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Thursday, December 14, 2006


Girls can do anything, but in Thailand...

When Nee graduated from her local high school in north-east Thailand a few years ago she looked at the options that were available to her. She felt drawn to the opportunity to study Mass Communications at Mahasarakham University. Her family supported this choice. Her parents were concerned for their youngest daughter. Some of the other options would have required her to go to Bangkok. At least Mahasarakham was in the region. They could keep an eye on her. She could return home often.

Nee loved her course. Most university courses in Thailand are about taking in knowledge and showing you have learned as required. Mass Communications enabled Nee to use her creative talents. She particularly enjoyed subjects such as photography, creative media production, broadcasting production and performing arts media production.

During the last year of the course Nee was given a work experience placement with a TV broadcaster. During this time she wrote scripts for the station newsreaders. This was an important job. She had to get it right. Apparently she handled this quite well.

Earlier this year, Nee graduated from her course and along with her fellow students applied for jobs in the industry. Not everyone got the job they wanted. I know, for example, that one of her fellow students is now working in a bank call centre. Apparently she's happy but I wonder how many of the mass communication skills she studied are being applied.

Nee was more fortunate. She got a job with a company that produces TV shows for broadcast through closed circuit television on university campuses. She is part of a team of two who produce a student lifestyle program.

Nee's job title is 'editor' however her job embraces much more than that. She comes up with the ideas, writes the scripts, lugs the video camera and tripod alone from one university campus to another, films the story and edits the film. In other words she does pretty much everything. Her job requires her to work long hours, six days a week. And because she has little experience her pay rate is pretty low. She's living in Bangkok which is not the cheapest place to live in Thailand.

Nee is able to reconcile these difficulties with the fact that she is gaining broad experience in the industry of her choice. She works hard. She has little time for fun in her life but she has made a good start in her career.

If Nee lived in a Western country perhaps her parents would be proud of the achievements their daughter has made in getting such a start in life. Sadly, this is not the case for Nee.

In Thai tradition daughters continue to live with, or at least close to, their parents. It is quite common for husbands to move in with the wife's famiy. As the parents get older the daughter is expected to look after the parents. This applies even more so for the youngest daughter.

But there are no mass communication jobs available in the family's village or even close by. The opportunities for Nee are in big cities such as Bangkok. No one in the family lives in Bangkok. They have little knowledge of it. They fear it is a dangerous place for a young woman.

They phone Nee regularly and tell her they want her to return home and apply for a safe government or teaching job like her older sisters. They are concerned for her wellbeing.

Nee has no interest in doing this. She is working in the industry that she loves. She considers herself to have an exciting future. She doesn't want to give all this away for the perception of security and status that can be found in a government job in the local district. So her family tell her she's on her own and if she has problems don't expect any help from them.

They still care for her. They ring her regularly but mainly to nag her about coming home.

Nee has no family and few friends in Bangkok. Her life is hard. Some days she thinks about returning. But so far she's maintained her commitment to her chosen career. Can she keep this up? I hope so.


Nee's story is not uncommon in Thailand and Asia in general. Family traditions are very strong throughout Asia. The family exert a huge influence on the lives of individual members. Perhaps most give in. I have friends elsewhere in Asia, both male and female, who are virtually waiting for their parents to die so they can live a life of their own choosing.


Before posting this blog I showed it to a female friend in Bangkok. She pointed out that stories such as Nee's are not so common today as in the past. I think perhaps my friend is right as far as Bangkok is concerned. However I don't think this is the case in country areas. When I interviewed my students at Mahasarakham University, I often asked them what they wanted to do after they graduated. Many of the boys were ambitious but most of the girls said something like I'll return to my village to teach or to look after my parents.

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