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The country is populated by roughly 65 million citizens, the majorities (roughly 80 %) of whom are ethnically Thai and really lovely, gentle, polite, soft spoken, friendly, and welcoming people. The number of citizens living in the capital Bangkok is hard to count but the number often mentioned is approximately 7 million. In the south near the Malaysian border the majority of the citizens are Muslim whilst in the northern mountains hill tribal ethnic groups, such as Hmong and Karen are found. Most Thai citizens are Buddhist (95 %). The rest are Muslims (4,6 %) and Christians (0,75 %) mainly Catholics. Sikhs & Hindus are of tiny, but influential minority. The nation also has a small Jewish community. English is spoken and understood in most parts of Thailand. This is most probably due to the countries cosmopolitan city Bangkok and the well-established tourism. The official language is Thai or one of its’ local dialects which more than 92 % of the inhabitants speak. Thailand is the geographical heart of Southeast Asia. It is about the same size as Spain, France or Texas. Thailand’s weather is generally hot and humid almost all year around with daily temperatures rarely falling below 31 ° C. Bangkok is known as the world’s hottest major city. There are cities that reach higher temperatures than Bangkok but on an overall yearly basis, Bangkok has an average daily temperature of at least 30 °C. The country basically has three seasons, hot, rainy and cold season but since it is a big country it offers suitable weather somewhere in the country all year around. Thailand is divided into four major regions, each with its own distinctive character. There is everything from mountains and jungle to fertile agricultural land, beautiful beaches and tropical islands. As much as 13 % of Thailand is covered by national parks and is home to many endangered animals including elephants, leopards and wild tigers, which the Thais of course are very proud of. The elephant is Thailand’s national symbol. They are considered as the symbol of peace and prosperity. Thai food is very different to European food. Many Thai dishes are spicy but can be adjusted. Most Thai food is made with fresh vegetables and rice is eaten with almost every meal. Thai meals do not differ according to the time of day. A Thai breakfast consists of the same kinds of dishes that will be served for dinner.
The host families are carefully selected. The area representatives are required to visit the host families personally to discuss each host family’s expectations and prepare them for the responsibilities of a successful hosting experience. Through the whole year, the area representatives will keep in close contact with the host families and the students, to ensure that every students are encouraged to introduce food from their own cultures too. Apart from knives and forks, the students will experience using a spoon and fork and occasionally chopsticks in Thailand. Thais use a spoon and fork to eat almost all daily meals. Western style cuisine, snack foods etc. are becoming more and more popular in Thailand. Students therefore still have the chance to have Western food when they miss it. During the year, students will celebrate the Thai holidays with the host family, such as Song Kran Festival to celebrate the Thai New Year in April, Loi Kratong Festival to honor the Buddha which involves floating ‘Gratong’, (an ornate offering traditionally made from banana leaves, lotus leaves and lotus flowers, incense sticks and candles that people will release onto rivers, canals and lakes all across Thailand and Laos.) Loi Kratong festival takes place on the evening of a full moon in November. Another important holiday is the King’s Birthday on December 5 which is also Father’s Day. Thais also observe the New Year celebrations according to the western calendar on December 31. Holidays are a time for family reunions, sitting together with loved ones, setting off firecrackers and watching traditional entertainment such as classical Thai dancing known as ‘Lumm Thai’. Manners and etiquette between adults, the elderly and the young are very important In Thai culture. It is polite, common practice to address your elders as ‘older brother/ older sister’, ‘grandfather/grandmother’ etc. even when you are not related and even if you do not know the person. On the whole, young Thai people are polite, respectful, friendly, very easy going and accepting. Young Thai people are taught to respect their elders.
