Australia-Thailand Intstitute

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Chris Nicols—Chulalongkorn University

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My name is Chris Nichols, I am 21 years old and earlier this year I completed a semester long exchange to Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand. I am an Industrial Design student at The RMIT University and I am currently in my third year of study. Three other students and I transferred from Industrial Design department at The RMIT to the department at Chulalongkorn University; we were the first exchange students to be part of the Thai program.

Bangkok represented the opportunity to start fresh; it was a gamble at life. The decision to accept a scholarship to Chulalongkorn ended up to be one of the best decisions I have ever made. What was so impacting about the half year I spent in Bangkok were the friendships I made, the knowledge I gained and how it broadened my perspective far beyond anything I could have imagined. The location gave me the opportunity to experience the vast diversity and beauty of Thailand and the surrounding Southeast Asian nations. The experience taught me the significance of being aware in the present moment and to appreciate it to its full extent. As a hopeful industrial designer, it is important to have a contextual understanding about the world and the reality we live in, I feel that everyone studying the Industrial design degree, if not all degrees should live abroad in a vastly different culture to broaden their understanding of the world. I feel that this experience will guide my future decisions in a more progressive and positive manner.

Bangkok as a setting for my student exchange was an incredibly dynamic environment which I would consider vastly different from my setting back in Australia. It is the economic capital of Thailand which has an increasingly growing consumer economy. At a local level, within the neighbourhood I lived, I noticed the interdependence between the different residents and workers of the area, a strong sense of community was the result of the collectivism I witnessed in these surroundings. I feel that traffic is a good analogy for the function of society within Thailand and many surrounding South East Asian countries. At first coming from Australia one may perceive their roads as chaotic, but when you dig deeper you see that there is a natural flow, one will respect the rights and movement of another. There is a very profound word from the Filipino language that describes this phenomenon, a phenomenon that I feel is common within Asian Psychology, it is Kapwa which means a shared inner self. The ethos is of caring, sharing and seeing yourself in another. Within the faculty at Chula I noticed this ethos between students, there was a strong sense of community and selflessness that I recognised between fellow students. I did feel that there was a contrast between the students at Chula and the students back at the RMIT, the culture at the RMIT puts more of an emphasis on the success of the individual.

It would have been quite interesting to have more opportunities to meet the other students studying in Bangkok from Australia. I would have liked to hear the different perspectives on transitioning from life and study in Australia to Bangkok and why they were motivated in doing so. In addition it could have provided opportunities for networking between students who were interesting in setting up projects whether it be for research or trade between the two countries.

I was asked many times why as an Industrial Design student I chose Bangkok instead of a location in Europe, it was something I had to continuously justify to other Australians and Thai students. It would be beneficial if the Australian education system put a greater emphasis in promoting relations and the significance of South East Asian nations as our neighbours due to their proximity, rich cultures and their rapidly changing economies. The rapid change in society and environment within Asia will have the most profound effect on the global scale within the next few decades. With Thailand being at the heart, it's positioning makes it a very dynamic place to study in.

I highly recommend to any student that wishes to come to Thailand to make an attempt at learning the language. I feel that language is a key to understanding the mentality of the people. Every day was a challenge, a challenge to try fit in, but so enjoyable. I became so adapted to the life in Bangkok, that the most difficult aspect of the exchange was the moment when I had to leave the city.

I would like to thank Universities Australia for providing me with support to undertake my semester long exchange in Bangkok, Thailand. It was by far the most valuable experience of my life.