“It is easy to grow complacent and get stuck in a routine back in Berkeley, but in Thailand, I was always pushing myself to try new things. From tasting exotic foods to interacting with the locals, I learned to embrace my curiosity even when I felt out of place.”
I saw the Berkeley Global Internships program as a unique way to experience living in a different culture for an extended period of time while also gaining work experience in my technical field. The Thailand study abroad program was particularly appealing to me as a chemical engineering major. My host university partnered up with a petrochemical company in order to provide me and a small group of five other students with unique internship experiences requiring a level of technical experience difficult to find in other global internship programs.
One of the most interesting cultural experience I had while I was abroad was witnessing the reverence for the Thai king. It is a foreign concept to me being raised in the US, but everyone felt so much respect and love for the king. Everyone viewed the king as a father figure guiding Thailand. Traditions such as a tribute to the king before every movie showing and wearing yellow and purple on royal holidays in order to celebrate the royal family all reinforced the important role the king played in Thai society.
English is not a predominant language in Thailand and that made it hard to interact with the locals outside of the university. Even within my work environment, the main language spoken was Thai. In order to prepare for this situation, I learned key words in Thai and practiced Thai customs such as the bow or "wai" to show respect for elders. I spoke slowly, listened patiently, and overall tried to keep a positive attitude despite the language barrier. My Thai coworkers appreciated that I did not become frustrated even as we tried to collaborate on a technical project together, and I appreciated the kindness they showed me despite not speaking their language.
During a typical workday in Rayong, Thailand, I would wake up at 6:30 am in order to catch the company bus that transported all the interns to their respective plants. After arriving to the plants at around 7:45 am, the interns and I would eat breakfast at the company canteen. At around 8:30 am, we would check into the plant and work in the control room at the center of the plant. For the whole day, I would mainly be at my desk working on my individual optimization project. The supervisors were in the same office and available if I had any questions. We would eat lunch at 12:00 pm and work again until 5:00 pm, at which time, the bus would take us back to our apartments.
This was my first time abroad in another country, and I can't believe how much I learned about myself and how my culture shapes my way of thinking just by living somewhere new for two months. Every time I visited one of the many island beaches, Buddhist temples, or street markets, I felt like I was learning something new. What made these new experiences even more memorable was the hospitality and enthusiasm of our host, Dr. Pisanu. He introduced us to Thai culture during our first weeks in Thailand, and he connected us to an abundance of Thai friends we could turn to in the future. Throughout our program in Thailand, my cohort and I always felt cared for.
Studying abroad forced me to push myself beyond what I thought I was capable of in terms of thriving in a country I am unfamiliar in. It is easy to grow complacent and get stuck in a routine back in Berkeley, but in Thailand, I was always pushing myself to try new things. From tasting exotic foods to interacting with the locals, I learned to embrace my curiosity and my desire to learn more even when I felt out of place. At the end, I made a lot of new friends and caught the travel bug. My internship in Thailand inspired me to plan more trips abroad in the future.
I would recommend anyone who wants an intellectual challenge and a unique cultural experience to apply for the Thailand Global Internships program.