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On Being an International Student from Europe

Alina U., M1

St. Louis is a hidden gem in the U.S. in terms of its international population. When I first arrived here about a year ago for my gap year, never did I guess that I would find over a hundred people from my country (Spain), with half of them affiliated with WashU. To my surprise, there were celebrations for the traditional holidays, Friday evening happy hours, and plenty of opportunities to miss home together, or to recreate home in St. Louis. Moreover, WashU is well known for being blind to citizenship when it comes to recruitment for students in their MD/PhD and PhD programs. This means that, for the entering class of 2020, over a third of our MD/PhD class was international, and most of the PhD students that I met during my gap year (which is definitely possible with the slots of free time that we have during M1 in non-COVID times) were from other countries. Finally, I would like to leave you with one thought — because WashU has a history of accepting international students in its various programs, you will rarely be the first international student to go through a certain problem, or the first international student in a certain program. Chances are that somewhere, in some spot of this thrilling network made up of the most amazing people that I’ve met in the U.S., there is someone that went through the same thing, and can help you.

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On Being an International Student from Vietnam

Khai N., M1

The medical school application process as an international student can sometimes make you feel like you don’t belong: schools outright refusing to read your application, little-to-no financial aid offered, and interviews and student meet-and-greets where you’re the only international student. With that said, I feel very at home at WashU. A large portion of the class is made up of  international students, we receive financial aid, the school has guidelines dedicated to F1 medical students, and there is student counseling available with international student-specific advice. St. Louis is also a city with a large immigrant population with a long history (fun fact, the third Chinatown ever built in the U.S. was in St. Louis). The easy access to immigrant communities, resources, and FOOD (!) makes one feel very welcome here. Additionally, the affordability of St. Louis renders financial concerns of an international student (especially one from a country with a weaker currency) a lot more bearable. I am so very glad that I get to call this place my home for the next half-decade of my life!

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On Being from a Small Town

Nick R., M1

I was pretty nervous to be living in a city for the first time, especially one that has a reputation as a very dangerous place like St. Louis. However, I think the unique location of WashU has made the transition MUCH easier than I thought it would be. The area isn’t too busy or dangerous at any time of day, and you’re within walking distance of lots of cool restaurants and coffee shops. I also think having the park right across the street from me made adjusting easier, as it makes it feel like less of a city and more like home (go Idaho, whoop whoop!). Overall, St. Louis has surpassed my expectations and it’s been a great experience living here!

Nick’s dog, Luna, looking majestic in Forest Park
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On Being from STL

Andy B., M1

St. Louis is my home and has been my home since I was born. I am passionate about St. Louis and love it, for all its beauty and its scars. I went to WashU for undergrad, and am now here for the foreseeable future — and I could not be more excited. While exploring a new place is always exciting, I appreciate the comforts of knowing my surroundings, having a favorite park, and a go-to brewery. It is nice being able to take a break from medical school and spend an afternoon with family without driving more than a few minutes. It is also fun being the local and able to showcase the city for all of its culture, charms, and hidden gems. Along with the benefits of family/friends and familiarity with the environment, being in medical school has allowed me to interact with the city in a more unique and intimate way. I feel that I have learned so much more about my hometown in the few months at WUSM than in the four years of undergrad, and it has only served to strengthen my passion for the city and desire to serve here. It’s the same city, but WUSM is an entirely new way to experience it. If you are worried about staying in your hometown, don’t be — I have fallen in love all over again, and have not once regretted my decision to stay.

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On Being from the East Coast

Zach N., M1

For East Coasters, sometimes anywhere you can’t reach on Amtrak’s Northeast Regional can seem a world away. I grew up in a small town in Rhode Island and went to college about 30 minutes from home, so when I drove the 17 hours out to St. Louis it definitely felt pretty far away. But most people will only make the drive once, and in the context of fast, easy, and frequent flights to most cities back east, St. Louis doesn’t seem nearly as far away from home as I thought it would. While there are definitely some cultural differences, there is some truth to the saying that St. Louis is the country’s “southern-most northern city, northern-most southern city, western-most eastern city, and eastern-most western city.” No matter where you come from, you’re likely to find several things that feel familiar and many others that are new. Most U.S. cities have a good deal in common, and with almost three million people in the St. Louis metro area, you’ll likely find almost anything you’re looking for here. America is a big place, and for me the chance to live in a new part of the country has been a fantastic learning experience.

