When the opportunity to study abroad comes along, the majority of Thai students usually aim for the US or Europe.
Nuntasinee Fatima Muadmanee (centre) and Thai students at Multimedia University.
In the Asian region, the main choices would be Japan, Korea, Singapore and even India. There are a few Thai students who recognise the merits of studying in a neighbouring country such as Malaysia.
The cost of education in Malaysia is minimal and reasonable when compared to the cost of living in Thailand.
Pattani native Abdulloh Yapa is one of the few who opted to further his studies in Malaysia after completing 12th grade high school in Thailand.
Upon arriving in Malaysia, Abdulloh immediately sensed that he was in an unfamiliar and confusing environment. He hated everything: The Malay language he didn't understand, the food and the absence of friends.
It took several months to get used to things, but after more than four years of living in a foreign land, Abdulloh has a better understanding of life, and has learned to see the positive side of things.
Abdulloh has completed his undergraduate studies and is currently pursuing an MBA degree. More importantly, he has worked with IBM as an IT specialist. He doesn't rely on his parents for tuition fees anymore.
''Every time I return home to Thailand and meet up with my friends, I am convinced that I have learned something from this experience. I increasingly learn about people and understand how they think,'' he said.
A group of Thai students. Abdulloh Yapa (middle) and Suranand Sukhumanand (right).
An academic environment filled with international students requires that you dare to present your ideas and beliefs when you express yourself. Networking is one of the best benefits of a foreign education.
''The English language picked up in Malaysia, though a peculiar accent, can be adapted for communication. Everyone, every nationality uses the English language without being ashamed,'' said Abdulloh.
Sharif Yimyai hails from a traditional Muslim family in Bangkok. After graduating with an engineering degree from Chulalongkorn University, his first choice for a graduate degree in business studies was at Multimedia University, a private college in Malaysia.
Recent graduates from Multimedia University.
Sharif's first obstacle was language because his first and only language was Thai. Now he was being thrust into an academic environment where only English is used. His friends are all from international backgrounds. More importantly, this is the first time Sharif will be staying in a hostel.
Though his Muslim background helped him adapt to local cuisine, the real challenge was his studies, which required much more effort than usual. He had to write down lectures, listen over and over again, while some subjects demanded that he read the material repeatedly to understand the subject matter. It took Sharif almost six months before he could adjust.
''The nice part about studying in Malaysia is that it's a short distance away from home. The travel expense is affordable. I have a goal of owning my own business here
A student working on his multimedia project.
[Malaysia]. This international university has enabled me to build a global network which will allow me to differentiate my business,'' said Sharif.
Suranand Sukhumanand, aka Hardy, 25, studied business in Bangkok and is currently pursuing a master's degree at Multimedia University. He admitted that his friends questioned his choice of university at first.
''Are you going to study religion, bomb-making or terrorism?'' were the frequent jokes made by his friends. However, the real reason was his grandfather who had studied religion in Malaysia. Hardy's family, especially his father, would often spend time in Malaysia.
Hardy said studying near Thailand makes it convenient to travel back and forth, the cultures are similar, food is almost the same and there's not much to adjust to.
Hardy is currently employed in the Technical Support division of HP (Hewlett Packard) responsible for clients in the Asia region; his MBA degree helped him get the job.
In Malaysia, education is encouraged by the government. Almost every university is ready to offer scholarships for the best people to study at their campus. Student life in Malaysia is a learning experience in itself. Thai student clubs exchange knowledge and culture with other groups or international clubs.
Getting to know Multimedia University
Multimedia University is a private university that has gained a reputation as one of Malaysia's most modern facilities, especially in the IT field.
It has earned a place in the top-200 universities of the Asean Times Higher Education (The-QS World University Rankings).
The university is located in Cyberjaya City, born from the efforts former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamed who wanted to see Malaysia become a hub of innovation and technology.
A presentation on a bachelor’s degree course at Multimedia University.
Nuntasinee Fatima Muadmanee, manager of Student Relations at Multimedia University said that a distinct advantage is the fact that many leading IT companies conduct their business operations in Cyberjaya.
Multimedia University places great emphasis on research reports, she said, a key strategy that builds confidence when a graduate enters the job market. Plus, graduates are equipped with the necessary language skills, she added.
Nuntasinee said that the university is also highly regarded as a training centre, used by private organisations and various universities in Malaysia and the rest of the world.
''A memorandum of understanding has been signed with at least three private universities in Thailand, in addition to public universities such as Khon Kaen University, Prince of Songkla University, Mahasarakham University and Kasetsart University, to conduct joint activities and exchange teaching faculty and student training,'' she said.
‘‘ Weare eying the Thai student market because we are also the closest of neighbours. PROFDRZAHARIN YUSOFF President of Multimedia University
Malaysia is a Muslim nation which means entertainment or distractions for young students are not present on campus, Nuntasinee added. The most popular department at Multimedia University is Creative Multimedia, followed by IT management.
Creative multimedia and the preservation of history
Multimedia University is benefitting from a Unesco donation of 15 million baht (1.5 million ringgit) to Creative Vista Company or CVC, a private company that is part of an initiative to create jobs and revenue for the university.
All CVC employees are university alumni with Creative Multimedia degrees.
A team of 10 people are working to preserve historic ruins.
Reza Maulana, a recent graduate with a Virtual Reality degree, works on creating dhdesigns using data research and ancient sites such as old mosques, buildings, and residential houses mostly found in and around Malacca and Georgetown which have been given world heritage status by the UN cultural body.
Maulana compares the past with the present using IT technology. He estimates that it will take six months before the project is completed.
The Malaysian government has given its full support to education. Academic institutions at every level have sprung up. There are more than 60 universities, of which half are under state supervision.
Cyberjaya City was the brainchild of former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamed.
A large amount of financial backing comes from the government and been put to use in research.
Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, former first lady of Malaysia and wife of Dr Mahathir is the Chancellor of Multimedia University. She said the university has many schools to choose from and its programmes are based on job market requirements in the future.
She added that since the Sept 11 terrorist attacks in the US, more Muslim students are choosing to attend school in Malaysia because of the more peaceful environment.
Multimedia University has students from 75 countries all over the world. Iranian students are one of the largest groups among the international academic community.
Prof Dr Zaharin Yusoff, president of Multimedia University, said telecom agencies have provided support to the institution.
Every year a committee with members selected from every sector of society will evaluate the quality of education, he said.
More importantly, he added, Multimedia University places importance on research, promotes internal student activities by providing financial support, and provides a real work environment for students to learn and gain experience.
''We hope that in the future there will be more Thai students because we have held road shows and educational events on a continuous basis. We are eying the Thai student market because we are also the closest of neighbours.''