Discover Thailand scholarships
Georgia Herbert—Bangkok Exchange
How did the Thailand study experience fit into your degree?
I travelled to Thailand for the final part of my Master's of Architecture, including the last design studio and a core subject called 'The City' which analyses aspects of the urban environment. I saw the opportunity to travel and study in Bangkok as a chance to research the distinctly different fabric of the Asian city, and try to unravel and understand some of it's architectural and urban planning complexities. In particular the rapid growth and expansion of Bangkok Metropolitan Area and the established informal/slum communities that dwell at the edge of the river. My time in Bangkok gave me a new scope of exploration and exposure to local mentoring and attitudes which was genuinely different from learning something from afar. My semester away has given my degree and my life a completely new appreciation for the cultural and spatial differences of Thailand. 6 months was just a start, I know I will be back there again. I hope to continue my study into the fabric of Asian cities and bring this understanding into new ways of approaching urban issues in Sydney.
Describe your experience of studying in Thailand as part of the ATI's Discover Thailand scholarships program? What did you study, where did you study etc.?
Bangkok is an endlessly fascinating and contradictory place. I don't assume to understand it in the way a native Thai speaker can but for me, as an outsider, it intensifies the differences from my western life experiences. Prior to my stay in Bangkok I had never been to an Asian country before so my immersion in the richness of Thai culture was an unforgettable experience. My semsester in Bangkok at King Mongkutt's University of Technology was very educational in more ways than I could have imagined.
How did you find integrating in the local community and interaction with Thai students?
I found that my home address was very important to my integration with local culture. I was firstly under the impression that I was to study at the Thonburi campus of the university but when I arrived I was told that I would have better access to the postgraduate staff members at their campus called SOAD in Surasak. I must admit that finding accommodation to my liking and within budget was difficult considering the language gap in a new city and the intended duration of my stay. Also, my first experience of house hunting in bangkok was utter confusion (and academic delight) about the street (or soi) systems. So, I was constantly lost and making friends on the street to help find my destinations. The apartment I ended up staying in was a 5 minute walk from campus but was out of the way to tourists. Down some labyrinthine alleyways my new neighbourhood was a enclave of Thai families which was exactly the vibe I was looking for. Unlike some exchange students perhaps I was seeking to imbed myself in Thai culture behind the veil of glitz and tourism. The lovely and helpful building manager became such a source for me. She was kind and helpful without end (so happy to recommend BaanRim Sathorn Apartments to anyone travelling to BKK).
As I was not on the main campus I didn't have the chance to interact with a huge array of students.I was surprised by how many international students there were at KMUTT although no other exchange students. The local students were very friendly and helpful to me in all my newness and a couple of them I would consider friends. I was delighted by the quality of work and commitment in my design studio and by the intelligence of the mentoring staff. I gained so much insight and started to understand the attitudes of Thai people to their city and various socio economic divides in a way I never could if not for them. Language was sometimes an issue but the classes were indeed in english. I am a few years older than the majority of students at KMUTT and I was not their to have raucous on campus life so I felt I found a happy medium of friendly and collaborative class time and private study. I discovered an amazing library in Phrom Pong as part of the Thailand Creative Design Centre which had international exhibitions and very high quality arts and architecture library, also thai cultural herigate - in English! This was an absolute lifesaver as a resource and it became my second living room. I met quite a few Thai designers and architects who used the space for meetings so I felt like I was more connected to the contemporary Thai design industry than when in the classroom.
I also developed quite a good repore with my mentor Ajahn Pong who guided me through my research project. He was not on campus but was available via email anytime. His specialised knowledge and jovial approach was always appreciated because as with large research tasks its very easy to go too broad and loose clarity, he helped with that.
What would you say to other Australian students about your experience of studying in Thailand? Would you recommend studying in Thailand and how will you use your experience in Thailand in future?
My experience in Thailand was definitely something I would recommend to others.
