Sala, the Webster Thailand residence hall, looks out over the blue-green Indian ocean. The modern-looking, high-rise building stands encasing a turquoise outdoor pool and a modern outdoor café within its structure. The students stay in chic, hotel-style rooms with king-sized beds and flatscreen TVs with free maid service. However, students have complained about Sala’s spotty, dysfunctional Wi-Fi.
Students have had issues with the Wi-Fi since the start of Webster Thailand’s contract with Sala more than five years ago. The complaints have only increased as Sala became the primary housing for Webster students. At the start of the school year, it became the required housing for students in their first year.
Agrima KC, a transfer student who has lived at Sala since Fall 2017, had been advised by fellow students upon her arrival in Thailand to get a good data package before even moving into Sala. Students told her the Wi-Fi at Sala did not work. She experienced these issues herself while trying to log on to the Wi-Fi with her phone and computer to no avail. Because of this, she has had to go to other locations in town to access their Wi-Fi.
Andrea Barajas, a study abroad student from Webster’s St. Louis campus, has also experienced issues with the Wi-Fi since her arrival, including issues with logging in and keeping the Wi-Fi working at its slow pace. She said she often must go to campus when she has days off or stay later because of the issues with the Wi-Fi. Students are often required to take a 30-45 minute bus ride to get to campus.
KC said she would often have to go to different locations in town to have access to Wi-Fi and work on schoolwork as well.
“I think the Internet is one of the most basic facilities that college students require,” KC said. “So much of our school work depends on being able to access material on the internet, and without it, we lag behind not only on schoolwork but also being able to be in touch with friends and family back at home. It is a real dilemma.”
KC said students have complained repeatedly to Webster University Thailand about the Wi-Fi and protested at the student center when they felt their complaints were not being heard. She said so far this has resulted in no action as far as the students see, and they have only received responses from the university saying they are working on it. KC said she hopes the new complaints of study abroad students to the university and their home campuses will help.
Barajas said many study abroad students have complained through social media devices, such as the Facebook group chat for Sala residents. She said they are frustrated, but she emphasized Thailand is a still developing country, so everything will not be as it is on other campuses.
“A lot [of people] are very upset about this issue, but we must keep in mind that we knew what we were getting ourselves into when we applied for Thailand,” Barajas said. “Not everything will be the same, and the country is still modernizing. So, patience is key.”
The issue might soon be fixed for the study abroad students and Webster Thailand students. Dr. Keith Welsh is the interim rector of Thailand since 2016. He said Sala began fixing the Wi-Fi on Feb. 15.
Welsh said fixing Sala’s Wi-Fi for students has been an ongoing issue for Webster Thailand, starting before he became the rector. He said the university has had difficulties working with the previous manager of Sala. The previous manager said university students did not need more bandwidth for their work. Welsh said this, along with the different cultural expectations and lack of a great technology infrastructure in Thailand, created issues in coming to an agreement with Sala about the Wi-Fi. They even experienced issues when the university offered to pay for the new Wi-Fi themselves on multiple occasions.
Welsh said he knows this is a frustration for the students. He said he is embarrassed by how bad the Wi-Fi is, but he is grateful for the student’s patience as the university has been working through the negotiations and technological setbacks.
“We haven’t been ignoring the problem,” Welsh said. “We’ve been working on it and working on it, trying to get it fixed. We’ve taken [the students’] complaints seriously.”
After negotiations and a change in management at Sala, Welsh said the university has finally been able to come to an agreement. The installment of two more lines of bandwidth as well as extra Wi-Fi points began on February 15th and is still being installed currently.
Students, such as Barajas, are hopeful the Wi-Fi will be fixed as promised.
“Sala has done a few things to keep us satisfied, and I am grateful that they are having [hosting] us during our study abroad experience,” Barajas said. “In all honesty, I do believe they will work on it and help us out.”
Other students, such as KC, hope for the best as well. But, she said she and others are ready to bring the issue up to Webster Thailand again and do what they can to make sure the issue is resolved.