**This post first appeared on https://peteriprawadventures.wordpress.com/
So it’s all over. I’m in Hong Kong right now and it’s been 2 months since the wild semester abroad ended. I have a mixture of emotions and I feel like I should be in an AA group or something like that. I feel the need to get these emotions and feelings I have associated with this experience out every few seconds. It’s addicting.
These are some of the questions I thought I would answer, featuring photos from a 4 day trip to Koh Samet with some friends from wayyyy back in August? September? I can’t remember.
10/10 trip would recommend as I got to drive a scooter for the first time!
Why study abroad in Bangkok?
The thought of studying abroad never crossed my mind until more and more of my friends did it and I saw how much it changed their lives. In addition, the thought of studying abroad in Bangkok definitely did not cross my mind when I was doing my research online. But the more research I did, the more confused I was.
Do I want to go somewhere where I can go experience an extreme culture shock? Do I want to go somewhere where the business school was in the top 10 in the world? Do I want to go to Europe or to Asia? How much would it cost me?
It was all too much. So I narrowed it down bit by bit. A big culture shock was a big priority, so I looked towards Asia. The teaching style, living environment, and transportation methods varied greatly compared to Western cultures. Then I narrowed it down by region and soon I had my top 3 destinations. I had Bangkok, Seoul, and Tokyo for my top 3 choices. I chose Seoul and Tokyo because I’ve heard many great stories from friends who have gone on an exchange abroad to those cities.
Bangkok on the other hand, was completely new to me. I have never heard of anyone going on an exchange there in my 4 years in university and it was just so intriguing. The city has been featured in movies and tv shows but I wanted to experience the culture firsthand. Plus, the low cost of living and how easy it was to travel to different countries was also very enticing. I have to say, I am glad I chose the unknown because studying abroad in Bangkok is the best thing that has ever happened to me.
What was an average day like in Bangkok?
I only had class on Wednesdays and Thursdays so on those days, I would be woken up with the clinking of spoons against bowls due to my roommates eating their cereal in the morning and due to their punctuality. I’ll do the normal routine of getting up, take a shower, eat breakfast, and then check the time. It takes around 20 minutes to school, and depending on how fast your motorbike guy is, it could add or take away a few minutes. I’d then put on my uniform (a white collared shirt with black pants and black shoes), and then head out the residence.
Right outside the apartment building are 5-6 guys with motorbikes ready to take you anywhere. I would hop on one and tell him “Khlong Toei”, and off we would go. Khlong Toei is the name of the train station that is about a 10 minute walk from the apartment. The ride is 2 minutes long and it’s a great way to wake yourself up early in the morning. Plus, it only costs $0.70 CAD so might as well right? After a 5 minute train ride I would literally be at the school because the station is almost underneath the school itself. The class sizes are 30-40 students large and some Thai students arrive 30 minutes to 2 hours late so there’s always a seat.
The classes are 3 hours long with a break in between so there’s time to grab a bite in between breaks. Between the 2 classes my friends and I would head to the school cafeteria to get lunch from one of the 7 vendors – but this is only the cafeteria for the business faculty. At Chualongkorn University, there’s actually a cafeteria for every faculty! Lunch would cost around $1.40 CAD so I can afford to eat more than one meal if I needed to. It’s tough finding a seat though, as it feels like there’s thousands of students all in one cafeteria.
After the afternoon class my friends and I would grab the train to go back to the station closest to our apartment. If the timing is right there’s a motorbike guy waiting for each one of us. However, it’s usually very busy so we often have to have 3 grown men on one tiny motorbike going home. I still prefer this over walking 10 minutes drenched in sweat. If you want to splurge though, you can shell out $1.00 CAD for a taxi ride home.
After a few hours of relaxing at home (skyping mostly), my friends and I would head downstairs to the garage (literally eating inside a large underground car garage) for dinner or a few other places down the street. Every night is a gathering of all our friends and we would eat dinner while we shared stories and laughter with each other.
Some of my best memories? (legit every day was a favourite memory)
There’s many, but one of the best is fitting 6 of us into one tiny tuk tuk not only once, but several times as well. These tuk tuks are really meant to fit 2-3 people so with 6 people it was quite the ride! Honestly I thought we were going to tip over and roll over every time we made a turn.
Another favourite memory of mine is the first time I met my 2 roommates. One is from Belgium and the other is from Germany. That first day I made us sit down and I googled “stereotypes of Belgians/Germans” to get a better understanding of their cultures. Some of those stereotypes were actually true and it was amusing to hear what Canadian stereotypes they had for me as well. Now I know Belgium is full of traffic, rain, and child kidnappers and Germans are very punctual (maybe a bit too much), organized, and hate talking with people and making new friends. (well maybe only my roommate was like that haha)
One night I saw these 2 old men playing checkers on the side of the street with old bottle caps. I thought I was pretty good so I challenged them to 2 games even though they spoke no English at all. I lost both games but getting to bond with locals was a real treat.
Honestly, every day was a favourite memory. Discovering and trying new things with my friends everyday made my whole exchange that much better. From riding motorbikes together extremely close together to riding a motorbike for the first time, every experience was something I will treasure forever.
What challenges did I face?
There were many. I had a long distance relationship during my exchange so I had to learn how to work it out with my girlfriend with different time zones among other things. The biggest challenge was not deciding if we should continue dating when I went on exchange or not, but it was how we can effectively communicate and how to do so without letting anyone feeling out of loop of each other’s lives.
Getting the paperwork sorted out was stressful as there were very little experience with having students going abroad to Bangkok from the University of Calgary. Cost was a small factor thanks to the scholarships and grants I received for going on a semester abroad. I was paying tuition from the University of Calgary so the main thing I had to budget for was food, rent and travels. I saved up a year before my exchange and with everything being so cheap in Bangkok I didn’t have to spend a lot extra than I would have in Calgary.
Going to a university with a new teaching style was something I had to get used to, but the teachers understood that some of us were exchange students so they were less strict on us. These challenges may seem like a big obstacle but in the end they are only small problems that can be solved with preparation and with an open mind.
How did I deal with cultural barriers?
During the first month I felt like a foreigner but for the next 4 months I lived and acted basically like a local. Hopping on the back of a random person with a motorbike was nothing new, and I learned how to bargain with tuk tuk drivers to get the best deals. I learned what foods were the best to eat and which markets were the best for shopping.
Culture barriers were plentiful in Bangkok, with a new language and a new way of living right from day one. It’s all about being open-minded and learning and sharing with people around you. Having friends going through the same experience helped a lot too, as I never even considered riding on the back of a random motorbike until my friend tried it out one day.
Crossing cultural barriers is all about taking baby steps. Try a new thing one day at a time, and don’t rush yourself and always be open-minded. Nothing will go the way you think but that’s the beauty of experiencing new cultures.
Is it worth it to study abroad?
You have the key to open the door to experience a new world outside of what you’ve always known and what you’re accustomed to. The question is, do you want to take that extra step and go outside?
Life is all about growth. Studying abroad is one of the best experiences to let yourself grow as a person. Don’t let little obstacles prevent you from studying abroad. Cost isn’t a factor if you work hard, save up, and budget well. There’s always advisers to help you with the whole process from start to finish. There’s always a way to get the credits you need transferred. It’s hard to think how my life would be if I didn’t take the chance and studied abroad.
And thank you to the people I met and became friends with on my exchange. You’ve made answering the question “How was your exchange?” difficult to answer because I have a million thoughts and things I want to say all at once but it’s hard to explain the feelings and experiences I went through on my exchange. You are the reason that these 5 months of my life are the ones I will remember forever.