“I can honestly say that during the last 5 months I’ve learned and experienced more than I have in my whole life, and it’s been just incredible..”
Barbora Opletalová studied abroad at Prince of Songkla University in Phuket, Thailand during spring 2015. She comes originally from Czech Republic and studied at the University of Economics of Prague. Read her story below.
I don’t even know where to start! Time runs so fast, it feels like it was only yesterday that I heard about Asia Exchange and this girl from our university who went to Phuket for her semester abroad. I remember back then that it seemed to be too late for me to apply for any study abroad program, as it was already the beginning of November and the semester in Thailand was about to start in two months. And I also knew that for Erasmus or the overseas programs you can only apply once a year and you might need to wait almost a year before you actually go.
Choosing to be a free-mover
But this was different, it was the first time I actually heard about a free-mover program. It meant that I could choose a university anywhere in the world, and arrange everything by myself. If I was accepted, my university would offer roughly the same support as I would receive for Erasmus (365 EUR per month, for one semester). But I couldn’t even begin to imagine how long it would take to find convenient universities with good locations and low tuition fees who were willing to accept international students for a semester.
When I went through the Asia Exchange website though, everything seemed so easy! The university in Phuket was exactly what I was looking for. I knew I didn’t want to do my semester abroad within Europe as the culture and people are pretty much similar everywhere. Like many other students, I didn’t really know what to do with my life and I felt I needed to try something completely different. Spending a couple of months in Thailand seemed like a very challenging and enriching experience.
And it was! There is no better way to get to know the culture than being integrated in the local community, which would never happen if you came to Thailand as a regular tourist. At the university, there were around 30 international students and a few thousands Thais! Thai students are quite shy and their English isn’t usually very good, but they are really nice, friendly and always helpful. We became very close with some of them and I found some really great friends.
Life at Prince of Songkla University (PSU)
The university life at PSU was very different from my home university, the University of Economics of Prague (VŠE). All the teachers had a very personal and friendly approach to students. They were really helpful in all matters and they tried to manage everything without putting students under stress, always with a smile on their face. Most of the courses were much easier than at VŠE, though there were also some challenging ones. Thais seemed put a lot of emphasis on group work, and there was usually one big group assignment in every course and a few case studies, all of which I found great.
As Phuket is a popular touristic destination, there are a lot of fun activities to do in your free time. You can hang out at the beach or by the pool, visit some of the beautiful local temples, discover all the different kind of curries, try different water sports and just drive around on your scooter and explore the island. Phuket is the perfect base for travelling around – local low cost airlines have cheap flights to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and many other cities. Or you can just make a one day or a weekend boat trip to one of the many amazing islands around Phuket. And of course there are many awesome places to have crazy parties. It’s just a great place to live!
Making friends for life
The most amazing thing there were the people I met there. You go there in a quite small group of international students (approx. 30); you are all far away from home, friends and families, in a completely new and different environment and you all have to adapt to local conditions, which is not always easy. You live together, study together, explore together, grow together and most of you are having the time of their life. And with all of those experiences you grow very close to each other, which makes these friendships very special.
“The best decision I’ve ever made”
I could talk for hours and hours about my life in Thailand. Going there was definitely the best decision I’ve ever made. I can honestly say that during the last 5 months I’ve learned and experienced more than I have in my whole life, and it’s been just incredible. Big thanks go to the Asia Exchange crew for making this happen and making everything so much easier for us. The team was super helpful from the beginning – getting us together on Facebook, communicating with us months in advance, keeping us up to date, giving us recommendations for accommodation and renting scooters, and answering all our questions very quickly and clearly. After our arrival they also organised a beautiful orientation week where they introduced us to the university, the local culture and conditions, and they provided us with a great deal of important and useful information relating to our stay. We also had a lot of fun doing team building activities and getting to know each other. The cherry on top was an amazing and unforgettable party weekend on the famous Phi Phi Island!
In conclusion, if anyone hesitates whether or not to do their semester abroad or not, I only have one piece of advice: stop looking for excuses and don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Just start looking for the possible locations, pick the one that most attracts you and just go! Don’t miss the chance to live this unforgettable life-changing experience and meet amazing people from all around the world, and just enjoy the 5 best months of your life.
If anyone would like to know more about free-mover programs, Asia Exchange or student life in Phuket, don’t hesitate to contact me. I’m happy to answer any questions!
Written in cooperation with Rudi Brummer