I left America January 1st for the first time in my life, taking “new year, new me” to a whole new level. I left with my suitcases half full and made the long journey halfway around the world to Bangkok. I knew I was walking into a city known to have the most tourists visit annually and wow, did the city reflect that. Similar to our New York City, the energy of Bangkok was bustling. So much creativity and motivation, and so much love.
I lived in the quaint suburbs outside of Bangkok in the sub district of Salaya, and attended Mahidol University International College, where classes were taught in English. The lack of a language barrier allowed me to get over my culture shocks more quickly and make friends fast. I came to Thailand with some basic Thai phrase knowledge, but I took a Thai Language class and it helped me navigate society with ease. Bartering prices is quite common in Thai markets so it was helpful to not get ripped off and to communicate with the locals. They were so kind to me, anytime I was lost they were patient.
I arrived in Thailand’s winter, where the lows were in the 70’s. Looking back, I took that weather for granted. Come April, every day was over 100 degrees, and it was quite hard to do outdoor activities without a lot of water. I experienced so much culture shock upon arrival that lasted a few weeks, but I adjusted well. One thing I never got used to was Thailand’s driving – it is crazy! Somehow I only saw two car crashes in the 4 months.
Over 90% of the Thai population is Buddhist, and the culture shows that. While a quite Collectivistic society, they have so much love for others and there are a lot of acts of kindness since building merit and good karma are important. I went to many beautiful and historical temples and was fascinated by the architecture. There were old buildings and temples next to modern skyscrapers and cafes in Bangkok, all while greenery was still kept. It was nothing like the concrete jungle of NYC. I think I tried hard to blend in and not stick out, as I noticed eyes were on me. I didn’t want people to see me as a tourist; I was really wanting to get the Thai experience.
I never was one to take pictures of my food until I came to Thailand. The fruit was so fresh and the pork quality was incomparable to America. The cost of living is much lower than in America, and so I was able to eat well for a low cost. Fruit stands were all over the place with cut fruit you could buy for $1-3. I visited Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai and fell in love with northern food. Khao Soy and Esan Laeng Saep were two I couldn’t stop eating. There was a late night roti stand that would sit outside my apartment until 3 a.m. or so and it was a great sweet snack I had many times.
The drinking age is lower in Thailand and they really know how to have a good time. I took trips with my friends to Khao Yai National Park, Hua Hin, Krabi, and Phi Phi Island. Island hopping was very cheap and I did a half day trip in Koh Samet to surrounding islands for $20. I hope I can return to visit them again one day and they changed my life forever. I’m so grateful for all of their insight and laughs I had with them.
Coming to Thailand through an organization like KEI meant I also had American friends I would meet as soon as I landed. We went on many excursions together to the ancient city of Ayutthaya, as well as Chiang Mai and Koh Samet. We had an onsite director that was able to help me navigate any issues I had and kept us safe. Their program was not expensive and that was very important to me when deciding where to study abroad. Coming here through an organization helped me feel less alone.
Sure, studying abroad does mean you have to study and go to school and do the part. But a new perspective is where the real value of study abroad is. It changes you forever and you walk rich with knowledge. Not just the book smarts, but the street smarts, too. A short two-week study-abroad trip was not something I wanted and I am so grateful I lived and really immersed myself in the community around me. I would’ve never had that opportunity had I come for a short time, and I’m so grateful for that.
Ava Kelton (BS Finance and Accuonting) spent the Spring 2023 semester studying abroad in Bangkok, Thailand through KEI. Ava had the following to say about studying abroad, “Studying Abroad gave me the opportunity to gain more insight into Thai culture as well as into my own. American culture is so unique and diverse, but if you never venture away from home, you will never know how different things could be. It makes you grateful for what you have.”
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