“This semester has been the best time of my life..”
Tina Rieck studied abroad at Prince of Songkla University in Phuket, Thailand during autumn 2012. She comes originally from Germany and studied at the Technical University of Berlin. Read her story below.
Pre-departure and arrival
Once I got to Kathu, after an initial hassle with not finding my way, everything started going perfect. After my check-in into the Baan Maksong, I immediately met some other exchange students, rented a motorbike and went to Chanitra’s cafe. The staff was so helpful they even drove me around to show me some possible villas. This is also how I found the “Big Brother Villa” where I ended up living.
I chose to stay in a 7-bedroom villa with 11 others students and I have to admit, I was skeptical. Despite my doubts, it was the best decision I could have made. I had such an awesome time with all the lovely people there. I´m pretty sure, we also had the best parties there and there was a fair balance between those and quiet, study time.
Studies and courses
In general, studying at the PSU was different than at my home institution, but I really enjoyed it. The classes I took were not too demanding but there were other students who had to write a lot of reports, especially for International Business and International Finance. So if you want to enjoy your time outside the university, maybe don’t take both of those courses. You should also be prepared that classes get cancelled with very short notice and things are not as strict as you might be used to. To get the most out of it, I recommend taking both classes offered to all students, and those that are only for exchange students. The latter ones are more demanding and you will probably learn more, but in order to get a real Thailand experience, try to attend a class with almost no other exchanger, too.
I chose five courses, of which three were relevant for my studies at home (Strategic Management, International Economics, Intercultural Communication) and two that would help me get to know more about Thai culture (Thai Art and Culture, Fundamental Thai).
Actually, “Intercultural Communication” turned out to be the one where I learned the most about Thai culture, and even about myself. The teacher, Pimpaporn Suwatthigul, was demanding but very motivated to keep the class interesting and fun and, in my opinion, she absolutely succeeded. So if you think about taking that class, you totally should do it!
I can also recommend taking the Fundamental Thai course. For me, trying to learn the language was a must, but it didn’t mean it wasn’t also fun, especially trying to use Thai on the street. You are not only making the people happy when speaking their language, you are also getting the best deals when bargaining.
In contrast to that, Thai Art and Culture was not very good. The teachers changed a lot. So I ended up sitting in a final where I could maybe answer to two out of 40 questions, because the classes were mainly in Thai and teachers didn´t upload lecture material in English. But I also made a lot of Thai friends in the class since there was only one other exchange student in the class. I also got an idea of different studying cultures.
Strategic Management is an interesting class with a nice teacher who also takes care of the exchange students, so I can highly recommend that class. My last one, International Economics was fine as well.
Welcome to the “land of smiles”! That does not mean that everyone is just happy and therefore smiling all the time. Indeed, Thai people do have a looser attitude towards life and a strong focus on “sanuk” (fun), but don´t get deceived. There are other reasons for smiling, too, e.g. hiding anger and discomfort. This is due to the deep enrooted value of not loosing one’s face within Thai culture. This simply means that Thai people don´t want to embarrass other people or get embarrassed themselves. This can, however, result into misunderstandings because Thai people are sometimes unable to tell you’re wrong about something. In the beginning, it´s going to be hard to figure out the real meaning behind the smile but it gets better and easier during the semester.
It takes time to cultivate and establish permanent personal relationships with the locals. They value indirect verbal interactions and put a lot of meaning into their expressions. Hence, be aware while communicating with Thai people, pay more attention to the nonverbal than verbal expressions.
This semester has been the best time of my life. It perfectly combined studying and leisure time – that you get to spend dipping in the pool, going to the beach or exploring some of the most stunning sights on Earth! Additionally, it´s a personal challenge, finding yourself in a totally different and diverse cultural environment where people barely speak English. Am I still the same person as I was before? Most definitely not. This experience helped me to become more independent, open-minded and tolerant. So do not miss out on this amazing opportunity. The worst thing that can happen is growing as a person!
If you have further questions, contact me at rieck.tina(at)gmail.com