Arriving all alone in the city of Bangkok late at night was a little frightening. I was tired and only had a few notes to get me from the Airport to the hostel where I would stay one night before starting the BUILD program at KMUTT. This dark lonely place of scammers and people trying to sell me junk was unsettling, at least initially.
After seeing some friendly faces on the metro lines, I relaxed the grip on my pockets and realised that I felt safe in this big city. The locals were friendly and always smiling — this was an observation that remained constant for the rest of the trip. Everyone in Bangkok was so happy and pleased to meet foreigners and the local students we studied with were no different.
During the program at KMUTT, we did some cool things like play with rescued elephants, learn about environmentally friendly technologies, visit a sugar cane plantation and experience Thai culture and beliefs with our new friends from KMUTT.
The local students were terrific value and taught us some useful phrases such as “hongnam” (bathroom) and “sawadeekrap” (hello). They also took us to their favourite restaurants to try some of the traditional cuisine. One of the noodle soups included a delicious blood broth with vegetables and poultry. Another meal was “ju” which was a rice porridge with vegetables and meat.
The classes we took with the Thai students varied and we did things like build a prototype wind turbine, conduct a debate on different types of energy sources and we also studied the future of electric vehicles in Thailand. The time spent in the classroom was a fun experience, and we were able to notice the differences in teaching strategies between UTS and KMUTT. KMUTT is very hands on, walking around campus we were able to see people learning by doing. There were lots of facilities for welding, metal fabrication and testing of different materials such as concrete.
The highlight of the program was the field trip which saw us go to the All Green Learning Centre (www.facebook.com/allgreenlearningcenter) and also an elephant conservation (www.facebook.com/thaielephants) which was close to a national park outside of Bangkok. At the learning centre, we met an engineer who started the place and had the vision to teach people about different ways of living to conserve energy and protect the environment. He showed us how to make high strength bricks which had a low embodied energy and taught us about some practical sustainable building technologies.
The two-week course was finalised with a presentation on Thailands energy use in the year 2050. Presenting to our peers was another fun experience and a good way to close out the program. We also produced a short video which highlighted the similarities and differences in energy use between Australia and Thailand. The program ended with a speech from an original Colombo Plan Scholar who studied in Australia many years ago. He talked about the importance of overseas student programs and how valuable they are in shaping one’s future.
I left Bangkok feeling like I’d seen so much more than the average tourist. I felt sorry for the tourists trapped in the backpacking hotspots because of all the awesome things they missed out on in Bangkok. Upon my departure I felt more like a local than I did a tourist, It’s remarkable the opportunities that university students have to engage in cultures overseas. BUILD and other exchange programs are a must do for any student looking to explore the world.