This autumn many exchange students at the Thai universities have been travelling the country while attending school. One of the students who has set out on such a journey is Gustav Marøy from Oslo in Norway. For the last couple of months, he has changed the university campus classrooms out with random hostel rooms and outback cafés all around Thailand from where he logs in to his classroom.
I went to visit him to see how life is as a backpacking university student.
A unique opportunity
Gustav is normally a student at the School of Management at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. Last year he chose to apply for an exchange semester in Bangkok. Learning about economic issues in a Thai context seemed interesting to Gustav, but as he explains, it was also the thought of exploring Thailand who appealed to him. Together with his two Dutch friends Stefan and Art from his home university, he has been travelling all around Thailand all the while studying Thonburi University in Bangkok.
Gustav however didn’t know that his classes were going to be online at the time when he applied.
“We applied about a year ago and at that time Thailand was doing pretty well Covid wise. So, I thought it was just going to be normal school where we had our hub in Bangkok,” Gustav says.
While he was back in Oslo to get his final vaccination jabs in order to enter the Phuket Sandbox program, he started writing with his two fellow students who were also going to study in Thailand. Realizing that their entire semester was probably going to be performed through a computer screen they started discussing their possibilities and the idea of combining studies with a tour of Thailand began to take shape.
Gustav met up with his fellow students in Phuket where they also met a similar group of German exchange students. Together they travelled to Krabi after which they split with the German group and drove to Ko Lanta. Since then, their trip 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 visit to see the actual campus of their university but that is the only time that they actually touched base with their place of study.
On the move
I caught up with the group in Chiang Rai in the northern part of Thailand where they had been living since, they left Bangkok. The three-man group has over time grown better at planning how to combine travelling with their school in a way that it all checks out.
“We usually have a little talk a couple of days before we go to a new place about what we want to do, when can do it and then we have to sort it out with our availability in the days to come,” Gustav says.
The trick, he explains, is to figure of how to make most time for exploring without missing the vital parts of their studies.
“We don’t have many classes in common. So, our timetables are very different, but we are getting good at figuring out what classes we have to attend and what we can catch up on later,” Gustav explains.
In this respect a big advantage is that a lot of the classes gets recorded so that it is possible for the group to watch it at later time when they are not out and about.
Even though some classes have to be attended live, it doesn’t necessarily have to put a stop for a day trip. The Thai internet accessibility has become so good that most time you would be able to swing in the scooter at any country road café and connect with your class from there.
“We can do the classes almost everywhere. There is Wi-Fi so many places and the cellular data in all of Thailand is very good so the conditions for travelling like this is actually really nice,”
A day after I arrived the group once more moved. This time with bus to Chiang Mai. The trip started at 9 AM so that they could arrive in Chiang Mai before their first class started. The bus is one of the few places where having a class is a little too complicated.
However smooth combining travel and studying has seemed to Gustav and buddies he also admit that the backpacking lifestyle they lead around the school has an effect on how he priorities his studies.
“I priorities the courses I find interesting and the other once I make sure that I just do well enough to get through. All three of us just have to pass our courses and then we’ve completed the exchange semester and our grades beyond doesn’t really count,” Gustav explains.
At some times school must come first for the group and so it does. On the second day in Chang Mai Gustav had to stay behind to attend his studies while his two other mates went to “Wat Phra That Doi Suthep” temple in the mountains of Chiang Mai.
The way of combining studies with travelling seems to be a tendency in Thailand at the moment. In Chiang Mai Gustav and his friends was to reunite with the group of German exchange students that they travelled with earlier. Likewise, the group have on multiple occasions crossed paths with other exchange students group who were on their way for other destinations.
For Gustav the semester has been a very positive experience. He would like to have the online study form as an option in the future, but he also recognizes that there are some important aspects who gets lost in classes when all studying in conducted online.
“It would have been interesting to meet more of our classmates and professors in person,” Gustav says and adds.
“Discussions in our group work would be more dynamic and productive than now when we do it online. Many students have their camera turn off because they are shy, and they only turn it on briefly if they are directly asked a question,” Gustav says.
The remainder of Gustav’s semester will most likely be online as well as the exams who will takes place through a screen.