There are both public and private high schools in Thailand. Most of the Thai students study in public schools. The Thai high school have two semesters each years and begins in mid-May until the end of September for the first semester and then the second semester runs from November to mid-March. The summer holiday runs from mid-March to mid-May. High school consists of Grade 10–12. Exchange students can choose to apply for short term, semester or a full academic school year. Exchange students go to school from Monday to Friday. The day starts at about 7:15 am and finishes around 3:30 pm. Actual classes start at about 8 am but depending on the school and grade levels, classes can finish between 2.30 pm to 4.30 pm. The average school day finishes at 3:30 pm. The exchange students have courses together with Thai students during the day. There are eight periods of classes during one day. Each session is normally about 45–50 minutes. Different subjects are offered at school. Thai, English, math, science, Buddhist studies are typical compulsory classes for Thai students. Exchange students do not have any compulsory classes unless they need certain subjects for their transcription for when they return to their home countries. Computer studies, health education, physical education, classical Thai music, Thai dance, Thai crafts, Thai illustration, Thai painting, Thai cooking etc. are examples of elective subjects. Sports are always offered at the schools. Some schools offer more sports than others but there are always ways for students to play sports they like. There is football, volleyball, badminton, swimming, basketball, handball, hockey, judo, tae kwan do, track & field and tennis. To take part in a sport is a great opportunity for exchange students to make new friends. In most cases, exchange students take extra Thai courses to improve their Thai proficiency. Students are encouraged to talk freely about a variety of topics about real life situations and all aspects of Thai culture and modern society. Additional practice of word usages and sentence drills and other helpful class activities are organized. Thai schools teach both English and Thai languages which have various activities to help students to learn. From the beginner level to advanced level, students will fully develop their Thai speaking, listening, reading and writing skills. All Thai schools have uniforms codes and strict grooming standard. There are also school rules regarding jewelry, length of skirts and dresses etc. There are many shops that sell school uniforms and the host families will take the students to get their uniforms. In Thai schools students must look neat and tidy. The boys for example must have their shirts tucked neatly into their trousers and cannot have long hair. Girls cannot wear skirts too short and are limited in how much jewelry they can wear. All Thai schools have canteens that sell freshly cooked food. Students always have lunch at school and it is really cheap. Students will call their teachers by their first name but with the Thai word for ‘teacher’ or ‘professor’ in front of the first name. The Thai word for ‘teacher’ is ‘ajarn’. If for example the teacher’s name is Sompon, the student will call him, ‘Ajarn Sompon’. Just like, ‘teacher Sompon’. However the student can also call the teacher ‘Mr Sompon’ or Ms. Jirapat’. Thai teachers will consider this a polite way to be addressed. But the exchange students would be better off using the Thai version as they should be learning as much Thai as possible and getting used to using Thai whenever possible. Thai teachers are expected to know some English. We highly encourage exchange students to communicate in Thai, which will improve their Thai proficiency quickly. In each school we have one teacher who will take care of our inbound students. The student can discuss all subjects with them. We also have a teacher who can always advise any of the exchange students if they need to talk.
There are many interesting places worth visiting in Thailand. During the exchange year the students will have the opportunity to visit many interesting places either together with their host family or/ and with other exchange students and area representatives. Thais are wonderful hosts and love to show international visitors around. Most of the host families love to travel and they will take their exchange sons or daughters along with them. Northern Thailand has mountains, forests, ethnic hill tribes etc. It borders Burma and Laos. The north east has very little foreign tourists compared to other parts of Thailand and is mainly a rural area. Central Thailand has a lot of rice fields, forests, national parks etc. The east borders Laos and Cambodia and is a very interesting place and a great way to see an authentic side of Thai rural culture without the normal tourist traps. The southwest and southeast have coastlines, beautiful tropical islands that offer great scuba diving. There are islands in the Gulf of Thailand, on both the east and west mainland coasts and also the Andaman Sea along the southwest of Thailand. The far south of Thailand borders Malaysia. Bangkok itself is a very large city with many interesting things to see and do. Bangkok is a mixture of old traditional Thailand and also a fusion of Thai and western cultures. It just depends which parts of the city you go to. More information about excursions in Thailand will be given to the students once they have arrived in Thailand.