Ryann M., Thailand- Interdisciplinary Thai Studies, Thammasat University (Global Studies)

ACADEMICS

What types of classes did you take abroad and how did they compare to UCSB?

During my time abroad everyone in my program took the same three classes: A condensed Thai Language course for the first week, then for the rest of the time Thai Buddhism and Thai Society and Culture.  In comparison to UCSB the class sizes were WAY smaller, as my program was only 10 people. This allowed me to develop relationships with my professors and have more in-depth conversations.  In addition, a lot of the learning was done through field trips and non-traditional classroom experiences which I really enjoyed.

What was your favorite class abroad? 

Thai Society and Culture was my favorite class because of the professor and the field trips.  Since our class was so small the students were able to direct the conversations towards topics we were genuinely interested in.  The professor was very casual and honest with us about Thai Society, allowing me to gain far more knowledge than a traditional classroom setting where sometimes the harsh reality is sugar-coated.

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We took trips to the city of ruins, countless temples and we even got to work on a rice farm and cook a traditional meal in a rural area.  That experience was so memorable because we got to interact with locals while putting ourselves in their shoes as they taught us how they live their lives in rural Thailand–how a majority of Thais do.

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

I didn’t have time to get an internship or volunteer due to our packed and constantly varying schedule, however I was able to casually further my own personal research.  Before departure I worked on a Research Project about the Sex Work Industry in Thailand, so while I was abroad I was constantly asking people I met about the realities of the industry.  I gained a lot of insight that will help me when I return to my research.

HOST INSTITUTION

How would you describe your host institution?

Thammasat is a university just like UCSB! Since it was summer there weren’t too many students on campus, however it still resembled the school hustle & bustle that we have here.  All the classrooms were nice and the canteen (cafeteria) was delicious.

Are there student clubs/organizations that UC students can join?
I would always see different clubs meeting, or dance teams practicing, however I didn’t look into joining any because of  my limited time and the language barrier.

HOUSING

Describe your housing situation.

I chose to live in Amarin Mansion, in a single room.  My room didn’t have a kitchen, however a lot of Thai apartments don’t because street food is the norm. Since Amarin doubles as a hotel, the amenities were nice and clean.  I ate at the restaurant downstairs almost everyday to the point that they knew my order and dietary restrictions without me telling them each time.  Becoming friends with the Amarin employees I think made my experience immensely better as they took on the role of advising us about our activities and really made me feel at home.  

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FOOD

Where did you eat most of your meals?

As I said above, I ate a lot of meals at the Amarin restaurant.  When I wasn’t eating there however, I would eat street food or at restaurants.  I definitely became a regular at a street food stall near my apartment, where they would also know my order without me saying it, which was really sweet.  There’s another vegetarian/vegan restaurant (May-KaiDee)  I would eat at probably twice a week because it was AMAZING.

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How much was an average meal?  Do you have any budgeting tips for future students?

All the meals at Amarin were 50 baht ($1.50), typical street food is under 100 baht ($3), and at casual restaurants typically 50-200 baht ($1.50-$6) for a meal.  I gave myself a budget of how much I could afford to spend each day, however I usually ended up spending way less.

Would it be difficult for vegetarians/vegans and others with strict dietary restrictions to find meals?

NO. I AM VEGAN AND STAYED VEGAN THROUGHOUT MY WHOLE TIME ABROAD.  I write this in caps because I think Thailand is one of the most vegan friendly places for food.  I had a screenshot of how to say, “no meat, no egg” and would simply show the person I was ordering with that.  Also, if you learn the word for “vegetarian” then usually the restaurants would give me/have a separate vegetarian menu. If you have any questions about this please reach out to me and I’ll share my tricks and tips more with you, as well as the best vegetarian/vegan spots!

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Describe your most memorable dining experience abroad.

My most memorable dining experience was in Bangkok.  When my boyfriend came to visit we went to a SkyBar that was on the 42nd floor of a hotel and had dinner.  There was a 360 view of all of Bangkok and it was breathtaking, not to mention delicious. This is a must-do while in Bangkok, even if you just go to check out the views and don’t buy anything, but it’s also a special treat you should give yourself!

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

Thai food has always been my favorite, so I make myself a lot of pad-thai and curry.  The one dish I miss the most is the Papaya Salad from May KaiDee, my favorite restaurant. I also really miss the curry stir-fry from Amarin (pictured above), but I think I miss ordering from Pow (Amarin Lobby & Restaurant employee who I became friends with) and having her deliver it to my room even more.

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HOST CITY

Describe your host city.

Bangkok is a huge, busy city.  I typically do not like big cities, but I fell in LOVE with the people, sights, and culture of Bangkok.  Even though it’s so fast-paced and a large business capital, the people I interacted with didn’t conform to that lifestyle and kept to the reputation Thailand has as the land of smiles.  There’s so much to do, so much to see, and even more to eat.

