As members of the Thailand Wisconsin International Sunrise Program, four Thai students and one teacher are visiting Tomah for 18 days.
On the trip are High School English teacher Pichinart “Mae” Kumpawan and eighth-grade students Prepoly “Prae” Amornsillaphachai, Sasicha “Mo” Chotiprayanakul, Doasattha “Maggie” Thamarangsi and Nannaphat “Som” Wuchiralapaitoon.
Mae decided to participate in the program to experience something new.
“This is my fourth time in the U.S.A. but my first time in Wisconsin,” she said. “I think (the trip) is a good chance for me to explore something new and something I’ve never seen before.”
“I came for the experience,” she said. “There are other programs that offer summertime school in other countries, but this is a government connection, so I would get a different experience. I have been to summer school in Australia before, and I have learned in New Zealand before, but with this one I would get a new and different experience.”
Mo said the Sunrise Program is a unique summer school course abroad.
“I think this is a really unique program because we don’t just go to the school and sit in the classes,” she said. “We get a lot of field trips, and we get to go to new places and see things that are here in America or just in Wisconsin. I think it’s a wonderful experience.”
Som said the program is a good opportunity to educate others about Thailand.
“I think it’s a good chance for me to exchange my culture with yours,” she said. “Many people here they don’t know Thailand, so it’s a good chance for us to tell about our country to them and to explore new things here.”
“I just noticed that many of the students here don’t know where Thailand is. They keep asking me, ‘What part of China are you from?’” she said. “So it’s good for us, too. We have to introduce ourselves, where Thailand is and what are the people like, what’s (our) culture like.”
Prae decided to participate in the program because she wanted to see what the culture was like, especially the schools, which are different than Thailand’s. One major difference is the length of the school day and how much students have to study.
“We study much harder, and more, from like seven in the morning to almost five in the evening,” she said. “And everybody has extra classes outside of the school every evening, the weekends and on school break.”
The reason, Prae said, “We have to compete.”
The reason for competition, Som said, is to get into the best college.
Jobs, Maggie said, are harder to find. It’s a small country with a lot of people.
Bangkok, where Prae, Maggie, Mo and Mae live, has about 6.4 million people, so the job market is smaller.
“It’s crowded,” Prae said.
In comparison, Wisconsin has about 5.7 million people.
Another difference between Thai and U.S. schools is the elective courses — the U.S. has more, Maggie said. “But still we have some,” she added.
One more difference, Mo said, is courses here are more specific than in Thailand.
“(In Thailand) they’re not very specific of what type of science you want,” she said. “We just have science and math; you learn the whole thing.”
Also, in Thailand, foreign language courses begin earlier, at three-years-old, generally.
Maggie said they learn three languages in kindergarten.
“Some kindergartens, they teach three languages — Thai, English and Mandarin,” she said.
Mae said at the school where she teaches, there are even more language options.
“If you go to high school, you have a lot of selection,” she said. “In my school we offer Japanese, Mandarin, French and German. ... (In the U.S.) there’s not that variety here.”
Also, Maggie said, homework takes longer in Thailand.
“Some days I don’t even get to sleep at all because of (doing) homework all night,” she said. “Most school days I get to sleep after two in the morning everyday.”
The differences, the students and Mae have learned, are not just in the schools but outside of them as well − for example, traffic.
Mo described traffic in Tomah as very light. Maggie said travel times are a lot shorter in Tomah, and there are fewer ways to get around.
“We can travel from my house to school like 10 minutes here, but at home in Thailand I have to travel almost two hours to get to school every day,” she said. “(Here) there’s no train or that stuff, so we have to use cars.”
Another difference is food, breakfast in particular, Mae said.
“Here you have the cereal and French toast,” she said. “(In Thailand) normally we start with rice and main dishes and side dishes — there are like four or three different side dishes on the table. But here in the morning it’s milk, cereal, French toast, coffee, tea.”
Cooking in Thailand, Mae said takes longer.
“One thing my hosts talk about is, ‘What do you cook usually?’ I said, ‘I don’t cook,’” she said. “If I cooked it would take a lot of time, because for Thai (cuisine) you have a lot of ingredients and it has a lot of procedures to do certain dishes. Last week I (cooked) Thai food for my hosts, and it took me like two hours to finish them all. She said, ‘Oh, I see why you don’t cook.’”
Since coming to Wisconsin the girls have experienced many new things and gone on many new trips including a visit to a cranberry marsh, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and Western Technical College, a dairy farm, the Tomah Museum, the Little Red School House, and they have shadowed students at Tomah High School and seen a presentation about the Ho-Chunk culture.
In the future they will take a tour of the Tomah VA Medical Hospital, see the bluffs in La Crosse and visit Madison.