The Happiest Semester of My Life August 08, 2014

By (Undecided, Western Washington University) - abroad from 01/09/2014 to 05/11/2014 with

USAC: Chiang Mai - Study Abroad at Chiang Mai University

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I am capable of so much more than I ever realized. I can honestly say I didn't have a single bad day, and I owe that to the pure positivity I was able to cultivate within myself while in Thailand. Unfortunate things may happen sometimes, situations can be inconvenient or uncomfortable, but life abroad is an exquisite sort of chaos and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Review Photos

USAC: Chiang Mai - Thailand Study Abroad Photo USAC: Chiang Mai - Thailand Study Abroad Photo USAC: Chiang Mai - Thailand Study Abroad Photo USAC: Chiang Mai - Thailand Study Abroad Photo USAC: Chiang Mai - Thailand Study Abroad Photo

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 2 weeks - 1 month

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

The class content wasn't the most engaging or well put together. I didn't feel very challenged within the classroom and the grading was a bit confusing at times. However, I do really appreciate that there wasn't much homework because we had sooo much time to go explore and travel. What the academics lacked, I feel I gained through my personal travel experiences!

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

Everyone is sooo nice and accommodating! Schedules do change a lot last minute, and that can be frustrating, but just remember they are doing it all in hopes of making you more comfortable and happy.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

The apartments were separated by gender, so we could never hang out as a big group since men weren't allowed in the women's apartment complex, and vice versa. It would have been nice to be able to at least have movie nights all together. But I think they are changing these rules?

* Food:

So spot on and delicious!! I did miss cooking my own food (it's virtually impossible) but man oh man, Thai food is scrumptious, and it was so fun to roam the street vendors looking for food.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

It's easy to end up spending all your time with your American friends in your group, so even if you are doing all these awesome things in the city, surrounded by Thai people, you are chatting in English with your American friends. Just make sure to make that extra effort to get to know the Thai Buddies, engage in conversation with your food server, meet people at coffee shops...etc. So worth it!

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

The program directors were very willing to drive people to the doctor, set up appointments, accompany you and translate if needed, etc. I personally did not have any health issues like that, but others seemed to have good experiences. Also, we all regretted getting all the absurd vaccines and buying allllll those malaria pills. So expensive! I did not get the Japanese Encephalitis vaccines (those are outrageously expensive) nor did I take any Malaria pills. I only bought about 2 months worth of them in the first place, to take while in :high risk" Malaria areas (like on our homestays with the Hilltribes peoples) but I didn't even take them then. Most people did' not take theirs consistently. There is no Malaria in Chiang Mai. However, do what makes you feel comfortable! I just don't have insurance and these vaccines are so expensive. I did get the Typhoid and Hepatitis vaccines though. Also bring Imodium..food poisoning is a thing. And lot's of lady products because it's real difficult to find tampons there.

* Safety:

I felt so safe, it's crazy. I am a worrier, I get stressed walking to my car at night when it's parked outside my house in my small hometown. But Chiang Mai is just full of wonderful people with good intentions! I walked around the city in the middle of the night all the time. The first weekend another girl and I walked 4 hours home in the middle of the night, across the city, getting lost and asking random people for directions. It was so fun and heartwarming to have people be so nice. That was one of the biggest adjustments... realizing that people truly want to be helpful and nice, and most people in the world don't have some diabolical hidden agenda! Strangers are just friends you haven't met yet!

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes

Finances

* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

Living in Thailand is cheapppp for an American. The exchange rate is really in our favor. Before the program began, money was hands down my biggest stress. It was tough fronting the money before the program for my plane ticket, vaccines, and some program fees. So the quarter before I left was the ultimate time for penny pinching. Yet 100% worth it, and once you are in Thailand, living is cheap! I wasn't worried about money while I was there, and I even did some extravagant traveling while there.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? I am awful at estimating this sort of thing.... but I spent about 40 baht per meal maybe? So three meals, that only about $4 a day on food, excluding drinks,other snacks, or coffee. Songthaews (cabs) within the city are easy too, less than a dollar usually. So day to day life is cheap.
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? Don't buy a bunch of food at the grocery stores. That is expensive, because anything imported into Thailand is taxed so much. One time I splurged and bought a box of my favorite cereal (Grapenuts) and it was almost $10... So instead go soak up the culture and find a little food cart that sells the most delicious omelets for less than a dollar.

Language

* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

It's just really fun to order your food in Thai, get a songthaew using local slang, etc. You can get around without learning those types of words, but your desire to not be such a farang will encourage you to learn some Thai!

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? None
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Beginner
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? nothing
How many hours per day did you use the language?
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? talk to your songthaew drivers in Thai, order your food in Thai, practice with each other. It's a tough language but you are surrounded by it and it's super rewarding to accidentally eavesdrop on Thai people and actually pick up on a word or two. don't be embarrassed to try to speak it, most Thais really appreciate that you are even trying and will help you!

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Apartment
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • Everyone in my program just lovedddd everyone else. I've never experienced something quite like that before... 30 strangers from all over the country, all so quirky and unique, just seeing eachother for all our goodness and loving them despite, and because of, our imperfections. Beautiful, loving, inspiring people. We all still write to eachother almost daily on our group facebook page
  • The freedom! I had time for all sorts of cool travelling on my off days and weekend, and when I had school trips to go on, they were so incredible.
  • Chiang Mai is such a cool city, sooo glad this took place there. In love with Thailand, in love with Chiang Mai.
* What could be improved?
  • The academics. I like all the freedom, but that doesn't mean that the minimalist classroom hours couldn't be more engaging.
  • more easy going living situation
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? All that vaccine stuff... Wish I hadn't purchased Malaria pills! I literally wore the same few articles of clothing. I don't pack much as it is, and I still didn't wear so much of what I brought. You can get some real cheap, real fly, clothing there. Also you wear school uniforms, so that takes up a lot of your wardrobe options. You are going to have to renew your visa while there, even though it doesn't expire for awhile, it's only valid for a few months. So don't wait until the last minute and then have to go to the consulate (or take some ridiculous trip to the boarder of Myanmar), just plan a cool trip out of the country before it needs to be renewed, so that you can get your visa stamped when you re-renter Thailand. You are going to end of travelling to Vietnam, Cambodia, etc. anyways, so save the $60 renewal fee and just go on that trip sooner rather than later!

Reasons For Studying Abroad

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The Avid Adventurer
The wardrobe you packed was better suited for a semester of camping than club hopping. Outdoorsy, you might forgo a crazy night out for an early all-day adventure. You'd rather take in the rich culture of an old town than the metropolis of a modern city, but for you getting off the grid is ideal.