Are Chulalongkorn Student Uniforms a Fading Prestige?

As foreign ideologies begin to seep into Thailand’s culture, student’s opinion of a once prestigious symbol begin to grow negative. While there is a partition of distinguished students who proudly and unconditionally admire wearing uniforms at Chulalongkorn University, the growing number of students who complain about their forced apparel has raised concern among scholars and professors alike.

The student uniform of Chulalongkorn University has been a symbol of pride and prestige to students and the community ever since King Rama V granted it when he established the university in 1898.

“Wearing Chulalongkorn uniform makes me feel proud and prestigious,” said Pin Montreewasuwat, a third-year student of Chulalongkorn University. “It shows people where exactly I’m studying…it’s not necessary for people to know about it, of course, but I wouldn’t feel as proud,” he added.

According to Swasdi Jongkol, a Chulalongkorn University Historical Document Expert as well as university alumni, Chulalongkorn University is different from other universities in many aspects, especially the student uniform.

“Every part of our uniform has meaning and origin,” said Jongkol. “The university pin, for example, is to be attached on the left of the uniform chest, for it represents the priest’s walk to the left which is an auspicious direction according to Buddhist belief.”

Unlike other universities in most parts of the world, Chulalongkorn University requires their undergraduate students of any nationality and condition to wear its uniform. It has become a university rule as much as a tradition by which students are expected to abide. Those who fail to do so are likely to face punishment.

However, not everyone seems to appreciate such values. Besides complaining about the lack of comfort of wearing a uniform, many students fail to recognize its association with pride and prestige.

“I don’t feel like wearing it [uniform] everyday, and I’m not proud to wear it,” said Kagkanang Yaswadi, another third-year Chulalongkorn University student.

The fact is that many attitudes towards the uniform has shifted and today a growing number of students can be seen openly violating the dress code by wearing jeans, not tucking in their shirt, or simply just not wearing the uniform at all.

“In the past, our students were very eager and proud to tell people where they were studying,” said Jongkol. “Medicine students, for example, were not required to wear uniform but they wore it anyway just to show that they’re from Chula.”

Most foreigners view the mandatory apparel as a sign of uniformity and a way to keep everything equal. Foreign exchange students at Chulalongkorn University embrace the culture shock of wearing a uniform and accept it as part of their adjustment process, but claim they would not be able to handle it in their home country.

Mark Schoder, a fourth-year exchange student from Holland explains, “It is a useful experience [and] it shows we respect their [Thai] culture. [However], I wouldn’t like it [at home] because I’m not used to it in Holland.”

In addition, Jongkol believes that the mounting westernization in Thailand has created the changing views toward the university student uniform. “[It’s] the influence of American attitude [and] their notion of freedom,” said Jongkol. “More and more professors went to study in the States and came back to spread such ideas.”

Dr. Daved Forde, an American professor at Chulalongkorn University in the Faculty of Communication Arts, claims the global society we are living in is causing these clash of cultures. “In some ways I think it’s a good thing to challenge. Western influence is certainly going to that [and students] will challenge something that doesn’t have any particular value other that to keep some tradition.”

Nevertheless, Jongkol believes that the strength and pride of past traditions, though weakened, will never die out.

Jongkol affirms, “Some students might ask why they have to wear uniform. Let’s ask them back why we have to follow their rules and regulations when we visit other countries. It’s the same here. This is the institution owned by the King [Rama V] and we’re proud of that. So why not [conform].”

By Justin Calderon and Piyawit Teeraprasert

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