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Views America as melting point of cultures

By Staff | Dec 13, 2009

In the Thai culture where people stay out of the sun and bleach their skin for status purposes, it was quite a shock to see individuals in Blue Earth soaking-up the sun and enjoying the heat.

A foreign exchange student from Bangkok, Thailand, Chitchanok Cherdchoochari, or ‘Nok,’as she is called, explains the higher class people in her homeland bleach their skin so they stand apart from the working class. Not only does the upper class stay indoors as much as possible, she says, but they also purchase lotions containing bleach to maintain the light skin tone. For a person in this class to remain in the sun would be unheard of in Thailand.

As the Minnesota days became shorter and the temperatures began to drop, Nok says she finally understood why her host family, Mike and Tobi Squiers and their children, Colin and Emma, lived outdoors so much in the summer.

She discovered it gets much colder here than in the tropical climate she is familiar with in Thailand. Even though she loved walking in the first snowfall here, she admits she is scared it is going to get a lot colder.

“We don’t have winter,” she explains. “In Thailand, our temperatures are usually between 70 and 80 degrees. We have summer and the monsoon season. It is generally hot and humid, so we stay indoors. We have a lot of air conditioners.”

Nok and her host family, the Squiers, above. From left are Colin, Nok, Tobi, Emma and Mike Squiers.

Because she lives in the tropics, she says they have a lot of reptiles. It is not unusual, she says, to see lots and lots of ants as well as geckos in one’s home. Thailand also has a lot of snakes and the large flesh-eating monitor lizards. Fortunately, she says the latter two are seldom seen in the city but mainly found elsewhere in Thailand.

Nok, who attends an international school in a suburb of Bangkok, says Thailand is smaller in area than Minnesota but is much more highly populated. She says the city of Bangkok has a population of over 6.3 million people while the greater area of Bangkok has a population of almost 12 million.

Surprised at all the open land in this country, she says it is unfair we have so much land. She is used to the crowded urban area where she says life is much more stressful. Nok adds, “a person can sit for hours in traffic in Bangkok.”

Other than the temperature, Nok has noted many other differences between her native land and the states.

“There is a lot of people and traffic in Bangkok,” says Nok. “Blue Earth is a nice change. It is pretty peaceful and there is no pollution.”

She says the biggest differences she has noted involve food, sports and hobbies.

“I knew America was the melting point of all the cultures,” says Nok. “I knew what to expect, but it is nice to experience the real thing by living here as a foreign exchange student.”

Tobi Squiers, her host mother, says Nok never tasted Mexican food before coming to live with them.

“The sweets are great here,” says Nok, “even though I know they can make one fat. I would like to take back to my country all the sweets! The fast food burgers are yummy too.”

She says she eats a lot of seafood in her country and particularly enjoys sushi or raw fish.

“Thai people eat out more often than you do, because it costs so little,” says Nok. “Fresh cooked food is prepared on the spot at food markets. I could eat a stir-fry with basil and it would only cost about one dollar. Of course, our portions are much smaller than here.”

Nok lives with her parents in a five bedroom loft-style apartment above her parent’s business. It is located just eight minutes from Bangkok in a suburb of the city.

Her father, Prayad, and mother, Jittima, own their own business. It is a company which builds modular homes and metal products or hardware for homes. They export their modular homes to Japan, Australia, Dubai or wherever they are wanted. Working with her parents are her older sister, Thantip and older brother, Chaowarit.

Although she is the youngest child in her Thai family, she is the eldest child in the Squiers’ home. Having younger siblings here has been a good experience for the junior in high school.

Nok is also a junior at her international school in Bangkok. She says she has five classes daily there. Her school day begins at 7:20 a.m. and ends by 2:30 p.m. Some of the classes she must take at her Bangkok school include: Thai language (which is more of a Bali-Sanskrit language); Thai culture; Mandarin; math; science and world literature. She has also studied English since she was in kindergarten.

“My school gave me a list of three classes they wanted me to study here,” says Nok. “These included American history, pre-calculus and chemistry.”

In addition to fulfilling the required classes, Nok is taking choir, art, speech communications, video productions and American literature while a student here.

“My favorite class is choir,” says a grinning Nok. “There are a lot of students in it and it is a good way for me to meet people.”

She says a normal Thai school would be much different than the international school which she is used to attending. The international school, Nok says, is more costly to attend than the regular schools.

While attending BEA, Nok participated in cross country and plans to join the track team this spring.

“You take your sports more seriously here,” she says. ” The sports are also more competitive.”

When she is not involved in school activities, Nok enjoys art (abstract and pencil drawing), reading, listening to music, working on her computer and dancing. She presently attends Dancers Unlimited. If she were home, she says she would go to a fitness center, jog or exercise since she enjoys doing these activities.

As for music, Nok says she listens to many different kinds of music. She has even introduced her American family to Thai music.

Nok has traveled to Japan, South Africa, Hong Kong, China, South Korea, Italy, France and the United States. While here, she has visited Chicago, Seattle, the Cities, Iowa and will be going to San Francisco with the Squiers’ at a future date.

She says her favorite place, in all of her travels, is Japan. She likes it because of its culture and people and says even though it is crowded, there is so much to do there.

Although she has not experienced much homesickness, Nok says she misses the food, her family and her friends in Thailand.

“My favorite Thai food,” she says, “is a salad with papaya, spices and sticky rice.”

Since Thai food has a lot of spices in it, her host family thinks this is why Nok likes Mexican food here so much.

Transportation is a bit different also. In Bangkok, Nok says the people usually drive either a Japanese car, a Volvo or BMW or they take the sky trains, subways, taxis or buses.

“We also have our traditional three-wheeled motorized bikes which are called ‘Tuk-Tuk,'” says Nok. “The tourists really like to take these.”

Nok says she would encourage anyone going to her country to see the beaches and islands. There are a lot of markets.

To read more of this story, see this week’s Register.