His name is Parin Pongpipttanapan, but his fellow classmates at Switzerland County High School simply call him “Pom”. For the past five months he has lived in Switzerland County as an exchange student attending the local high school — but when Southeast Asia was pummeled last week by the devastating tsunami, his thoughts turned to his homeland.
Pom is from the city of Muang in the province of Phatthalung in Thailand, which is situated on the East Coast of the country. After some apprehensive hours wondering about his family after he received news of the tsunami, Pom heard from his parents that his family is safe.
Pom said that although the tsunami struck the western coast of Thailand, the area is only about 150 kilometers (about 94 miles) from his home in Muang.
“I spoke with my parents, and my family is safe,” Pom said earlier this week during a break from classes at Switzerland County High School. “One of my brothers attends the university in Bangkok, and my other brother works close to my parents home, so they are all alright.”
Pom did say that he has an uncle who lives in Phuket, where the tsunami hit the hardest; but that the uncle and his family came to Pom’s family’s home to celebrate the New Year, and they are all safe, as well.
“My parents did say that they felt the earthquake that struck before the tsunami,” Pom said. “It was a large earthquake.”
Although members of Pom’s immediate family are all safe, there is still some uneasiness about friends or acquaintances of Pom’s back in his homeland. He may not know the full extent of the devastation until he returns home this summer.
Pom is 17 years old, and reports that during his lifetime he has never been involved in a tsunami.
“Most of the time when we speak of tsunamis, they strike near Japan,” Pom said.
Parin Pongpipttanapan is a junior here at Switzerland County High School, just as he is at his home high school back in Thailand. He said that he has been interested for some time about being an exchange student, and during the last school year he began the process of trying to apply.
“In Thailand, there are many programs and organizations that you can use,” Pom said. “We had to take an English test before we were accepted into the program.”
Pom said that in Thailand there is heavy competition in each of the country’s provinces to get to be an exchange student. With many interested students and very few spots available, Pom was very happy when he was informed that he had won the competition.
The next question was — where would he go?
Pom said that he had the opportunity to go many places: Japan, England, China, and Germany to name a few — but in his heart he wanted to come to America.
Still, Switzerland County was quite a surprise.
Pom has been living with Randy and Kim Johns in their home near East Enterprise since he arrived her about five months ago. With almost 400,000 people living in his hometown province back in Thailand, getting used to small town life in Switzerland County has been somewhat of an adjustment.
“At my school back in Thailand, we have about 3,500 students,” Pom said. “It’s a lot different here.”
As for the classes, Pom says that he has found his courses here to be a little easier than the ones in his home country, but quickly qualifies that statement.
“Except for the English classes,” he smiles. “I’m okay with English right now, but it’s my hardest class.”
Pom said that he likes living in Switzerland County and attending school here, but admits that he also misses his homeland. He will return to Thailand at the end of June, but is already making plans to one day return.
“I have traveled in Indiana and Kentucky and Ohio,” Pom said. “There are many interesting places here to see. I would like to see many things in America: New York, Los Angeles, the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls; but I won’t get to see much this time here. I will come back again and visit those places on my next trip.”
He will finish his high school career back in Thailand, but his college plans contain a desire to return to this country. If he can’t attend college here in the United States, he says that he will attend the university in Thailand. His career plans are still undecided, but he concedes that he hopes to have a career in a field such as engineering — and he hopes to find something that will use his experiences here.
Parin Pongpipttanapan is the youngest of three sons in his family. His 24-year old brother, Tanawat, works and lives near his parents’ home; while 20-year old brother Ratthabun is a student at the University in Bangkok.
His father, Chalerm Pongpipttanapan, works in the public health office for the Thai government; and mother Sureetip Pongpipttanapan is a high school teacher — but she doesn’t teach at Pom’s school.
Pom is very relieved that his parents and other family members have survived the earthquake and tsunami that struck his homeland and other countries in the region, but feels a need to reach out to his countrymen and find ways to help — even from several thousand miles away.
He feels that things will be better by the time he returns home in June, so for now he is adjusting to a different weather phenomenon that until now he hasn’t had to worry about — snow. Although he has seen man made snow at places such as ski resorts, Pom had never seen actual natural snow until last week’s storms.
“It’s really pretty when everything’s all white,” Pom said. “But it wasn’t pretty anymore when the snow storm hit and you have to stay home and not be able to get out. Then it’s not so pretty.”
Spoken like a true Switzerland Countian.
— Pat Lanman