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IT student gets a taste of technology in Thailand

Technology is everywhere. It is seen around every corner on Illinois State’s campus. Students bring laptops to class, work on iPads in the library, and listen to their MP3 players as they crisscross the Quad. It appears as though you can use and learn about technology whenever you want, wherever you want.

The same is true in Thailand as Christopher Baird, a senior information systems major in the School of Information Technology, experienced firsthand while studying abroad in fall 2012.

Thailand has a unique culture, economy, and language much different from the U.S. An exchange program between Illinois State University and King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi gives students from both universities the opportunity to gain experience in the diversity of different cultures. Students must overcome linguistic, cultural, economic, and political barriers to become an information systems professional with a global perspective. Working and studying in a team with a diverse cultural, social, and economic background allows students to gain a cross-cultural perspective that will be invaluable in their future careers.

Baird took a combination of information systems and general education courses at his school in Thailand to earn 18 hours of Illinois State University credit.

Baird said that although he was the only American and native English speaker at his school, he never had trouble with the language barrier: “The Thai students speak English so well, and the teachers taught in English. It was very easy to communicate.”

When he wasn’t at school, Baird used his free time in Thailand to make new friends, travel around the country, and try new food.

“Students in Thailand do the same things students in America do for fun,” Baird said. “We would go see movies, go out to eat, watch television, that sort of thing.”

Baird definitely recommends studying abroad. “You learn about other cultures firsthand,” he said. “It also forces you to mature and to rely on yourself almost instantly. That said, I also had to learn to let others help me. I would need help with simple things like finding the best place to do laundry or finding a doctor. I had to be open to seeking assistance.”

Pruthikrai Mahatanankoon, faculty sponsor of this student exchange program, reiterated the importance of studying abroad. “It is very important that our information technology graduates recognize and respect the diversity of different cultures, as they will confront many global issues and social challenges of our time,” he said.

“I learned a lot during my time abroad. The most important thing I learned was that the way Americans do things is not the only way to do things,” Baird said. “I learned to immerse myself in the culture and the world outside of the United States. One thing in particular that stood out to me was how polite the people in Thailand were. You would never hear cars use their horns in traffic!”

When asked to give advice to students looking forward to their study abroad trips, Baird said that in order to get the most out of your experience, students should be eager to learn about the place they are traveling to. They also need to be willing to share their experiences about the United States.

“You would not believe how many questions I answered about popular American culture,” Baird said. “Thai students wanted to learn about me as much as I wanted to learn about them. It was important that I could be an ambassador for the United States and represent my country.”

Baird is set to graduate in May.