Studying in Thailand - an Austrian perspective
A 22-year old woman from Austria reports.
I am a 22-year-old BBA student, about to finish my studies at IIS, Ramkhamhaeng University. The past three years have changed who I am. They have changed my views, my opinions and my personality – in short: They have changed life!
Who can best tell you how it is to study in a foreign culture? Certainly, it's those who did it. If you studied at a Thai university (and if it's only for one semester), please tell us about your experiences as well. It may well help a lot of people in preparing for a 'once in a lifetime' experience.
You might wonder how a short period of three years can shape one’s personality considerably and drastically as previously explained. Well – cultural experts with knowledge about both countries, Austria and Thailand, might be able to imagine. But for those of you not aware of cultural differences between Austria – a very “Western” society, characterized by people’s tendency to straightforwardness, determination and truthfulness – and Thailand: Have a look at some personal experiences, written from the perspective of an Austrian university student in Thailand. And: Think twice before moving here! Do not even consider it unless you are absolutely sure of your ability to adapt and make sacrifices of your beliefs, and to your willingness to accept: Thailand is different!
When deciding to continue my studies in Thailand I had visited Thailand twice already. I thought it would be a great experience to study here, with excellent job opportunities after graduation. However, I did not carefully plan this decision – which I better had.
I suggest all of you to gather information about Thailand and its society in advance! It will help you to understand everything much better from the very beginning. Take a look at Hofstede’s Five Dimensions – in my opinion the best source available. Get educated about it – it will help you!
However, during the past three years of learning by doing I have developed following perception about Thais and their way of life:
First of all, be aware of the fact that everything will be handled differently from what you are used to. The Thai working style is very slow and, most of the times, inefficient. However, there are exceptions!
It is certainly true for universities, public ministries and other official authorities.
Thailand is still a developing country, you cannot expect everything to be handled quickly and efficiently. Instead, you will be exposed to lots of paperwork – and a long queue in front of the office. A good Example: The Thai Immigration Bureau where all visas are issued.
Although students receive a one year visa which needs to be extended once a year, all residents are required to notify their address every three months – which means you have to go there four times a year, just in order to report your place of stay. And, a quick reminder: Be sure to request all necessary documents for your student visa extension at your university some weeks in advance – because, as usual, it will take time!
However, there are exceptions for this working style. During the first few months in Thailand I was impressed by the simple but efficient ways to handle some things in daily life! For example: Selling tickets in buses (public transportation in general), bag drop-offs and people assisting you in packing your stuffs at supermarkets, or the service organization in hospitals – all these things are, in my opinion, handled much better (much more efficient) as compared to Austria.
However, referring to all the unique characteristics of Thai society would take too much time. What I want to point out is: There are differences – and you need to be open-minded and accept them!
Some of these differences are also embedded into the life of an international student.
As mentioned earlier, Thailand is still a developing country –its educational level somewhat lower than that of industrialized nations. But teacher qualifications or support for schools and universities are not necessarily the reasons – the students are the problem.
Thai mentality is different from the Western one. Not better or worse, just different. And, unfortunately, this mentality does not go along very well with improving education in the country.
People tend to emphasize groups – individual contributions or people to speak up are very rare. Thais try to avoid confrontations; big discussions in class are not likely to take place.
In addition to that, people rather would lie than criticize you – another constraint for good education.
Besides that, life is easy – “sabai sabai”. No need to hurry, no need to be serious– it seems that there is never a problem that needs to be solved! Many Thai students do not worry too – about their grade, for example.
Being competitive and success driven is a Western value – you will learn that when enrolling in a Thai university program. Just sit and smile, and don’t ask why! I also did not do so when, during the first six months here in Thailand, I had to watch the entire first row in calculus class sleeping during lecture.
However, studying in an international program here in Thailand can be a very valuable experience and teach you much more than the best high performing university in Europe could do – it is all about you!
Due to a truly international environment you will learn about other cultures and people’s different views and opinions, simply by talking to your friends in class. Classes on intercultural topics get so much more interesting with the contributions from people coming from all over the world!
Besides that – who says that being competitive and success-driven leads to the best results?
I, personally, had to be very serious about my work when studying in Austria.
Austrians expect best performance and determination, people tend to work very hard and often get depressed due to too much pressure. In Thailand I have learned to calm down, which helped me to learn easier and to understand more.
Besides Thai mentality and cultural diversity, the way studies are organized is another factor important to look at.
When moving here, I had no idea what to expect regarding the organizational structure of my university program. Since I am from Austria, I only knew about universities and the way they are organized over there, as well as about higher educational schools (Fachhochschulen).
Thailand’s universities are all managed differently – you need to get detailed information about the particular institution you are interested about. IIS, where I have been studying for 3 years, is more or less comparable with an Austrian school for higher education, with classes running from 9 AM to 4 PM, and an attendance requirement.
While IIS students complete one course within one month, usually with final exam at the last day of class, other universities require students to attend courses over the period of one semester, with one or two examination weeks at the end of each term.
Further facts I would like to add: The grading system employed and textbooks used at Thai universities follow the American model. Due to the educational standard of Thai high school leaving examinations, all undergraduate students (Thai and international) are required to take general education classes during the first year of their studies.
And, last but not least: Some institutions may require you to wear the traditional Thai university uniform.
Some Western students may not like it and refuse wearing uniform, also because of their belief in individualism. But: Think twice! As already mentioned – Thailand is different!
To me, wearing the student uniform brings a few but significant advantages with it.
First, people will know you are not a tourist. You are less likely to get ripped off, which can be a big advantage, especially during the first months of your stay. Second, Thais emphasize the need to study hard (yes, despite of their relaxed lifestyle) which results in offering privileges to students. A short example: I use a van service to get to university in the morning. When wearing the uniform, people recognize me as a student and invite me to enter the van prior to other passengers.
Saving time by wearing uniform – this is Thailand!
Although I could continue writing about differences, as well as about positive and negative aspects of studying in Thailand – in the end, everything is subjective.
Nobody can tell you whether it is a good choice for you to study here or not. My advice: Get informed about Thai society in advance! Besides that: Be open-minded and willing to adapt to a culture very distinct from your own.
As for me – I never looked back! I am convinced I made the best decision when coming to Thailand. I have gone through the process of adapting to a new life, been working with people very different from my previous colleagues, learned a new language without trying hard, and, in addition to that, understood cultural differences through hands-on experience instead of studying thousands of pages in books.
But, these are general advantages of studying abroad. Whether Thailand is the best choice for you depends on your individual personality.
However, when already considering it, give it a try! All experiences will teach you something for your life. And: There is always the option to go back!
[The author asked us to remain anonymous.]