What is your name: Felix Evans
Major: Environmental Science
Expected graduation date: Spring 2020
Why did you want to go to Thailand?
I knew coming into college that if I ever studied abroad, I’d want to go to a country that was central to a variety of other places I’d always wanted to visit, such as the region of Southeast Asia, and Thailand is the perfect location for that. There’s so much to see in Thailand that I’d be more than happy just exploring this country for all seven months of the program, but it also has the advantage of being just one short and inexpensive flight away from many different countries I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to visit, such as Laos, Vietnam, and Malaysia. I also wanted to study in a non-English speaking country to have a learning experience unlike any I could ever recreate in the U.S., both academically and personally.
What specifically are you doing in Thailand?
I am taking environmental science classes and carrying out research under the advisory of professors at King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi. The spring semester lasts from early January to early May, and our classes during this time are designed to help us carry out environmental research. The summer portion of the program is entirely focused on completing a research capstone. I am working with fellow UNC students on a research project focused on implementing renewable energy storage systems into sustainable office buildings to design net-zero energy buildings. We are conducting our research in coordination with EGS-Plan, a Thai-German company providing innovative energy-efficient and sustainable engineering services.
What has been the most impactful experience you’ve had while in Thailand?
So much about Thailand is new to me— the culture, the norms, the movement through everyday life. Each day that I’m here I feel better accustomed to the patterns in how everything and everyone fits together. However, there is still a lot left to learn about Thai culture. I think one of the most striking experiences I’ve had so far was on Makha Bucha, a Buddhist national holiday in Thailand. On this day, temples across the entire country are crowded with people carrying out a traditional evening candlelight procession after a day of praying and making a merit (a Buddhist practice). As an observer and guest to a temple in the area of my university, this was an amazing and humbling sight to see. People of all ages were taking part in the celebration, and as is common in Thailand, a market had popped up outside the temple full of street vendors selling delicious snacks, so there was an air of festivity and welcoming amidst an honor and humility towards the sacredness of tradition. Embracing this culturally significant holiday helped me to become better immersed in Thai culture, and it was without a doubt an impactful and unique experience.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve taken away from your experience in Thailand?
There are unique challenges to living in a place so dramatically different from the U.S. These challenges present opportunities to grow, and I’ve learned a lot even in just the first few months of venturing so far from home. One of the most valuable lessons in Thailand is to never cross the street without looking both ways! Traffic in Bangkok is some of the worst in the world; for the first week, all of us were sure that we would end up being late to class waiting for cars to slow down enough to let us cross.
But the overarching lesson that I’ve learned here time and time again is that, no matter how out of your comfort zone you are, if you approach a situation with the right attitude and an open mind, most people are willing to look past the barriers— whether in language, culture, or differences in background—to see you for who you are and help you out. In the end, even people who live half the world away are people, just like the people at home, and even though that seems like common sense, it’s easy to forget until you are that person halfway across the world. Interacting with people in Thailand to whom I am a non-Thai speaking, unfamiliar looking, complete stranger was intimidating to me at first, but I learned that a smile can go a long way; learning to find common ground from the innate human experience and building from that is a skill that can take you anywhere you want to go and help you in any situation, and there’s no better place to put that into play than in Thailand, the Land of Smiles.
Do you have any advice for other students who are considering going to Thailand?
Don’t be afraid to jump in and make friends with the Thai buddies in the first few weeks! These are the Thailand university’s study abroad student organization members. They will have answers to all your questions, no matter how wild or mundane, and they are enthusiastic about making friends. They will know all the best coffee shops, how to travel anywhere inside and outside Bangkok, and they’ll help you bargain like a local. Study up on some basic Thai before arrival, and especially learn how to ask the names of unfamiliar things so that you can expand your vocabulary while here, but know that students in the local area are generally excited to practice their English with a native English speaker and likewise are happy to help with Thai. Also, don’t be afraid to try street market food; in fact, take advantage of all things unfamiliar, and explore every chance you get, because a person’s first time in Thailand is a once in a lifetime experience. Knowing the area is also truly important to conceptualizing the application of our environmental research to the real world where it is needed.
Do you have anything else to share?
Deciding to study abroad in Thailand was a pivotal moment in my life. I sometimes think forward and wonder what I’ll miss most about it once I’m gone, but the real lessons are learned and memories are made in the moments when I am most present with my surroundings. Even so, I know that coming here has already changed so much of my outlook on the world and my place in it. Studying abroad is an experience I believe every student should have, and I am so lucky that I chose a place as indescribable as Thailand.