Name: Natalie Gabriel
Major: Environmental Science: Quantitative Energy Track
Expected graduation date: May 2022
Why did you want to go to the Thailand Field Site?
I chose this study abroad program because it was not only through my major and included a research opportunity, but it was in a part of the world that was very much so foreign to me. I likely would not consider living in Thailand for seven months on my own without the incentive of being enrolled in a university there with an amazing research opportunity.
What specifically are you doing/did you do in Thailand?
The program is seven months long (January-July) including a semester of courses through King Monkgut’s University of Technology Thonburi’s (KMUTT) Joint Graduate School of Energy and the Environment (JGSEE) and a research project over the Summer. The courses include a life cycle assessment course, environmental chemistry, environmental research and two environmental/energy classes of your choice.
I, however, spent about three months in Thailand taking the semester of environmental courses when the CoVid-19 pandemic got so bad that my program was canceled. I am now back in the U.S. completing my courses through JGSEE online and conducting my research on the side.
While I was there, I was regularly enrolled in three courses with one three hour class each week and a research course with required out of class hours of work. To get to class, I would flag down one of these cute mini buses (a krapong), hop on, ride to my university, grab an iced coffee from a street stand across the street and possibly a chocolate-filled waffle in the shape of a fish if it was market week at the university. After class, my classmates and I would meet up and go to the canteen with probably the best food of any university (100 times better than Lenoir could ever be). Then we would go to the library for some studying, a nearby park for a run or downtown for an adventure.
I spent my free time exploring the little suburb of Bangkok I lived in, taking trips into the big hustling and bustling city of Bangkok, and occasionally spending a weekend exploring another city or area in Thailand. We went on an excursion to treat elephants to a spa treatment and a couple beach trips to the infamous southern Thai islands. We planned to visit a few other Thai cities and even parts of Cambodia and Vietnam, but our program was canceled before we had the chance.
There was one month where I didn’t have much free time at all and that was the month of the environmental chemistry class. This month we take an additional class, summer class style with about 4-5 classes each week, with a professor that visits from UNC. This month is hectic and difficult, but once it’s over everything returns to the casual 3 classes each week.
Overall, I very much so enjoyed my time in Thailand, the food was delicious and the people were very kind.
What has been the most impactful experience you’ve had while in Thailand?
The most impactful experience I had while in Thailand was simply partaking in everyday life. I spent most of the first month settling in, getting used to the food, the language barrier and the differences in culture and customs. Eventually, I found my routines and adapted to the differences in the Thai lifestyle.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve taken away from your experience in Thailand?
My biggest takeaway from this study abroad experience is probably the realization that in many ways different is not bad and also does not need to be fixed. Thailand is so different from the US, so similar in some ways, but in the ways that it is different, it is not necessarily inferior or needs fixing. This idea I think is sometimes not common enough in the U.S.
Do you have any advice for other students who are considering going to the Thailand Field Site?
You should do it! Thailand is amazing! It is not a walk in the park like some study abroad programs may be, but even being there for three months I found it worth it. I really did not want to leave when I was sent home early, but I don’t regret going because of the unforgettable experiences I have now. The classes are different, in some ways easier and in others harder (just make sure to consult students who did this program previously before choosing electives), but I found that the research opportunity was really valuable.