My Thai Experience: Study Abroad at Thammasat University

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Buddhas at Wat Pho. Picture: Elliot Baker

Thailand is a proud nation, full of friendly people, insanely delicious food, and a rich, unique culture that is completely different to my own. Here are a few insights of my exchange life here, and some of the main differences between Thailand and my home country, Australia. 

Jumping off the plane at Suvarnabhumi airport, I was equally scared and excited at the same time. It was the first time I was on my own, albeit alone in a completely different country to my own. For the past few months, I had been learning as much as I could about Thai culture – reading books, watching travel shows, and researching online – but nothing could prepare me for the journey that lay ahead.

Nothing could prepare me for the journey that lay ahead

Prior to beginning my semester of exchange in the Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication (BJM) at Thammasat University (Rangsit campus), I gave myself a week to settle in. One thing that really surprised me about that first week was that I was treated like a local. Walking around the city, no one would stare at you or anything. If you purchased something, the Thai people would smile and appreciate your attempt to ‘wai’ (the Thai greeting) and say “khob khun krap” (thank you). It was completely different to my time in India, where people would stare at you or approach you and start a conversation with the intention of getting you to buy something.

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Posing outside The Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Photo: Far Kanyarak

After exploring the city on my own for a week, orientation began at the Tha Prachan campus. I met my fellow exchange students; however, I found out only a couple of them would be studying at Rangsit. When I went on a campus tour to Rangsit, I was shocked with how large it is. Thammasat Rangsit is 1,251,435 square metres, over six times bigger than my campus, QUT Kelvin Grove (201,800 square metres).

What I loved about studying at Rangsit was that each time I went into Bangkok, it felt just as exciting as the first time. If I was studying at Tha Prachan, I would get used to living in Bangkok and the excitement would eventually subside. But by only getting to see Bangkok on the weekends, the thrill of driving through the city and walking around the different areas is still there, even now in my last few weeks in Thailand.

Each time I went into Bangkok, it felt just as exciting as the first time

University life in Thailand is completely different to university in Australia. Thai universities feel more like a school: you have lots of homework; you are asked to participate in class discussions; and you have the same classes with the same people. Most classes have between 40-60 students, but in one of my classes, Advanced News Reporting, there were only 10 students. This was great because I could really get to know everyone, and could develop a good relationship with my teacher. You also take between 6-7 subjects, so you get to know the other students very quickly because you see them so regularly.

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My class for JM310 Editorial and Article Writing. Photo: Unknown

One thing I found fascinating about the Rangsit campus was how difficult it was to purchase alcohol. There are no bars at Thammasat, and many of the surrounding stores, such as 7-Eleven, didn’t sell alcohol either. I found out that according to the Alcohol Beverage Control Act, alcohol cannot be sold or drunk at educational institutions. At QUT there are bars on campus which are very popular among university students. Most days, students finish their class and head to the bar with their friends. There are also many events held at the bars for societies and clubs. In fact, I was previously a member of the QUT Brewing Society. We were allowed to brew our own beer on campus and give it out to students, for free!

Here are the Thai laws about the selling and drinking of alcohol in educational institutions:

Section 31. No person shall drink any alcoholic beverage at or within the following places or areas: 

(4) an education institution under the law on national education, except the area designated as the living area of an individual or club or in the case of a conventional banquet or education institution providing the course relevant to the mixing of alcoholic beverages which having been permitted under the law on national education;

Section 27. The selling of any alcoholic beverage at or within the following places or areas is prohibited:

(5) an education institution under the law on national education;

Walking around campus, you would see animals that you wouldn’t see back home. At Thammasat, it was common to see monitor lizards, street dogs, and squirrels. Some monitor lizards were huge, and when they were in the river, they looked like small crocodiles gliding through the water. At QUT, we have many ibis birds, which are a native Australian species. Colloquially known by students as ‘bin chickens’, you would usually spot them eating out of garbage bins on campus. An ibis has a long beak, which helps them pierce through garbage bags and pick from scraps.

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An ibis at QUT Gardens Point. Photo: Trent Candy

While I’ve been here, I noticed a lot of Thais smoke, including many of my classmates. According to the The World Bank, 38.8% of the Thai population smokes, compared to 16.5% of the Australian population. Walking around Bangkok, I often saw people smoking illegally out the front of shops like 7-Eleven. When I was a large produce market in Rangsit called Talad Thai, I spotted a worker smoking a cigarette while he was sorting out fresh produce. As he was crouched over snake beans, the cigarette ashes would have fallen straight into the produce, which is horrible.

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Evidence of the man smoking over the fresh produce at Talad Thai. Photo: Elliot Baker

According to the website Tobacco Control Laws, smoking is prohibited in all markets in Thailand. This is backed up by article 42 of the Tobacco Products Control Act 2017, which states:

No person shall smoke within a smoke-free zone, except within a smoking area.

FOI request exercise

As part of a subject I undertook called Editorial and Article Writing, I was required to submit Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to the Australian government. I found this a really smart way to retrieve information if you can’t find it anywhere else.

I sent numerous requests; one to the University of Queensland; one to the Brisbane City Council; and one to QUT. I was successful with the last two, and I successfully received the information I was after.

For the Brisbane City Council request, I asked them to tell me the number of fines issued to Lime scooter users from the period 16 November, 2018 – 15 January, 2019. Then I asked them to tell me the total amount of fines from the period 15 January, 2019 – 15 February, 2019. They replied with:

“In relation to your query regarding the total number of fines given to Lime scooter users, Council has issued zero fines to users of Scooters in the Brisbane City Council area.”

This was fascinating as they publicly promised to hand more fines out in early 2019; however, it seems they haven’t.

For the QUT request, I asked to see the sizes of the campuses, which I strangely couldn’t find online. This request was quickly replied to, and they shared me a file which contained the information I was after.

Here are some links to my FOI request, and the responses I received: https://www.righttoknow.org.au/request/fines_issued_to_lime_scooter_use#incoming-14300

https://www.righttoknow.org.au/request/gardens_point_and_kelvin_grove_c#incoming-14483

https://www.righttoknow.org.au/request/complaints_made_in_2018_about_re#incoming-14409

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