My study abroad experience in Thailand was action-packed, filled with love and laughter, but most of all an adventure of a lifetime.
- What types of classes did you take abroad and how did they compare to UCSB?
While abroad, I wanted to fully immerse myself in Thai culture and way of life. Because of this, I focused my academics on Thai studies and society. I took classes such as Thai Buddhism, Thai Dance, Thai Society and Culture in addition to a Thai language class. I also took a literature class to satisfy a GE requirement.
- What was your favorite class abroad?
My favorite class abroad was my Thai Buddhism course. This course was taught by one of the leading figures in Buddhism in Thailand, making the professor a credible and knowledgeable source. We had a guest lecture where female monks leading the Buddhist feminist movement in Thailand came into the classroom and explained why they became monks and what they are doing to fight for female monk equality and women’s rights.
- Did you intern, volunteer, or conduct fieldwork or research abroad? If so, tell us about your experience.
I volunteered as an English teacher at an all girls’ orphanage once a week for 3 hours. I created entire lesson plans each week involving interactive activities and vocabulary quizzes. My students were between the ages of 11-19 and spoke little to zero English which made instructing quite challenging. It was a very rewarding experience and inspired me to become a teacher after undergrad.
- How would you describe your host institution?
My host institution was quite chaotic. There were no class websites; instead, Facebook pages were used to communicate class assignments and exam dates. The institution had two campuses and exchange students were located in the international campus with very few Thai students actually attending classes side by side exchange students. This international campus was much smaller than the main school campus.
- Are there student clubs/organizations that UC students can join?
No there wasn’t because all of the clubs and organization were in Thai so I could not join.
- Describe your housing situation.
My housing situation was a single bedroom apartment with a bathroom and shower but no kitchen. The apartment complex, Amarin Mansion, was predominantly filled with exchange students from all over the world. My apartment was a 25-minute walk from campus.
- Where did you eat most of your meals?
Most of my meals were held either on campus or street food because of the cheap prices.
- How much was an average meal? Do you have any budgeting tips for future students?
My average meal was about 90 baht or 3 dollars. Budgeting tips for future students include giving yourself a weekly allowance to prevent over spending.
- Would it be difficult for vegetarians/vegans and others with strict dietary restrictions to find meals?
Because Thailand is almost entirely Buddhist, vegetarian options are very common at restaurants and street food vendors. For vegans on the other hand, it would be much more difficult because a lot of condensed milk is used in traditional Thai dishes.
- Describe your most memorable dining experience abroad.
My most memorable dining experience abroad was when I went to Bali, Indonesia where I went spear fishing with the locals and proceeded to have a beach bonfire with fresh fish and sea urchins.
- What local food or drink do you miss most now that you are back?
I miss Thai milk teas the most and street food pad Thai.
- Describe your host city.
Bangkok is a very overwhelming city. The traffic is very chaotic and the city itself is huge. This however gives someone the opportunity to be able to explore so much of the city while abroad and still never be able to see everything.
- Was it easy to get around?
It is very easy to get around with a variety of transportation options including taxi, moto-taxis, tuk-tuks, bus, and train.
- Did you feel safe in your host city? Do you have any safety tips for future students?
Before coming to Thailand, safety was a huge concern but what I came to learn is that Bangkok and Thailand itself were much safer than I anticipated. The language barrier is quite isolating and sometimes made traveling alone slightly more challenging, but as a whole, I felt very safe in my host country.
- What were some interesting/fun things that you did in your host country?
I was able to feed, bathe, and play with baby elephants at an elephant sanctuary and I also got scuba-certified on Kho Tao island.
- Describe any cultural differences you experienced while abroad.
There were quite a few cultural differences that took an adjustment period during the first couple of months. One of these included the language barrier which prevented me from making deep connections to locals as well as the lack of variety in the local food.
- How did you handle culture shock?
I handled the culture shock by being patient and being understanding to the differences between my upbringing and my host country. I also became very close with other exchange students who were experiencing similar difficulties so having friends definitely helped.
- What is your favorite aspect of your host culture?
My favorite aspect of Thailand’s culture was that despite it being a developing country with a huge poverty problem, Thai people are very happy people. If they had a roof over their head and food on their plate, they were okay. They made the best out of their situation and kept on smiling through it all.
- Tell us your favorite travel story from your time abroad.
My favorite story from abroad was when I went to Bali, Indonesia and went snorkeling with giant manta-rays. The captains of this snorkeling trip invited us to spend the night on the island with their families and to go spear fishing with them. We caught several huge fish, saw one of the most beautiful sunsets I had ever seen, and proceeded to have a bonfire with the freshly caught fish on the beach. We ate, we drank, and we sang all together and it was so pure and unforgettable.
- What was your biggest fear about studying abroad that turned out to be no big deal?
My biggest fear was whether I would get along with the people in my program. This was not the case however since I believe it takes a certain type of person to study abroad in Thailand. This “filter” of some sorts meant that all of the people in my program were as like-minded and as adventurous as I was and there were never any problems at all.
- What was your biggest challenge abroad?
My biggest challenge abroad was not actually while I was in Thailand but instead my biggest challenge was leaving. I was very sad to leave all my friends that I made abroad as well as anxious to return to UCSB and my old life. Reverse culture shock is real and it’s been hard for me to adjust back to my old life but I simply remind myself that I was fortunate to have such a liberating and powerful experience in Thailand.
- How have you changed as a result of your time abroad?
I have changed significantly since my time abroad. I have learned not to be complacent in life. If you’re unhappy you can change your life at any point which has given me motivation in my life to follow my passions but most importantly my happiness.
- What is your advice to prospective UCSB EAP students?
For all prospective students, don’t worry too much. Research a lot about your host country so you have some ideas about what you want to do while you’re there but don’t get caught up in over-planning. Let your abroad experience take you where it’s going to take you and take the leap of faith and be adventurous even when you’re unsure of yourself because it’s all worth it in the end.
Thank you Thailand!