Mid exam period, stressed, procrastinating and staring into a barren fridge already rung dry of its precious sugary resources, I needed something bigger than a few Facebook notifications to get me through this study session. I stumbled upon the UTS Build opportunity to study abroad for two weeks under the new Colombo Plan. That was all I needed. Immediately I signed up, only to wonder what I had gotten myself into once Kingsford Smith was but a spec upon the horizon.
Nervous, plunging into an unfamiliar culture, currency with a different set of royals and humidity that could fill a swimming pool, I psyched myself up for the solo, 1am, 30km public transport route from the airport to my hostel. However all these butterflies were quickly subdued when I met the smiles of all the locals on the bus. What a welcome. I am glad to say that this warmth from the local Thai people was a common theme throughout the trip.
The first day I spent strolling through the massive and varied street markets found in Bangkok’s Chinatown filled with everything you heart desires. Rob and myself bought some used Tuk Tuk radiator caps and finished the day with some wonton soup.
Starting the two week climate engineering and science course at KMUTT we were introduced to our Thai peers who we would study with for the whole course. Known as our Thai buddies we all soon transitioned to becoming close friends. The course was made up of ten lectures focused on energy production technologies, future energy demands and transport. Between lectures we also went on some very interesting field trips that put the theory into a real world context. The trip to the All Green Learning Centre was one of the highlights, it is a camp centred around living at one with nature. The concept is to minimise our impact on the environment by harnessing natural processes to replace more unsustainable technologies. We got our hands dirty creating compressed earth bricks from the local soil and dying fabrics with natural dyes (betel nut, turmeric). I left feeling inspired by the positive work being done by people in Thailand to create awareness about energy conservation.
What made this such a unique trip was we weren’t tourists peering in on Thai culture, we got to live it for two weeks. Living on campus and studying at the university with local students I got a glimpse of what real Thai life was like. The students have profound respect for their position to study at university, upon entering the campus each morning they will bow to the statue of their king and everyday is formal dress. I also found the locals were very proud to show of their wonderful culture, a key part being their local cuisine. Street markets are a big part of their food culture, where many people share meals anytime of the day. There was always something new and delicious to try in the markets whether it was fluorescent blue dumplings, slow cooked pork hock soup, blood broth noodle soup, raw paw paw salad or some deep fried insects. My personal favourite was the Tom Yum Goong soup, a fresh and spicy soup with prawns that will zap your taste buds.
This trip went above and beyond anything I expected, I met amazing people, learn’t about very important topics and ate some fantastic food. However this is not something I will leave behind in Thailand. I have brought back new local and international friendships, a more global perspective on climate change and our responsibility in tackling these issues and a greater understanding of the cultural backgrounds in my wonderfully diverse country of Australia.