Reflections halfway through my internship, Anshul Bhatnagar (Graduate Student)

Anshul Bhatnagar, University of Toronto
July 2016

The most common question my friends and family back in Canada and India ask is “how is Thailand ?” and most of the time my general reply is “good.” If I am replying to someone who I feel close to, though, then I usually explain about UCRSEA, Mahasarkham city, about the food market Talat-Noi, and I don’t stop talking for next 20 minutes.

Before going ahead with my experience in Thailand and with UCRSEA, I would like to share something about myself. I am a graduate student at the University of Toronto, and I am pursuing my Masters of Science in Sustainability Management. My internship for this programme is the reason behind my visit to Thailand. I was selected as a programme research intern to work with Mahasarakham University (MSU). MSU is a UCRSEA partner organization and provides support through academic research and through opportunities for expanding the UCRSEA network and vision.

The purpose of my internship is to provide assistance to MSU and its activities primarily through research and writing activities. Specifically, I support research on the tram development project and provide analysis on how it contributes to an improved and more sustainable transportation system in Khon Kaen City. My overall duties include, but are not limited to: Write-up of document review and to collect background information about the city’s proposed tram transportation project, focusing on (a) current transportation system in Khon Kaen and project rationale, (b) project development, current status and future steps (including needs and gaps), and (c) usage of sustainability criteria/ concepts/ frameworks/ understanding found in planning documents; identifying and analyzing the role of key stakeholders of the proposed tram transportation project; and analyzing the expected function of the tram and its supporting/ limiting factors by interviewing key stakeholders of the project planning team. I will present my findings at the end of my internship. Apart from these responsibilities, I am also working on developing sustainability guidelines for a smarter transport system specifically for Khon Kaen city.

My experiences are very different and have varied on a different aspect of personal and professional variables, similar to the variance in temperature between Canada and Thailand.

On my first day, I was well received and was provided logistical help. I even got a bicycle on my first day, which marked the end of my journey, which started three days earlier in UBER taxi in Canada. It’s been a month and a half since I have arrived in Thailand and I have experienced so many things. Someone rightly said “Travel is your best teacher.”

On my second day, I was given the opportunity to attend a writeshop conducted by MSU and Thailand Environment Institute (TEI) which was focused on reiterating the UCRSEA’s vision and roadmap. The same day I met Dr. Yanyong Inmuong, Dean of the Faculty of Environment and Resource Studies. He shared his valuable insights on ‘Sustainability’ and how it is perceived in Southeast Asia. He made me feel comfortable and ask me to take one to two weeks to get acclimatized and to understand things. It was a meeting that made me feel safe and accepted. The next milestone entry was attending the Public Consultation Meeting over LRT and BRT arranged by the Khon Kaen Think Tank. I along with Ms. Astrud Lea Beringer and Joel (dear friend and our translator) participated in this meeting; it was my first time to attend a public consultation meeting and to understand the viewpoint of the two most important stakeholders – Planners and the Users. This session also gave me an opportunity to network and meet some administrators who are involved in the smart transport project since the beginning.

After few days I was also given an opportunity to attend a Shared Learning Dialogue conference at Khon Kaen, this was also the first time I attended such a meeting to understand how planning and research work is doen at the ground level. Meeting intellectuals and the opportunity to network was not over here. Soon, I was informed that the President of MSU would like to meet us. It was a small meeting of 15 minutes where I along with other interns and the staff of Faculty of Environment and greeted the President. I also presented him with a Token of appreciation from Canada and UCRSEA.

In my first thirty days, a lot of opportunities were offered, and a free hand was given by my supervisor Astrud and Dr. Kontaros Kaomuangnoi. Dr. Kaomuangnoi is my technical supervisor who provides technical guidance and feedback on my ideas and interests. She takes a constant interest in the work I am doing.

After my first 30 days, I was invited by Pakamas Thinphanga, the programme’s Co-Director, to visit Bangkok for a week and to work on a documentary project for UCRSEA. I also worked with the TEI team to monitor the programme’s web traffic and to make it more user-friendly. This visit also gave me an opportunity to sit along with academics from a different set of areas and to brainstorm on how to make Thailand more sustainable. I am keeping my fingers crossed, as

I was also asked to be a part of a forum of Rockefeller Foundation (upcoming sometime in August) to discuss sustainability from my point of view. Until now MSU and UCRSEA have given me many opportunities to excel on professional and personal fronts.