Studying is never useless, and especially studying abroad in a foreign country can prove out to be extremely rewarding. You’ll never know when the things you learn and experience will become useful. This happened to Veera who went on an exchange in Phuket, Thailand through Asia Exchange in 2013. Without the exchange, she probably wouldn’t have ended up where she is now. Read further and you’ll hear more about her time in Thailand and how it changed the course of her life.

 

Living abroad was nothing new to Veera. She had already taken a big step when she moved from Finland to Estonia to study International Relations. Soon though, the thought started to form in her head that maybe it would be nice to move even further, outside Europe, and explore Asia. It was during her second year at Tallinn University of Technology when she received the news that she had been accepted to study at Prince of Songkla University in Phuket for a semester. It was time to head towards new challenges.

 

Big Buddha statue in Phuket
Big Buddha statue is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Phuket.

 

Veera was both excited and scared to move so far away from home, since it was her first time in Asia. And at the beginning, her time in Asia was not without its difficulties. Cultural collisions were inevitable. She admits that she was completely unprepared to deal with the differences between Western and Asian cultures. No matter how much you read about a country beforehand, experiencing culture shock is common once you arrive at the destination. But with time, Veera was able to turn all those hardships into victories, and learn new, surprising things about Thai culture and herself as well.

 

One of the cultural differences Veera ran into was the difference between European and Thai teaching styles. In Western culture, it is common to question teachers, and students are even encouraged to speak up if they disagree. However, in Thailand, students are expected to act more respectful towards their teachers and criticizing the teacher’s lecturing is unheard of. Veera learnt that when she tried to give the teacher some feedback and the teacher was less than happy to hear her comments.

 

As a student I question a lot and I love a challenging conversation, which however is not a common way to interact with teachers in for instance Thailand, and I often felt that I came across as extremely rude when questioning the teacher’s methods of lecturing.

 

Asia Exchange students at Prince of Songkla University
Remember to keep an open mind on your first day of school.

 

Despite the challenges studying in a foreign culture posed, her time at Prince of Songkla University left her with  many unforgettable memories. She remembers the Thai language class with fondness but one course that really stuck out was the social psychology class. There, Veera got the chance to do an educational project among pregnant Burmese women that raised awareness about their treatment in Thailand. The class would visit the women twice a week and teach them English or other skills, like making bracelets. They would also do each other’s hair and make-up in Western and Burmese style. Experiences like these give students the opportunity to interact with local people and learn things about their culture you would not learn from books.

 

The project with the Burmese women, among plenty of other things, is one of my favorite memories of Thailand.

 

Asia Exchange students teaching Burmese children
Other educational projects include visits to a learning center for underprivileged Burmese children.

 

Apart from studying, Veera also had time to travel to other Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines. Coincidentally, two months before she graduated, Veera was offered an internship place in the Philippines. Had she not been there before, she might to have accepted the offer. Thanks to her previous experiences, she knew she was more than ready to go back to Asia. This time she was prepared and not scared of the cultural differences any more. Quite the opposite, she was craving to go back to the Philippines. Her travels in the Philippines also made her realize that education is the key to making a change. It inspired her to apply for a master’s program in Comparative and International Education in Norway. All the difficulties she faced during her time in Phuket were important in shaping her as a person. Without the exchange, she might not have realized what her real passion is.

 

To sum up, I would say that to enter a whole new continent alone was a crucial step for me to make in order to pursue my further aspirations.

 

Mayon Volcano in the Philippines
It was the Philippines that stole Veera’s heart in the end.

 

Want to broaden your horizon? Learn more about studying in Phuket.

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