Not many people are blessed with the opportunity to live and learn as a student at the top-ranking Stanford University in northern California. But Thai students in the Stanford-Thai Exchange Programme (STEP) are.
They can sit in on any class, talk or consult with the university professors, use all of the facilities, and live in the university dormitory with foreign undergraduate students at Stanford University for three weeks.
"It offers a chance for Thai students to 'become' a Stanford student. While other exchange programmes do not ensure that participants will get to go to a good school, STEP ensures its participants will get to immerse themselves in the world's best academic institution," says Jarupon Sathirapongsasuti, director of STEP.
Jarupon is a King's scholarship winner who is studying in his second year, majoring in Mathematical and Computational Science (Biology Track).
The goals of STEP are to broaden perspectives, and to develop new ways of thinking and approaching issues, both cultural and intellectual. The STEP students learn about lifestyles and understand different perspectives and ways of living. These are real experiences, not just scenes in a movie.
"It's not only a programme to practise English or learn about American culture. A major benefit is a chance to use their resources. There are many interesting classes and special activities. I was able to listen to a lecture from a founder of the Internet system," says Prachaya Phaisanwiphatpong, 20, one of the STEP students. He is a third-year student of computer engineering at Kasetsart University.
During the three weeks, the students also have to conduct research. The goal is that the research will be useful for developing their community. They have to determine the research topic, and send a proposal along with English application forms containing two English essays. Each is matched with a mentor. The mentors are all doctoral degree students studying in the same (or related) field of study.
At Stanford, there are students of various nationalities who have learned a variety of cultures and views. They use this chance to learn about diversity. Many foreign students volunteer to host the Thai students. Therefore, they have a chance to live with many people, in various environments, each week.
"Their time spent here is not only a time to explore their academic interests, but also a time to understand how the culture across the Pacific works. This equips them to be more versatile in the future, either in pursuing further studies here in the United States, or coming up with ideas to return their gratitude to their home country," says Ryan Estenzo Torres, head of publicity and fundraising.
Before returning to Bangkok, each student presents the research to his or her mentor, Thai Stanford students and the professors. This year the programme will increase the number of participants to a maximum of 10 students.
"Living at Stanford teaches me a lot. They [the Stanford students] impressed me. They are very good at managing time. When they are in class, they pay a lot of attention. When students are very actively learning, the lecturers are also very active in providing knowledge. After class, they do a lot of activities. And when they have a party, they have a lot of fun," says Paiboon Wongsasutthikul, 20, a fourth-year student of Telecommunications and Electronics Engineering at Assumption University.