Scott Wotton

Date: SP5, 2013
Degree Program: Bachelor of Management, Bachelor of International Relations (DBME)
Host University: Thammasat University
Host Country: Thailand

Why did you choose your host university?

I chose to study at Thammasat for a few different reasons but I think the main reason for me was where it was located. I wanted to go to Bangkok from the very beginning and I had heard nothing but good things about South East Asia. At first impression, Thammasat University was quite an old institution in Bangkok but after looking at it more closely, it was very modern and had a great reputation. Another factor was that Thailand was one of our closest and largest trading partners in the Asian Pacific. This made it more attractive as a start to experience the region, get a taste for the culture and customs and decide whether it is a place I could see myself going back to.

Scott WottonWhat was the university like?

Due to a wedding in the family I missed the orientation and arrived on a Sunday and the next day was the Queens birthday, so the university was closed.  I decided to check it out anyway and from the outside it looked good but a little bit bleak (that was just the first impression).  This is an interesting thing to explain because the grounds were immaculate and had staff attending to them on a regular basis through out the day, but it was more the buildings looked like they had faded a little due to the Bangkok air.  One thing you notice and start to appreciate more is the order and cleanliness that Australian cities and towns have compared to Bangkok but at the same time that almost becomes part of its charm.  So after the holiday when it was time to go to my first class I was very pleasantly surprised.  The weather was humid at the time I arrived but in class rooms and the library and study areas, air conditioning was very well maintained.  There were a lot of places on campus where you could get a cheap iced coffee or water and there were also free drink coolers on most levels.

All of the lecture theatres were equipped with projectors and were very modern. I remember thinking that I was surprised at how much I felt like I was in a tutorial room in Adelaide when I saw it for the first time. The way the classes are run is a little different to Australia however because the style of the class is very much more master-student in my opinion.  By this I mean there is less room for class discussion and, in a lot of my classes, the entire three-hour class would be spent just listening to the teacher and watching him explain questions using the projector (there is a break however so it's not too bad). Not all classes are like this but my micro-economics and macro for the best part were, making it a bit of a struggle. Asking questions in most classes is fine also but it is a little less of a question friendly environment. The best way to manage this is just to read through the material and get a copy of the text book and either answer your own questions or work with your friends in the class which definitely makes it easier. The resources available are also more than adequate and in many ways the services make student life easier. The Xerox Ladies are people that you will get to know very well and you should use them as a resource as well as the library for text-books. I wouldn’t bother buying them as you can hire and Xerox them much cheaper. Something that I walked past all the time and for some reason never used was the theatre in the main library. You can hire up to date movies and watch them on a big screen with headphones 100% free with your friends.  

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

I think the first aspect that it changed was the way I looked at Australian society and especially in relation to the road rules which I still fail to grasp in Thailand.  Thai society seems to work so well but when you are there for the first time you will really feel like a foreigner.  I think it also massively changed the way I looked at things that I once considered important and other things that I took for granted.  An example of this is the way I looked at my studies in that in Thai society there is no HECS, if you do not have the money you do not go to university.  Looking at it like this I have moved to view studies as much less of an entitlement and much more of privilege and an opportunity that so many other people do not have. 

It has also changed the way I feel about the possibility of moving to another country to pursue my career.  Before I left this was always something that I was not sure if I would be able to do but it is something that I now feel is a great opportunity and a way of getting out of my comfort zone and taking opportunities that would have otherwise passed me by. I also don’t see adapting to another culture as something that I may struggle with, but more as an exciting experience - the way that I feel about Thai and Asian culture I wasn’t too sure what to expect but after being there I can say that it is somewhere that I would love to return to any time and the food was just great I have to say.

Scott Wotton 1What accommodation options were available to you?  How affordable was accommodation and would you recommend the same option to others?

Accommodation was relatively cheap and easy to find however the one piece of advice that I have to give in relation to this aspect is make sure that you find a place before the semester starts. As I mentioned earlier I arrived in Bangkok quite late and missed orientation week. When I started looking for houses I noticed that as the semester had started, accommodation in the closer and more popular places filled up really quickly and a lot of people even booked places before they had arrived to ensure they had a spot. It also is not something that you want to be worrying about on the first few days of university that is for sure. When it does come to accommodation however I would recommend Rattanakosin Island Condominium every time and to the person reading this, if you can get a few friends together and rent it out it isn’t much more expensive than a regular place and much better.

The benefits of Rattanakosin are things like 24 hour guards downstairs to call taxis and let you in if you have forgotten your key, there is a mini mart in the building to buy supplies and it is close to Tesco, the local super market which is handy but not as important as you might think. Amarin mansion was also really cool, if you end up in either place then I think you are doing ok.  I think a good way to find accommodation is also to have a chat with some one at the University if you are there early.

