foreign country, no friends, and MIMSA kind of fills that void a bit.”
What students mentioned most frequently was Brno’s amazing location in the heart of Europe, being only two hours away from Vienna, Prague, and Bratislava. This allows students like Tiago and Sina to travel whenever they want and enjoy what Europe has to offer.
“I think if you're looking for a medical university that really gives you a core group of people to study with these six years, with up-to-date equipment and a simulation hospital, then Brno is the perfect choice for you. Also, if you are looking to grow in other fields than medicine, Brno is amazing. And, of course, it's located right in the center of Europe. So you can travel literally anywhere. So it's a great city to spend your student life in.”
Whether you plan to study medicine or social sciences at Masaryk University, you will like the supportive, creative and relaxed environment on the Masaryk campus, and the city itself. After over 100 years as a university, Masaryk and its student life show no signs of slowing down anytime soon.