Thai students find common ground with Janesville counterparts

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Frank Schultz
Saturday, May 4, 2013

— It may be impossible for Justin Bieber’s name not to be mentioned for an entire day at an American middle school.

That also may be true in Thailand.

The pop star’s name came up at a question-and-answer session Friday when five visiting middle schoolers from Thailand talked to about 70 of their peers at Janesville’s Marshall Middle School.

“Do you know Justin Bieber?” someone asked.

Earng Buaboocha didn’t miss a beat.

“Yes I do. He’s my boyfriend,” she said in a deadpan tone that implied she is as enthralled with the teen heartthrob as any American girl her age and is self-confident enough to joke about it.

The students are in Janesville with a Thai teacher as part of the Wisconsin-Thailand Sunrise Program, a joint effort of Wisconsin and Thai education leaders.

On the Wisconsin side, the idea is to expose American students and teachers to East Asian culture.

The Thais did their best to talk about their lives and their culture, which differs markedly from that of their American hosts.

The local students gasped in amazement when one of the girls took about 10 seconds to recite the full name of her country’s capital city, known to most as Bangkok.

But the Thais also were well acquainted with cartoon hero SpongeBob, Facebook, Twitter and YOLO, a teen slang term the initials of which stand for “you only live once.”

The presentation was chaotic at times, especially when the girls showed some Marshall students the basics of traditional Thai dance.

Through a series of slides, students also learned how to greet a person in Thai. They saw images of the Emerald Buddha and photos of Thailand’s gorgeous beaches. They learned about Thai music and food. One slide showed Thai fashions.

“You see this girl? You think she is beautiful?” Earng asked.

Students agreed with her.

“This is us in the future,” Earng said, her joke crossing the cultural line with no difficulty.

Marshall teachers managed to insert a few serious questions, such as how long the students spend on homework each night. About an hour per subject was the answer.

The girls spend a lot of time preparing for these presentations, which they made four times Friday. Their teacher calls it “preparing for our success,” said Marshall teacher Sallie Hanna-Downey.

Teacher Nantiya Chanawanno teaches in a class of 60 students with no aides, Hanna-Downey said, and few of the classrooms in her middle school of 6,000 have Smart Boards.

Chanawanno and her students said they love Janesville, and they appreciate the cool weather.

Student Natalie Sukprasongphol said the thing that surprises her most about her visit is the reception she gets from people here.

“All the people say ‘Hi’ to me,” she said. “They are very friendly.”

The students leave Wednesday after a three-week visit.

Last updated: 10:40 am Tuesday, July 2, 2013

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