Haley Westmoreland studied abroad for a year in Chiang Mai, Thailand. In this interview we spoke with Haley about why she chose to study abroad a year, and how her time overseas landed her a job when she returned home.
Why did you choose Chiang Mai and what surprised you about the city?
I can’t put into words why I decided to come to Chiang Mai but there was something about it that was drawing me in. Everything about the place and the USAC program clicked. The initial thing that surprised me about Chiang Mai was the pace of the city. Whenever I first got here I remember being so in awe by the chaos of everything happening and the tranquility of the people. Everyone was walking slowly, taking their time, and never in a rush to do anything. It was really refreshing coming from a rushed lifestyle.
Why did you choose to study abroad a year?
Traveling and exploring new places is when I’m at my happiest. I was beginning to feel really antsy back in the states and wanting to get into a new culture. One of my goals became to get into a very foreign culture, for the longest amount of time possible. I was up for a challenge. I also think that slow travel is the best way to travel. I’d rather stay in one place for a while to create deeper connections with that place and the people there. I even ended up extending my trip three months more and am spending the summer in Chiang Mai.
Do you believe studying abroad for a year is more beneficial than a single semester?
Absolutely. Whenever the first round of students left I remember being so thankful to stay because I wasn’t ready to go home. I felt like it took me the first semester to get comfortable with the area, the culture, and the people that I was meeting. During that time I saw a lot, traveled on the weekends, explored constantly, and was going nonstop. But in the second semester I started to feel at home. I didn’t feel the need to travel all the time and started to embody the slowness of Thai culture. During this semester I met a lot more local people and had deeper connections in Chiang Mai which was such a rich experience. I don’t think I would have been able to do that if I hadn’t stayed for a year. It’s one thing to experience a culture on the surface but it’s another to dive deeper and live within it.
Did you participate in an internship/volunteer and if so how did that affect your time abroad?
Yes, I interned all year with one of the USAC professors. Whenever I met him, he was in the beginning phases of creating a company making and selling Thai herbal supplements. He was also networked in a large community of people in the alternative/holistic medicine niche. Initially, I was helping make the herbal supplements and going around to some healing centers in the area. I later started helping him piece together a business called Metta Herbs and helping with the logistics of getting the company going. Once the school year ended, the internship turned into a job and I am now the sales rep in North America for Metta Herbs. This was an experience that changed my life. It opened up doors and solidified a passion. It introduced me to a whole community of people, connections and opportunities that I would not have been able to do without it. It gave me the direction in my life that I was looking and I plan to stay connected with it for a long time to come. I am beyond thankful for that experience.
What advice do you have for students debating whether to study abroad for a year?
If you feel that you are ready to be thrown into another culture for a year and have the support, do it! I can only speak from my experience, but it is a time that will deeply change you. Although this was one of the best years of my life, being abroad for this long can be challenging, especially if it is your first time traveling more long term. So be confident that you are ready to make that commitment. If you do decide to do it, go into it with the mindset that you are going to be there for a year. That way you’re mentally prepared for the amount of time that you’ve dedicated to this experience. Whenever you’re here, stay really present, rely on your intuition, build up a community of people outside of USAC, adopt that cultures’ lifestyle and take care of yourself.