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Back to Uni in Bangkok

So you’re stuck in a boring job and yet dream of having an exciting international career in an exotic location, but realise that you don’t have the skills or experience necessary for the type of profession you want. What should you do? Why not go back to university and get a postgraduate degree?

If you are thinking about going back to university, why not think about going to an overseas one? Studying for a master’s or doctoral degree abroad will give you some great international experience that can put you ahead of others in the job market, and it will also provide you with numerous contacts that can be so very helpful in finding those much sought after expat jobs.

OK, you may not be able to afford the tuition and living expense of going off to Europe or Japan for a few years to get a master’s degree, but what about Thailand? There are a number of universities in Thailand that offer international programmes, both undergraduate and graduate level, which are taught exclusively in English. Many of these programmes are priced fairly reasonably. At Bangkok University, where I did my MBA, the overall cost of a master’s degree, tuition, fees and books, was less than £3,000 and took approximately two years to complete. You can check out current prices and courses on offer on their website.

While no one confuses the universities in Thailand with Harvard, MIT or Oxford you shouldn’t think of them as unaccredited diploma mills either. Most of the more prestigious universities in Thailand are recognised throughout Asia and many have exchange programs with universities throughout the world.

All the professors I studied under had doctoral degrees from universities in either the United States or Europe and many have held impressive positions in the world of commerce, government as well as academia. Being an international programme, the instructors as well as the students come from a multitude of countries; however, the majority of students are obviously Thai.

There are a number of well-respected universities in Thailand offering programmes in English. Most of these are in Bangkok. However, Chiang Mai University in Northern Thailand does have a few programmes taught in English. Besides Bangkok University and Assumption University, Chulalongkorn University offers an MA programme in Thai Studies as well as degrees from the highly respected Sasin Graduate School of Business Administration.

The acceptance process usually isn’t too difficult for foreigners, since many of the universities really want to have as many foreign (especially European, Australian, and North American) students as possible to give the programmes a real international flavour.

Once you’re accepted, obtaining a student visa with the help of the university is fairly simple and with a student visa, you can work, at least part-time, without having to go through the process of getting a work permit. Many of the native English-speaking students in Thailand work as English teachers.

Even if you don’t have any experience teaching, don’t worry. With a degree, any subject, from any university or 4-year college, a native English speaker shouldn’t have much trouble finding a teaching job or two in Bangkok. Myself, I taught part-time at Bangkok University during the day while studying there in the evenings. I also had another part-time teaching job on the weekends.

The cost of living in Bangkok can vary widely depending on your lifestyle; I believe this is true in most “developing” countries. Single apartments can cost very little, or they can be extremely expensive, it depends on what you want and can afford. Most foreign students pick something in between; a decent, clean single air-conditioned furnished apartment can be rented for less than £250.

Thai food is known worldwide for its delicious if somewhat overly spicy flavour and is very reasonably priced. Try it, you will keep your living expenses lower if you don’t eat farang (Western) food all the time.

Obviously, studying/working/living overseas isn’t for everyone. If you want everything to be the same as it is back home, well, then you’d better stay home. As far as studying goes, in Thailand classes rarely start on time, unless you have a foreign instructor, and classes rarely end on time either. The Thais’ “mai pen rai” concept of time carries over into the educational system as well as into all other aspects of life. Also Thai lecturers tend to use a lot more subjective grading than the lecturers do in the USA and Europe.

Don’t expect a lot of free discussions in the classroom with students questioning the teachers either. The idea that the lecturers may be wrong isn’t something that Thai students usually feel free to express. Almost all postgraduate level classes in Thailand have a number of group projects. If you don’t like to work in groups and be graded as part of a team, going to university in Thailand isn’t for you.

Individuality, non-conformity and creativity aren’t regarded very highly in the Thai educational system. While studying in Thailand, students can express their opinions; however, a student should be a little culturally sensitive and think before speaking, a lesson I’ve learned but haven’t be able to put into practice very well.

Living in Bangkok can be a trying experience. The traffic (my commute, although under 15 miles, rarely takes less than an hour and a half and is often substantially longer), the heat (highs in the mid 30s Celsius/low 90s Fahrenheit during the “cool” season), the pollution, and the noise can make living in Bangkok so very frustrating and irritating.

However, there are many great things about living in Bangkok, the combination of the exotic east with many of the comforts of home. Here you can spend the day visiting beautiful famous temples, eating spicy hot soup in a noodle stand in a back soi (sub-street), or shopping at the local market for exotic fresh food; then in the evening go out to McDonalds, see the latest Hollywood blockbuster, in English, at the local cinema or maybe go ice-skating or bowling.

There is never a reason to be bored in Bangkok, with its world-famous nightlife districts, five-star gourmet restaurants, concerts, endless shopping arcades, delicious noodle stands, cinemas, friendly people, sporting events, etc… Bangkok truly offers something for everyone. Prior to moving to Thailand, I spent around 10 years in the US Navy and was able to visit many places throughout the world, which included spending three years in Japan, but I find Bangkok unique. I think that just about everyone who has ever lived in or spent much time in this city would agree.

Going to an overseas university gives you not only a classroom education, but also real life experience living and working in a foreign culture. Living and studying in a foreign country gives a person an opportunity to learn and use a foreign language on a daily basis. If you are thinking about furthering your education in Thailand, I suggest that you at least have enough money saved for tuition, fees, books, plus a few months’ living expenses.

You should be able to find enough work to pay for your room, board and entertainment, as long as you spend some time studying instead of spending every night enjoying Bangkok’s (in)famous nightclubs, discos, and bars. If you want to pursue an advanced degree in an exotic location, but don’t have a lot of money, coming to study in Bangkok may be for you.

PG Author: Scott Hipsher

Since writing the above article, Scott Hipsher has completed his MBA at Bangkok University and is now studying for a PhD with an American university by distance learning.

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