My name is Aaron Ture. I am currently enrolled as a student at the HTWG Konstanz in Germany, for the BA degree in Asian Studies and International Management – China. I was given the chance by Asia Exchange to go abroad to study at Siam University in Bangkok, Thailand for one semester, enhancing my own horizon even further. My great interest in Asia has been the reason I decided to choose China as the main focus of my studies back at home, but the rest of Asia has also always been of great interest for me so I was happy to have been given a chance to learn about another fascinating culture and country through Asia Exchange.
Pre-departure and arrival
My pre-departure phase was actually rather hectic because I didn’t have too much time to prepare for my time in Thailand. I planned to do an internship in China before I would go to Thailand, so I had to make preparations for China first and then plan everything else for Thailand in China. In Germany I did the most necessary things, like renting my room while I would be gone and get health insurance for my time abroad. In China I then got into contact with some students that where currently studying at Siam University through the Asia Exchange Facebook page, where I had the chance to ask some questions like where one could stay and what facilities the university has.
I got my Visa in a Thai consulate in China which proved to be rather simple and actually cheaper than in Germany. I also booked my ticket from China to Thailand there.
After three great months in China I took the plane from Kunming to Bangkok. It only took three hours and was definitely more comfortable than the 14 hours flight from Germany that most other students that would study with me took.
After I arrived in Bangkok I took a minibus from the airport to the Victory Monument, where I changed to the BTS and went to the station close to Siam University. From there I took a taxi to the hotel named A House where I wanted to spend the first couple of days at, located not too far from the university. The staff was really friendly and the owners spoke great English, because they used to study in England. The room was quite nice as well, and after a very long cold shower I was ready to walk to the university to get a first look, look around the neighborhood and try some of the delicious snacks, fruits and other food that is being sold practically everywhere on the street.
After one day of walking around the area of the university and unable to find anything nicer than A House which would still fit into my rather tight budget plan, I decided to stay at A House for the whole semester. They don’t have a swimming pool there, no gym and it’s really the most basic accommodation that one can find, near to the University. But it also opened up some very special ways to experience real Thai life that one won’t find at some luxurious Condos near the Area, where all the high society lives.
I was quite happy with my accommodation, as I got to hang out with really nice Thai people, that all could speak some good English, invited me to eat and drink with them practically every time I walked by, and got a great chance to practice my Thai, and really feel like I was living a life, that I could not have back in my own country. I also was not too upset, that I did not have any swimming pool or gym at my place, since all this was not too far away from my hotel. In a nearby Soi there was a huge and clean swimming pool for just 50 Baht. The gym at the university also was very close and with 20 Baht and AC also very comfortable.
From my place I got buses going pretty much everywhere in town, but of course this sometimes takes some time. Some of them also go to the nearby BTS station if one is in a hurry.
Siam University is located in the West of Bangkok over the Chao Praya River, pretty far away from the standard tourist area of Bangkok but still close enough to get to those areas conveniently by bus or BTS. The area around the University itself is actually quite nice. When remembering my first time going to the university I still remember how I felt, that it was rather beautiful.
The whole campus itself is rather small but it’s green and offers everything one could expect from a private university. The buildings are all pretty new. All classrooms have air-conditioning and new tables and chairs. There’s a post office, a 7/11 store, some Banks, cafes and cantinas that will cater to everyone’s everyday needs. Besides those there are also two libraries with tables for self studies and book reading, a computer room a sports ground, a gym and some parks with lots of shade to escape the daily heat of Bangkok and relax while watching butterflies and squirrels.
There are two offices for international students with nice staff that try to help out whenever one has a question or problem. The office in Building 2 is the place where students register themselves at the beginning of the semester, while the office in Building 19 is mainly in charge of Visas and language programs.
During the whole semester I stayed at university every day much longer than I originally had expected. I quickly met a lot of friendly Thai people that would become great friends of mine. Every day before and after class I enjoyed going to the canteen with them eating lunch, or hanging out in the park, drinking a cup of coffee and teaching each other English/Thai.
Also all the extra activities, like cheerleading competitions, sports days, Buddhist celebrations and many more made the university to a place I would love to spend my free time at, even though I seemed to be one of the only exchange students to actually take time to get to know the university enough to find all these special events.
Studies and courses
Selecting the courses I wanted to take at the beginning was more complicated than expected. It took some time to really figure out how to register for them and how many ECTS I would get for them, but the teachers were more than helpful to assist. In the end I was very happy that I could take all the courses that I originally wanted to take.
Besides three courses of International Business I also took Business Chinese and Thai courses, all of which proved to be rather interesting, even though some did differ greatly from what I had originally expected. The Thai course for me was the most essential one, as I really wanted to get to know the language and while the beginning was hard, since one had to learn the alphabet that is totally different from the Latin one used in most European languages, the speed that I learned to communicate, read and write after I finished this one step, was astonishing. I would encourage every student to take this course, and really spend the time to learn the language as it is just a completely different life in Thailand when one can communicate properly with the locals or not.
