Alicia is from Colorado, where she studied Psychology. She studied abroad with World Endeavors at Mahidol University in Thailand.
Why did you choose to study abroad through World Endeavors?
The staff at World Endeavors was so personable and diligent in answering my questions. I think I was probably the most high-maintenance student they’ve ever had. When one person couldn’t find the answers to my questions, she had her boss at World Endeavors personally call me to describe Mahidol University International College, where I was planning to study. The cost of my program was comparable or a little more than other programs I looked into, but the friendly and personal contact I had with World Endeavors outweighed the slight difference in price.
Where did you live while you were in Thailand?
I lived in a kind of combination dorm-hostel specifically for students in my college, which was about a 30-minute walk from the school campus, or 5 minutes by motorcycle taxi. Before I arrived in Salaya, I was a little bit concerned about living in such close quarters and sharing a room with another student, because I was 25 years old and it had been quite a long time since I had not had my own space to sleep in. Though at times it was challenging living in a house with 25 unique people, it was one of the best parts of my experience. I met awesome students from a bunch of different countries, many of which I still keep in contact with. I had to make efforts to spend time by myself, as that is how I rejuvenate, and that challenge stretched me in ways I’m so glad I was able to be stretched. Anytime I do something I fear I can’t, my confidence and knowledge of myself grows exponentially, and my living situation allowed me to make such good friends and let people accept me when I wasn’t necessarily at my best.
What was a typical day like?
Around 7.30am I would don my school uniform and take a motorcycle taxi to school. Depending on how many classes I had that day, I would finish in the afternoon, and either do schoolwork by the pool near my house, practicing my Thai with the swimming instructors, ride my bike across the canal through rural Thai neighborhoods, or ride the bus into Bangkok to explore with friends that I met there. There were so many places to explore – the enormous Buddha park near the college, the bicycle shop, bars and of course street food. Ohhhh… I miss the food so much.
What was your favorite part about your host university?
I loved the university buildings – so different from home! The buildings were connected by open walkways, railings the only thing keeping you from the fresh air. No window panes, no hyper-hygienic and stuffy interiors. The campus is gorgeous – the international college is in a corner of the sprawling Mahidol University campus, with numerous canteens, canals, and of course the Friday Market, selling food, clothing and all sorts of other things. I also really liked the diversity in my professors – I had one British prof, one American prof, one Finnish prof, and one Thai prof. I learned a lot in school, though honestly I expected to learn far more outside of the university, and the combination was effective.
What did you do in your free time?
Many of the students I lived with ventured into Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia, and had terrific experiences. Really, it’s unbelievably affordable to travel extensively. I chose to keep my travels inside Thailand because there is just so much to explore there. I felt so blessed – I got to go south, east, north and west, experiencing remote islands in the off-season and fog-covered limestone cliffs towering over my bicycle or motorbike. During the week, mostly I stayed in the Bangkok vicinity, eating with friends, exploring clubs and street vendors in Bangkok, and riding my bicycle through the streets.
What was the highlight of your study abroad experience?
My time in Thailand did a number on my fears. Every day in a foreign place you have to wake up and face something insanely unfamiliar. I felt like my soul had been thirsting for this utter unfamiliarity, though it was terrifying at times. My relationship with fear evolved so positively in Thailand, and it carried over into my return home. I feel like it revitalized my life a bit, inspired my confidence. I have to say that what I remember, as much as the delicious colors and flavors of Thailand, are the people I crossed paths with – the other students who became such good friends, and the local Thais who showed me such kindness beyond language barriers. And of course the food. I still dream of the food.
What advice would you give to someone going to Thailand?
Tip – Thailand does not run on punctual North American time. It’s a relaxed place. Learn some Thai, if you are so inclined – I gave taxi drivers thrills and chills with my willingness to have conversations in my crappy Thai and their limited English – what fun. It came in so handy, really. One time, I was meeting a friend at the airport, which was not close to Salaya by any means (about an hour away), and halfway there I realized I didn’t have enough baht for my cab ride. Because I had been carrying on with the taxi driver in such a friendly way, he was willing to wait outside the airport while I went inside to an ATM. Unheard of. One more plug for learning the language. (I gave him a huge tip, by the way.)
What was a typical meal? What were some favorite foods?
I don’t think there are words for just how delicious the food in Thailand is, but there is another word that comes to mind – CHEAP. I gained some weight while I was there (we called it the ‘Bangkok Belly’) because food was so plentiful and affordable, and I loved every moment of it. Thailand is the chief exporter of rice in the world, and rice is served with everything. Curries, so many curries… I could list all these dishes but all I need to say is that it was phenomenal.
What surprised you about Thailand?
How easy it felt to get around. I didn’t realize what a tourist destination Thailand is until I got there, and the farangs (foreigners) before me paved the way for pretty easy traveling. Even without any knowledge of the Thai language, it felt safe and easy to get around the country.
What’s one of your most memorable travel stories?
My third weekend in Thailand, I rode the city bus into Bangkok with two other farang students to check out the Grand Palace and Chinatown. I sat next to an old man, and though the ride was only about 40 minutes, he pulled out two photo albums and showed me pictures of what looked like his entire family at a wedding. I happened to have a few photos of my family in my purse that I pulled out too. I knew almost no Thai then, and he knew no English, but he still wanted to share himself with me, a farang on the bus. All we could do was smile. I felt like our communication transcended the gap in spoken words. It was memorable. There are so many stories, but I’ll just leave it at that.
What are you doing now? How do you think your time abroad impacted your future plans or general outlook?
I am in my final year at my home college, getting ready to graduate in April. I have plans for travel and graduate school in the near future and I feel that my time in Thailand contributed to some of my confidence. My time in Thailand was challenging in a variety of ways, but one of the most strength-building things I’ve done, and I look back with such warmth on that country. I expect I’ll return there sometime soon to practice my Thai with skeptical taxi drivers once more!