Danville High exchange student broadening peers' horizons
DANVILLE — Some Danville schools students are learning about Thailand this year, thanks to one of their peers.
Taksaporn Yotsri, who hails from Kamphaeng Phet Province, Thailand, is spending her junior year at the high school through the Rotary Youth Exchange program.
"I'm learning a lot and having fun," said the 17-year-old, who goes by Ning — her nickname back home.
So are other students who have classes with Yotsri or have taken the time to get to know her, said Principal Kimberly Norton, who is thrilled to have another foreign exchange student this year.
"Many of our students haven't been too far out of Illinois," Norton said. "This gives them an opportunity to learn more about other countries and cultures, not just read about them, and it exposes them to a more global perspective on things. It definitely opens their eyes."
Yotsri was encouraged to participate in the program by her mother, a high school Buddhism teacher and Rotarian, and her sister, who was an exchange student in Pennsylvania a few years ago.
Besides improving her English by embedding herself among native speakers, Yotsri said she was eager to learn about "the real America," have new experiences and learn more about herself by being far away from home.
Danville is much smaller than her bustling city of about 729,500 people. But since arriving in mid-August, she has gotten a good impression, largely thanks to the bonds she has formed with her host families — Curt and Rhonda Ellis and Tom and Beth Chamberlain and their kids. She will live with Steve and Kristen Hall later in her stay.
She has also gotten a lot of questions from Danville High School students, some of which have made her laugh.
"Do you eat dog? Do you ride elephants?" Yotsri said, shaking her head.
Actually, she did ride an elephant once at the zoo. But she added, they're not a form of public transportation.
"They're for show," she said, adding some people get around her city by car or on foot. But most ride motorcycles.
Yotsri said she enjoys talking to her American counterparts about her homeland.
"I just let them know what Thailand is really like," she said. "We have beautiful beaches. We have big cities with tall buildings. And the people are very friendly and welcoming."
She also enjoys talking with them about typical teen-age things like fashion and music.
One thing she has had trouble warming up to, she said: the food.
"Back home, my mom made food every day," she said, adding meals are made with fresh vegetables and other ingredients bought at open-air markets, and the main meal of the day — typically something with meat and rice — is eaten in the morning.
"Here, you eat a lot of fast food," she said, scrunching her nose. "It tastes good. But if you eat it every day, it's not good."
Yotsri said she has enjoyed cooking traditional Thai dishes — including chicken curry, spicy shrimp soup and "som tom" or green papaya salad for her first two host families.
"I think they liked it," Yotsri said with a laugh, adding they cleaned their plates and invited her to cook again.
Yotsri found other differences at school — not necessarily bad.
Here, she attends from 8:20 a.m. to 3 p.m. Back home, classes at her public school of about 2,000 students start an hour earlier and end an hour later. Then she attends a private English school for an hour on weeknights.
"In Thailand, we have more homework," she said, adding she doesn't miss that.
Yotsri also prefers the classroom environment at Danville. She said it's more relaxed, and teachers are friendlier and more approachable.
"If I don't understand something, I can ask. But in Thailand, I'm afraid to ask," she said, adding that usually, students don't speak unless they're called upon.
She also likes that she has been able to take electives such as Spanish 1 and drawing, two subjects she had never studied before.
"Before, I thought I would be a business(woman)," said Yotsri, whose father is in the car business.
"But now, I'm not sure. I found I like art. I like Spanish. I like language," she said.
This semester, Yotsri is eager to start cheering with the junior varsity cheerleading squad at boys' basketball games.
Yotsri — who has already been to Chicago, St. Louis and Indianapolis — is also looking forward to a trip to New York City with her current host family this month and a 10-day trip to the West Coast with other Rotary exchange students in June.
She also makes sure to appreciate "normal" things, like sharing a joke with a teacher or classmate or hanging out with friends.
"I am here a year, but (my memories) will last a lifetime," she said.