An Oxford University student from Thailand shares his experience
Frank Molloy's friend and neighbour, Jiratheep 'Boom' Pruchyathamkorn, recently graduated from Oxford University. Frank, who attended the graduation ceremony, spoke to Boom about his experience and shared the story with Bangkok Post Learning. If you have a story to share, please send a message to the Learning Facebook page.
What makes Boom tick
Boom is the nickname of a young Bangkok science whizz who’s just graduated with a first class honours master’s degree in chemistry from Oxford University. This likeable and relaxed student is now starting doctoral research at another famous British institution — Cambridge University.
Meet Jiratheep Pruchyathamkorn (23), my neighbour when he’s in Bangkok, who’s generously agreed to show me around Merton College at Oxford University as he prepares to leave after four years at the oldest university in the English-speaking world and arguably the most famous.
It’s just over a week since he received his degree in the Christoper Wren-designed Sheldonian Theatre. I get to climb the spiral wooden staircase to take in striking 360-degree views from the tower.
As we enter Merton and he’s handed a key, I notice a “no trashing” sign in front of the office and ask the porter what it means. He tells me that traditionally, after exams, students would pelt each other with eggs and flour as they let off steam. But the clean-up costs have become expensive and the tradition is now out of step in an age when students learn to respect the environment, not trash it.
Once outside, we pass through quadrangles with stone-walled accommodation and sturdy architecture. The grass in the middle is precious, old and revered, and, as Boom reminds me, is not to be stepped on.
Over a delicious traditional fish and chips lunch at one of his favourite eating places — Turf Tavern, near the Bridge of Sighs — I get to learn more of what makes Boom tick.
He thanks a teacher, Dr Sakda Trisak, for igniting and then fostering his interest in chemistry at Triam Udom Suksanomklao, his first high school.
“Dr Sakda knew how to make his lessons interesting to students. He knew how to explain complicated things in a simple way, giving just enough information to the class to learn in each lesson, not throwing everything in at one go.”
There’s an undertone of criticism of teachers and lecturers who forget what it’s like for students attempting to get their heads around a new subject as Boom speaks glowingly of Dr Sakda’s methods that engaged students in playful ways so they enjoyed learning. He thinks some highly qualified and specialised teachers and lecturers have lost the ability to simplify their knowledge for students.
“I think it is somewhat true when people say that you tend to be in your world and so become less able to communicate simple things as you become more expert and specialised,” Boom says. “But it’s also the case that most have forgotten the stage when they were students.”
Boom won medals for his scientific knowledge as a teen and he became eligible for a Thai government scholarship. But to attend Oxford, Boom first had to pass the British A-level exam which he did at school in Kent.
Then he had to demonstrate high-level language ability with a minimum score of seven out of a possible nine in the Intensive English Language Testing System (IELTS). He achieved a formidable nine in reading and listening.
In Oxford, I get a clear sense of how much Boom will be missed by one student when she runs over to hug and wish him goodbye. It’s clear how significant he’s been to her as she prepares to follow in his footsteps to the still more challenging final year.
Jiratheep Pruchyathamkorn (Photo by Frank Molloy)
I am curious to find out how he manages the pressures of social media, deals with other distractions like socialising and prepares for exams. He makes it clear he’s disciplined around time management. Yes, he has social media accounts but doesn’t use them too much. And to relax he joined clubs for squash, badminton, bridge and board games. And culture shock doesn’t seem to have been an obstacle and was probably overcome at high school in Kent.
He believes he has become more flexible in his problem-solving by studying at Oxford. He finds Thai attitudes to seniority and authority can be restricting at times and will now offer an opinion whereas in the past he might not have.
As an exceptionally successful student, I want to know what Boom might be able to pass on to other Thai students here and overseas, including tips on exam preparation.
“It’s important to learn in as many subject areas as you can manage to get as broad an education as possible,” he says. “Oxford tests your ability to think and whether you understand correctly so memorisation has only limited benefit. It’s important to know yourself. Aim higher than what you think you can achieve. But most of all, make a start because until you do, you’re only dreaming.”
Boom’s inspiring words echo those of Goethe, the great German writer and scientist: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.”