Grace Madthing is an AFSer from Thailand who turned his experience as an exchange student into a passion for diplomacy between Thailand and the U.S. In his letter, he candidly addresses the benefits of his exchange experience, the difficulty some Thai students face in finding host families in the U.S., and the importance of embracing new and unfamiliar cultures.
I’m Muhammad-iffa Grace Madthing from Thailand. I was an exchange student in Wisconsin during the 2014/15 school year. That year in the USA with AFS was one of the most life changing experiences I have ever had. When going on exchange in the U.S., I initially expected to feel those Hollywood atmospheres, I could only know through the screens at home. AFS gave me a lot more than that. Not only was I able to live my dream, but also it provided me tremendous and precious memories. I had a chance to learn about American culture while also sharing mine. I met a lot of new friends, new families, and was exposed to a new culture. I can absolutely say that these experiences made me become a better person, made me grow more from who I was. I started to see the world in a much broader picture, I became much more confident than I could ever imagine, and I surely regain belief in myself that I can accomplish many great things. This summer I am an intern for the American Embassy in Thailand. This internship opportunity and my AFS experience have led me to a deep commitment to further diplomacy with our two countries. It is for this reason I want to share this story…
Before my exchange started, there was difficulty connecting me to a host family. I thought it was because of me. I wondered why no one would host me and I felt very insecure. After I came back from the program, I saw a lot of Thai students have had hard times as well, so I began to realize something.
I think many people in the U.S. have never been exposed to our culture. They do not often meet with Thai people, let alone welcoming us for 1 year in their home. This, from my opinion, is why you often see American host families prone to host students from Latin America or Europe or other countries or regions they are more familiar with or have a much better picture of. It could be somewhat uncomfortable to host someone with a completely different culture, with a completely different language you don’t always learn in American schools, and I surely do not blame anyone. Nevertheless, what I want to say is that we should not let our unfamiliarity and fear prevent us from learning and experiencing new things.
Please do not let unfamiliarity prevent you from welcoming a Thai student to be part of your life. My host family and I definitely had a lot of great times together. It was so great to the point, I began to feel like it was home. My host family learned several new cultures they never knew and so did I. They learned our we greet each other in Thai which we call “Wai”, a greeting gesture which the palms of the hands are momentarily pressed together in a prayer-like gesture with fingers pointing upwards, usually close to the chest, and head slightly bowed. I learned how to make several American recipes. I also filled the house with my singing while my host family kept me company with their fun dances. Those daily moments are valuable memories.
Thai culture and our way of life teach us to be humble, respectful, modest, and always be helpful. We are easy-going, understanding, and open-minded. We are always eager to experience new things. Furthermore, we always seek to be helpful in any circumstances. Yes, there may be a hard time during the program, but trust me we are easy to deal with.
There is this saying that Thai culture live by: “When at others’ house, don’t be idle, sculpt a cow, a buffalo, for their kids to play with,” which means earn one’s keep.
Please welcome the Thai culture to your family.
I can assure you that hosting Thai students will provide you with experiences you can never find anywhere.
With their jai yen (cool heart), Thai students are beloved among our host families. Families can host exchange students for three months, a semester, or a year! Follow the link to meet students coming to the U.S. this month: