Simone L., Thailand, – Interdisciplinary Thai Studies (Global Studies)

ACADEMICS

  1. What types of classes did you take abroad and how did they compare to UCSB? I took three courses while at Thammasat. For the first week of my program I learned the basics of Thai language. Over the next five weeks of my program, I learned about Thai Buddhism and Thai Society and Culture. With both of these courses we embarked on many field trips and even an overnight trip. I truly believe the best way to learn is with a hands-on approach so being able to see historic sites and participate in Thai cultural practices really allowed me to experience the culture in a more insightful way. The teaching style of my Thai professors was also different than my professors here at UCSB. It is a much slower pace of teaching which allowed us to fully understand the concepts and allowed us to ask as many questions as necessary for clarification to further that understanding.
  2. What was your favorite class abroad? My favorite course abroad was the Thai Buddhism course. My Ajarn (professor) also worked for the World Buddhist Institute in Thailand and was more than qualified in his teachings. I learned a lot about a religion that I had always been interested in and how it advanced into the religion it is today. I took a lot of the teachings from this course and applied them into my life now. We also went on a wonderful overnight trip where we observed Buddhism in society and even gave food to a Thai monk for his monastery. This course is a course that I would not have been able to take at UCSB and I learned most by doing and through practice which is an experience I feel I only could have gotten by being abroad.
  3. Did you intern, volunteer, or conduct fieldwork or research abroad?  If so, tell us about your experience. Due to the shortness of my program I did not have time to volunteer or complete an internship but I do know that Bangkok has so many opportunities for students who are able to take part in them.

HOST INSTITUTION

  1. How would you describe your host institution? Thammasat University is a highly respected and prestigious university in Bangkok. When I told Thai people that I was studying there they were very impressed and treated me more as a local Thai rather than a tourist. Thammasat is like most universities and is located right next to the river which was a nice spot to sit by and enjoy the city around me. So many of the students there were very helpful if I was lost trying to find a building and all the Thai students were very nice.
  2. Are there student clubs/organizations that UC students can join?
    Because I was there in the summer term I wasn’t aware of any programs for UC students. My small program was full of all UC students and one other American student so through them I was able to make friends and build connections.

HOUSING

  1. Describe your housing situation. I had a double in Amarin Mansion. Amarin Mansion was very nice and felt like a hotel. The ladies who worked the front desk were some of the nicest people I met in Thailand and they were always willing to help us with whatever we needed and also gave great advice of local places to go do on the weekends or during our free time. Another thing I loved about Amarin was the rooftop. I found myself going up there very regularly whether it be to eat dinner or just sit at the tables to enjoy the view or write in my journal. This rooftop was one of my favorite spots in all of Thailand and I miss the views more than anything.

FOOD

  1. Where did you eat most of your meals? I ate a lot of street food in Bangkok because they were the cheapest options, the best tasting, and also the most convenient. There were a few street food options near Amarin Mansion, as well as the restaurant at Amarin which had really good food. I ate at least one meal a day at Amarin because of its convenience and it was super tasty. At school I enjoyed going to one place by the river, and another near Khao San Road. Whenever I wanted a small snack I would go to the 7/11 near Amarin. 7/11’s are so common and can be found on almost every street. I really enjoyed the grilled cheeses there which the clerk would warm up for me and put in a little package. The 7/11’s also have a lot of chips or even good muffins. I would say most of my meals were from street food vendors or small snacks from 7/11, I hardly got food from actual sit down restaurants because they were more pricey.
  1. How much was an average meal?  Do you have any budgeting tips for future students? An average street food meal would be about 50 baht per dish and the portions are a really good size. I would tell future students to budget $5 (US Dollars) a day for all food. Food is so cheap and I would eat on average two-three meals a day and spend about $5.
  2. Would it be difficult for vegetarians/vegans and others with strict dietary restrictions to find meals? I don’t eat meat so a lot of dishes I would get with tofu or tell them “no meat.” I didn’t have any issues ordering food and was able to find options everywhere I went. Other than street food vendors I really enjoyed going to vegan/vegetarian restaurants in Bangkok. There were two vegan restaurants that I enjoyed the most and would go there regularly. One issue that is hard is ordering coffee with milk alternatives. I’m lactose intolerant so finding coffee places with milk-alternatives was very tricky. I really enjoy coffee so I just took lactose pills before getting coffee and it helped relieve the discomfort enough to get me through the day. I would suggest buying milk alternatives from 7/11 and asking for no milk with your coffee and add it after it’s made.
  3. Describe your most memorable dining experience abroad. My most memorable dining experience would be eating at a street food spot by the ferry dock. I found it calming to just enjoy a meal by myself there most days. Another memorable meal was probably the farewell dinner put on by Thanet, the UCEAP Thammasat Advisor. It was so lovely. That meal was extra special because our whole class was able to go and enjoy an expensive meal at a nice hotel in downtown Bangkok. Being able to share a meal with all the people in my program who made my experience so wonderful was such a nice way to end my term abroad.
  4. What local food or drink do you miss most now that you are back? Now that I no longer have the convenience of all the wonderful food and drinks I tried in Thailand, the one I probably miss most is “Cocoa.” Cocoa was basically just chocolate milk with ice and sometimes some Oreo cookie pieces. I got Cocoa at any drink shop I came across and it was always so yummy. A food item I also miss regularly are the 7/11 grilled cheeses. They are so simple yet so comforting and convenient. These are two things that I can’t wait to have again when I go back to Bangkok.

