Noppawit Plubjui, age 16, better known as “Ten” to his host family and Preston High School friends recently finished his 10th grade year. Ten has been living in Preston with his host family Jon and Mandi Winn and their four children for the last nine months as an exchange student from Bangkok, Thailand.
Ten’s mother suggested the experience to him after her friend‘s daughter came to America as an exchange student and said it was a good experience.
“This is a free country and the most popular place for the exchange program,” Ten said.
Applying for the exchange program took months before actually arriving in the U.S. He had to pass listening, grammar, and reading tests to qualify for the exchange and determine where the applicant is placed. Then Ten had to attend two different camps where he took more tests to prepare him for his living in America.
“Thai kids are shy and we were taught how to interact with others here. The camp was very helpful,” he said.
Attending public school in Thailand starts at age 4. From Kindergarten through 6th grade, school is basically the same as in America, with students studying math, social studies, science, and health, Ten said, but it was mandatory to learn how to speak English as well. For Ten that was easy. I liked learning to speak another language.”
But when he entered 7th grade, he had a choice to attend public school or going to a private all boy’s school. “I chose to go to a boy’s school. Even though I’m Buddhist, I picked St. Gabriel’s College, a Catholic school for boys, because I liked the name of the school. We wear uniforms and we studied about all religions, including Christianity,” said Ten.
Ten’s twin brother, Tae, was in the same school until Tae changed to a public school in 10th grade so he could specialize in art. Ten’s sister, Gam, 14, attends a private all girl’s school.
At home, Ten also lived with his parents and grandparents.
Adjusting to American food was easy. “We had McDonalds, and KFC in Thailand. I eat anything. Mexican food was the most different but I enjoy it because Thai food is spicy as well,” Ten said.
Ten’s host mother, was also an exchange student. Mandi went to Germany as a 10th grader also. She went there because her brother was in the military and had been stationed there.
“I choose to host because I love learning about other cultures and teaching my kids as well as those we host, love and acceptance of all. I’ve seen how much I grew from my experience as an exchange student and I want them to learn and grow from their experience as well,” she said.
The Winn’s have also hosted a boy from Norway and a boy from China.
“There are not enough host parents and we have seen the benefit of this program,” said Mandi. She and her family chose Ten from a list of applicants.
“I was really happy to be chosen to come to America. I didn’t know where Idaho was so I Googled it, watched videos and YouTubes of exchange students who had come to Preston High. They sounded like and looked like they were good with the program so I was excited about coming here,” recalled Ten.
Although Ten had heard about bullying in American schools, he said he never saw any of that here. “In Thailand there is more bullying and more fights, especially in the all boys’ schools. I also heard that American kids don’t really care about you. But I actually found it to be different. On my first day of school it was way better than I thought it would be. The kids helped me and were really friendly. They said ‘Come sit by me.’ It was really different here compared to coming from an all boy’s school,” he said.
Never having been around girls except for his sister, Ten was surprised to have girls talk to him, and invite him to school dances. He liked that he could choose what classes he wanted to take. “In Thailand I could choose my major but then the classes are chosen for you. Because my major is science and math working toward engineering, math is really easy for me here compared to Thailand. But English is harder here as I had to write more essays and read more books,” he said.
Another thing he liked about PHS is that there aren’t many students in the school and in the classes. He said that there were about 6,000 students in the schools, and more than 400 students in each grade in Thailand. In Preston, it is easier to know more students. It is more peaceful and there is more opportunity to participate,” he said.
He thinks the teachers are better at PHS, as well.
“They are more respectful to the students. And the teachers came on time. In Thailand when a teacher is late to class, the whole class had to stay later,” Ten said. “Doing homework here is less work but of more quality. In Thailand sometimes I didn’t know why I had to do certain things for homework like coloring and they focused more on giving tests to get students into the universities.”
Living in America was better than I thought it would be. Being here has made me grow a lot emotionally and mentally, and I have learned more about responsibility. In Thailand I just stayed in my room a lot. Here I think more carefully, and spend time with my family more than at home,” Ten said. The Winns will miss Ten. “It feels like we’re getting ready to send our child away,” Jon said, who appreciates Ten’s family in Thailand. “We thank them for sharing their son with us.”