This fall, many exchange students at Thai universities traveled around the country while attending school. One of the students who embarked on such a journey is Gustav MarÃ¸y from Oslo, Norway. Over the past two months, he’s replaced college campus classrooms with random backcountry hostel rooms and cafes all over Thailand, from where he connects to his classroom.
I went to visit him to see how is the life of a backpacking college student.
A unique opportunity
Gustav is normally a student at the School of Management at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Last year, he chose to apply for an exchange semester in Bangkok. Learning about economic issues in a Thai context sounded interesting to Gustav, but as he explains, it was also the idea of ââexploring Thailand that appealed to him. With his two Dutch friends Stefan and Art from his home university, he traveled all over Thailand while studying Thonburi University in Bangkok.
Gustav had no idea, however, that his classes were going to be online when he applied.
âWe applied about a year ago and at that time Thailand was doing pretty well in terms of Covid. So I thought it was going to be a normal school where we had our hub in Bangkok, âsays Gustav.
While back in Oslo to receive his last vaccines to enter the Phuket Sandbox program, he started writing with his two classmates who were also going to study in Thailand. Realizing that their entire semester was probably going to take place on a computer screen, they began to discuss their possibilities and the idea of ââcombining studies with a tour of Thailand began to take shape.
Gustav met his fellow students in Phuket, where they also met a similar group of German exchange students. Together they traveled to Krabi, after which they parted ways with the German group and traveled to Koh Lanta. Since then, their journey has taken them to Khao Sok National Park, Huahin and from there to Bangkok, where the group stayed for two weeks. In Bangkok, they went for a brief tour to see their university’s current campus, but this is the only time they’ve really touched the base with their place of study.
I caught up with the group in Chiang Rai in northern Thailand where they had been living since they left Bangkok. Over time, the three-person group got better at planning how to combine trips with their school so that it all worked out.
âWe usually have a little chat a few days before we go to a new place about what we want to do, when we can do it, and then we have to sort it out with our availability in the days to come,â says Gustav.
The trick, he explains, is figuring out how to make the most of the time to explore without missing vital parts of their studies.
âWe don’t have a lot of classes in common. So our schedules are very different, but we are becoming more and more efficient at determining what classes we need to take and what we can catch up on later, âsays Gustav.
In this regard, a big advantage is that a large part of the lessons are recorded so that it is possible for the group to watch them later when they are not on the move.
While some courses must be taken live, it doesn’t have to stop for a day trip. Thai internet accessibility got so good that most of the time you could swing on the scooter at any country cafe and connect with your class from there.
âWe can do the lessons almost anywhere. There are so many Wi-Fi places and the cellular data all over Thailand is very good, so the conditions for traveling like this are really very nice â,
A day after my arrival, the group moved again. This time by bus to Chiang Mai. The trip started at 9am so they could get to Chiang Mai before their first class started. The bus is one of the few places where having a class is a little too complicated.
Even though the combination of travel and study seemed easy to Gustav and his friends, he also admits that the backpacking lifestyle they lead around school has an effect on how he prioritizes his studies. .
âI prioritize the classes that I find interesting and the other once I make sure I’m doing just well enough to be successful. We just have to pass all three of our courses and then we have completed the exchange semester and our grades beyond that don’t really matter, âsays Gustav.
Sometimes the school has to go first for the group and that is what it does. On the second day in Chang Mai, Gustav had to stay for his studies while his two other comrades went to the temple “Wat Phra That Doi Suthep” in the mountains of Chiang Mai.
The way to combine study and travel seems to be a trend in Thailand at the moment. In Chiang Mai, Gustav and his friends were to reunite with the group of German exchange students with whom they had traveled earlier. Likewise, the group met on several occasions with other groups of exchange students who were on their way to other destinations.
For Gustav, the semester was a very positive experience. He would like the online study form to be an option in the future, but he also recognizes that there are some important aspects that get lost in the courses when all the studies are conducted online.
âIt would have been interesting to meet more of our classmates and teachers in person,â says Gustav and adds.
âDiscussions in our group work would be more dynamic and productive than now when we do it online. A lot of students turn off their cameras because they are shy, and they only turn them on briefly if asked a question directly, âsays Gustav.
The rest of Gustav’s semester will most likely be online as well as the exams taking place through a screen.