I had basically zero knowledge about Thailand before I decided to live there for four months. First, I would like to really emphasize that having zero expectations on study abroad allowed me to have the most incredible time overall. Thailand is a magical country, with the kindest people, and a laid-back culture. I did not expect it to be so warm and the people to be so humorous.
I was really impressed with the USAC team at my school in Chiang Mai. They helped us more than they were obligated to and it made all the difference. We had field trips basically every weekend for the first six weeks. My favorites were the elephants and the two-day trekking tour. I have never been the most active person but hiking in the mountains for two days was so rewarding. We saw our first temple within hours of our arrival and I’ll never forget how I felt seeing the grandeur of it all.
After about two months staying in Chiang Mai, my friends and I started booking trips around the country. We went to various islands and a northern town called Pai. Pai may have been one of my favorite experiences on the trip. One of the best parts about traveling in Thailand is that there is a huge backpacking population. People from all over the world come to see the gorgeous sights in Thailand. I was able to connect with people from all different walks of life. I now hold countless memories I never dreamed that I could obtain.
One of my favorite days of study abroad was Songkran, the Thai new year. I went to an island called Koh Tao with my friends in my program. The entire day was a nationwide water fight and I never thought I’d have that much fun playing with water guns. Bangkok was overwhelming, but I still had a great time, and my sister came to visit for that trip. It’s very important to be wary of scammers, but besides that the city is a blast. Almost every day I spent in Thailand; I was in awe. I still cannot believe I spent four months there.
I knew that study abroad was going to change my life, but I did not realize how it would affect my mental health. I gained a type of confidence I did not know existed while I was out there. I was able to prove to myself that I could successfully live independently in a foreign culture and create an incredible experience for myself. The program itself does as much as it can to help the students with enjoying their time, but at the end of the day my decisions led to a positive outcome of my time abroad.
It’s important to take advantage of a fresh start and really figure out what person you want to be in this world. I was able to grasp a clearer sense of my identity, which is something I’ve always struggled with. I learned that the world is not as terrifying as it seems from a small town in Tennessee. I learned that people from everywhere have universal emotions and experiences. Thailand taught me peace and patience. I miss it every day, but I know I’ll be back. Traveling has prepared me for the real world more than anything else has in my life. I hope more students at UTC decide to do the USAC program in Chiang Mai, because it was the best four months of my life.
Zay Naeem (BA Anthropology) spent the Spring 2023 semester studying abroad in Chiang Mai, Thailand through USAC. Zay had the following to say about studying abroad, “Study abroad changed my life in ways I didn’t anticipate. I found trust in myself and hope in the world around me. I will forever be grateful for my time in Thailand.”
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