It’s Monday afternoon and I’m sat on the bottom floor in the impressive building of Mahidol International College. There’s a large, square water feature to my right occupying the center of the building, I’m in awe of it-the geometric architecture, large plants scattered throughout the four floors, and high wooden pillars and ceilings. Much of the roof is open and when it rains, streams of water splash down onto the large, wide corridors as you sit protected on benches of the sheltered spaces, nearby. This hasn’t happened yet but quite an experience, I can imagine. It’s cool but sophisticated, futuristic yet still close to nature.
I can’t help but laugh at the fact I’m sat here in a school uniform. In the UK we only wear uniform until we’re 16, and even that seemed like a struggle. If you’d have told my school-leaving, teenage self, that it wouldn’t be the last time I’d be getting out of bed and throwing on a ‘school’ uniform, I’d have thought you were ridiculous. But here I am putting my frilly white socks on, some black brogues, a pleated skirt, a white shirt AND accessories of a brown ‘Mahidol University’ belt, and a badge to go on my right shoulder. I genuinely think it’s hilarious. Back in the day I would’ve imagined something far wilder for my future, but clearly, I have been channeled back into the system I always felt so ready to get away from!
To me, uniform symbolizes conformity, powerlessness, control, which doesn’t sit too well. On the International Exchange Student photo day, I was told by sweet, Thai girl that my hair was too messy, and that I should brush it before I come face-to-face with the photographer. Honestly, the cheek of it! If you know me, you probably know myself and hair brushes have always had a troublesome relationship. Nothing aggravates me more than people telling me how I should present my hair. You brush your hair, and leave me to mine😋But I responded with a giggle and smiled at the ridiculousness of it all, and went on to obey her wishes.
I’m not entirely sure what the reason for uniform is here. Like most schools, and work places , I suspect it’s mostly to do with appearing serious about our engagements, preparing ourselves for ‘real-life’, or to hide our lack of wealth/abundance there-of, to make us feel more equal – I’ve heard though that most Thai student’s which study in this particular English speaking college ‘MUIC’ (Mahidol University International College) are relatively privileged compared to the rest of the population, and are mostly upper middle class young adults, so I’m not sure students coming to school in rags is the main concern.
I guess that’s how university in Thailand seems different to my university in the UK so far. On my campus back in Brighton, I think it is probably an aim of the staff to treat students as equals. I assume most faculty members, lecturers, assistant lecturers etc. are still student’s themselves, just at different stages of their journey, but there is a definite sense of being seen like an adult. Here, in terms of uniform, feels like a step backwards to 6th form, or even to school. We are not yet quite autonomous adults who can dress and express how we desire. From the outside, our smart clothes signifying that we have returned to the system, ‘Bricks in the Wall’, but I’m certain our minds are far less caged, and conforming than appears!