An Educational Route To Living And Working In Thailand
Most things worth doing require a significant amount of effort. There are many roads to living and working in Thailand and this is one alternative that is not often talked about. It is most appropriate for the younger Falang who has been bitten by the
bug. The following is one way to enter the Kingdom at a higher level on the social ladder and stay there. A route that may leave you with a substantial income, serious connections, and get your foot in the door with the high society of Thailand.
It requires a lot of dedication and the desire to learn and blend in with Thai life as much as possible. If you are willing to go to any lengths, read on.
I started coming to Thailand when I was 32 and experienced many of the same feelings that a lot of men have upon returning to the West. Daydreams about how I could live and work in Thailand filled my days.
As I considered the many options of making this happen, one thing was clear to me, I did not want to be an English teacher. Back in the States, I decided to try another avenue and apply to various MBA programs that would land me a job at a higher level than where I was at the time and thus, one day lead me to work at a multinational firm that had opportunities in Asia.
Then I thought, “Hey, why not check out what Thailand has on offer in the way of higher education?” Don’t laugh! There is actually one place worth considering and perhaps more that I did not find. After considerable research and emails with the numerous dodgy universities in Thailand, it turns out that there is one business program worth attending in Bangkok called SASIN. This is the MBA program at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. Don’t be fooled by it being in Thailand. The entrance requirements are quite high as you need a commendable score on the GMAT (The MBA entrance.) and must write several essays in addition to providing a certified undergraduate diploma with official transcripts that must be sent directly from your undergraduate university.
SASIN is a program that combines the curriculum from two of the most respected graduate business schools in the United States; Kellogg and Wharton. In addition, most professors are also from those fine institutions. Their respective backgrounds are available on the SASIN website and are quite impressive. (I have no relationship or affiliation with the university whatsoever.)
I sent in my application and since I had a vacation planned for Thailand coming up, I arranged for an interview and the opportunity to sit in on some classes. I arrived dressed in a proper suit and tie and didn’t really know what to expect. As it turned out, the professors were very good and contrary to what I had heard about Thai students, they actively participated in the lectures. This was probably due to the fact that many of Thai grad students at SASIN had some overseas experience. There were about 30 students in the classes I attended with 90% of them being Thai or Thai Chinese.
After attending classes, I was interviewed by three individuals; one Thai, one Chinese, and one American. They were curious about my GMAT score and wanted to know how I was able to achieve high marks as in one portion I obtained a perfect score. (Yes, I am shamelessly bragging here.) I informed them that I did the home study course and took the practice exams repeatedly.
According to one interviewer, most of the Thai students take the classes that are paid for and receive tutoring in order to reach the required score for admittance while achieving the bulk of their high score in the math portion. This made sense and I appreciated their openness regarding the students and their respective backgrounds and qualifications.
Another interviewer wanted to make sure that I was aware of the caliber of students that SASIN attracts by mentioning the surnames of current Thai students as well as the Thai businesses their families operated. Now, this may seem a little pretentious, but he wanted to assure me that if I was accepted into the program, I would have no trouble making connections and getting in with the right crowd upon graduation should I wish to remain in Thailand.
In addition, if I did not want to work in one of the businesses for a Thai family, there were many investment banks, brokerage houses, and technology firms etc. that hire SASIN graduates. In fact, one of my ex-pat friends who worked for a Thai bank in Bangkok at the time confirmed that he had a few SASIN grads on his team.
Shortly following my return to the US, I received the letter of acceptance from SASIN and felt quite proud of the accomplishment. Meanwhile, I continued my hunt for alternative business schools in the US and the EU as I wanted to keep my options open.
In the end I opted to do the MBA in Europe. So, you may be thinking, “Why would you do that? Are you crazy? How did you not accept this opportunity?”
When I was in Bangkok for the university visit and interviews, I thought it would be much different living and working in Thailand than it is to vacation there. So, in the mornings I got up and took the skytrain as if I was going to work or school. I tried to treat it as if I was already there and guess what? I didn’t care for it too much. Going to the beach and chasing girls is one thing, but living and working in a place is quite another. I suspect that many ex-pats miss this point.
In the end, I opted to do my MBA in the EU and after graduation, I was recruited by a multi-national firm and eventually sent to the office in Hong Kong. That’s where I am now and where I have been for the last two years. It required time, money and a hell of a lot of work, but it has been a great experience. Hong Kong has its faults, but Bangkok is about a two hour flight and I can go whenever I like, even for the weekend.
A lot of people start off in Hong Kong or Singapore and eventually end up in Thailand and vice versa. I have a few friends who did it this way. One friend works at a Thai investment bank, the other is a broker for a multi-national, and another is a property developer. They all have stories of frustration and success but each highly values the experiences, both good and bad.
My company has an office in Bangkok as well as in other Asian cities, but for now I am content to stay in Hong Kong. I can enjoy many of the comforts of the Western world here, while Bangkok is a stone’s throw away and remains an attractive vacation destination. Thailand is still a special place for me and by working outside of the country but still close, it maintains that status.
In conclusion, if you are willing to take a long road to get what you want and make the big commitment required to assimilate into Thai society as much as is allowed, then there is an opportunity to do it through education.
Worth mentioning: Unlike the EU or the US, several Asian MBA programs do not require new entrants to have any work experience. Therefore, although the students may be professionally or politically well connected, many of them are straight out of undergrad and do not have a lot to contribute to the learning experience. Therefore, even if you are still relatively young, you may feel old in this environment.
SASIN has a night program for executives and this may be a more appropriate venue and provide better connections for future work opportunities. As I did not attend any of these classes, I can not comment on the quality or that of the attendees.
Another thing worth mentioning: There is currently a shortage of skilled ex-pats in Asia, especially in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Mainland China. While Thailand’s xenophobia will continue to mute its progress, these other destinations can sometimes be more accommodating regarding the employment of foreigners.
Keep an open mind, do the research, maintain reasonable expectations, and understand that accomplishing a successful change will require a significant effort on your part. Yes, there are easier, softer ways, but the more challenging route yields much higher returns. The ex-pat experience is not a vacation. It is the pursuit of an experience, a life change, personal growth, and a journey that can reap substantial rewards beyond your imagination.
This is, as you say, a very real option. The one thing I would wonder about though is if one left Thailand….what would employers outside Thailand think of a Sasin MBA?