Today on Thai Women Living Abroad, I have great pleasure in welcoming interpreter,translator, language teacher and author Khun Benjawan Poomsan. After moving from Thailand,Khun Benjawan spent the first 5 years studying and living in Japan. Upon marrying an American gentleman, the location changed to California, USA in 1994. Khun Benjawan gives us her fascinating insights and experiences about life in America,life abroad in general, and many other subjects.
Introducing Khun Benjawan Poomsan Nickname: Ja-eh
Facebook Name: Benjawan Poomsan
All photographs courtesy of Khun Benjawan Poomsan
Which country did you move to after you left Thailand? Why did you go there? Which country and city do you live in now?
I first lived in Japan when I was studying for my Master’s degree. I was in Japan for five years, living in the cities of Kobe and Osaka before I moved to San Francisco, California in 1994. I moved to the US because I married an American.
Where were you born and raised in Thailand? Tell us about your childhood.
I was born in Bangkok and spent my childhood in Yasothon, a small province in Northeast Thailand. My family is ethnic Laotian, so I grew up speaking both Thai and Lao.
Fortunately, I have a very loving family. I grew up among my extended family with lots of relatives and cousins on both sides of my parents. Overall, my childhood was full of love. My family was in the restaurant business so there was food for everyone. We were not rich, just comfortable and very happy.
After you moved to the US, what kind of work have you done?
All of my work and business has to do with languages. I LOVE learning and working with words and languages. I started “Paiboon Publishing” a business that publishes materials for English speakers to learn the Southeast Asian languages of Thai, Lao, Burmese, Cambodian and Vietnamese. I also created a translation company called “Thai and Lao Language Services,” which provides translation and interpretation services for the State of California, the US government, private companies and individuals.
When people have problems with languages, they come to me. I have been teaching the Thai language to foreigners for many years through my books and apps. I also taught English to Thais in the US.
Recently I started an online school called “Paiboon Language Academy” (PLA) that teaches interpretation and translation skills and helps prepare these individuals to become professionals. PLA also includes a course that teaches English to Thai people. This English for Thai people course is open to all Thai people living in Thailand or anywhere in the world because students study on their mobile devices over the internet.
If someone wants to become an interpreter or improve their English to a high level, please contact me via email, or check out my online school website or contact me via the inbox on my personal Facebook page.
Besides my language learning businesses, I also write a weekly column for two Thai newspapers in the US. This is a labor of love for me because I love to write and appreciate the opportunity for people to read my writing.
I do volunteer work by helping many newcomers from Thailand settle in the US by giving them advice on how to adjust to living in the US as well as helping with language and cultural issues. I have many followers on Facebook and readers of my newspaper articles; therefore, I receive numerous questions from people. When I’m available and have the time, I assist as much as I am able.
Can you speak the language of the country you live in? Do you think that language is difficult for you?
I have no problem with English here in the US. I could already speak, read and write in English well before I settled in America because I majored in English at Khon Kaen University in Thailand. With the many years of studying English I do not find it difficult for me. But, I occasionally may have challenges in my interpretation work when I have assignments that require special technical terms or industry specific jargon either in a court case, or during a large international conference.
In your opinion, do you think that it’s hard to adjust to living in the US? If so, what was difficult for you?
When I first arrived in the US, I didn’t find it that difficult to adjust to living here. I already understood a lot because I had read about the country and watched many movies based in America. I did come across a number of cultural differences, but it took me only a few months to get used to living my life here. Within only a year of my arrival I had passed the exam and become a court interpreter for Thai and Lao people since then. I have been doing this work for over 20 years now.
Are there many Thai people where you live? Do you think that they are happy and live a comfortable life? Do you have Thai friends in the US?
California State is known to have more Thai people living here than anywhere outside of Thailand. Los Angeles has the highest concentration of Thai people and San Francisco comes next. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area so I get to interact with Thai people on a daily basis both in my career and social life.
Because of my work as an interpreter and writer, many Thai people know me or know of me. I keep a few close friends, but I have hundreds of casual friends and acquaintances. I used to host large parties for my friends a number of times each year, but my emphasis has changed. Now I party online with my Facebook fans. I now enjoy doing things that I feel are more beneficial to society, such as sharing my knowledge about languages and providing information about the US. I also find it important to reserve time for myself to study more Dhamma.
Overall, I think Thai people living here in the US are not any more happy than when they were living in Thailand. They may have more money and other material wealth, but many of them have to work very hard and long hours, day in day out, to maintain their standard of living. In my opinion, there are a few Thai people living a comfortable life here, but that the vast majority of Thai people in the US are working a lot harder here than when they lived in Thailand.
To me, the question of, “What is happiness?” has always been intriguing. I think that someone can be happy anywhere they are, whether in Thailand, or overseas. In my way of thinking, if you have your basic needs covered, you have no pain, you are not hungry and you are satisfied with what you have,you can be happy anywhere.
What about the nationality traits or habits of the people in the US? What do they like to do? What are people like? What about their family life?
Well, the US is a very large and very diverse country. It depends on where you are in the US. People living in any particular area will tend to think and behave in a similar way. In California, in the big cities, I think people are more open-minded and accepting. They are more used to working with immigrants and tend to have more liberal views. But, outside of the cities of Los Angeles or San Francisco the people tend to be more conservative even in California.
Every region of the US has its own traditions and local customs just as there are different regional customs in Thailand. Many of these are based on local history or geographic considerations.
