Whisky, kilts, tartan and its natural wonders have made this tiny country north of England renowned worldwide. With its vibrant urban life and visa scheme encouraging foreign students to work in the country after graduating there, Scotland emerges as an ideal place for overseas students.
After two years of working, Charoen Peetiya, 27, thought it was time to pursue a master's degree. But he wanted to do something different. The graduate in Electrical Engineering from Chulalongkorn University wanted to study finance.
He sent applications to universities all over the United Kingdom, and was accepted to several, both in England and Scotland. Charoen recalled it was a difficult decision to make. While the popularity and ranking of the university matters, the opportunity to work in the country after graduation also counts.
Fortunately, Charoen's decision to pursue his education came at the same time as Scotland's parliament introduced the "Fresh Talent: Working in Scotland Scheme", in June 2005. The aim of the scheme is to attract young talent to fuel the economy and the reverse the decline in population growth.
Foreign students can now apply to stay and work in Scotland for two years after the end of their education without needing a work permit.
"Scotland is a great country with loads to offer, and I am convinced many students will want to remain in Scotland to work or study," said Tom McCabe, minister for finance and public service reform.
"It will build on other measures we have put in place to address the demographic challenges Scotland faces. We are serious about 'Fresh Talent'. It is a very clear signal we want Scotland to grow in profile and stature," he added.
Since the scheme was launched, it has been promoted all over the world to attract more students. In Thailand, it is the British Council that has been handling the task. Education promotion officer Uraiwan Samolee said the council had tried to inform students of the benefits of the scheme.
"We communicate with students and inform them about this option, which I think is very beneficial for them. It is a valuable addition to their education abroad," she said.
Uraiwan added that, so far, the response had been good. There are now more students who know about the scheme, and many have shifted their interest to Scotland.
Charoen was one of them. Upon learning about the "Fresh Talent" scheme, he knew where he would be headed. "Certainly, the scheme played a big part in my final decision."
Besides intensive study at the University of Edinburgh, one of the most famous and prestigious universities in the UK, Charoen was not sure what to expect upon arrival in Scotland.
However, in just one year, he fell in love with the country. He learned that the cities and countryside of Scotland had much more to explore and were far more exciting than he expected.
Charoen's close friend, the principal liaison of the Association of Thai Students in Scotland, Thanawat Manathat, was beaming when asked to share his fondness for the country.
"My first impression plays a big part in my fondness of Scotland, because I fell in love with it instantly," said Thanawat.
After finishing his bachelor's and master's degrees in London, Thanawat wanted to expand his horizons. While travelling in Scotland, he passed through Edinburgh and found it to be a breathtaking place. He then chose to pursue his PhD at the University of Edinburgh in information technology law.
"Edinburgh is a small city, yet it is so vibrant that whatever happens in London happens here as well," said Thanawat.
"At the same time, it is small enough to walk around, and there are things waiting to surprise you at every corner of the city. There are also many festivals and exhibitions to see, as the city is trying to be a hub of festivals," said Tanawat, who has been teased by his friends for being more patriotic to the country than actual Scots.
During their school breaks or on weekends, students get together and plan road trips to enjoy the rustic charms that Scotland has to offer. Some try to spot the legendary "Nessie" (the long-necked "Loch Ness Monster"), while others visit the William Wallace Monument in Stirling (whose story was the inspiration for the Hollywood film "Braveheart"). Many also visit Rosslyn Chapel, which was shown in the movie "The Da Vinci Code".
There is also the magnificent and untouched scenery, which keeps changing as one travels further away from the city. What should not be missed is a visit to a local Scotch whisky distillery, Thanawat said with a smile.
Thanawat said Scotland is one of the best places for studying, adding that there are only 120 Thais currently attending universities in the country, and less than 50 in Edinburgh - a perfect size for a Thai student community. "We have a good bond and do several activities together, because there are so few Thai students in each school that we become friends and hang out with each other as well as with the international students," he said.
For Charoen, the year in Scotland went by in a rush. By the time this newspaper hits the stands, he will already have graduated with a master's in finance and investment.
Best of all, thanks to the "Fresh Talent" scheme, he has already landed himself a job as a research analyst at a financial risk application company in Edinburgh. "I'm very happy about it," said Charoen.
Even though he knows he will not live in Scotland forever, he is looking forward to starting his job in Edinburgh. "It's going to be a good experience and I believe I'll learn a lot," he said.