I think travelling to Asia can be a less popular option for Australian students because of the language / cultural barrier and it must be said that European universities offer an institutional prestige that Asian cities are still growing. I stand against that. I believe that is far more burgeoning and dynamic, there is a positivity to and open mindedness to what can be achieved there that I had not experienced anywhere else. There is an inherent creativity and resourcefulness that filters into all aspects of life and nurtures innovation. The education system is different but the academics are just as valuable. Day to day life is far more vibrant and unpredictable, you can really do anything in Bangkok. The food is spectacular and behind the tourism there is a beautiful soul to Thailand.
What are some of your best memories from your time studying in Thailand?
I have many fond and little memories from my time in Thailand. Most frequently I remember all the delicious food I was eating! And the general relaxed vibe of the city. I miss the way the streets changed throughout the day with stalls and people, kids and dogs.
Some stand out moments were when I travelled north for Loi Krathong which is a 'Loy Krathong Day is one of the most popular festivals of Thailand celebrated annually on the Full-Moon Day of the Twelfth Lunar Month. It takes place at a time when the weather is fine as the rainy season is over and there is a high water level all over the country.
The word "Loy" means "to float", and "Krathong" means lotus-shaped vessel made of banana leaves. Loy Krathong is, therefore the floating of an illuminated leaf bowl. But nowadays some krathongs are made of coloured paper. A krathong usually contains a candle, three joss sticks, some flowers and coins. The history of Loy Krathong Festival is slightly obscure. First, it is to ask for apology from the water goddess for having used and sometimes made rivers and canals dirty. Second, it is to offer flowers, candles and joss sticks as a tribute to the footprint of Lord Buddha on the sandy beach of the Nammatha River in India. Third, it is to show gratitude to the Phra Mae Kong Ka or Mother of Water. Fourth, it is to wash away the previous year's misfortunes.'
It was a time of huge celebration and fireworks which lasted almost a week, with street markets and general party making by the rivers edge; Thai people really know how to have fun! So it was a great event to be a part of. The spiritual aspect of daily life in Thailand was a marvel to me and the big event on the night of the full moon was so lovely, with Krathongs floating down the river in their thousands and hot air paper balloons filling the sky with soft illumination.
What were the best aspects of studying in Thailand and what aspects were the most difficult?
The most difficult aspects of studying in Thailand were perhaps to be expected. There is a very different mode of practice in my home and host university and in the beginning I think I was quite unforgiving, trying to get to the bottom of my enrolment. I didn't have the patience and trust that everything would work out in time.
I was coming from a very western perspective and I found it difficult to not impose my expectations. Having said that KMUTT were very helpful and eventually we found a place that satisfied my and their requirements but the course structures are fundamentally different and I didn't have any flexibility in which subjects I needed to complete overseas so I didn't make it easy on them. Also, it was unusual that I was a Master's Student so equivalents were tricky to find. Now that I understand how it all goes together and runs I would be more than happy to help consult exchange students through the enrolment and orientation process.
Do you have any suggestions for improving the program or ideas that would encourage others to study in Thailand?
I am very grateful for my grant to help costs involved in studying in Thailand, it gave me the opportunity to travel in Thailand and get a much more rounded view of life in and out of the big city. To understand it's heritage and natural wonders. I will have to have a further think about ways to improve the exchange program for Australians to venture to Thailand. There is a somewhat out of date image of Thailand out there in people's minds. I understand it is difficult maybe because Bangkok is such a holiday destination it doesn't have the appeal long term. I know that the Thai government has been working on rebranding the nation and I suppose that will all filter through slowly. I was so happily surprised to experience a truly contemporary thai culture growing in Bangkok. There's a thriving arts community and also the coffee/cafe culture is getting quite serious. It's growing and changing as the youth are creating their own layer to the city which is wanting to be Thai, but also international. It's far cooler than 'The Hangover' and package holiday deals. Maybe there could be an online document attached to the text heavy page 'educational tourism' on the http://www.discoverythailand.com/ website that advertises the scholarship and has a brochure of student life in BKK. I think that students are seduced by images and if some of the cutting edge design and contemporary culture was made accessible to students they may be more likely to get excited about living in the city. We think we know it, Bangkok is familiar to people but our memory is very outdated. Also, I didn't know about the scholarship until after I had applied for my exchange but if I was on the edge about deciding location and I was informed that such assistance exists, I think it would have got me over the line.