I was looking for humidity, mosquitoes, and spicy food. Little did I know that I would find elephants instead.
1. What types of classes did you take abroad and how did they compare to UCSB?
I took a week of beginning Thai, and that was only slightly enough to get around. I then took a Buddhism class and a Society and Culture class. All three of my classes were interesting, and they were challenging in a different way compared to UCSB. The emphasis on personal experience in the country really sold it for me. Our classes were so small (about 15 students), so I’d say I was closer to the teachers and students than I would be at UCSB. It was very tight-knit, and I’d say that it was also interesting to adapt to a variety of personalities and teaching styles.
2. What was your favorite class abroad?
My favorite class was Society and Culture. We took an adequate amount of field trips, and it was quite helpful for me to learn so much about a country that was so alien to me. The class also helped me to adapt to the city lifestyle, since I wasn’t used to the kind of atmosphere that Bangkok has.
3. Did you intern, volunteer, or conduct fieldwork or research abroad? If so, tell us about your experience.
I didn’t intern or volunteer.
4. How would you describe your host institution?
Thammasat University was as friendly as it is here at UCSB. It was the summer, so not as many students were there. But we were right in Bangkok–there were plenty of markets nearby, nightlife areas, and a few malls. Thammasat is also right by the Grand Palace, which we had the opportunity to visit for a tour.
5. Are there student clubs/organizations that UC students can join?
I didn’t know of any student clubs for the time I was there.
6. Describe your housing situation.
I lived in 3J Court for the majority of my stay in Thailand. I really liked living there because it was closer to the school (about a 15 min walk across a bridge). At first I lived in the other housing option, Amarin Mansion. But it was so isolated, and my friends either lived in 3J or were moving to 3J. I could afford a studio apartment by myself! It was pretty amazing.
7. Where did you eat most of your meals?
I ate most of my meals at 3J and at Thammasat’s cafeteria. Sometimes I’d eat some street food for breakfast before class, and sometimes I’d go out with friends to eat at a restaurant.
8. How much was an average meal? Do you have any budgeting tips for future students?
My average meal was more or less $1, and about $3-5 a day. It was not hard at all to budget for food since it was so affordable. But it’s not good to think in terms of US dollars–I found it easier to think in terms of Thai Baht instead, so I could save money easier.
9. Would it be difficult for vegetarians/vegans and others with strict dietary restrictions to find meals?
Thais really like food with meat. If you wanted, you could stick with fried rice or soups, but I think just asking if they have vegetarian would suffice.
10. Describe your most memorable dining experience abroad.
My friends and I became regulars at a brand new family sushi restaurant near our apartments. We always brought so many people, and the family always had to rearrange their furniture to accommodate us.
11. What local food or drink do you miss most now that you are back?
No Starbucks drink will ever compare to going on break during a school day, walking over to the university coffee shop, and ordering the exact same green tea frappe every week. Once I’d ordered that thing about 3 times, the people there automatically knew what I wanted! It was magic! I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go somewhere and order something like that without saying a single word.
12. Describe your host city.
Bangkok was crowded, smoggy, and humid. For some reason, I liked it a lot. I never got tired of people-watching everywhere I went. The public transport was much better than in the US, and much cheaper, depending on how far you were going.
13. Was it easy to get around?
I loved being able to walk everywhere. Traffic in a cab, though, I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemies.
14. Did you feel safe in your host city? Do you have any safety tips for future students?
Bangkok is about as safe as it is in the US–they have dilapidated areas, sure. But if you’re smart about it, you can remain safe in the city. I never lost my phone or had anything stolen, but I was smart about it. Another thing is that if you’re not Thai, people will stare. But I got used to that, and took it in stride.
15. What were some interesting/fun things that you did in your host city?
I went to a number of different museums and temples. I love history, so I was right at home there. I sang for my friend’s song in a music studio. I also did a lot of shopping, of course. And I went a few times to sing karaoke with friends or go bowling. Those were the most fun to me. Singing is a good de-stresser. I also went to 2 Muy Thai matches–those were really exciting.
16. Describe any cultural differences you experienced while abroad.
The biggest cultural difference I remember is the reverence that Thais show to the King. I had to stand and watch a praising video before any movie showing at the movie theaters, and there were gigantic pictures of the King, his wife, his mother, his father, etc. everywhere. People spend time in jail if they speak ill about the King, and from my class at university I learned that this law is exploited by people trying to get back at their enemies.
17. How did you handle culture shock?
I won’t say that I had absolutely no culture shock, but I knew it was going to be a different country. Once I mentally prepared for that, it was less ‘shocking’ to me than it might have been.
18. What is your favorite aspect of your host culture?
I especially liked how relaxed Thai culture is. It might be the weather, or it might be something else, but either way, it was a welcomed change to our relatively fast-paced culture.
19. Tell us your favorite travel story from your time abroad.
My favorite trips were to the northern parts of Thailand, both Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. The air was very clean, and the scenery was to die for. In Chiang Rai, we visited the Opium Museum, and the surrounding area was very luscious green. In Chiang Mai, my friends and I went to an elephant sanctuary to spend the day with the elephants–this was my most memorable experience in Thailand.
20. What was your biggest fear about studying abroad that turned out to be no big deal?
Of course I had normal fears like flying for such a long time to get there (21 hours) and not knowing how to get to my residence. But getting a taxi was pretty easy, and people at the airport thankfully spoke English. I was also afraid of getting dengue fever or some other disease from all the mosquitoes but I turned out lucky. I didn’t have that many expectations, so I didn’t have that many fears about a new country.
21. What was your biggest challenge abroad?
My biggest challenge was the language barrier. It wasn’t as big of a deal as I’m making it by saying so, but it was a constant obstacle when I was out in public. A lot of people mistook me for a Thai person, so they would speak to me in Thai. It’d sometimes make me wish I knew more Thai so I could at least fake it, but I couldn’t.
22. How have you changed as a result of your time abroad?
I was a pretty calm person before I studied abroad, but I think I’m even more laidback and self-assured. I suppose a month of being lost and confused is enough to “build character”. In all honesty, my confidence is definitely a little higher.
23. What is your advice to prospective UCSB EAP students?
Some general advice? Studying abroad won’t make you cool. But if you take things one day at a time, you might be cool when you get back. The journey is what you make of it.