Thailand study abroad tips: 10 ways to make local friends

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Study in Thailand and integrate yourself into the culture and society

Today’s interview guest for the blog post is Josy from Nordrhein-Westfalen in Germany. She is currently studying abroad at Kasetsart University in Bangkok. During Josy’s semester abroad, she truly immersed herself in the Thai culture and made Thai friends. Therefore, she shared some valuable tips on meeting locals when going abroad.

Hi, I’m Josy…

…and I’m 26 years old. I decided to study abroad in Thailand for a semester because I am a big Thailand fan. I was in Thailand for the first time seven years ago when I joined an exchange program as an English teacher. I lived with a host family during the exchange, which made me feel even closer to the country. Since then, I have visited Thailand every year except for one due to COVID-19. That’s why Thailand became like a second home to me. Today, I am studying tourism economy, and my goal is to specialize in Thailand after graduation. So, spending a semester in Thailand was a great way for me to learn more about the culture and improve my Thai language skills.

Why I decided to go to Thailand in the first place

My best friend is Thai, but she lived in Ireland and decided to go abroad to Germany to learn German. That inspired me! So, I asked myself what I would like to learn. Then I decided it would be awesome to travel to Thailand and learn to speak Thai. Consequently, my best friend and I exchanged our cultures. Nowadays, we speak three languages: English, German and Thai.

Thailand Phuket travel explore beach exchange student stuy abroad
Thailand feels like a second home to Josy and she is grateful for the opportunity to spend her semester abroad here

It wasn’t easier to make local friends just because I stayed four months

I wouldn’t say it’s easier to get to know people when you are in Thailand for a semester. At least, not my situation. Due to the pandemic, we had online courses to study from everywhere. Instead of staying in Bangkok, I traveled through Thailand with my laptop. That’s why it was not necessarily easier to make local friends than on a short vacation.

Speaking Thai can be the perfect icebreaker!

I feel like Thais can be pretty shy, especially when speaking English. But if you can say a few words in Thai, it can be a great advantage! You have better chances of connecting with them because it is the perfect icebreaker.

Travel alone and meet people

From what I experienced, you will more likely meet new people when you travel by yourself, instead of with a friend or in a group. But that is only one factor. Of course, your personality makes a difference too. If you tend to be more extroverted than introverted and approach people easily, it will be easier to make Thai friends.


Book a hostel and make local friends

Instead of booking a hotel, I would recommend choosing a hostel. First of all, many solo travelers stay instead in hostels than hotels. And you can meet young Thais traveling to their own beautiful country. I feel that hotels are more anonymous. For example, I went to a hostel in Koh Samui, but due to COVID, I was the only guest. As a result, I spend a lot of time with the local staff. In the end, I stayed for six weeks and even returned to spend time with them for another four weeks now.

Thai locals Josy friends travel
One of Josy’s highlight was the time in Koh Samui where she spend most of the time with her Thai friends exploring the area

The people are not everywhere the same

Moreover, I experienced the people in the South being more open than in Bangkok. When I was staying in Koh Samui, I had the feeling that the people have a very modern mindset. Maybe this is due to locals in the South being so used to foreigners. In contrast, no one approaches me when I am with my former host family in the Northeast. They always asked my host family instead of talking to me directly if they had questions. But overall, I always felt welcomed. The Thais I met were always friendly, helpful, and warm.

Online classes made it hard to make Thai friends at university

Unfortunately, all classes were online. Of course, we had many benefits from it. However, it was hard to get in touch with the local students. At one point, I was in group work with nine other students, all from Thailand. It was a struggle to communicate in English and have good teamwork. It would have been so much easier to connect with the local student if we had been on campus and joined classes in person. I can imagine that university is otherwise a great place to meet locals, especially with all the activities on campus.

local students exchange students local friends
Due to the pandemic, Josy was only able to join a few events on campus. Picture: Loi Krathong festival at Kasetsart University

Make local friends by finding a hobby you love

I would recommend everyone find a hobby that suits you to meet local people with the same interests. For instance, I joined a kickboxing class in Koh Samui and went there 3-4 times a week. But if you prefer yoga, go for it! There are plenty of gyms and excellent sports activities to meet Thais quickly. They are so lovely and open-minded. But also visiting the same café or restaurant regularly can result in closer relationships with the locals.

Stay open-minded, relax and have a positive attitude

Furthermore, communication is vital. In my opinion, especially we Germans tend to be severe and uptight. On the contrary, Thais laugh a lot and love to fool around. I have noticed that their conversations are mostly positive. Another tip is that you should be spontaneous because Thais don’t take time as strictly. For example, one time, my Thai friends and I wanted to meet up at an elephant park, and I stressed myself out because I was 45 minutes late. In the end, I was the first one there and even had to wait for the others. If you let go and immerse yourself in the culture, you will make local friends.


Make Thai friends – it will be worth it!

Having local friends can be an advantage, especially here in Thailand or Southeast Asia in general. You are less likely to be scammed when you are with your friends. Or you can ask them for help if you feel like someone is charging you too much. For instance, I went to a shop to repair my scooter after a scooter accident. I had to pay 500 Thai Baht, which seemed way too much to me. So, I reached out to my kickboxing teacher and went back to the shop with him. In the end, I had to pay 50 Thai Baht.

Additionally, you will experience Thailand on a different level when you make local friends. You will experience their daily lives firsthand and better understand the culture. Also, your friends will tell you things that you will not hear if you travel the country. This includes secret spots and good restaurant tips. But they will also share their personal stories and their views on Thailand, which can be very interesting!

study in Thailand exchange student
“I woudl recommen everyone to travel to Thailand or spend their semester abroad here!”

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This blog post was written by our content specialist, Nele!