When an underdog has his day
I have a confession to make. I am a Rajabhat graduate, and proud of it. I am also a journalist at the Bangkok Post, one of the leading English-language newspapers in the region. With the stigma that most of society attaches to graduates of any Rajabhat university, I have been an underdog for the majority of my career.
The recent talk of the town was a Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) recruitment advertisement for a financial adviser trainer that restricted applicants to graduates from 14 universities.
The restrictions on candidates prompted all universities not on the SCB’s preferred list to start a nationwide boycott campaign of the bank. One of the most active ones was the Rajabhat University network, which has 40 universities across the country. They vowed to no longer conduct transactions with SCB in protest against their biased policy.
But how can you blame SCB for favouring elite universities? Job recruiters may not say so publicly, but, let’s face it, who will a HR department select if they have candidates from Chula and Thammasat? Rajabhat is obviously not their first choice.
When I was in high school, my career counsellor kept telling me “if you can’t get into Chulalongkorn University or Thammasat University, your life is basically over”. This made me angry and I was determined to prove her wrong.
My teachers had high expectations that I would do well in life as I was school vice-president and had won awards and scholarships. But when it came time to take the university entrance exam I surprised my teachers and friends by not applying for the top universities. I believed I could be a success no matter where I studied and enrolled in Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University, the No 1 of 40 Raja-bhat institutions in Thailand.
I graduated confident and knowledgeable, but upon entering the corporate world I started to realise I was an underdog and maybe my teacher was right. The first door closed in my face was where I am now employed, at the Bangkok Post, a newspaper I had wanted to work for since I was in high school. In 2004, I phoned about an internship. A woman asked which university I had studied at, and I proudly replied Suan Sunandha Rajabhat.
“Sorry, we have no policy to offer internships for this university,” she replied.
I wasn’t angry or upset, but determined. Via a personal connection I was able to intern at the Bangkok Post for the IT Database desk. I started to realise that in Thai society it’s who you know more than who you are. During my first stint at the Bangkok Post, I realised I didn’t fit in. People around me were mostly Chula graduates with a sense of pride about who they were. I felt small, as if I did not belong to the club.
My work at that time wasn’t outstanding. But I managed to get one front page story and small reports published with the help of supportive senior reporters and editors.
I wasn’t ready for the job, but I had passion and ambition and vowed I would be back and would return as a good reporter. After the internship I started an eight-year journey, gaining more experience and continuing my higher education. I applied for a reporter’s job at the Bangkok Post again and this time was accepted.
I also applied to enrol in the top universities for a master’s degree and was able to get into them all. When I studied at the other universities — which were on the list of the SCB’s 14 desired ones — I realised what I learned at Rajabhat wasn’t enough as the curriculum was designed to instruct both weak and strong students. Nonetheless, I believe I had gained something useful for my career from Rajabhat, as well as from the other universities.
Regardless of the social media drama going on right now over SCB’s advert, I understand how and why they did it. Yes, it is prejudiced, yes, it is bad, and yes, it is wrong. But in the great unwritten truths of Thailand, the majority know most leading companies prefer those with the pink of Chula and yellow and red of Thammasat, simply because society perceives them as elite graduates. The only difference is they don’t explicitly put it on their recruitment forms like SCB did.
But here I am in the newsroom I had always wanted to work in, thinking of how I arrived here. As a Rajabhat graduate, I took all the opportunities offered and never gave up. If others have the same opportunities I’m sure they can be part of great things, no matter where they graduated from.