2006-02-11 / News

8,500 Miles From Home: Exchange Student Comes From Bangkok

Gap Supeechar Sapruang of Thailand Loves Daily Snowmobile Excursion
By Karen Gould

Mackinac Island Public Schools exchange student Gap Supeechar Sapruang is from Bangkok, Thailand, and never saw snow before coming to the Island. Snowmobiling now is one of her favorite activities. Mackinac Island Public Schools exchange student Gap Supeechar Sapruang is from Bangkok, Thailand, and never saw snow before coming to the Island. Snowmobiling now is one of her favorite activities. Home for Gap Supeechar Sapruang is Bangkok, Thailand, on the other side of the international dateline and more than 8,500 miles from Mackinac Island, where she is an exchange student.

She arrived here in August and entered Mackinac Island High School as a senior.

Among the most notable differences between Mackinac Island and Bangkok, she said, are the populations and the weather. Mackinac Island has about 500 year-around residents, Bangkok has about nine million. The average temperature in July on Mackinac Island is 70 degrees. In Bangkok, the temperature rarely dips below 70 degrees all year.

A resident here for five months, Ms. Sapruang says she is now acclimated to the cold weather, and winter on Mackinac has provided many new experiences, including her first encounter with snow.

“The first time I saw snow,” she said, “I was excited because I’d never seen it before. Now it’s just snow.”

But if the novelty of snow has worn off, the enjoyment of snowmobiling has not, and this is now one of Ms. Sapruang’s favorite activities. Her exchange program only permits her to be a passenger on a snowmobile, even though she has taken a snowmobile safety class, so after school, she is eager to hitch-hike a ride with one of her girlfriends so they can scoot around the Island.

“Oh, I love snowmobiles,” she said. “I go for a ride with my friends almost every night.”

Ms. Sapruang, 18, said she has many girlfriends on the Island, which is much different from life for a typical Thai girl. In Thailand, girls have one close friend and that person remains a friend through life, she explained.

Another big difference is shopping.

“I’m a big city girl,” she said. “In my free time in Thailand, I’m going shopping, but here I can’t. There’s no mall here.”

She also said that, unlike Mackinac Island, Bangkok is a dangerous city. She said that her mother no longer will allow her to ride in a taxicab and now drives her to places because girls have been kidnapped by cab drivers.

Back in Thailand, she has a 12-year-old brother. Her father is in the import/export business and her mother just opened a restaurant. She telephones home once a week, scheduling conversations around the 12-hour time difference, and she has not become homesick, although she says her mother misses her and is looking forward to her return.

Ms. Sapruang once considered attending college in the United States, but now plans to continue her studies in Thailand. Of her career goals, she said, “I’ve tried to think about it, but I have no idea what I want to do. I just want to keep studying languages.”

She knows English, Thai, Chinese, French, and Japanese, although she thinks some of her language skills have become a little weak from lack of use since she has come to Mackinac.

Her English, however, has improved.

“In Thailand, I thought my English was good, but when I came here, it was very bad. I’d rather be quiet and listen,” she added. “Listening is easier.”

Because of that, she said, people on the Island tell her she is quiet, but she argues that is not really the case.

“In Thailand, I talk a lot,” she said. “Here, I worry about making a mistake, so I don’t say anything.”

She said studying and learning in English is not too hard, but some words are difficult for her, especially those used in psychology class. Her favorite class is World History.

“Ms. [Jessica] Clark is my favorite teacher, ever,” she said with extra emphasis on “ever.”

Ms. Sapruang’s sponsors are Elizabeth and Allen Burt and their 16-month-old son, Sean, of Trillium Heights. The Burts are expecting their second child in early April.

“We love Gap,” said Mrs. Burt, who is the middle school science and mathematics teacher. “She is fun and pleasant and funny.”

The Burts have hosted exchange students from Japan, China, and Germany and love the experience.

“After our Japanese student left, we went to Japan,” Mrs. Burt said. “It was wonderful to see Japan through a family.”

Now, they already have started saving for a future trip to Thailand to visit Gap Sapruang and meet her family.

Ms. Sapruang would like to compete in the Lilac Festival Queen pageant in June. She is scheduled to travel back to Bangkok in July.

“We won’t want her to leave,” said Mrs. Burt.

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