Sonia MacDonald

Date: SP5, 2013
Degree Program: Bachelor of Tourism and Event Management
Host University: Thammasat University
Host Country: Thailand

Why did you choose your host university?

There were several reasons for selecting Thailand as my host destination. The main reason was to gain knowledge and understanding of the type of country and culture in which my mother and the rest of her family were brought up. Having also lived at home with my parents in both England and Australia for the whole of my life, this exchange presented an opportunity to challenge myself as an individual and as an adult in a country completely different from what I am used to. Though initially I was nervous and scared, the feelings of excitement and determination were much more powerful. 

What was the university like?

In my opinion Thammasat University was much more like a high school. The reason behind this is because in almost all of the classes, everyone was pretty much acquainted with each other. The main cause of this (which was shared to me by a Thai student) is because at the beginning of the first year of university, there are many activities in order for everyone to get to know each other. In all my classes the professors and students also had close relationships which made the learning environment much more fun and comfortable.

The difference between the classes from UniSA and Thammasat University is that at Thammasat, you only have one lesson for a subject a week which was a combination of a tutorial and a lecture. However, I would say it seemed to be more of a tutorial as each class had only round 20 – 30 students which meant there was more interaction and discussion between the professor and students.

Assessments were not as nerve racking as I have been used to. All exams were in the same rooms and times that I would have my normal classes making the atmosphere a lot more relaxed. 

Thammasat University also had many computer rooms, coffee shops and libraries with good learning environments and long opening hours for students so when it came time for assignments or studying for exams, there were plenty of convenient places for us to go to.

Sonia MacDonaldWhat did you gain from your exchange experience and has it changed the way you think or altered your approach to life?

The main thing I have gained from my exchange experience is confidence. I have always been a timid and quiet person and not very open to new people. However, as I knew no one from Thammasat University, let alone Thailand, if I wanted to make the most of my exchange I needed to boost my confidence and make friends. From this determination, I have made so many great friendships and connections that will last forever.  

What I also gained from this experience was independence. Having always been with my parents, I have never relied on myself. However, when I first came to Thailand there was no one to help me.  I had to grow up, become an adult, be confident and depend on myself. The responsibilities I was faced with were keeping track of my spending and money, of transportation, university documents and uniform, accommodation and my own health, food etc.

What accommodation options were available to you?  How affordable was accommodation and would you recommend the same option to others?

Before I left for my exchange I had been in contact with a previous student who had been to Thammasat University for their exchange a few years back. This person was very helpful and gave me a list of accommodation optoins that were known for having exchange students.  With this list, I came to Bangkok a month before the semester started in order to take a look at apartment options, however many of the places that I was interested in had already been fully booked. Luckily, one that was previously full (Sivalai Place) had a room available but it was also one of the most furthest and expensive options. Though I did my calculations and would have enough money to stay there, it would still limit my personal spending options. To solve this problem, I asked for help from Sivalai Place staff to find me a roommate. Fortunately after two days they managed to find someone who was also starting exchange at Thammasat and was doing the same course.

I would highly recommend those who are going on exchange to live with a roommate, not only will you save money but it also makes the experience less lonely, (which is very easy to feel when first coming to an unfamiliar country) and also allows them to make a new best friend! 

Describe your travel experiences; did you travel locally or to neighbouring countries? 

Throughout the semester at Thammasat I managed to travel locally with the university to places such as Ayutthaya. Through arrangements with friends we also went on day and weekend trips to Koh Phangan for the full moon party, and to Kanchanaburi.  After the semester I also took the opportunity to travel Thailand more by myself especially in the northern parts.

Though travelling with friends is a lot of fun, I found that travelling by myself was much more rewarding and allowed me to focus on the diverse culture and way of living of the Thai people.

 As Thailand is in the centre of South East Asia, this also allowed me to easily cross over the borders and travel to countries such as Cambodia and Laos.

Describe how you adjusted to life in a different country and how you met new people.

To be honest I did not find it particularly hard to adjust to the life of Thailand and more specifically Bangkok. Before coming, my mum taught me numerous phrases such as ‘how much is this?’ which became very useful. For the first few days I also spent walking around and travelling around the area just to get used to the new environment.

Meeting new people was also much easier than I thought. As everyone else was in the same shoes as I was all it took was introducing myself and before I knew it, I made a new friend. Many exchange students also created facebook groups and events in which I made sure to participate and join every time, not only to get to know more people but also to get the most of my experience abroad.

Can you see any benefits from this exchange to your future career?

The benefits I can see for my future career is the confidence I have gained,  the skill to talk to new people and giving people a chance. It will also help me  when I have to interact with others of different backgrounds and cultures as the workplace becomes increasingly more multicultural.

What advice would you give to a student who was hesitant or considering joining the exchange program?

My advice would be that it is okay to be afraid. I think that the more afraid you are the more satisfying and rewarding it feels at the end of the exchange. The life experiences and friends you will make are also a major reason to why students should consider joining the exchange program.  

Top Tips:
Don't be afraid to try new things and be out of your comfort zone. Always say yes and don't leave your exchange with any regrets.

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