Five Study Abroad Programs in Thailand
Exotic. Friendly. These two words come up again and again in conversations, articles, and essays about Thailand. As the only country in Southeast Asia never to be colonized by the West, Thailand remains unique enough to attract those who have previously traveled or lived in Southeast Asia, while providing familiar Western amenities for those who have never studied abroad.
Dr. Thomas Gething, Coordinator of the Southeast Asian Language Program at the University of Washington (Seattle) and Field Director for the Advanced Study of Thai Program (Chiang Mai), praises Thailand as a good site for students with all backgrounds and language levels. Although the program he oversees accepts only students with intermediate-to-advanced Thai language abilities, Gething encourages students with a general interest in Southeast Asia to consider Thailand for study abroad. He says of its advantages, "People here are generally very accepting... whereas, in other parts of Asia, you can be kind of isolated if you're carrying on too much. I think women get along well in Thailand. It's relatively low cost, it's not like Japan where you have to take out huge student loans to cover the cost of study there. They have a good tourist infrastructure, which means that for the very beginner, if you're having culture shock and you want a McDonald's hamburger, you can get one."
Not only does Thailand have advantages in terms of cost, infrastructure, and access, it is an ideal place to research many different fields: development and environmental issues, Buddhism, tourism in Southeast Asia, issues related to various tribal ethnic minorities, and, of course, traditional Thai culture, art, and language. Carol Dickerman, Director of the Office of International Programs at the University of Michigan, cautions students that the real key to a successful study abroad experience is not as much picking the right country or city as it is picking the right program, in Thailand and elsewhere.
"Different programs provide different opportunities," says Dickerman. "The University of Wisconsin program [at Chiang Mai] gets students involved in independent research... the Thai Studies program offered through Payap seems to be a carefully structured classroom experience... the Prince of Songkhla University in the south offers a program where students interested in Islam or studying Malay would have their interests met."
One institution in northwestern Thailand deserves special mention: Chiang Mai University. One of the most highly regarded regional universities in the country, Chiang Mai has international partnerships with universities in over two dozen countries throughout Europe, Asia, and North America, and it hosts various Thai studies and language programs in cooperation with many American and British universities. Chiang Mai city offers students life in a well-equipped, reasonably sized city, while the region offers historical richness and a more temperate climate than Bangkok and the south. Programs vary in length and focus, and it's worth checking the university's Web site (see link below) to see if one of them matches your study abroad needs.
Regardless of where you decide to study in Thailand, program administrators say that, unfortunately, homestays are quite rare. According to Gething, most Thai homes are not designed to entertain guests and Thais are not accustomed to "showing off" their private homes. Lack of space and lifestyle conflicts between a Thai host and foreign student are also concerns that administrators cite. If you decide to study in Thailand, expect to live in a dorm or hotel-type environment, with either Thai or other foreign roommates.
Those involved in Thailand study abroad also cite Thailand's political stability as a benefit to studying here. Compared to other countries in the region, such as Indonesia, administrators feel comfortable sending students to study in Thailand. And though it's stable, it's certainly not stagnant. Dickerman says, ""It's very interesting to hear about some recent changes in the constitution that may in effect change the nature of democracy [in Thailand]. [You can] read about the royal family and how they've been role models for modernization..."
Dickerman and Gething say some students may hesitate to visit Thailand because they're fearful that they're at risk for various diseases, including AIDS, and would not have access to modern health facilities, but this is a misconception. Although AIDS was of great concern in the 1980s due to Thailand's well-known commercial sex industry, Dickerman says the country has implemented programs to educate people about the disease and its prevention. (This is not meant to dismiss the connection between the student's own behavior and the level of risk of exposure.) Less severe but more legitimate concerns include air pollution and traffic in Bangkok, heat and humidity in the south, and limited access for students with physical disabilities.
Each university listed here offers some kind of program in cooperation with an American institutional partner (excluding CIEE, a separate program). Check Web sites for details on the various programs available.
1. Chiang Mai University
Chiang Mai University, 239 Huay Kaew Road, Muang District, Chiang Mai, Thailand 50200, Tel: +66 53-221699, 941000, Fax: +66 53-217143, 221932
Where you'll find the list of international programs:
2. Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE)
Khon Kaen, Isaan Province
CIEE, 633 Third Avenue, 20th Floor, New York, NY 10017-6706, Tel: 1-800-40-STUDY, Fax: 212-822-2779
3. Payap University
Payap University, Muang District, Chiang Mai 50000 Thailand Tel:+66 53-241-255, 304 805, Fax: +66 53-241-983, Email: email@example.com
4. Rangsit Univeristy
Office of International Affairs, Rangsit University, 52/347 Muang-Ake Pahonyotin Rd., Patumtani, Thailand 12000, Tel: (662) 997-2200 ext. 5218-5224, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
5. Thammasat University
Phrachan Center, Main Campus, 2 Phrachan Road, Phranakorn, Bangkok 10200, Thailand, Tel: +66 2-613 3333, Email: email@example.com
Link to Thai Studies Certificate page: http://thaistudy.tu.ac.th
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