On January until May of 2019, I spent my 6th semester of university abroad in Thailand for an exchange program. It was not a decision I made overnight and there were a lot to prepare, but after completing the program I do not regret ever taking that chance.
Upon arrival, one thing I immediately noticed about Thailand was the heat. I thought Surabaya was already hot, but Bangkok was a whole nother level of hot. Like, I was sweating the second I went outdoor and 10 minutes of walking my back was drenched in sweat already. It was that hot.
And another challenge I faced was the language barrier. Most of the people in Bangkok couldn’t speak English so either we communicated through body language or I used google translate to get my point across. This was particularly helpful whenever I needed to find a direction or buy food. Of course, I learned basic Thai and at least gradually I managed to know how to say numbers and common sentences in Thai. For example:
“Kho thot na ka, ao khao phat neng na ka.” Excuse me, I would like to buy one fried rice, please.
“Ki baht na ka?/Tao rai ka?” How many baht?/How much?
But overall, I really enjoyed the time I spent exploring with my friends. We visited many places in Thailand, from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi, Pattaya in the south and Chiang Mai in the north. Temples are ones of the main attractions in Thailand and I think the temples there had mesmerizing architecture looked grand from afar. Bangkok street markets were a blessing because we could get good stuff for cheap price — especially if you are brave enough to bargain!
Most importantly, since I came to Thailand for education purpose, I gotta say that I enjoyed the teaching style of Thai lecturers. The university I was attending had international program for chemical engineering so I could understand what the lecturers explained in class. Thai lecturers always explained the concept entirely and were very open for discussion in class. Meanwhile, Indonesian lecturers are usually the kind who never explains everything in class so they encourage students to deepen the topics personally at home. Of course, both types of teaching style have their own pros and cons, nevertheless I’m grateful I was exposed to both types so I felt like I didn’t want to take anything for granted.
The main challenge was working with Thai students during projects and laboratory sessions. I was glad I had amazing group mates who really helped me a lot during the process. However, I did have troubles socializing with the kids who were not part of my project groups or lab groups. I noticed that some Thai students were uncomfortable with speaking English so they would rather not communicate with us international students. They were friendly and we always exchanged greetings whenever we ran to each other on campus, but I wish they had included us on more events on their university. I had to take a lot of initiative in terms of making friends with Thai students. At some point I felt extremely sad, because I often heard my senior’s student exchange experience years before and he seemed to have many local friends. He said that the local students often invited him for eating out together and group study. They also brought him to campus events and I admit I had felt jealous because I didn’t receive the same treatment from my classmates. In the end, I decided to be brave, take the initiative and ask them for one last hang out before I went back and they agreed. They chose the place and time and I was happy when I was able to have dinner with them on my last night in Bangkok. I didn’t regret it and it became one of the memories I want to cherish.
One thing I gained from this journey is a realization that I could do so much more than I thought. In my hometown, I could just drive to campus. I would never have troubles communicating with people to buy food or ask for direction. I would know most of the people in campus including the lecturers. But in Thailand, because I didn’t have my own vehicle, I heavily relied on the public transportation such as buses, MRT and BTS to get to the place I wanted. I did all the chores by myself. I encouraged myself to always think on my two feet — be brave enough to ask for directions to strangers and try food I had never eaten before (I was a picky eater haha). I gained confidence and learned about being independent. By the end of my time in Thailand, I was able to get to many places by myself using public transportation (and Google Maps of course). At that moment I also realized how much I enjoyed being by myself — not in a miserable way but in a way that I could do anything that pleased me without having to force other people to like the same thing as I did.
Five months journey was not a short one. I’m thankful for the experience — both good things and bad things that had happened made me a better person. I honestly love Bangkok so much and I had many good memories I want to treasure forever. Hopefully, I can go back again one day.