Ella Sayers—Chulalongkorn University
Discover Thailand scholarships
Over 2012/2013 I spent the third year of my program studying in Bangkok at Chulalongkorn University. Chulalongkorn offers a Thai language industrial design program as well as an international (English language) COMMDE communication design program; in keeping with RMIT's course structure and direction I entered the Thai program. My interest in Thailand was sparked by the opportunity to develop connections with a place beyond the classroom. As Australia moves away from on-shore manufacturers there is increasing demand for partnerships between Australia's industrial designers and designers and manufacturers in Asia; with this in mind I set out to map these industries in Thailand and beyond.
My studies in Chulalongkorn offered a framework for my exploration through flexible studio units and engaged, well connected tutors. Within the university setting I was able to meet and create close ties with Thailand's most talented industrial and graphic design students. As I was part of the first international cohort in the Thai language program my classroom experiences were spent alongside local students. Chula's architecture faculty places high value on student interaction and collaboration by organising student-to-student tuition, frequent student-run exhibitions and social events. Over the ear I entered a create network of students and worked to expand and establish further links between students at both institutions, manifesting as formalised exchange programs, exchange support for Thai students and informal cross-institution tuition.
The first six months of my exchange was spent getting a footing in Thailand and acculturating myself to the Thai way of being. Seeing the world through 'Asian eyes', not only through the language, is vital to understanding the function of the place and views of the people who inhabit it. This understanding not only is key to creating long-lasting human connections but it in turn makes the every-day easier, in Bangkok, a city of 6 million +, even simple tasks can seem daunting. The fastest way to acculturating yourself in Thailand is to open yourself to be inscribed by the place and guided by locals, even if it often lead to exhaustion, confusion, failure and embarrassment. Indeed one of the most endearing qualities of Thai people is their ability to laugh off embarrassment alongside you.
When I found myself in the right space, adequately connect and capable, I began my inquiry into Thailand's manufacturing/making scene. The scale and density of Asia can make it seemingly impossible to find a start on creative projects. Although the region offers great cultural inspiration I found I more exciting to be at the centre of the material universe, where materials and makers were abundant, in back alleys and homes, ready to turn ideas in being. Through a series of small projects, geographical mapping and photo documentation I began to construct an image of what specialties Thailand and its surrounds could offer Australian designers. Of particular interest were small family-run factories, and I pondered the possibility of future connections with Australia's independent designers. Out of this came the need to explore how best to create these connections, an exchange that would be extremely valuable to both parties. I plan to return to Asia in 201 to continue work on this project.
My studies and investigation stretched far beyond Bangkok. In semester one I was lucky to travel through Laos, Malaysia and Vietnam. Between semesters I spent time in Cambodia. After receiving a Discover Thailand scholarship I was able to travel through eastern, central and northern Thailand as well as Myanmar. These opportunities allowed me t construct a comprehensive understanding of South East Asia's cultural and manufacturing highlights. The proximity of these places to Bangkok made them appealing destinations for exploration as I began to sense their proximity to Australia. These travels were of great significance in my exchange experience by perhaps more importantly, on every return trip to BKK I felt a reinforced sense of home and belonging in Thailand, a place that become a large piece of my identity.