An International Student’s Experience at Harvard Medical School
Azan Virji discusses his path to Harvard Medical School, and challenges faced by international medical students [Show summary] Med student Azan Virji explores the unique challenges he faced as an international student applying to Harvard Medical School, as well as his mission to mentor students like himself through the organization he founded, F-1 Doctors. F1-Doctors: A virtual community connecting international medical school applicants with mentors who are current international students [Show notes] Our guest today is Azan Virji. Azan grew up in Tanzania and came to the U.S. as a student at Yale University, where he studied molecular, cellular, and developmental biology and was a Yale Global Health Scholar. He earned his MPH in 2019, also from Yale, and then went on to begin his medical studies at Harvard in 2019. Knowing all too well the difficulties facing international applicants to U.S. medical schools, which were exacerbated by the corona pandemic and visa policy changes, Azan founded F-1 Doctors in May 2020. Its mission is to provide a network of international medical students, dental students, residents, and attendings to international applicants who are struggling to pursue their med school dreams. Can you tell us a little bit about your background? [2:21] I was born in Kenya, which is neighboring Tanzania, but then I grew up in Tanzania because my mom is from Kenya and my dad is from Tanzania. I think of myself as an East African baby, and I went to high school there as well. I spent 18 years of my life there and went to high school in Mwanza, Tanzania. It was a pretty small high school; my graduating class at the end was almost 24 students. In school, I was the person who would always volunteer to do things. I was always really interested in leadership activities and getting leadership experiences. I was what we called the Head Boy at the time. It's based on the British curriculum, where you're basically the link between the students and the faculty. And then I was also a really big theater nerd. I used to do plays regularly and used to sing a lot. On top of all of that, I was really hard working. I wanted to focus on academics and really wanted to do good in school. Then, I applied to colleges, mostly here in the United States. The reason for that was twofold. I think it's pretty obvious that some of the best institutions of higher learning are here in the United States. Some of the world-class research happens here, and I really wanted to be a part of that environment. But on top of that, I also come from a very low-income background. I'm a first generation, low-income student, and I really needed financial support to attend a place of higher learning. It's something that I couldn't afford on my own. And in the United States, particularly, a lot of colleges here do have a lot of generous financial aid packages that they offer to attract international students from the rest of the world. I got a great financial aid package to attend Yale. That's how I finally found myself, after never having left East Africa, in the US for the very first time, almost six years ago now. It was definitely quite a cultural shock in the beginning, trying to get used to the different way of learning. I think that was really hard for me, particularly when it comes to writing essays in English. That's something I really struggled with when I first came here because the way I was taught to write essays was very different. I found myself struggling a lot when it came to English writing classes, when I got here. The way you phrase your arguments and the way you structure your paragraphs just really got to me. And I also found myself underestimating the level of intensity of classes. When I came in, I'd already done organic chemistry before, so I thought I'd be fully well-equipped for sophomore organic chemistry. So I joined a sophomore level course, even though there was a freshman level course that was availab...