Was it easy to get around?

Once I got the hang of it, yes.  I walked a lot, took taxis (with the help of google maps and translate), the ferry and used Grab (their version of Uber).  Since I always had access to google maps and had the Amarin Mansion address written down with me at all times, I could really get anywhere and home from anywhere easily.

Did you feel safe in your host city? Do you have any safety tips for future students?

Yes, weirdly enough I felt more safe in Bangkok than I do in Isla Vista.  Because the government regulates Buddhism as their main religion, most people are raised with strong Buddhists morals, which consist of doing no harm.  My advice towards safety would be not to worry about it too much, however be smart and cautious.  The biggest thing to look out for is pick-pocketers and taxi drivers trying to rip you off.

What were some interesting/fun things that you did in your host city?

Wat Pho: My favorite temple in Bangkok! The grounds are beautiful and it’s right down the street from Thammasat.

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Chatuchuk weekend market: This is a giant outdoor market, picture a flea market, that is open on the weekends in Bangkok.  There’s over 400 stalls and it’s almost impossible to not get lost, or buy 12 things every time (which is fine because everything it so cheap you won’t even go over budget!) 

Khao San Road: Known as the backpackers road, Khao San is a street closed to traffic at night that is lined with bars, street food, restaurants and souvenir shops.  The street is basically a giant block party every night, and is such a fun place to go (especially if you want to meet other travelers from around the world!).

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Night markets: Bangkok has an endless amount of night markets, similar to the open-air market that Chatuchuk is.  They’re fun to go explore on any casual night, you can find almost anything you need at these markets! My favorite one I went to was called Ratchada.

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HOST CULTURE 

Describe any cultural differences you experienced while abroad.

 Thai lifestyle is a lot different than American, however take these differences and appreciate them during your time abroad.  The biggest difference to me were the bathrooms (the toilet paper is typically outside of the stall, and a lot of toilets are ‘squatters’), the sanitation (both on the streets and in a lot of food places, though I still never got sick!) and the language (I expected more people would speak English, than actually did).

How did you handle culture shock?

I handled the culture shock by not thinking about it as a bad thing.  Thailand has such a different culture than the U.S. and it’s such a special opportunity to experience this as a temporary-local.  I developed relationships with actual locals, which helped me feel a lot more at home and adjust easier.  I also found it interesting to research and learn from the things that were giving me culture shock. 

What is your favorite aspect of your host culture?

Thai people.  I found that even though I couldn’t talk to most of the people, they were always sharing a smile and sharing genuine experiences with me.  It was hard to come back to the U.S. where so many people are focused on themselves and just getting through the day, whereas the Thai people have such a strong inclination of hospitality.

TRAVEL 

Tell us your favorite travel story from your time abroad.

The first weekend after we arrived, me and the two other UCSB students who were in my program (and conveniently my friends from before) decided to take a trip to Pai.  Another student from our program joined us, who even though we had just met made the experience so much better, and helped us feel safer having a male with us for our first experience traveling through Southeast Asia.  

To get to Pai you have to fly to Chang Mai, then take a 3-hour bus up the curviest road you’ve ever seen.  We didn’t plan our trip too precisely because it was our first weekend and we just wanted to explore.  Our flight ended up arriving late and only 30 minutes before the last bus left for the night.  Thinking the bus was at the airport, we started frantically trying to figure out how to get on it.  We found out the bus station was across town, so we hopped in a taxi.  5 minutes before the bus was supposed to leave we were at a stand still in traffic, typical Thailand, and there was a monsoon.  The four of us got out of the taxi and ran a few blocks through the rain to buy the last tickets on the bus, which turned out to be a 9-person van.

Pai is and was a dream.  We spent our only full day there going to waterfalls, bamboo bridges, getting welcomed into family farms and homes, and meeting fellow travelers.  My day in Pai was one of the best, most memorable days of my life.

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REFLECTION 

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

My biggest fear was safety and how I would get myself around constantly without getting lost.  It ended up being no big deal, as I explained earlier, that I felt SO safe in Bangkok and getting around was easy after I got the hang of it.

What was your biggest challenge abroad?

My biggest challenge was definitely dealing with the feeling of being so far away from my loved ones.  Though I would still say that it was a challenge that affected my experience, I’m so proud of myself for being independent and going on this amazing adventure.

How have you changed as a result of your time abroad?

I had a lot of time to be by myself and think, since I had my own apartment and our program was only 10 people.  I think that changed me as it helped me remember who I am and what’s important to me.  My last weekend abroad, I also went on a solo trip to Wonderland Healing Center on Koh-Pha-ngan.  My experience there was unlike any other and definitely changed me as a person through the practice of yoga, meditation, healing workshops, and the incredible people I met there.

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What is your advice to prospective UCSB EAP students?

My advice is to go outside of your comfort zone and go for it.  Embrace and appreciate the different cultures of the world.


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