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Go to Prague! As a January student, I went after my first term and knew nothing. Enjoyed the hell out of it. If you start in January and wait till the end of 4th term (2nd year) to go, you’ll be squeezing the dates a little close together. I recommend as a freshman. If you’re an August student, you get one crack at it: after 2nd term. This is probably the perfect time to go.
Get your friends together and rent a cheap apartment or stay in a 4-bed hostel suite. You chose your own level of grit. If you’re a vegetarian, eat a face. If you’re a recovering alcoholic, relapse. Prague is beer and meat and beautiful people and you shouldn’t miss any of it.
Before you head over, go online and buy the DK Publishing Top 10 Eyewitness Guide to Prague. I lived by this book and it did not disappoint. Useful Czech phrases in the back. Also, don’t ever call it “Czechoslovakia.” The Czech Republic and Slovakia are quite separate now.
The set up of your selective is simple: Once a week you meet as a class with Dr. Stransky (the guy throwing this party) above Club N11. Besides being a big deal in Prague, he said one of my favorite things: “In life, it’s good to be best, but it’s better to be first.” He owns the club N11 and will host a part there pretty early into the selective. As I remember, the first day you meet Dr. Stransky, learn about the program and what your rotations are going to be. Wear professional clothes. For guys this means shirt and tie. Do not be the guy with tennis shoes, an untucked shirt and a poorly-knotted tie. Ladies, wear comfortable shoes and a nice dress or skirt. Once you have your assignment, you meet in front of the N11 club with a bunch of other students, and someone working for Dr. Stransky takes your group onto the metro system for your destination. Remember it, because you’ll have to do it yourself every day after. Your destination will change every week, so you’ll repeat this process every Monday morning. Some people start rotations at 8:00am, some at 9:30. Everyone checks out by 5:00.
Each rotation at each hospital is different. For example, my Neuro rotation consisted of locking us in a room and letting a tape play (half the time), talking with Czech medical students so that they could practice their English (1/4th the time) and seeing a bunch of really interesting cases for the rest of it. If you understand 1 and 1/2 syndrome and the workings of nystagmus, you’re golden. My Cardio rotation consisted of puting on a heavy-ass vest and standing in the room while the doctors snaked line up everyone’s femoral artery into the heart. We watched all of it on angiogram. It was great, except for the vest and the revolving door nature of it all. My Orthopedic surgery rotation was my favorite. The doctors and nurses do not care what you do, so long as you don’t hurt anybody. You change into their scrubs and gowns (their locker room) and just pick a surgery. Axilla surgery in room 1, hip replacement in room 2, and so on. I went to see a hip replacement and got blood all over me, which was AWESOME! Loved that rotation. At the end of the week you meet up above N11 with Dr. Stransky, see a patient, and talk about the week. Wash Rinse Repeat.
You’re in Europe, the center of it, so you’ll want to travel. I know people that made it out of Prague to go to Germany, Italy, what have you. It’s hard though. You have to be at the hospitals on Monday and Friday. Once you factor in the time of transit to and from another country, you are really cutting things close to say nothing of a slow train or a broken one. To get the credit for the class, you have to have perfect attendance. That said, some of the doctors will sign your sheet for the week regardless of your attendance and I don’t know of anyone that did the selective and didn’t get credit. So who knows. Travel at your own peril I guess.
The weather in Prague swings. Bringing nothing but summer clothes with something nice for the hospital is not going to cut it. Bring a sweater, a jacket, something. Also, it rains in Prague. Don’t be that wet guy without a raincoat.
Speaking of clothing, you should probably buy the greatest pair of shoes on the planet before getting on that plane. Everyone wonders why the people in Europe are so skinny? Not me. They walk everywhere, never stopping, always walking. So if you buy a pair of shoes that pinches your toe or drags on your heal ever so slightly, that’ll be a gapping hole bleeding through your socks by the end of the third day. And since you’re walking everywhere all the time, it will NEVER have a chance to heal. So just avoid that whole mess and buy yourself something nice.
The nightlife is great. Try to avoid the comfort of your two favorite clubs every night and see as much as you can. Joe’s Cafe was a great one, and no trip to Prague can possibly be complete without a few trips to the Duplex. Enjoy the dancers and the air horn.
All in all, I hope you really enjoy Prague. Their subway system is larger than anything I’ve ever seen, and you’ll have a great time getting lost even though their are only three subway lines. Every set of directions you’ll ever give will be in terms of Tesco. It will take you a week to discover Andel. You’ll buy a bottle of water, take one sip and spit it out, and forever after ask for “Voda, neperlive.” (Voh-dah, nay-per-leh-veh) Make sure you’re friends with someone who takes a lot of pictures; you’d be surprised how quickly you forget how great it was.
I wrote home when I was there, and I’ve included those posts. If you have any questions, please post them and I’ll add where it’s empty.