Isabel - Chulalongkorn University

B. Business Management / Arts
Semester 1, 2015

Academic experience

University at Chula was an incredible experience; it is the King's University, therefore, it has a lot of prestige and when wearing the uniform (yes, uniform!) around the city you can expect a lot of respect from street vendors and passersby. The campus is huge, and right in the centre of Bangkok which allows for a truly authentic Bangkok lifestyle! While on exchange, I was required to take 5 courses to complete the equivalent of a full-time semester at UQ. Finding courses that will credit back home is always going to be a bit of a process but I managed to find 4 subjects in the international business school, plus Chula allows exchange students to take one course outside of the faculty they are enrolled in. My classes were all in English and generally had about three-quarters Thai students. Although there were a few international teachers, most of the lecturers were Thai, with varying levels of English. The subjects ranged in difficulty, some classes requiring a considerable amount of time (equivalent to UQ) while others had a lot of guest lecturers and field trips! Each course had one 3 hour lecture per week, which meant that I was able to have all of my classes Tuesday-Thursday, therefore each week I had a 4 day weekend (very handy for travelling!) Assessment tended to be a mid-term exam, a group assignment and a final exam. The semester began right after New Years, so exams were finished by the end of April, allowing 3 months before university commenced back in Australia.

Personal experience

Petting an elephant in Thailand
Petting an elephant in Thailand

There are so many benefits to basing yourself in Bangkok, it is truly a hub for people from all over the world. The city is very developed compared to the rest of the country and the bordering countries, so it is a great spot to live and travel from. Each time I did a trip, I found myself relieved to be leaving the chaotic crazy of Bangkok, and then so excited to be back on my return! Due to my relaxed class timetable, I went exploring every weekend. All other exchange students were in the same position in that we all wanted to see as much of Asia as possible, so it was never difficult to get a group together and go adventuring! Thailand alone has so much to offer, from cycling through the ruins of century-old temple kingdoms to swimming with fish in turquoise waterfalls in the national parks, to watching the fire-twirlers while drinking from a bucket on island beaches, to playing with elephants in the rivers. From Bangkok, it was also super easy to get cheap flights/trains/buses to nearby countries, so I did trips to Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, Malaysia and Borneo- each offering copious opportunities for cheap, action-packed excursions. The locals of these beautiful countries are so excited to talk with travellers and share their varying history, food and cultures. I had never witnessed poverty before, and I think one of the main things I will take away from my exchange experience is the appreciation for those who have suffered through heart-breaking realities. I learned so much about things we are not taught at school, such as the genocide in Cambodia, the bombs dropped throughout Laos in the Indochina War, the Burmese struggling for refuge and the chaotic history of the Malaysian melting-pot population.

Accommodation

I lived in two different accommodations during my stay in Bangkok, both with different pros and cons. Initially, I stayed in a shared room in a 2 bedroom apartment in Nonsi Residence, which was recommended by Chula. Nonsi is a great place for a party, with most of the international students taking up residence there. It has a pool and a little restaurant on site but is a short taxi-ride away from the uni and the city centre. I shared the apartment with an American girl and 2 German girls and made great friends with other international students from France, Japan, Barbados and Canada. When my roommate decided to return home, I moved to a different accommodation, iSanook hotel, which I found independently of the university. It was an awesome place, just a 5-minute walk from Chula and right in the city centre. I shared a studio room with a German girl and we each just paid $35 per week, to live in a truly authentic Bangkok street with many local restaurants and street stalls. The hotel had a study room, pool, communal kitchen, gym and rooftop jacuzzi; and was home to many English teachers and interns from all over the world including The Nederlands and Finland. I also had some friends who lived at CUI House, which was right next to the university but very expensive and difficult to meet people due to the private rooms and lack of social areas. When choosing where to live in Bangkok, I recommend just signing a one month contract and then making an assessment of whether you'd like to stay there.

Budget

Doing an exchange in Asia is incredibly cheap compared to going to Europe. In an attempt to build relationships with Asia, the Australian government gives a $1000 travel grant to exchange students going anywhere in Asia. I chose to take the OHS Help Loan and along with Centrelink, I did not need any savings to go on exchange. Living and travelling in Asia is significantly cheaper than living in Brisbane, especially if you eat local food and take local transport! Depending on how fancy a room you want, you can expect to pay between $70-$150 per week for rent (half that if you're willing to share a room), local meals are about $2-$4 (half that if you eat at the uni cafeteria), the subway is $1 and motorbike taxis are ~$3. The budget for travelling depends on how comfortable you like to be, but generally, overnight buses cost ~$15 and hostels are ~$5 per night.

Professional development and employability

An exchange experience is so valuable to an individual's development in many different magnitudes. To go on an adventure like this alone, one must be open to meeting different types of people, accepting unforeseen events and looking for a solution and managing new occurrences with a positive attitude. These skills are tested and developed when thrown into a new environment in a country of different norms, languages and values, and it is essentially a case of sink or swim. From an employability perspective, these types of skills are highly beneficial and can make for a capable and resilient employee. As for academic development, experiencing different forms of learning and assessment in a new environment allows for a student to look at teachings in a new light and question things in a way they may not have done before, in turn broadening their thought process.

Highlight

One of the greatest experiences I had during my Thailand exchange was the Thai New Year water festival, Songkran. Over a week in April, there is a tradition of splashing water on each other, to represent the cleansing of sins and bad luck in order for the new year to come. The entire country comes alive with buckets of water, hoses and water pistols, and there is not a dry person to be seen! I spent the celebration in the old town of Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand, which was an ideal location due to the old town being surrounded by a river moat. Trucks full of locals drove around the moat with giant buckets of icy water being splashed on those out celebrating the New year, while young children scooped buckets of river water from the moat and threw them over those walking through. The festival was such an amazing experience to have witnessed, as any cultural or language barriers between locals and foreigners were completely eradicated by the sheer excitement of the Thai elders throwing a bucket of iced water on a tourist or the cheeky local children squirting you with their giant water guns!

Top tips

UQ Abroad is a rare opportunity and one that should be taken advantage of by every individual. Exchange programs have something for everybody, whether you're a socialite or a history buff or a thrill-seeker, there's a country waiting for you to explore. It is an occasion for you to learn and try new things and meet inspiring people. It can be as expensive or as action-packed as you want it to be, but it will always be a beneficial experience.
I will be recommending UQ Abroad to every student I encounter!

 

Isabel - Chulalongkorn University