It was not until I moved out of my village at the age of 16 that I realized my upbringing was considered ‘poor’. I was born and raised in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand. My parents were working as farmers on the paddy field, each earning $1 for every 8 hours of work. As a family of five, that meant we were living on $60 a month. I did not know then that what I was experiencing was extreme poverty.
We did not have enough money to send me to a public school, so I attended a temple school instead. Temple schools are free, being fully run by Buddhist monks. The closest thing I had to a textbook during those years was the Tripitaka, a Buddhist scripture. I was taught to be kind, to respect others, and to live a life devoted to love and compassion. These foundational principles were all I had, becoming deeply rooted in me in the same way children in the US learn to read and write. I did not expect to leave my village, to learn English, or to find my vocation in a helping profession until I found out about the United World Colleges (UWC) from a torn magazine in the donation box. UWC brings high school students from different countries to come and live together for two years. It is considered the most difficult scholarship to win in many countries.
At my graduation, I was nominated by my teachers and peers to receive the Most Transformative Student Award. I became fluent in Mandarin Chinese and English within one year, and had half a dozen US colleges offer me a full-ride for my undergraduate studies. Despite that, I deferred my enrollment in higher education. I instead decided to embark on a fully-funded fellowship to conduct a service year in Ecuador. I was placed in Sinincay, an indigenous community on the high mountains of the Andes, becoming fluent in Spanish in one year.
After this, I found myself as the only student of color at in the social work department at Luther College in Iowa, where I received a fully funded scholarship to attend. I served as a co-president of the Luther College Social Work Association, where I organized social justice and community service events. After my first year, I was the youngest student ever selected to received a Davis Peace Fellowship at Middlebury Institute in Monterey, where my interest in social work has grown. Throughout this fellowship, I had the opportunity to work inside the Salinas Valley State Prison and Rancho Cielo Youth Campus, an at-risk youth intervention program. After the fellowship, I returned to Monterey to conduct an internship in alternative education with the Monterey County Office of Education. These hands-on experiences helped me connect with at-risk youth and children, questioning how their programs are run, and sympathizing with the barriers they are currently facing. I see myself in them, facing obstacles that only outside aid can help circumvent.
High School GPA:
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High School Name:
Li Po Chun United World College