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

Travelling was the best bit of the exchange in many ways, and something that breaks up the study nicely.  Kanchanaburri is a place that I think all exchange students should know because it is really close to Bangkok, it is cheap to get there and just as cheap while you are there and there is a bunch of fun stuff to do and see including Erwan waterfall, the famous seven-tiered water fall.

I managed to do quite a bit of travelling while I was abroad and I think the place that I got the most from was Myanmar with the exception of the food there which didn’t do too much for me. Lake Ihne was amazing and seeing the lotus factory, the hand rolled cigars and the ladies with the rings on their necks really was something. There was also so much to see in terms of temples and villages where locals would be making their local products and ushering you into the door to try them.  Also, Myanmar had really cheap avocados, which made it an instant winner with me because they were kind of hard to find in Bangkok.

I also had a great time in Cambodia however I must warn that it did feel a lot more touristy than Myanmar. We went and saw the killing fields and the S-21 prison which really was quite hard to hear about to be honest. It's not too graphic but when you hear the stories of what went on and you see the faces of the inmates it is very moving. I think my favourite part of Cambodia was the temples of Angkor and the beach at Koh Rong. I won’t say too much about either as they are both places that I am sure people reading this will be planning on going but I will say that they are worthwhile.

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

Adjusting to life in a different country was not too bad for me but I think because you have such a large base of people who are doing the same thing, it became more of a shared experience. Some of the biggest things to adjust to were also very simple every day things like where to find good and cheap meals. The street food for example is very cheap but is also really nice, that said however, when you first arrive and see that the general standard of cleanliness is a little lower than what we have here, it makes it hard to take the plunge and try it but when you do you will never look back.  Like anything I think you get out what you put in and by that I mean that if you actually go out and try some of this stuff that you may have a bias about you just might like it and the worst that is going to happen is a either a bad taste or a touch of food poisoning which is pretty rare but I think everyone gets once.

Adjusting to the Thai study lifestyle may also be a bit of a struggle depending on what type of student you are but the main thing to remember is a lot of the Thai students spend this group time as social time also. It isn’t a problem but just keep it in mind as there are a lot of  things to do in Bangkok other than study so if you can stream line the group meetings that is always a win.

The biggest thing to adjust to though, and this is serious, is uniforms and attendance policy. It doesn’t sound like a big deal but attendance definitely sneaks up on you so remember it is much better to travel with your spare days than to sit around. What does that mean? It means if you wake up in the morning and you are feeling hung over, just go to your class and have another day free where you can actually get out of Bangkok. This is something that admittedly I didn’t exactly master myself but I would highly recommend to everyone that they try to.

Scott Wotton 2Can you see any benefits from this exchange to your future career?

I think there are definitely benefits the exchange brings to my career, some of them being direct changes and some being indirect.  For example, a direct change that I have noticed is through observing some of the culture of Thailand and South East Asia. Knowing little customs and aspects of the culture makes me more attractive a candidate for a position in which frequent correspondence is needed and or the possibility of spending time with Thai clients face to face.  While I wouldn’t say that I have returned an expert however I think that I have definitely learned a lot about how not to offend a Thai person when doing something as silly as wearing my shoes in their house or unintentionally showing them the souls of my feet.

I think that I indirectly changed as a result of the exchange also and these changes were a lot more anti-reflective and harder to notice straight away. An example of this is the way that I have looked at the every day problems I faced as a student and young adult. Especially in Bangkok there is a real opportunity to see the class gap in Thailand and when talking to your friends and perhaps being a bit bummed that you perhaps have to put in a lot of work one weekend (or what ever the problem of the time is), you can actually look out your window and see that there are people working so much harder for so much less and that you are actually in a pretty good position. I think I brought this outlook with me when I returned and I always try to look at the bright side and remember the things that I have and more importantly remember that others around the world do not have these things and opportunities.

Finally I think the best skill I have learned throughout this whole thing was to adapt in a situation where I am totally out of my element.  That is what a lot of the exchange was and it gave me an opportunity to see how I could and would react in this type of situation.  I am glad to say that I learned a lot about my character through this and I would be happy to try an experience like this again in my professional life.

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

If you go through your life worrying about what negative things might happen every time you do something then you will miss out on so many great opportunities.  Exchange is something that is once in a lifetime and the experience that you are given is so great and rewarding that it is hard to really find any negatives about it at all. You make some of the greatest friends that you will ever make and you will keep these friends well beyond the confines of the exchange period. You will have a blast living every day somewhere just a little bit different and seeing new things and experiencing culture at every turn, how could you say no? 

Top Tips:
I think if I had to give one tip for someone, it would be to travel as much as you can and talk to as many people as you get the chance to.

Areas of study and research

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