Elizabeth Rodriguez, Thailand (Sociology)

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1. What was your biggest fear about studying abroad that turned out to be no big deal?

I felt that I would not be able to safely explore in my own due to the fact that I was a foreigner and the government in Thailand was depicted as unstable. I quickly understood why Thailand was labeled “the land of smiles” due to the fact that everyone was very friendly and welcoming. Traveling on my own was safe having taken the proper precautions, of course, and even traveling outside of Thailand became comfortable for me.

2. What do you wish you had done to better prepare before going abroad?

Now I realize that I did not need to overpack so many unnecessary items. I recall packing about 5 bottles of lotion and an excessive amount of bug repellant because I was informed that lotion in Thailand has skin whitening chemicals and most places do not sell bug repellent. However, that was not the case in all stores. There are actually many retail stores that sell things that one might not think would be available abroad. Overall, packing more wisely is something I feel I could have improved on before leaving.

3. What were your favorite classes abroad? How did they compare to UCSB?

My favorite course in Thammasat was Social and Economic Development in Thailand. This was the course that was the most engaging for me and I enjoyed holding a discussion with the Thai professor concerning the differences and similarities found between our societies in relation to social and economic development. I find that the courses had less of a work load compared to UCSB, however, they were still similarly engaging and rigorous.

4. What is one of your best memories from abroad?

One of my favorite memories was when interning through BPSOS. The experience of taking a ferry to the location where I would teach English is one that I will not forget. The ferry ride was about 45 minutes long twice a day but in that time I was able to interact with new people, both foreign and Thai. Once arriving to class, seeing the students present and ready to learn was extremely rewarding.

5. What was your biggest challenge abroad?

My biggest challenge was the fact that there was such a significant language barrier. Many times taxi drivers would become frustrated with me because neither of us knew what we were trying to say and at restaurants having to order things without images on the menu and not knowing the amount of spice that it had was a great challenge. Even though I wanted to hold a conversation with a Thai native in order to gain perspective of life in Thailand, many times I wasn’t able to interact with them because there was no way for us to be able to properly understand each other.

6. What is your favorite aspect of your host culture?

My favorite aspect of Thai culture was definitely the food and the greetings. The Thai Wai, or the way they say hello/thank you/good bye was very interesting and unique to me. For the most part almost all Thais greet you with a smile and are open to holding a conversation with you if they speak English. I also enjoyed the fact that delicious authentic Thai dishes such as Pad Thai are sold practically at every corner and many times very late at night.

7. Did you intern, volunteer, or conduct fieldwork or research abroad? If so, tell us about your experience.

I was a Refugee Outreach and Support intern through an organization called Boat People SOS. Through the same organization I was an English instructor to Vietnamese refugees as well. It was such a rewarding experience being able to interact with individudals who are also foreign to Thailand but now call it their home and to be able to hear their perspectives on living in Thailand. Additionally, visiting detainees in the Immigration Detention Center was something intimidating at first but then it was a chance for me to gain insight into the ways in which foreign criminal justice systems work.

8. What local food or drink do you miss most now that you are back?

The drink I miss most is Thai tea and the fact that I would be able to purchase a large size cup of it for less than a dollar. The dish I miss most is the Wonton soup from a local vendor close to where I was living as well as Tom Yum soup.

9. How have you changed since your time abroad?

After being abroad for five months I have been able to simplify my career options towards what I want to pursue in the future. I have also been able to gain insight as to how a culture completely different from mine lives on the other side of the world. I was able to witness poverty as well as luxury all in the same city of Bangkok, which made me realize that social and economic disparity is prevalent in Thailand as well. Finally, this trip gave me a chance to take personal risks that I would not have been able to even have as an option if I had continued to live in my comfort zone.

10.What is your advice to prospective UCSB EAP students?

The first step in deciding whether to travel abroad is not in choosing where you want to go. Personally, I feel the first step is taken when you become open to immersing yourself in a new culture and being able to experience a new different lifestyle. I would say that traveling abroad is a personal investment to one’s future because it not only allows you to consider different career paths but it also allows you to get to know yourself as a person with no limits to the new opportunities you can encounter and the kinds of extraordinary people you can meet.


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