Study Abroad Student Spotlight

The student spotlight highlights the transformative experience Marquette students have abroad. Through the Office of International Education, students are able to participate on a range of programs.  From faculty-led to short term to yearlong study abroad experiences with varying topics that can fulfill major/degree requirements. Marquette sends 30% of students abroad on the 80+ partner programs we have available.  Ranging from the Latin America to Asia, Europe, and Oceania, Marquette students are crossing boundaries and seeking opportunities to help them enhance their intercultural competency levels. Check out our monthly student spotlight interview below!

April 2021

Ian Bonnah, Mahidol University International College, Spring 2021

ian bonnah thailandHow did you come to the decision to apply to MUIC? What stood out at MUIC from the rest of the programs you were considering for your study abroad experience?

MUIC offered a big city experience at a much lower cost than many western universities. MUIC, located in Salaya (about a 30-45min drive from Bangkok). Honestly, traveling was just the goal for me, and with many programs closing due to covid, MUIC was one of the few still open. I also really wanted to experience life on the other side of the world and studying at MUIC gave me that opportunity.

You decided to study abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us what your arrival process was like? Classroom/instruction? Describe your everyday life in Thailand at MUIC as a Marquette student.

I'll be honest, traveling internationally during covid is not fun at all. Regardless of the covid situation the travel time to Bangkok from Detroit was about 30 hours for me, which was draining. Upon my arrival to Thailand, I had to quarantine in a hotel for 2 weeks, which was terrible. However, although the traveling process may have sucked, it is apparent why Thailand had only 4000 covid cases when I arrived. After a month or 2 of online classes, the university opened, and I was able to take all my in-person classes. MUIC is the first school where I've been expected to wear a uniform, which was kind of cool because as a foreigner you feel much more connected to the other students.

What are your biggest takeaways from your experience so far? What goals are you still looking to accomplish or continue to work towards?

Honestly the biggest takeaway from my experience in Thailand was the cultural differences. Besides the old white guys, there are very few foreigners in Thailand, which definitely effects how people treat you. A Thai word I grew very familiar with was the word "farang" which is thai for foreigner. But the word isn't used if you are just from abroad but is mainly used for non-Asian people. This did make me feel like an outsider, that I could never integrate myself into this country and the people would never see me as one of their own. This is somewhat understandable because due to Thailand being one of the only Asian nations to not be colonized, it makes sense that it would not be as diverse. I will say that I did get treated differently but not always out of spite; one student told me I was the first "farang" they had ever seen in person and continued to feel my hair for a good 5 minutes before I said I had to go to class. If I ever were to come back to Thailand, I would want to teach in rural areas and teach kids about the world from an international perspective. 

What is one thing you expected that wasn’t actually true? What was the hardest adjustment you had to make?

I honestly did not know what to expect, all I knew was to not expect it to be like the hangover. The hardest adjustment for me was the toilets. People expect Thailand to have the squatting toilets, which I've had to use a few times but honestly aren't the worst thing in the world. However what I'm still trying to adjust to is the butt spray. No toilets have toilet paper, only a water gun to spray your butt. I've really tried to use it, I promise, but it's just not for me.

If learning some Thai: what is your favorite phrase/word to say in the language? What advice do you have for immersing yourself in a new language?

I would say my 2 favorite words I learned was pa and nitnoy. Pa with a rising tone, means sugar daddy, I don't know why my thai teacher taught us that first and I also don't know why it's one of the only words I can remember. My other favorite is nitnoy, which means "little bit". I can pretty much use nitnoy in every situation, it's just the greatest word. I've also noticed sometimes I just instinctively use the Thai word (from the very few I know) instead of the English word.