The prospect of studying abroad has always been of interest to me but it didn’t become a reality until this past semester. A very last minute appointment with UTC’s Study Abroad office resulted in what I can now say was a truly life-changing experience.
Within a couple of months I was suddenly living in Chiang Mai, Thailand — surrounded by a new language, culture, food, people, and weather with a 12 hour time difference to top it off. I studied through the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC) at Chiang Mai University. I wore the uniform, rode the campus shuttle, and of course attended class. But the whole of my time there doesn’t boil down to academics but to what I learned outside of the classroom.
Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand, the first being Bangkok, and is well-known for its rich history and cultural connections to neighboring countries like Myanmar, Laos, and China. It’s nestled in between Northern Thai mountain ranges drawing an array of Thais and tourists hoping to visit or make a home. The city’s proximity to the highlands also offers different opportunities to learn about indigenous and ethnic Thai’s. Throughout my time there I was able to see the fusion between traditional Thai life and an emerging contemporary culture; the blend making Chiang Mai unique to any other location in Thailand. Effortlessly passing from historical districts and temple grounds to bustling spaces filled with young Thai’s in alternative spaces was bewildering and in the most wholesome way, intoxicating. There was always movement and it was astonishing to witness.
I would be lying if I said adjusting to this was easy. Aside from the obvious, I had trouble figuring out the rhythm of the city. Every place has their own feel and personality and I wasn’t familiar with Chiang Mai in the first couple months. But making a home out of a foreign place takes time, patience, and as cliche as it sounds, dedication. As the semester progressed, I strengthened my support system—making connections with fellow program participants and local Thai students. I took time to explore the city (both alone and with friends) and really got to know the ins and outs of my immediate area. I found my favorite cafe and go-to restaurant, I knew where my favorite snacks were in the 7/11 and which stores had the cheapest groceries, which night market vendor to go to if I wanted a specific pair of pants and what sidewalks to be mindful of at night (for the sole reason of random obstacles like trees and raised cement platforms in the middle of the walkway).
In growing familiar with this new place I also began to see a forgotten side of myself emerge. Everything around me began to fall into place and things like jazz co-ops, art galleries, public parks, street performers, thrift markets, sunsets from the fire escape and restaurants striving for social impact pulled me out of this monotony that had plagued me before. Small moments began to mean a lot more than they did and I began re-valuing things that I had let myself forget about. I have re-discovered myself, my own passions and desires, and while my experience is much more than just a revival of inspiration I wanted to share a taste of how beneficial truly living abroad is. Studying abroad allowed me to experience and immerse myself in Thai culture far better than a simple vacation visit and despite all the ups and downs within the semester I don’t regret anything. But of course, a few paragraphs isn’t going to do anything justice — if you are thinking about studying abroad, I urge you to do it. I’ve seen and experienced things that would have never been possible had I not taken the jump.
Kristina Thompson (BS Political Science) spent Fall 2022 studying abroad in Chiang Mai, Thailand through USAC. Kristina had the following to say about studying abroad, “It’s hard to grasp how big the world truly is until you go out and live somewhere else. If you’re able to, take the opportunity to live and study abroad — completely immersing yourself in something foreign to you. You might discover completely new passions and inspirations that reshape the core of who you are. “
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