Chinese course was great too. There were over 10 teachers from China working at Siam University at that time. Since they found my language skills to be better than those of the other students they decided to give me private lessons instead for free! This of course was a great way for me to learn more intensively than I could have I Germany and also maybe in China.
Two of the business courses were much harder than I expected, but I also found this to be a challenge for me and I was happy to sit down in my room and work on the assignments and the homework, even though it sometimes took a long time to understand the homework. The other course was rather simple. There were more than 60 students in this class, so the teacher would not really talk to the students that much, but rather just go through the PPT foils, in the same way one is already used to at big universities back at home. The grade was normally split into different parts. Around 10 percent for attendance which proved to be easy for me, but not so much for the Thai students and another 10 percent for homework. The mid-term exam was another 30 percent while the final exam would account to 50 percent. All in all I can say that I think that exams and classes were not too difficult, but you definitely have to study for them.
Regarding the classes the only thing that was rather upsetting was the fact that the Thai course was never registered and therefore no ECTS points are given. We only found out about this the last week before the final exams and even though we were ensured that we would get ECTS points for the course it then showed to be impossible to do something about this problem last minute. Now the reason for me taking this course was to learn the language and not so much the credits, but some others students got a lot of problems with their home universities because they really needed to get those ECTS from the course.
For me though, I can say, that I am very happy that I could take the courses that I wanted and will most likely be able to get the full credits for them back in Germany. I also fell that I learned just as much, if not more than I would have back at home, so I really believe that, from an academic perspective, my time in Thailand had not drawbacks for my future studies in Germany.
Social life in the destination
In Bangkok I had no problem whatsoever to find friends and people to hang out with. I came to Bangkok without knowing anyone and after just one short week I already felt at home. At the beginning I hang out with the other exchange students a lot. We went to explore the city together, and got to know each other while having some drinks at some nice bars or just over lunch at university. After some time I also got in touch with the local students and I started to hang out more around university than the tourist areas the other exchange students would like to go to. With my Thai friends I liked going to three big shopping malls near university that one can easily reach by bus in less than 20 minutes. I also loved to go to the markets nearby, which were crowded with local students from all the schools and universities around the area, looking for cheap and nice clothes, food and drinks. Especially the night market, only 15 minutes by bus at the Memorial Bridge and the Thieves Market right behind China Town, that is also only 20 minutes away from university by bus, made me love Bangkok. As the sun sets and it’s finally getting cooler, everyone goes to those markets looking for things like watches, shoes and all kind of little things one may or may not need. Either way, the prices are just too cheap to resist.
There are also a lot of nice bars next to or not too far from university that I liked to go to with my Thai friends, but I think I was the only exchange student to really make an effort to find those places. The tourist areas like Khaosan, Silom or Sukhumvit are great as well, but I didn’t find anything there, that I couldn’t find around university. Of course, the big and famous sky bars, the fancy clubs and all the other touristy hotspots are around those areas, but I enjoy some good live Thai music and Karaoke nights much more, than overpriced cocktails for 15 Euros upwards.
It may not seem that way, but actually the area around the University offers much more than you would expect. When searching for places to go there you won’t find much in the internet, but if you make friends with local students and let them show around the area, there is so much to do. You no longer need to take a taxi and go through terrible traffic every evening to find a nice place to relax and have fun.
One of the best things about my time in Bangkok may have been the time, when I actually was not in Bangkok. This is not because I do not like the city – I love it, but since I had 3 to 4 days off a week since most of my courses would be on the same day, I gladly took every chance I had to explore the country and get out of the humidity of Bangkok. One of my favorite places would have to Kanchanaburi, only 2 hours away by bus. Even though it is still a big city of Thailand, it is much cooler there, with fewer cars, less pollution, a huge river and a lot of nature. I loved just hanging out there with some Thai friends and family of my friends at university. Swimming in the river, going to the River Kwai Fair, the nearby waterfalls, Kayaking, or just hanging around in town, enjoying the cool breeze of Kanchanburi at night.
I also saw a lot more of Thailand when visiting the north and Chiang Mai with some Thai friends. Discovering some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, and luckily a Thai friend of mine actually came from the north so he could show us the most unspoiled and beautiful places like a village above the clouds and some camping hideouts no other tourist could ever find.
But of course Thailand is most known for its beautiful beaches and even though I never went to the south to famous places like Phuket and the likes; I loved the nearby beaches of Hua Hin, Rayong, Koh Samet and also the not so close Koh Chang. White beaches, palms and cheap drinks made for some serious weekend fun. All in all I found traveling to be a great way to use the long weekends that I had to explore the country and relax before going back to university.
As a conclusion I can easily say, that my time in Thailand has been a great time. It had a great positive effect on me as a person and my understanding of different cultures and countries. By living in this fascinating country for one semester I learned much more about the cultural aspect that has been part of my studies, than through the courses and studies back in Germany. The close combination of academic studies and exploration of a country and its culture on an everyday basis truly made the time I spend in Thailand the most fascinating four months for me yet. I can only encourage everyone else to leave their own comfort zone and study abroad in Thailand. Not only the people or the culture but the whole everyday life is worth experiencing.