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On Being from the Midwest

Emily T., M1

As someone who was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago and went to undergrad in Chicago, I was happy to be staying in the Midwest for medical school. St. Louis is a unique city, so you definitely will feel like you’ve made a change in moving here, but you’ll also feel very at home! From the many frozen custard places (a place called Ted Drewes is a St. Louis favorite, but they also have familiar chains like Andy’s and Culver’s) to the classic Midwest niceness, St. Louis is home to many Midwest staples. One difference for me between my hometown and St. Louis is the weather. There have been days where it snowed in the Chicagoland but not here in St. Louis, so for those of you looking for a break from the super harsh winters with an actual fall (Forest Park is BEAUTIFUL in the fall), St. Louis is your place to be. Finally, it’s nice to be driving distance away from home, especially because it makes moving in so much easier and means you can travel home without sorting all your liquids.

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On Being From the Mountain West

Jackson B., M1

Unfortunately, for those of you who don’t already know, St. Louis doesn’t exactly have the mountains, rivers, or desert landscapes you can find in Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, or Montana. (I’ll note here that the highest point in Missouri is Taum Sauk Mountain at a whopping 1,722 feet.) But St. Louis does have convenient access to most types of outdoor recreation, including hiking, fishing, tubing/kayaking, mountain biking, and rock climbing. During the fall of my M1 year, I’ve gone mountain biking or climbing outdoors at least once per week, while maintaining a good dose of Forest Park running and indoor climbing gyms during the weekdays. None of the outdoor spots here will blow you away, but their proximity to campus (most destinations are within an hour drive) is pretty unbeatable given the workload you can expect to have later on in your medical education. After four years on the East Coast for college, I can assure you that St. Louis is a more than legitimate stop on your way back to the Mountain West!

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On Being from the South

Ashley H., M1

I grew up in a rural town in Georgia and attended my state school for undergrad, so coming to WashU was definitely a little out of my comfort zone. I knew I wanted a school that gave me that small-town feel (where people truly care about you and take a real interest in helping you) yet had the academic prowess of a large institution. This was apparent at my interview at WashU and in all of my experiences thus far. When I bonded with one of my interviewers over our love of Chick-fil-A, I knew that I could fit in at WashU. Midwesterners might not have the southern drawl or as good of food, but the people here are so genuine and honestly rival southern hospitality. St. Louis overall is not an overwhelming transition if you are coming from a small or mid-sized town, which was a draw for me. The Central West End is an amazing place for WashU to call home, and I could not have asked for a better school to branch out to.

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On Coming from a Big City

Paighton M., M1

After being in New York City for four years, St. Louis definitely feels like a pretty big change. While there will always be things I miss about NYC (like Joe’s pizza at 3 a.m.), St. Louis has everything I would want in a place to live. Forest Park has all the appeal of Central Park with open spaces to study, multiple different museums, and even a zoo. And I have to say, the Saint Louis Zoo beats the Central Park Zoo any day (plus it’s free!). The Central West End is walkable enough and the MetroLink gets me where I need to go when I need it (it’s also free for students — see the theme here?). There are plenty of great restaurants and farmer’s markets all throughout St. Louis that I can go to without needing a reservation a month in advance or worrying about being crammed in next to ten other people. I think the best thing about being in the Midwest though, and something I’m not even sure I realized I was missing in New York, is the feeling of community everywhere I go. Not to mention I happily traded my tiny apartment in the East Village for twice as much space at half the price in the Central West End.

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On Coming from a Big/State School

E’lysse S., M1

During the med school interview process, I was always intimidated by the number of students from Ivy Leagues or other prestigious universities. I was concerned that I might be looked at differently for coming from the University of Florida, which has over 50,000 students. But at WashU, that seemed to be completely different. Our class is made up of students from dozens of schools — big and small, public and private — all over the country and world, which makes me feel extremely comfortable here. I have also really enjoyed the transition to such a small class of 105. At my undergrad university, there were so many people that it was difficult to make friends unless you joined a club or organization. With such a small class here, you quickly are able to meet almost everyone and make great friendships. Another big difference is the availability of mentors and advisors. At WashU, all of the faculty are extremely eager to help you in any way they can, whether that is through research opportunities, networking, or advice. The individual attention is a great change after coming from a big school.

