Exchange Program-Thailand

Mahidol University International College

Student Experience - Thailand

Exchange Student, John Rajeski

College of Management Mahidol University, Thailand – Spring 2004

“It is very important that any potential HPU MBA student or any student consider what it is they want to get out of their experience. I encourage any person who has a desire to expand their horizons to go to Thailand with an open mind and heart, and challenge themselves to participate in an exchange program at CMMU.  The professors effectively bridged both Asian and Western cultures by incorporating the strengths of each one into their teaching; giving you a well-rounded experience.”

Getting a student visa (which is valid for three months from the date of issuance) requires a valid passport, a sponsorship letter from the host school (Mahidol University) an authorization letter from HPU, an application form (that can be filled out at the office) two-passport photos and a $50.00 fee. This process can be completed at the Thai Administrative (Consulate) Office in Honolulu. Upon arrival in Bangkok (and going through airport immigration) the Thai Immigration Authorities issue a 3-month Visa – that is renewable via getting an extension letter from Mahidol University (while in Bangkok) verifying your (active) student status.  Once you get an extension letter from Mahidol University, you go down to the Thai Immigration Office (in Bangkok) fill-out a form, present it, a passport photo, 2000 Baht ($50.00 USD) and your Mahidol University verification letter to the authorities at the main counter. After giving you a receipt for payment, you take a number and your paperwork, go to an office on the second floor of the Immigration building upstairs, and wait until you meet with an Immigration Officer who stamps your passport with an additional 3-month extension.

I was originally scheduled to fly on Thai Air from Los Angeles (with a brief layover in Tokyo, Japan) to Bangkok.  However, I was re-routed and flew on Asiana Airlines from Los Angeles through Seoul, S. Korea, and switched back to Thai Airway for the Seoul to Bangkok portion of the flight.  I redeemed mileage – so the cost of airfare does not apply. In regards to flight plans, two things come to mind: One, be flexible regarding when you plan to depart and return, as it will often help you to get a lower fare.  Two, purchasing an opened ended ticket allows for more options, as it is difficult to predict what your plans will be several months in advance of returning from your trip e.g. you might want to travel within said country and/or the region of the world that you have studied in, get an opportunity to fulfill an internship, work a job, etc.

The primary information that Mahidol provided prior to my departure related to my course enrollment for the semester. Upon arrival, I was met by Brian Hunt, a Director at Mahidol, and was escorted from where I was staying (in downtown Bangkok) to Mahidol’s Chatuchak campus (in a Bangkok district outside of the downtown area).  From that point forward, I was introduced to various CMMU staff members and met with them accordingly (e.g., regarding my classes, finding housing, etc.)

CMMU’s academic content, required coursework (case studies, papers, presentations, exams, etc.) is on par with HPU’s.  For example, the textbooks that are used are all US-based materials, methodologies and concepts.  CMMU’s quality of teaching ranged from being similar to the US to being teacher-centric.   In sum, in my courses where the classroom was teacher-centric, the Thai teacher is the expert and the student is there to capture information verbatim and repeat it on an exam.  This type of learning environment was very challenging for me.  Given that I am not trained the way my fellow Thai students are trained, I do not have a photographic memory for capturing and reproducing information. In these settings, I felt that they had a distinct advantage.  In my courses that were more oriented to the US-standard, the opposite was the case.  My fellow Thai students struggled, and deferred to my knowledge and/or expertise (real or perceived).  In these settings, I felt that I had a distinct advantage.  My favorite professors and their approaches to teaching were the Thai professors who had lived and trained in the US and Canada.  I felt that their teaching styles effectively bridged both Asian and Western cultures by incorporating the strengths of each one (Thai students – attentive and focused students who want to learn the concepts or information presented, US student (me) – attentive and focused who both wanted to learn the concepts or information presented as well as apply them).  Thai students are not unlike US students.  Some work hard, some do not.  Some are good at taking exams; some are not.  Some have studied in other countries; some have never left Bangkok.  The one distinction that I saw is listed above: Thai students have an incredible ability to learn information rote (verbatim), and reproduce it.  However, they also are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to taking information and applying it.  CMMU has set out to both break their students of this habit and challenge them to think and apply information more along the lines of how Western (the US in particular) learning is applied (in this respect, I was welcomed by the CMMU administration, as well as by my fellow Thai students).

I chose not to get a cell phone.  However, they are readily available and can be purchased without committing to a plan via buying a phone (you can get a state-of-the-art phone for less than 2000 Baht) and purchasing pre-paid, stored-value SIM cards with a variety of minute-levels available at a 7-11, Lawson and/or any convenience store throughout Bangkok. Via the numerous money exchange kiosks located throughout Bangkok. Yes, it is very convenient to convert to Thai currency (ATM’s are also located throughout the city that are linked to the daily Baht/Dollar exchange rate).

I lived in what would be the equivalent of a decent-sized furnished, studio apartment in Honolulu with a bathroom and small lanai.  With no kitchen and/or cooking facilities located in my flat (which is common in Bangkok) I ate my daily meals at restaurants located within my school’s building complex (on the first floor of both wings of the complex there are numerous restaurants) or in other restaurants around my neighborhood.  Bangkok has a variety of places to eat ranging from inexpensive (less than $2.00 US) to expensive (on-par with any major city in the world where you can spend as much as you’d like on dining).

On average an exchange student would spend about $250 to $500 per month depending on their individual preference regarding where they live.  For example, living near Mahidol’s campus varies from renting a flat without a kitchen or paying twice that per month for a flat with a kitchen.  It also enables someone to walk to school, and dine at local Thai restaurants, etc.  Living further away from campus (in town) usually means staying at a hotel, and/or renting a flat in a more upscale western apartment complex (with a kitchen).  However, that also means commuting and dealing with some of the most challenging traffic anywhere in the world.  In sum, I estimate that I spent less that $15.00 (US) per day – which equals 600 Baht for all my expenses: Housing, food, transportation, etc.

First, my overall experience at Mahidol was positive – which I feel is the responsibility of each student to ensure becomes a reality.  Secondly, I was particularly impressed with the Modules that Mahidol offers. The two that I took while only 7 weeks in length, are interesting, demanding and challenging classroom settings that allowed me to take real-world concepts and attempt to apply them in an environment that was very conducive for learning.  There are a number to choose from, and I encourage any potential (future) HPU MBA student to seriously consider taking these courses as a part of their course plan.

I highly recommend getting to know and fully utilize Brian H., Alex B., and all of the Student Service Staff as a resource – they are diligent, responsive and interested in ensuring that your experience is truly memorable.  A great group all-around!  It is very important that any potential HPU MBA student seriously consider what it is that they want to get out of their experience? Is it to study in another culture? Learn Thai? Network professionally and expand their business contacts? Travel in Asia? I also recommend considering where you plan on living in Bangkok.  As obvious as this may sound, I feel strongly that having a good quality of daily life experience makes a world of difference when you are living in Bangkok.  Bangkok is a very safe and manageable city; however, it is also crowded, dirty, noisy and overwrought with traffic.  Do you want to commute long distances, and/or live close to campus? Do you want to take in the nightlife or lead a quieter experience? Taking the time to examine these questions in advance of arriving can make a big difference in the quality of a person’s experience.  I encourage any person who has a desire to expand their horizons to go to Thailand with an open mind and heart, and challenge themselves to participate in an exchange program at CMMU.  I am honored to have been the first person to participate in an exchange between CMMU and HPU.  Aside from encouraging future students to participate in this exchange, thanks to everyone who both helped make my exchange participation a reality, as well as such a memorable experience.