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The University of Southampton
Geography and Environmental Science

David Hicks: My summer in Bangkok

ES student David Hicks spent his summer working in Bankok at the Pollution Control Department read about his experience below.

"I spent seven weeks of my summer working in Bangkok, Thailand, at the Pollution Control Department, part of the Ministry of Environment. It was an excellent experience in many ways: I got to apply a lot of the information I learned during second-year pollution lectures, and got first-hand practical experience on the many field trips I took. I was able to experience the sights, smells, sounds and flavours of Bangkok in a way that very few tourists get to, and got to see what it was really like to live and work in the bustling city of twelve million. I tried advancing my ability to speak Thai - albeit with limited success - and also made many new friends. I also had the honour of being the first foreign intern that they'd had there.

While I was not able to do a great amount of work for them, primarily due to the language barrier with written documents, I nonetheless felt immersed in the experience; I worked at many different sections within their waste, air pollution, water pollution, inspection/enforcement, and planning bureaus, in addition to their ISO-approved laboratory. Everyone was extremely welcoming, and was always pleased to engage me in conversation about what they do in their job, what the issues were in Thailand, and what they were doing to try and improve the situation. They were also very inquisitive as to how prominent these issues were in the UK and what our approach was to solving them (good I paid some attention during lectures!)

Various people took the time out to give me presentations, and I was frequently introduced to various measurement techniques and instruments during field visits, of which there were many. I visited landfills, recycling shops, pig farms, a wastewater treatment plant, water and air quality monitoring stations, and got to see roadside emissions testing with the police, as well as paying inspection visits to test effluent from hospitals, hotels, and neighbourhoods. I was even allowed to drive a Tuk-Tuk when I visited the Automotive Emissions Laboratory... a privilege few foreigners have ever enjoyed!

The extreme generosity, or naam-jai, of most Thais was ever-present: on the weekends I was taken out by my colleagues to tourist attractions, including ones most foreigners don't know about. I was frequently invited out to dinner but was rarely allowed to pay, despite the average Thai only earning 3-4 thousand pounds a year. And at the office, I was constantly given gifts, mostly in the form of home-made food, ensuring there was no chance of slimming the waistline. At the end of my time there, many of them held an evening of karaoke and dinner in my honour. Furthermore, the amount of attention I received from everyone generally served to tickle my ego at times, though thankfully this brief disillusionment vanished the moment the plane touched down in Heathrow and I realised I was no longer a foreigner.

Overall, the experience was well worth it, despite once chowing down on some un-happy Phad Thai for lunch. I made many friends and contacts, and really enjoyed the hands-on practical experience; the things you previously learned in classes come to mind and sink-in without you even realising it. I was able to really further my understanding of Thai and Asian culture. After having lived and worked in such a foreign place, with such a different language, I know that I have the confidence to apply for a job and work almost anywhere, hopefully something that will open up opportunities in the future."

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