SAYVILLE – For the past year, a Sayville family has hosted a special exchange student from Thailand as part of the International Student Exchange (ISE) Organization. Ploy Srisupavanich, a 17-year old girl from Bangkok, is now wrapping up her junior year at Sayville High School. She has experienced a great deal since coming to the United States, and has touched the hearts of many while enriching her own life in the process.
Since September, Ploy (whose nickname in Thai means “jewelry”) has been a member of the Ulloa household with her host parents, Sergio and Jamie, and sister Gabi. In addition to joining the Golden Flashes JV basketball team, Ploy has spent many hours volunteering her time with the Salvation Army, reading to children, fundraising for her school, participating in a food drive, tutoring, and helping her host mother and sister with a wide range of volunteering ventures.
“Ploy has been more involved than most of the kids that live here permanently,” said Jamie, who graduated from Sayville in ’82 and whose mother graduated in ’64. “She is a wonderful example for our local children.” Ploy’s long list of activities include selling candy for cancer charities with the basketball team, serving Christmas dinner to the needy at the high school, assisting her classmates in building a float over Homecoming weekend, and even a visit to Disneyworld. She also helps younger school children with homework at Cherry Avenue Elementary School.
“I wanted to get as involved as I possibly could,” said Ploy. “I’m glad I did because I was able to learn a lot, help others, and make friends along the way.” The Ulloa family comes from a line of immigrants, and currently has relatives living in Ecuador. Jamie said that she felt it would be a positive experience for them to showcase their shared heritage and lifestyle with someone from another part of the world. In fact, Ploy accompanied the family on a trip to Ecuador earlier in the year.
Ploy’s host sister Gabi has also joined Ploy and her mother for many of their community-oriented endeavors. She said that her favorite aspect of volunteering is seeing the smiles on the faces of those they help. “It’s been really cool to have Ploy stay with us,” said Gabi, who is a 7th grader at Sayville Middle School and has two older siblings who graduated in 2005 and 2006. “It’s great to have someone to spend time with while I’m in the house and when we’re out doing activities. We’ve learned a lot from each other and had a lot of great times.”
Jamie is an Area Representative for the Babylon-based ISE, which was founded in 1982 as a non-profit organization dedicated to the mission of “Educating Tomorrow’s Leaders.” It draws about 2,100 exchange students per year across the country, including 50 on Long Island. She has coordinated gatherings with other exchange students from the region, which drew 20-30 students and their families each time.
“We’re ambassadors for our community and our country,” said Jamie, who noted that the family will host a new exchange student named Heather from China next year. “It’s a great give-and-take program where both sides can enjoy the experience and learn a lot about both the wider world and themselves.”
One such event will take place on June 7, where kids and their host families will have the opportunity to participate in the “Birthday in a Bag Project” – a collaborative effort with the Patchogue Club of the New Vision Pioneers Chapter 85. Attendees can contribute birthday bags containing a cake, party supplies, and a gift to children in Suffolk County’s Family Homeless Shelters and Community Outreach Centers who can’t afford to celebrate their birthdays.
“You see how some people live in other parts of the world and it helps you feel thankful for what you do have,” said Jamie regarding the family’s volunteer efforts. “It’s important to have that awareness. We don’t have much, but what we do have, we share.”
Ploy is scheduled to go back to Thailand on July 1 – her 18th birthday. As a result of her experience in the United States, she hopes to develop a career in the field of international relations and return back to the country someday in the future. With just over a month left, she reflected on how much her time here has influenced her personal character and outlook on the world.
“This year has changed my life,” said Ploy, who has two older brothers back in Thailand. “I have felt a lot of feelings along the way, including homesick, sad, depressed, as well as happy, joy, and fun. I have to learned how to deal with people, how to live by myself without my family in Thailand, and how to help people. I worked very hard, and now feel more responsible and grown up.
“It has been one of the best years of my life, and I will never forget the experiences I’ve had,” continued Ploy. “I am so lucky that I met a nice host family as well as great friends and teachers at the high school. I am so happy that I am here, and will never regret that I made the decision to come. Thank you so much to my mom and my dad for all that they have done for me.”
We invite you to read more about what it is like to work with us. If you have specific questions about the area representative role, check out our Area Representative FAQ page. Still on the fence? Complete our Area Representative interest form and one of our regional managers will get in touch with you to answer your questions and to help you get started.
In addition to working in the student exchange industry, we like to encourage everyone to explore the option of becoming a volunteer host family to host an exchange student.