Ex­change stu­dent from Thai­land finds home in De­catur

Westside Eagle-Observer - - SCHOOL NEWS - MIKE ECKELS meck­els@nwadg.com

DE­CATUR — Since the end of the sec­ond World War, coun­tries around the world have opened their bor­ders to al­low the trad­ing of the best and bright­est high school stu­dents in what would be­come the for­eign ex­change pro­gram. De­catur be­came the host for a year to one lucky In­dochi­nese stu­dent.

Air­bus Dung­sung­noen, from Bangkok, Thai­land, ar­rived in De­catur Aug. 8, 2017. Six days later, she be­gan her nine-month jour­ney into the Amer­i­can ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem and De­catur High. Air­bus re­calls that the first day of class was far from easy and she felt self-con­scious about fit­ting in.

“On the first day, I wanted to go home so bad,” she re­counts. “I would go home (in De­catur) and cry be­cause I didn’t think I could fit into this school.”

Af­ter about a week, she ad­justed to her new sur­round­ings and did even­tu­ally “fit in.”

To an­swer the ques­tion of whether Air­bus is her real first name, it is. Her fa­ther, Panom Dung­sung­noen, is a pi­lot for Thai Air­ways, a small in­ter­na­tional car­rier head­quar­tered in Chatuchak, Bangkok, Thai­land. Panom is not only a pi­lot but a huge avi­a­tion en­thu­si­ast — so much so that he named each of his chil­dren af­ter one of the planes he flew as an air­line pi­lot.

“I have one older sister who is named Boe­ing,” Air­bus said. “And a younger brother named MD (McDon­ald-Dou­glas MD-11).

Air­bus’ fa­ther is not the only mem­ber of her fam­ily that works in the avi­a­tion in­dus­try. Her mother, Aree, works as an air traf­fic con­troller.

In Bangkok, Air­bus at­tends a pri­vate Chris­tian school. There, the core cur­ricu­lum is com­pletely dif­fer­ent from that of De­catur.

The schools are gov­erned by the Mat­tayom Suksa sys­tem, which was de­vel­oped by the Thai­land Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion. It stresses eight es­sen­tial sub­jects each year: Thai lan­guage, math, sci­ence, so­cial-re­li­gious-cul­ture, health-phys­i­cal sci­ence, pro­fes­sional works-tech­nol­ogy, for­eign lan­guage and art.

“When we are in our sopho­more year, we want to go to ei­ther Mat-sci­ence or Mat-English or Mat­language,” said Air­bus. “I choose Mat-English be­cause it is not too hard.”

Air­bus has tran­si­tioned very well to the United States and Arkansas ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem. She is cur­rently tak­ing 11th-grade English, al­ge­bra III, U.S. his­tory, ge­om­e­try, anatomy and ath­let­ics.

“It was a lot eas­ier in some classes like math,” said Air­bus. “Some top­ics I al­ready learned in my sopho­more year (in Thai­land), so I kind of know al­ready.”

In Thai­land, there is lit­tle em­pha­sis on sports in the schools. They do have classes sim­i­lar to phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion that work to keep the stu­dent phys­i­cally fit. There is a class that teaches the ba­sic fun­da­men­tals of more pop­u­lar forms of sports, but there is no em­pha­sis on the com­pet­i­tive na­ture of th­ese sports.

“We have a PT class,” Air­bus re­counts. “Each year we learn a dif­fer­ent kind of sports. My fresh­men year, I learned bas­ket­ball. We didn’t re­ally play it (in com­pe­ti­tion).”

So when she went out for the Lady Bull­dog var­sity bas­ket­ball team, she had no idea what she would face in a com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment. But Air­bus learned quickly and be­came an ex­cel­lent de­fen­sive player for De­catur. To­ward the end of the sea­son, Coach Ashley Rig­gles and Air­bus’ team­mates tried to give her the ball to put up the first points of her ca­reer. But true to the game, Air­bus passed off the ball to one of her team­mates be­cause she didn’t have a clear shot. She had three op­por­tu­ni­ties but never was able to make that first bas­ket.

The en­tire process of com­pet­i­tive sports was a new con­cept for Air­bus.

“It was new to me,” Air­bus said. “Ev­ery­body ex­pects a lot from us, to win and to go to state. It made me want to get bet­ter ev­ery day and I wanted to prove to ev­ery­body that I could do it.”

From the bas­ket­ball ex­pe­ri­ence, Air­bus en­tered two com­pletely dif­fer­ent sports, soc­cer and soft­ball. Air­bus be­came a se­nior mem­ber of the first De­catur var­sity girls’ soc­cer team, which restarted af­ter more than five years of in­ac­tiv­ity. Once again, she was en­ter­ing new ter­ri­tory. But she joined sports for a very in­ter­est­ing rea­son.

“At first, I joined sports be­cause I heard that if you play sports you would get a lot of friends,” said Air­bus, “I didn’t think that I would get a lot of friends. At first, I didn’t know that they loved me as much. But on the se­nior night (bas­ket­ball) when they gave me the bal­loons and the book, that made me cry.”

But of all the three sports, bas­ket­ball, soc­cer and soft­ball, Air­bus ad­mits that she liked the soft­ball ex­pe­ri­ence the best.

“I like soft­ball the most,” Air­bus ad­mit­ted. “I played bad­minton be­fore and I kind of like the bat­ting thing the most.”

She will grad­u­ate from De­catur High School in May be­fore re­turn­ing to Thai­land at the end of May to com­plete her ed­u­ca­tion there. But she will take home a lot of last­ing friend­ships and mem­o­ries of a small com­mu­nity and its many lov­ing peo­ple that is De­catur, Ark., U.S.A.

West­side Ea­gle Ob­server/MIKE ECKELS

De­catur’s Air­bus Dung­sung­noen (30) tries to line up a shot from inside the lane dur­ing the De­catur v. Life Way girls’ bas­ket­ball game in De­catur on Dec. 15.

West­side Ea­gle Ob­server/MIKE ECKELS

Air­bus Dung­sung­noen (right) cuts off a Lady Yel­low Jacket player’s at­tempt to drive to­ward the bas­ket dur­ing the De­catur v. Kingston game Dec. 5 in De­catur. Dung­sung­noen never played com­pet­i­tive bas­ket­ball be­fore com­ing to De­catur from Thai­land.

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