Tips for exchange and free moving students
There are some organizational characteristics you might want to know. Finding the right program and asking the right questions becomes easier that way. Please be prepared that the bureaucratic processes might be even more bureaucratic than you know it from your own university, especially at public universities.
The general attitude is ‘student registers, gets processed, and graduates’; both student-centered education and customer orientation are not easy to find. Together with office staff who heavily stuck to their job-description, and where no one seems to understand the whole process anymore, it quickly turns difficult to get answers for, as you might see it, simple questions.
‘Famous’ or ‘no-name’ university?
If you ask a Thai, you will learn about the ranking of Thai universities in public view. The universities seen as the best by many Thais are Chulalongkorn University, Kasetsart University, Mahidol University, and Thammasat University; seen as the worst in the eyes of Bangkok Thais is Ramkhamhaeng University where everybody can get a degree (no wonder since it’s an Open University, and the opinion of Thais outside Bangkok may be quite different). The rest is somewhere between them.
From our experience, this shouldn't bother you at all. It is unlikely anyway that you can study exactly the course and content that brings you the next step in your studies at home. This is also not what employers look at. They are more interested in the experiences you gain, such as different cultures do things differently and that permanently asking, ‘Why don’t they do it the way we do it?’ is not helpful at all.
These are the experiences, by the way, that are most long lasting, and for these experiences it’s not really important at which university you make them.
What might be important for you is that you can transfer credits earned at a Thai university to your own university back home. This certainly needs to speak with your professor or International Relations Office first. We learned from many exchange students that most western universities require you to make a Learning Agreement with your home university before coming to Thailand, to transfer credits gained afterwards.
Graduate or undergraduate courses?
Until recently, there were only undergraduate courses available for semester abroad students. This causes problems for those in the higher semesters when the university back home is not willing to accept credits earned from an undergraduate program. The reason is that one needs a Bachelor degree before being permitted to study courses on graduate level.
The solution might be ‘non-degree studies’. If you don’t study for a degree, you don’t need to meet the same entrance requirements at Thai universities. If there is an interesting course you would like to study but they won’t let you in since you don’t have a Bachelor degree yet, just ask for non-degree. In many cases, you will be surprised how easy it then goes.
Usually, graduate courses address employed students and therefore are weekend courses, conducted on Saturday and Sunday from about 9am to 4pm, while undergraduate courses are usually from Monday to Thursday.
Exchange students or free movers?
Many universities have an exchange program with a Thai university. In this case, there will be somebody responsible at your home university for this relationship where you can go and ask. If there’s no exchange program available, don’t worry when you read about ‘exchange students’ on Thai university Web sites.
The term ‘exchange student’ is usually applied to all semester abroad students and does in most cases not need a formal exchange agreement. It included free moving students as well, so just ask.
Any world-class education available?
Sure, there is world-class education in Thailand in more than one respect. Asian Institute of Technology is one in the field of information technology and engineering, Sasin Graduate School at Chulalongkorn University is the leading business school in close cooperation with the famous Kellogg and Wharton Business Schools.
Another option is the opportunity to study with regular university professors from the United States or Europe, who regularly come as ‘flying faculty’ to Ramkhamhaeng University to conduct the courses in the international program. You can assume that they teach exactly the same courses as they do back home since, simply speaking, developing a new course only for Thai students is way too much effort. You meet semester abroad in free moving students in numbers in such a program, by the way.
Should I mingle with my Thai fellow students?
Most exchange students come in groups, and that limits the experiences they can make in Thailand very much - they always stick together. Thais are way too polite, they would never try to break up your group to get in touch with some of you.
It's a great part of modern Thai culture that Thais want you to have a great time when in their country. In addition, they will use any opportunity to talk to a foreign fellow, so that they can improve their English communication skills.
If you mingle with your Thai fellows, you will be invited to trips to the sea, maybe to a visit to their family and village upcountry, and you will learn a lot beyond your travel guide that gives you a much deeper understanding about Thailand and the Thais.
So, if you come with a group from your home university, don't hang around with them too much. You can do that when back home again.
Why are Thai students never on time?
Well, that is not fully correct: If they have a German professor, and there is a test from 9.00 to 9.15 a.m., they well be on time, be sure.
But besides that, the Thais have a different concept regarding time than, for example, the Swiss or the Germans do. Being about 15 to 20 minutes late is no problem at all, be it in class or even on a business meeting. This buffer comes with some benefits: That is exactly the time when you - who was on time - can make social contact. Ask the others who came early how they are, what they did over the weekend, and so on. In that sort of smalltalk, long-lasting friendships have their foundation. Different cultures do things differently, and maybe you can learn to be a bit more relaxed on the topic of punctuality. At the end, the buffer timem for social contacts is way more beneficial than the exact beginning of a class. Think about it. You, as a foreign student, should always be on time, and you will be surprised that some of the Thai students are as well. That are the ones looking for an opportunity to chat with you. Take this opportunity. You may make friends for a lifetime.