The next time you find yourself at the University Hospital in Brno, Czech Republic, take a good look at the doctors. One of them you might recognize as Samuel Okereke, a 23-year-old student from Nigeria who is working there as part of his studies of medicine.
Years ago, Samuel's father left for England, in pursuit of a dream of collecting money to build a hospital in Nigeria. He fulfilled that dream. His son, too, has a dream now – that when he qualifies as a doctor, there will be no more need to nurse victims of religious intolerance.
Samuel got the idea of studying in Brno from his friend when they were both staying in England. “If he hadn’t told me about Masaryk University then, probably I wouldn’t know even now that the city of Brno exists,” recalls the Nigerian student of the period when he decided to submit his application to the Faculty of Medicine of Masaryk University. It worked out, and of the total period of the course, which in the case of future doctors takes six years, Samuel has competed two and half years. “The studies are demanding. We take tests all the time and we have to study a lot,” says Samuel.
When there is a need for a break from his books, Samuel goes with his friends to the cinema or to a club. “Brno is a student city and that’s what I really like about it. There are always plenty of young people around, so one is never bored here,” explains the Nigerian student, who usually enjoys the company of other international students.
The language of everyday communication and also of his studies is English. He also knows several phrases in Czech. “Czech is a very difficult language but I am trying my best to be able to communicate at least at a basic level,” says Samuel proudly.
For patients he is rarity
Czech patients perceive Samuel as a rarity. Once it happened to him that a female patient suddenly touched his hand.
“Sometimes funny things happen when I'm examining Czech patients. I took it as a friendly gesture. Actually, it happens to me a lot that people like touching my hair for example. To them, I'm simply different,” smiles the Nigerian student.
When it comes to doctors, they give Samuel a bit of a hard time. Not all of them are patient enough to explain something to a foreigner. "I speak CZECH, I have no time for you,” Samuel hears them say from time to time. However, with most of the doctors he is able to maintain good relations. He is conscious of the fact that he cannot expect automatically that a doctor or a patient will know English. “In the end, I always recognize what I'm asked for, so I leave the hospital with a good feeling,” Samuel says in summary.
Nigeria? Bad reputation, friendly people
Every day Samuel faces the fact that his country does not have the best image in Europe and abroad in general. “When I say Nigeria, many people recall those emails asking them for money,” says Samuel. His country is facing too many challenges at the moment. Besides poverty (most Nigerians live on two dollars a day) and the corruption of government institutions, the country is afflicted by religious conflict between Christians and Muslims.
“It is very sad that we are acting against each other. Six or seven years ago Nigeria was a very peaceful place”, recalls Samuel, who, although he comes from a Christian background, has several Muslim friends. ”They are just as angry if something happens as Christians are,” explains Samuel, who rejects claims that Muslims are willing to kill Christians. ”It is extremists who are carrying out all the atrocities,” he says. “The Islamist terrorist organization Boko Haram, which operates in the north, was responsible for dozens of (mainly Christian) lives over the period of last Christmas alone.”
Despite all its current problems, Samuel believes there is a better future for his country. “I think once Nigeria proves to the world that it is capable of making itself a peaceful country, then many more people will come to visit it,” predicts the 23-year-old student. He realizes that unrest is preventing the development of Nigeria.