I have been fortunate enough to experience two completely different countries with the GLI program. I spent a semester in Bangkok, Thailand, and a second semester in Linz, Austria. My goal for studying in these two countries was to learn more about the broad cultural and political differences of other countries and how that ties to my double major in economics and finance.
My first semester in Bangkok taught me a lot about myself. I learned how to communicate more effectively given the language barriers. I learned about the different levels of communication. Thai people are a great example of a culture with undercurrent communication cues. Watching how someone’s body is reacting and positioned in a conversation, you can gain an understanding of what is being communicated despite what’s being said. “Watch what people do, not what they say,” is a great lesson for being successful in life.
Another interesting aspect of my experience in Thailand was learning the art of tactful political inquiries and conversations. Thailand is controlled by the military and has a constitutional monarchy with the first constitutional rule of the country forbidding disparaging the king. Political conversations are monitored, and a misstep could get a person deported or jailed. An interesting aspect to experience.
My next semester was spent in the smaller city of Linz, Austria, which was a completely different world in some sense from Thailand. I experienced a very different outlook on the Austrian government and political institutions. I went from a somewhat absolute Monarchy to a very democratic country.
While studying in Austria, I learned a great amount about the history of Europe and its role in the world wars. This included information about concentration camps and the era of Adolf Hitler. Unfortunately, my time in Austria was cut short due to COVID-19. I had traveled to Poland to meet my friend I had met in Thailand, who was studying abroad in Morocco. This would be a perfect example of the kinds of connections studying abroad can create. But while in Krakow, public transportation was ceased due to the virus and we were not able to return to our universities.
Maneuvering the last-minute arrangements to leave Europe abruptly and dealing with difficult situations in the airports, taught me many things about myself. I developed crisis management, self-resiliency, and inner peace management skills. Despite that strife and having to return back to the U.S. from Europe, my education of Europe’s political institutes continued.
Although these two countries were very different, there were similarities. Through these experiences, I have realized that many people living in the U.S. seem overly busy with work being a primary focus. In Thailand, breaks are revered, and being late, even an hour, is common. Austria is similar in some sense. All stores are generally closed at seven on weekdays. On Sundays, most stores are completely closed, so there is no place to shop unless you want bread as bakeries seem to always be open.
My diverse experience gave me an understanding of different political spheres and cultures. It taught me that sometimes it’s better to just slow down and enjoy the walk. But no matter what country a person travel to, they will find similarities to their own culture and country. There’s something interesting in seeing how those similarities play out in the differences. No matter what country you find yourself in, people are much the same. We all want love, happiness, and fulfillment in our lives.