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Thai native already a graduate back home, now student in U.S.

By Staff | Nov 29, 2010

Krissana (center) is living with Richard and Margaret Sunderlin of Elmore while she’s in the United States.

She’s technically already finished with school back in Thailand, but Krissana Lao-Amornphunkul will be a student for several more months as she studies at Blue Earth Area High School.

The 18-year-old enrolled in the foreign exchange program for a chance to learn how to live in the United States and improve her English.

She is an only child at home, but since Richard and Margaret Sunderlin decided to host two students at once, she has a “sister,” from Hong Kong, while staying in the U.S.

Twelve exchange students in 10 years have called the Sunderlins’ house in Elmore their home, and it wasn’t even their idea to begin with.

“My daughter was trying to talk us into it,” Richard explains.

Krissana Lao-Amornphunkul

She succeeded, and the family became host to a boy from Venezuela. From that point, the Sunderlins were anxious to continue the experience.

“He was a fine young man,” Richard says. “He left a good taste in our mouth after he left.”

Since then, the couple has hosted children from Germany, Thailand, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand, and this year welcomes a girl from Hong Kong, as well as Krissana.

Krissana was born and raised in Bangkok, the largest city in Thailand, where her parents are also from. Her family owns a business selling fish, primarily to hotels.

“I think my mom very proud,” Krissana explains about her parents’ thoughts on her leaving home. “She would tell her friend, ‘My daughter go to America.'”

Since she doesn’t yet have a job, Krissana uses her free time back home to go to the cinema with friends or go out to eat. And, of course, go shopping, something she’s been able to do a lot of since being in America.

“Mention shopping and they’ll drop whatever they’re doing,” Richard jokes about the two girls.

Krissana has noticed it’s more expensive to shop in the U.S. than in Thailand, but says one of her favorite things about being in Minnesota is there’s no tax on clothing.

She even decided to brave Black Friday crowds following Thanksgiving in order to experience the crazy shopping holiday found only in America.

But even with how much she likes to shop, Krissana has never had to become too familiar with sweaters, snow boots or winter coats, since the climate in Bangkok is not at all similar to that of Blue Earth.

“We’ll make sure she wears warm clothes,” Margaret says.

Before winter had even hit, Krissana says everyone was warning her how cold the weather would get, but since she’d never touched snow, she was already making plans for the day it came.

“I think if we have snow I will do snow angel,” she says.

Although she was visiting New York City during the first winter storm of the season, Krissana returned to Elmore to find the outdoors a very different color than when she left. And with chilly temperatures lingering, she’ll no doubt get a chance to make plenty of snow angels.

Between being a senior at Blue Earth Area High School and participating in extracurriculars, Krissana finds down time at home with the Sunderlins, helping cook supper, watching television and doing homework.

She says the most difficult part about being at school in America is understanding what people are saying, but the actual classes have their upside.

“They’re easier — except American history,” she laughs.

Krissana attended a Catholic school in Thailand, starting at 7:45 a.m. and sitting through seven class periods that mainly taught skills needed to become an administrative assistant.

She hasn’t made a lot of decisions about what comes after school, but says she’s considering something in business. And since she’d like to return for college, being a foreign exchange student is helping her adjust to living in the United States.