International Spotlight: Gaew Khaomuangnoi
“The first thing that will shock foreigners who travel to Thailand is the kindness and constant smiles,” said Gaew Khaomuangnoi, a UVU student from Thailand.
“We really treasure our happiness. Through every way we can, we show gratitude to things in life, friendship, everything. We believe that we are here to be happy,” she said. “If you walk anywhere in Thailand, people just smile at you.”
Khaomuangnoi was born in Thailand, attended high school there and later relocated to the United States while serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
While growing up in Thailand, she took a variety of classes like piano, ballet and language until 9 p.m. in the evening. School was very intensive but she learned and developed a passion for the medical field. She described her experience at one of the top schools in her country as “competitive” and said that the school would kick students out if they didn’t obtain the grades that were expected.
“Even though we are a competitive school, we help each other. We aren’t against each other, that doesn’t make sense, we help each other.”
Spotlight: ThailandThere are over 40,000 Buddhist temples in Thailand. They are referred to as “wats.”
Gaew says that sometimes people in the U.S. get busy and forget to smile but not in Thailand. In fact, Thailand is often referred to as “The Land of Smiles.”
Helping other people and remaining happy seems to be a common thread throughout Thailand that is influenced by the strong Buddhist religion there. She said that people really believe that if they look outward and serve other people, they will be blessed in their own life.
“If you [are] like sad or not happy, they will just say ‘Okay, I have to evaluate my life, what is wrong? Why am I not happy?’” she said. “Even in my family, my grandma would be like, ‘What is happening? Why are [you] not that happy?’”
Another interesting feature about Thailand culture is that they are very good at practicing acceptance. No matter your race, sexuality or gender, Thailand accepts everyone. In fact — Ladyboys or Kathoeys — a term used to denote transgender people in Thailand, are more accepted there than in many other countries.
Her friends that have visited her home country have often recounted the compassion and acceptance they received as foreigners. She said people interested in traveling to Thailand for the beaches or islands should consider going to connect with the people.
“We still need to connect to the world. We have so many sources. The people are hard working. I want them to get to know the Thai people. That is the best source: it is more than the land or the ocean, it is the people.”
Spotlight: GaewIn addition to her knowledge of English and her native language, Gaew has also studied Chinese and Japanese.
While attending BYU’s English Language Center, Gaew entered a contest asking students to submit their best definition of the word, “excellence” and she won!
While Khaomuangnoi deeply appreciates her home for its kind and accepting culture, she had always dreamed of coming to the U.S., and her dad — who lived in Australia when he was a young adult — said he believes that people change when they get to know more people and encouraged her to follow her heart.
During her missionary service at Temple Square in Salt Lake City, she met sister missionaries from all over the world who spoke all different languages. After falling in love with the people, the beautiful views and education in the U.S., she decided that she would study here for college.
“I planned that I will go to UVU for just a semester or two, [and] when I came here, I was in love. I just love it,” she said.“I think it is a blessing that I chose UVU.”
Her love for international culture and business, led her to pursue a degree in International Business at UVU, and she is also interested in a master’s degree and doing something related to the medical field.
“I love both. But, I wrote a goal for my life and the bigger goal is influencing people and helping people. So, medical field could be a minor. The main goal is helping more people.”
Khaomuangnoi said that she loves the emphasis on self-reliance, dreaming big and individualism in America.
“I think individuality can be a strength. [In] Thailand we focus outward, but sometimes you forget about yourself. The U.S. helped me to be balanced,” she said. “Sometimes I felt like I served all day, but where is my time for myself? What do I really want in my life? If I can combine Thai culture and American culture together, I think I will have a good life.”
While growing up in Thailand, she said she would volunteer with her school and help children in need of education in the countryside by building schools, helping with uniforms and donating money.
“We would go outside to the school outside the city, we would help build the school, help with their uniforms,” she said. “But literally two or three bucks can help those kids in the countryside so much.”
Khaomuangnoi has found similar ways to serve people through her involvement in UVUSA and her current job with International Student Council (ISC) where she mentors students.
“We mentor them, create activities for them, help them. Our main goal is to help them be successful, and not just graduated, but feel connected and included.”
Her service, missionary work and education have all played a role in who she has become today and she said that she continues to learn from everyone and everything around her.
“Me is a story of others. Who I am today is because of the people around me.”