HOST CITY

  1. Describe your host city. Bangkok is a busy city full of people and beautiful temples. Growing up in a big city I didn’t feel as overwhelmed with the fast-paced environment around me. Bangkok has so many things to do at any time, from parks to temples to clubs to malls and movie theaters, you can never get bored in this city. Bangkok is incredibly wonderful and a city that never sleeps.
  2. Was it easy to get around? I walked a lot during my time in Bangkok. To get to school I would walk to the ferry and take the ferry across the river and it would drop me off right next to Thammasat. I took cabs every so often to get to farther places. Tuk-Tuks are also a fun way to get around but they do charge a bit more than a taxi would. I would say it’s very easy to get around in Bangkok because there are all kinds of modes of transportation.
  1. Did you feel safe in your host city? Do you have any safety tips for future students? I felt more safe being in Bangkok than I feel while being in Isla Vista. I never once felt uncomfortable in my surroundings. I would always recommend being with a friend especially in places that you haven’t been to. No matter where you go it is always best to check your surroundings but I will say that Bangkok is a safe and busy city.
  2. What were some interesting/fun things that you did in your host city? I tried to take advantage of all the things I can do while I could. I went to the Grand Palace, a lot of different temples, the reclining Buddha Temple being my favorite, as well as parks, night markets, weekend markets, malls, movie theaters, and of course tourist hot spots. I was never bored while in Bangkok and there truly is somewhere for everyone.

HOST CULTURE

  1. Describe any cultural differences you experienced while abroad. As expected, there were a lot of cultural differences between the US and Thailand. One thing that is prominent is that no matter how long you are there for, you will always be thought of as a tourist and be targeted by people selling tourist packages or being up-charged for goods and cab rides. Another difference is by going to temples. Going into temples as a woman you must have your shoulders and knees covered which is most respectful to Thai Buddhism. I would say the biggest difference is just the language barrier but it is not a huge problem I faced. A lot of Thai people speak basic English and can comprehend in settings like ordering food or buying products at a market. Google Translate is a good tool to have in case you’re unclear if someone understands you fully.
  2. How did you handle culture shock? The culture shock was a small adjustment but not something that I felt I couldn’t handle. After about a week of living in Bangkok I was a lot more used to how things were done and I felt that I adjusted quickly. Whenever I felt homesick I would just watch Netflix in bed. Thai Netflix is so much better than US Netflix because they have so many more movies and shows. I found it therapeutic to watch movies that remind me of home and just relax for a little bit. I also talked to my family whenever I could which made me feel better.
  3. What is your favorite aspect of your host culture? I think my favorite aspect of Thai culture is Thai Buddhism. I think that because most people are Buddhist they truly embody what it means to be a Buddhist in society. Everyone is kind and helpful, not one person was mean to me or rude because I did not fit in to their society. Also seeing how they practice Buddhist celebrations and traditions was such an insightful experience and really added to my time in Thailand. Learning about Buddhism through people I talked to and from what I learned in class really helped me understand the religion and take some of its practices and influenced me to take some of their beliefs and apply them to my life.

TRAVEL

  1. Tell us your favorite travel story from your time abroad. Thailand is such a beautiful country no matter where you go throughout it. My favorite place by far was Pai, nestled between the mountains of northern Thailand. Pai is a small town about two and a half hours outside of Chiang Mai by bus. Upon arrival in Pai I immediately felt the love of this small town. I saw the most beautiful Buddha statue and sat and reflected while looking out onto the view from up where it sat. After the Big Buddha I went to see waterfalls and the Bamboo Bridge. The Walking Street in Pai is such a nice place for food and shopping. The people who live in Pai are different than the busy people in Bangkok but they are so calm and welcoming. I had such a great experience in Pai, it is a place that will always have a special place in my heart.

REFLECTION

  1. What was your biggest fear about studying abroad that turned out to be no big deal? My biggest fear about studying abroad was definitely the fear of being homesick. Since Thailand is 15 hours ahead of the time in California, I thought that it would be hard to talk to my family since it was a day and night difference. Once I was there and able to settle in to the time change I found myself using mornings and late evenings to talk to my family and check in with them. It wasn’t the most convenient at times to find time that worked for us to talk everyday but we managed and I talked to friends and family quite often.
  1. What was your biggest challenge abroad? My biggest challenge was probably budgeting. I am not the best at budgets so I sometimes was a bit overwhelmed with how much I thought I was spending. One Thai Baht is equivalent to three US cents so the cost of living in Thailand is much cheaper. I felt like I was spending so much money on food or items but after I took a step back and did the conversion of what I was spending, I realized that I wasn’t spending that much. I would recommend for someone going abroad to have a money conversion app to help out when you’re uneasy about what you’re spending.
  2. How have you changed as a result of your time abroad? I have definitely changed as a result of my time abroad. Because of what I learned about Thai Buddhist thoughts and ideologies I have tried to incorporate some of those ideals in my life to live a more fulfilling and selfless life, free from suffering and desires. The way I lead my life is different as well. One thing I noticed about the Thai is that no matter how much or how little a person had, they seemed to be content and thankful which I think is due to the teachings regarding suffering in Buddhist thought. After noticing this I have tried to live my life thankful for everything I have and not craving or desiring more. Living among people who lead their life this way was truly eye-opening and I’m happy that I was able to witness this and learn from the society around me.
  3. What is your advice to prospective UCSB EAP students? Go for as long as you can! I wish I would have stayed longer than just the Summer term. Don’t be nervous about feeling like you would be missing something here at UCSB, because that will always be here when you come back but going abroad is an experience you will never forget. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I think every student should take advantage of.

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