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Divya Patel

About My Study Abroad Program

Major/Minor: Global Studies and Public Policy
Program: Mahidol University International College
Location: Salaya, Thailand
Term: Spring 2023


Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you select your program?
I chose to study abroad to immerse myself in a culture, academic setting, and language environment that I was not accustomed to. Studying as a visiting student in Thailand was a perfect way to achieve that, as my program would allow me to engage with local Thai students as well as international students from all over the world, learn Thai in an immersive setting, and better understand the social, political, economic, and cultural differences between Thailand and the United States. I also chose my program because as someone studying Asia-specific international relations, this opportunity allowed me to take classes centered around ASEAN and Southeast Asian regionalism from a non-U.S. lens. Finally, the last reason I chose this program was its easy access to travel opportunities both within Thailand and throughout Southeast Asia.


What did you learn about yourself?
I learned that I am much more capable and self-reliant than I had previously realized through this experience. Although I was nervous at first, I was able to start using Thai in casual settings through just attempting. It was a little nerve-wracking at first, but after forcing myself to use it outside of class I was able to connect with Thai people a lot better. Additionally, after the exchange program, I solo travelled to Cambodia and Indonesia and learned so much through that experience. I gained a lot of confidence through my exchange by embracing new opportunities rather than shying away from them.


What is one of your favorite memories from your program?
One of my favorite memories from my program was going to Chinatown in Bangkok with my Thai buddy (every Thai student is paired with an international student through a buddy program) Opal who is half-Chinese. He and his friends took me and a couple other exchange students around to learn about the food scene, influence of Chinese cuisine on Thai cuisine, and general connection between the two cultures. It was bustling and intense, and my senses were overwhelmed (in a good way). We got to try so many different street foods and watch the scene below from the rooftops. This night was so special to me because it was one of the first times I got to bond with local students from the university and learn more about Thai culture outside of classes.


What advice do you have for future study abroad students?
My advice for students who may face uncertainties while they are abroad is to reach out to people and ask for help if necessary! There are a lot of international students who are in the same boat as you and lots of local resources (students, professors, exchange staff, etc.) who are more than willing to help you. Additionally, reaching out will help you expand your horizons, meet others, and get to know your new surrounding a bit better. Go to university events, say yes to travel opportunities if you are able, and make an effort to get to know the locals, it will pay off.


How do you identify?
Student of color, LGBTQ+, Scholarship Recipient


Could you share any experiences where your identity played a role in your time abroad?
As someone of South Asian descent in Thailand, I often was asked questions about my background. Although my white peers also received questions about their country of origin, mine were often in-depth, and some people were confused when I stated I was American. Although I knew that most of these questions were purely out of curiosity and didn't bother me for the most part, it could still be somewhat frustrating. On the other hand however, there are a number of people of South Asian descent in Bangkok and it was a great experience getting to meet a lot of people from the South Asian diaspora outside of the United States; I met several Thai people from my parents' home state of Gujarat, and it just reminded me how beautifully diverse Thailand is and that I could explore such a multicultural place.


Is there any advice you would give to other students who share your identity?
The advice that I would give to other students who share my identity is to be prepared for the possibility of assumptions, ethnic-centered questions, and (occasional) colorism/racism. Although it can be frustrating, remember that you are in a different country with a different set of social norms and try your best to educate rather than get upset. Most people are just curious and mean no harm. At the end of the day you are a foreigner and have to understand that there are cultural differences between the United States and other countries; however, try to meet people who might be in similar situation to seek support and know you can always reach out to study abroad staff for support as well.


If you faced any challenges abroad, where could you turn to get the support you needed?
Although I didn't face a high degree of identity-related challenges abroad, when I needed to I reached out to my South Asian friends I met both from UNC and Thailand as well as a South Asian professor I became close with. Many of my friends of other ethnic backgrounds also provided support and I am grateful for having a good network of people and resources. If I needed to, I always knew I could also reach out to UNC Study Abroad.