After studying at one of Thailand’s top universities, spending time as a marketing intern at a flagship hotel, and achieving a personal life-long dream – UOW student Soutara Potter is so glad she decided to study overseas.
“I was never really interested in going on exchange. During O-week 2018, I tagged along with friends who wanted to go to the information sessions about student exchange programs, but I still didn’t want to be away from home. But, all of that changed about halfway through my first year of a Bachelor of Commerce.
An unexpected opportunity
Roughly halfway through my first semester of uni I found out about the New Columbo Plan (NCP), which was an opportunity to not only study in Thailand for a semester, but also complete an internship. The NCP also included language training and financial support to study in the Indo-Pacific region. I stumbled across this on one of my subject pages (on a UOW student site called Moodle). Of course, it stood out because: one, it was on Moodle and two, a Thai lecturer was promoting it, so I thought she would probably know what she was talking about and it might be worth doing.
My mother was born in Laos and I have always been proud of my culture and background. We would always travel to the Lao/Thai temples in the Campbelltown area for New Year’s and other major celebrations. Having grown up wishing I could make it to Laos at least once for our traditional New Year celebrations (Pi Mai Lao), I figured I might as well take a shot at applying for the NCP program, since the semester would coincide with the Lao/Thai New Year.
Lao/Thai New Year
The Lao/Thai New Year is actually a HUGE tourist attraction, especially in Bangkok. Alongside all the traditional activities during our new year, there is also a huge water fight.
For me, it has been a dream to spend it with relatives. Traditionally, water fights are a large part of the new year as it is believed to cleanse us all of any evil spirits and wrongdoings from the year gone. I had never participated in the water fights at the temple with the other children growing up. I really wanted my first water fight to be in Laos.
I travelled to Laos with my parents, brother and grandfather after my HSC, and ever since, I was desperate to go back and spend more time there. That trip was Mum’s first time back since leaving Laos at the age of two.
Receiving the NCP scholarship meant I could afford to study in Thailand, immerse myself in the culture and also travel to Laos for Pi Mai. So at the ripe old age of 19, I finally had my very first water fight for Pi Mai Lao. That in itself was such a huge highlight. Even on the second day, when you would be walking up the street to another relative’s just a few houses up, you couldn’t avoid getting hosed down by the locals.
My study abroad experience
Well, what a life changing experience studying abroad was. I would never have thought I would enjoy living away from home so much. On top of being able to study at one of Thailand’s top international universities, Assumption University, I got to visit Chiang Mai over a five-day weekend, and finally spent Pi Mai Lao with my family in Pakse, Laos. I spent many weekends in the heart of Bangkok as well as one weekend in Ayutthaya. I certainly travelled a lot, and you could travel so much more, depending on what experiences you’re after.
After living in Thailand for the first six months of 2018, I have most definitely developed and grown in more ways than I could ever have imagined. I’ve become more confident speaking both Lao and Thai and have also gained an extensive amount of experience through my internship and just travelling in general. Oh, and have I mentioned how much I loved living away from home yet?
The intern life
I interned for 16 days at Novotel Bangkok Sukhumvit 20, which just so happened to be the flagship Novotel for Bangkok. The General Manager is also Aussie, so it was super awesome to have a mini slice of home hearing him speak. I ended up doing a lot more than what was originally planned out. I created the majority of the Hotel Transylvania campaign, while also helping out with expos and various other marketing tasks, such as social media posts for their rooftop bar. One thing I found quite fun was a photo shoot for an award-winning burger – I had to create a mood board for the photo shoot.
The internship really put into perspective what I wanted from the future, and gave me a taste of the ‘real world’ and how I could actually use my knowledge from UOW not only in the industry, but also in a global context. Since completing the internship, I have been actively seeking out new opportunities back home and trying to gain as much hands-on experience as I can before I graduate.
Was it worth it?
I was lucky enough to form some lifelong friendships, not only with local Thai students, but also some Indonesian, French and Japanese exchange students too. I honestly am already considering going on exchange again (this time to the UK, to see Dad’s side of the family)!
For someone who never wanted to study abroad in the first place, it’s crazy.
I now have a minor in International Studies to graduate with, alongside my double major, all because I spent six months studying abroad. The overall process was pretty simple, UOW was great in providing information sessions and communicating.
But it wasn’t without it’s challenges, particularly overcoming cultural differences to finalise my study abroad plans. That aside, words and photos do not do justice for how incredible exchange is.
You really just need to spread your wings and experience it for yourself.
All story credit to Bachelor of Commerce student, Soutara Potter.