Nutthawadee “Elle” Chughate, a foreign exchange student from Bangkok, Thailand, has been eagerly learning more of the English language and American culture during her time in the Fillmore Central School District.   SUBMITTED PHOTO
Nutthawadee “Elle” Chughate, a foreign exchange student from Bangkok, Thailand, has been eagerly learning more of the English language and American culture during her time in the Fillmore Central School District. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Thai foreign exchange student Nutthawadee Chughate has been in the United States for only three months. She came from Bangkok, the largest city in Thailand with over 8 million people residing within the city and over 14 million people living in a larger metropolitan area. The differences between where she came from and her current life at the Dale and Linda Polesky home in Harmony are many, but she has already begun feeling more comfortable in new surroundings.

Nutthawadee is her first name, but everyone calls her Elle. It's her nickname. According to Elle, many people in Thailand have two first names, one long and one short. She has had her nickname from birth. Even her city has another name, one that is the longest in the world for a place and takes over 10 seconds to say.

Elle has lived in Bangkok for most of her life. When she was very young, she lived at her grandparent's home outside of the city. Now, she lives with her father in Bangkok, where the climate is warmer. In fact, Elle compared the weather to what she experienced in Florida during a trip she recently had there. Many of the plants and trees were similar and she enjoyed being close to the ocean as Bangkok is situated on the coastline.

Elle has had to become acclimated to southern Minnesota weather. She had never seen snow prior to a week ago when little more than an inch fell and stuck around for a few days. She is very excited to see it again. Overall, the weather is just colder.

The most noticeable difference to Elle has been the space around her. "I like this. It's quiet and not too much noise. No one to bother me when I'm working on homework," she remarked.

Not having as many people around her has helped eliminate many of the stresses that would have prevented Elle from learning many of the things she has learned so far. English is at the top of the list.

In Thailand, Elle had taken English classes, but said she never got to use it outside of the classroom. She wanted to learn English because it is used all around the world. When she attended school at Fillmore Central for the first time, it was "totally crazy" to her.

"The teacher was talking so fast," she explained. "I thought, 'Why are they talking so fast? I don't understand!'"

With time, Elle has been progressing quickly in her language skills. Linda said they had to use many more gestures when Elle first arrived in order to communicate, but that she has learned quickly.

"She comes home with words everyday and asks me what they are," Linda said.

Elle appreciates the help her host parents, students and teachers at school have given her. With improved English skills, she has been able to steadily improve her scores in her classes.

Elle's school experience in America has even been very different from home. Prior to arriving, she had watched a television series about high school in America, yet found the real thing completely different. At her school in Bangkok, Elle and the other students wear a school uniform and must follow certain grooming rules as well. Her class schedule is weekly, so she takes on about 13 different classes.

At Fillmore Central, she has each class every single day. She is also able to take classes like art and choir. In Thailand, these activities are offered as clubs, but not in the school. She said there is a lot more studying done in Thailand, but also an expectation to not ask questions. Asking questions has been something she has been learning how to do through her American classes. She is taking English, history, geometry, choir, Spanish and a mixed media art class.

Interested in possibly pursuing an education and career as an artist, Elle loves to draw. She has been learning how to use other materials in her art class this semester.

Once Elle returns to Thailand, she will have two more years in high school and then she wants to return to the U.S. to go to college.

Elle initially got interested in doing an exchange to Australia. Her dad had talked to her about it and encouraged her to instead go to the U.S., saying it was a good choice.

"He helped change my mind," she admitted. "I think it was a perfect choice."

Her older brother had gone on an exchange to Canada and enjoyed it. Once she had applied and been accepted to come to the United States, Elle still had about a year to prepare for the exchange. She attended a camp for exchange students where she heard a former exchange student speak about his experiences.

She didn't know too much about the U.S. except that "it was a freedom country." Elle had travelled only within nearby Asian countries and cities.

Now, she can't imagine where else she would rather be. Elle said she isn't homesick, she likes the food and doesn't feel like she's sacrificed anything even though she is far away from her parents and friends.

She is looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas and enjoyed experiencing Halloween for the first time.

Elle has been enjoying her time in Harmony and Fillmore Central so far and is looking forward to everything else she will yet experience.