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On Coming from the West Coast

Caden H. and Maggie B., M1

I’m from Southern California, so my biggest concern moving to the Midwest was the weather. Honestly, it hasn’t been as drastic of an adjustment as I expected. The summers are more humid and the winters are a lot colder than what you’re used to on the West Coast, but if you dress appropriately then you’ll be perfectly fine. Definitely invest in bug spray (plenty of people here say they don’t use it because it’s a hassle or they don’t like the way it feels — I think mosquito bites feel a lot worse and you WILL get them in the spring and summer without spray). The food scene isn’t as robust as some of the bigger west coast cities, but there is plenty of variety in St. Louis, with vegan and vegetarian options all over. My biggest piece of advice is to lean into and try to enjoy the parts of the city that are different from the West Coast. Flying in for the first time, I was shocked by the greenery of Forest Park, and have made it a point to walk in the park whenever weather permits just to enjoy that aspect that I don’t get back home. If you’ve never lived outside of the coast, expect an adjustment and give yourself grace in dealing with the transition, but I promise it will only get easier and you will find plenty to love about St. Louis in the little free time you get as a med student.

Caden H.

Something I was asked on multiple interviews was if I would be willing to leave California. I always thought this question was a bit strange because I thought that if a medical school checked my boxes as an institution that I wanted to be a part of, location wouldn’t be a dealbreaker. However, when I was deciding where to go, a couple of considerations came to mind.

First, I wanted to live somewhere with reasonably nice, affordable housing that was somewhat walkable. I’d seen some room/apartment/house tours on the Second Look Facebook page for WashU, and thought housing looked nice. Later, I learned through panels and other forms of communication that housing was pretty affordable; currently, I pay about the same amount for housing in a studio with ample room for one person that I did for a one-bedroom shared with two roommates in Los Angeles. In terms of walkable, I found that my basic wants were generally met in the surrounding area: I could get to some solid dining options, a selection of cafes, Forest Park, and a Whole Foods by foot. While I enjoy walking, I do have a car which has made the city very accessible. In particular, having a car has helped me get to some restaurants and grocery stores such as Trader Joe’s and Aldi that are a bit further away.

On that note, food-related concerns that I had were if I would have enough restaurant options, and if would have access to Asian groceries. As someone who prefers to eat plant-based, I was pleasantly surprised by the options available; there is a large spreadsheet that is circulating with vegetarian/vegan spots in St. Louis that I am slowly making my way through, and I’ve found a couple of spots through Yelp that I frequent pretty often. For example, Meskerem, an Ethiopian food restaurant, has a delicious vegetarian combo that has no eggs, butter or milk! As for Asian groceries, I have found that Olive Supermarket (about a 20-to-30-minute drive away) is about as good as any market that I would have back home in Southern California.

Overall, St. Louis has been a great place to live as someone who has grown up on the west coast, is most concerned about the above things, and has mostly indoor hobbies. I think most people who asked if I was open to leaving California were referring to, in some capacity, the weather, and I have found the adjustment to local weather quite easy and honestly quite pleasant. Summer is a bit more humid than it is in Southern California, and fall and winter are colder here, but I don’t think I have made any drastic changes due to weather. On a more positive note, I have really enjoyed seeing the seasons change, and genuinely believe that St. Louis has prettier sunny days. For me, the biggest question in terms of location boiled down to “Does the school’s location have the food/green space/bookstores (insert what makes you happy here) that you would need to enjoy your time outside of school?”, and I found that St. Louis fit the bill.

Maggie B.

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On Coming From WashU Undergrad

Larissa L., M1

When looking into medical schools, I wanted to find an environment that would challenge me to step out of my comfort zone and that would wholeheartedly support my academic and personal endeavors. Having spent four years in the “WashU bubble,” I was initially hesitant that WUSM would feel like an identical environment, yet I could not have been more wrong. Not only is life as a medical student (even over Zoom!) drastically different from the undergraduate experience, but living in a new part of the city has allowed me to expand my horizons of what St. Louis has to offer. The flexible schedule of medical school has also given me time to explore new parts of the city and surrounding areas, from restaurants to hiking trails to vineyards. Additionally, I found a built-in support system through fellow WashU grads at WUSM — both in my class and in the years above — who greatly helped to ease the transition and have been wonderful mentors. Feeling familiar with the area and having support systems across the park at the Danforth Campus have also helped to make medical school feel exceedingly comfortable right from the start. Go Bears!