Studying in Thailand - a student from Australia
A mature male students reports.
I am no teenager- nor am I ‘over the hill’. I am still in my thirties- barely. For me, entering into a university program in Thailand was necessary. Not only was I drawn towards the idea of keeping my mind active, but I was able to achieve goals here that I was not able to achieve at home. I am a foreigner- one that has been ‘converted’ if you will. My view of the world has changed somewhat. I think differently, speak differently, and write differently than before. My original world let me down. I was a cog in a political machine. As my folks used to say, “Not every Indian can be a Chief”. I have escaped the political machine - for now. I am on the road to development: Thailand has done this for me.
As a boy, I used to follow my grandmother, Oma, to the local Roman Catholic Church house to sing hymns. I can still remember the booming voice belonging to the man along side. “Morning has broken” was a regular track. The church selected correctly. It was that song and songs similar that provided the background music when I pondered on the accuracy of the statue of baby Christ being held by Mother Mary. Society provided rules of behavior, and if society didn’t catch me performing badly, there was always God to argue with. It was the “truth”- or so they said.
Classes in Psychology, Anthropology, Sociology, and Biology woke me up somehow. These subjects seemed pointless for many people. “It’s all in your head”, the lecturer said. His students nodded- or fell asleep. As the lecturer later said to me, in more or less words, “Talking to people, who speak the same language, is near impossible. Talking to people, who speak a different language, is absolutely fruitless”.
I recommend all people, who take the compulsory Psychology, Anthropology, Sociology, and Biology classes to throw your Bibles in the bin, because after you have taken these classes, if you read your text books, you will dump the “bed time stories” in favor of plausible theories; such as, evolution. You will observe the environment as a laboratory governed by the human animal- not by any deity. If you go to class, but later still pray to “God”, you will have wasted your money. When you are ill, you see a doctor, who in turn gives you modern medicine; therefore, you can live twice, even tree times as long as your ancestors did. Beware of ancient cartoon books- the original constitutions of ancient societies.
Communication at the university is exercised in a variety of ways. For the new-comer, he/she might hear several languages spoken at any given time. Stepping into the lift might expose you to German, Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, Thai, English, or even Bangladeshi- my Japanese friend speaks it. One office staff member speaks Spanish, so practices with Spanish speaking lecturers. I’ve tried to practice Spanish with her, but she is sick of listening to “Como de Llamas?” and “De donde eres?” Generally, between office staff and lecturers, people speak English- maybe Chinese in certain circles. Other than language, the way you dress and your behavior will send signals out in every direction. Be aware.
Good, bad, right, and wrong are ideas that do not belong to any individual. They belong to the society that polices those ideas. What seems perfectly okay in your corner of the world might be looked upon in horror or shame elsewhere. Most people have read or have heard how to conduct themselves in Thailand; however, just because Thais might do something doesn’t mean that you should do it too. Some people say, “When in Rome, do as Romans do.” I say, “When in Thailand, do as Thais expect you to do.” Just because a Thai might adjust your motorcycle mirror to improve his view of his pimples or to check his hair, doesn’t mean that you should do the same. Just because a Thai might sit on your motorcycle while waiting for his friend, doesn’t mean you should sit on his car. This is his home. You are the visitor.
Being a visitor and a student automatically slots you into social hierarchies. If you require assistance in the office, realize who is helping whom. Your protests of “I pay your wages” are meaningless. In Bangkok, if you are European, people will expect you to speak English. If you are Asian, people will expect you to speak Thai. If a European speaks Thai, that European will be asked, “why?” or “how?” If an Asian speaks English, that Asian will be told how well they speak English. A sloppy-dressed foreigner might be viewed as a beach bum or a back packer. A well dressed foreigner might be viewed as a teacher.
“Students” are usually adolescent. Recently, after I said I was not old, a young woman (approx. 21 y.o.) asked, “Are you sure?” My only line of defense was to ask her for her age. She told me to guess. So, I guessed 12. She was not impressed, but I won that round.
You won’t see many aged Thai students unless the course is designed for Master’s students. A fruitful general-learning course will draw teenage attention. A useless “mini MBA” (a few hours rubbing shoulders with people who haven’t finished primary school) will draw adult attention. Aged foreign students, who take general-learning courses, will draw the attention of many, because only kids take up general studies. Strange is the local who enters a course to refresh and update his knowledge. National Geographic didn’t cease after the first issue. Also, beware of the burned-out archaic lecturer- he might be knowledgeable, but he is disinterested.
Some lecturers from the United States (usually centered in California) feel uncomfortable when teaching aged students. I am not the only person who has noticed. It is almost like the lecturers expect an argument, so seem to be defensive at every opportunity. Maybe they are under the impression that they are in Thailand to teach Thais. Maybe they feel they don’t get paid enough to teach native speakers. Not every lecturer is like this. Most lecturers are definitely in control. Although a lecturer’s knowledge is occasionally brought into question, being a PhD doesn’t mean it is time to stop learning. He/she might feel he/she has reached his/her pinnacle, while the world continues to progress. Unfortunately, I don’t have the authority, experience, or the will to decide who stays and who goes. I have seen exceptional lecturers depart and I have seen ignorant lecturers depart. Some lecturers incorrectly feel they are the authorities of every subject available; however, on the flip side, some lecturers are so worldly wise, it is difficult to imagine them not being the authorities. If only we could have the photocopy girl clone them.
As a foreigner studying at a Thai university, I have noticed many foreigners complain (including myself) how terrible things can be; however, if things are so terrible and our home countries are so terrific, why are we here? It is easy for the foreigner to lose track of his/her goals. Whether it be the traffic, politics, hierarchy, or judgments on politeness, there are many distractions. Do I really want things to be different? Do I really want the laws policed, so I can pay fines everyday and possibly lose my driver’s license? Do I really care whether or not foreigners can own land?
We bought a condo the other day. I had to sign a “post-nuptial agreement” that I had no rights to the condo, else the money must come from overseas. The fact that we had joint bank accounts didn’t amount to anything. I overlook these silly “It’s mine!” presentations to preserve her rights as a Thai national, else she should apply for nationality elsewhere. What does it mean to be Thai? Should the mother be Thai? Should the father be Thai? If this is the case, my wife is not Thai (much to her disapproval), thus it is necessary that I assist in her preservation of status. Even Mr. Sonti of P.A.D. fame has referred to himself as “child of Chinese” since a personal attack to expose his lack of “purity”- but do I really care? Every reason I can conjure is a foreign reason. I should not be distracted. Being a foreigner, I am on the outside looking in, so I can step to one side at any time.
Despite all these issues, Thailand has afforded me opportunities to study inexpensively. I can study at my own pace (except exam time of course) and due to improvements, I have a greater range of free elective subjects. I suspect one day they will merge campuses to allow greater access to facilities and faculties- and reduce costs. Meanwhile, I am thankful they have increased available subjects in humanities. Someone has read those request forms.
[Studyinthailand.org knows the author. He wants to remain anonymous.]