A big difference from Thailand is that in the US the children are expected to move out of the house after high school or college, or soon after they start working. There is no implied obligation to “take care of their parents,” and the parents feel the same way. With the financial difficulties in current society, many young people now find themselves moving back in with their parents, creating new tensions and stress in families.
What do you think about the cost of living in the US?
One the most expensive places to live in the US is in San Francisco. It started to become expensive five to ten years ago because of the high-tech industry and the high paying salaries of Apple, Facebook, Google and other Silicon Valley businesses. Housing, parking, food and other items cost more here than in most parts of the US, and much more expensive than in Thailand. Other areas in most of the US are not as expensive, but in average the jobs do not pay as much as in San Francisco.
Could you tell us a few pros and cons about living in the US?
1. I love the weather in the area of California where I live. It is not too hot nor too cold.
2. The US is an excellent place for me to work as an interpreter and a writer. With the large Thai and Lao population in the San Francisco Bay Area I have plenty of work.
3. As a US citizen, I am able to travel the world with minimal needs for visas or special permits.
1. Living in the US means not being able to just drop in and have a meal or hang out with my family in Thailand.
But, with online technology I usually know what is going on faster than my aunt living down the road in the village back home.
2. Many people have to spend hours each day commuting to and from their place of work, which adds to their stress and lowers their quality of life.
In your opinion, what are the problems that can arise in Thai-Western relationships?
Besides the differences in personality, personal goals and interests, Thai-Western relationships also face language and cultural difficulties.
I explain a lot about cultural differences in Thai-Western relationships in my book The Interpreter’s Journal. Money is probably the number one issue that starts problems within Thai-Western relationships. As this quote from my book points out.
“Every unhappy marriage is different, but the most common thread in Thai-Western relationship problems is usually related to money. Sound advice is to approach any relationship with a Thai woman with the heart and mind of an accountant. Yes, you’re madly in love, but can you afford it? Do you have sufficient income and reserves to support your loved one and the additional expenses that come with her? Don’t be delusional; this is the time to be as realistic as you can, and to understand and include her needs. Thai wives will still want to send money to their family in Thailand, year after year. An American husband may want to help out at first, but the demands never cease. A potential solution is for the Thai wife to work and contribute to the family in America and also send what’s needed to the family in Thailand. But if she is unable to work because she’s taking care of your babies, or for other reasons, the husband has to factor in the amount of money sent to Thailand. Otherwise, the wife will be frustrated and unhappy, and that could trigger arguments and even a potential divorce. If she is self-sufficient, has marketable skills, or has few family obligations, it will be a much smoother and less-expensive adventure.”
Do you still have close relatives in Thailand? Do you miss your family there? Do you miss Thailand? Where in Thailand do you like the most and why?
Most of my relatives are living in Thailand, including my siblings and my mother. I’m in touch with them via social media all the time, but it is still not the same as being with them. I am concerned about my mom because she is old now, but I hire someone to take care of her. I don’t have a longing for Thailand because I return for a visit at least once a year. Since I am a city girl, I like Chiang Mai the most. It’s a big city, diverse and yet it has a small town feeling. It’s not as busy as Bangkok. It has everything that I love to do, but it too is getting more crowded and the traffic is getting more difficult each year.
Do you feel safe in the US? If so, please explain.
Overall, I feel very safe where I live in the US. I sometimes become concerned when I’m on public transportation such as in the bus or in the train. I am aware of my surroundings and who is around me when I’m in a large crowd. I think it’s normal to behave this way now when you are in big cities anywhere around the world. I just continue to be careful, and don’t talk on my cell phone when I walk down the street.
Of all the places you have been to in the US, where do you like the most and why?
I have been to a lot of the states and to most big cities in the US. I may be a little biased, but I love the San Francisco Bay Area the most. There are a lot of beautiful places to see in the area and the weather is great almost all year round. It’s also one of the most diverse cities in the world. You can find just about any type of ethnic cuisine you would want. You can go dancing salsa or Argentine Tango any night of the week. There are hundreds of Thai restaurants and many Thai temples. It’s also the hub of hi-tech companies, such as Apple, Google, Yahoo, eBay, Uber and Facebook.
But, my other favorites are Washington DC for the history and the museums; New York City for the sights and excitement and Chicago for the beautiful lakefront and world class architecture.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love to play word games both on apps or real board games. I get a lot of pleasure and enlightenment reading books about Dhamma. My favorite hobbies are dancing and studying languages. I have fun writing posts on Facebook pages and my articles in the Thai newspapers. Now I have thousands of followers that love to read my post.
What do you recommend to Thai women that will be moving to live overseas? What are your suggestions for them to live a good or happy life? What should they be aware of?
First of all, I strongly recommend that they learn the language of the country they are going to live in. Since English is so prevalent, it would be helpful to at least learn enough English to be able to read instructions and be able to do some online research on their own.
It would be advantageous for them to have a career or some skills that they can use to get a job and support themselves in the event that something happens with their marriage. They should develop a few good friendships with people that they can trust and rely on. If something happens to them, I recommend getting information from many different sources to confirm that you are making the right decisions.
Lastly, do not take advantage of other people and don’t let other people take advantage of them. They can join Facebook groups that share experiences and give advice on issues that are similar to the experiences that they are having. Facebook is a double-edged sword. Use it wisely.
“อัตตาหิ อัตโนนาโถ ตนแลเป็นที่พึ่งแห่งตน” meaning: “God helps those who help themselves.”