July 31, 2016
Usanut Sangtongdee '16 was more than just a student on the campus of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) in Manchester, N.H., the past two years. A native of Thailand, he not only worked hard to learn in the classroom, but he spent just as much time outside of it as a student of American life.
When he arrived on campus to pursue his MS in Information Technology with a concentration in Database Design, he was nervous about his language skills. The husband and father to a 5-year-old girl took a part-time job at SNHU's dining hall, which "made me get more confident to participate with people, American people or international students," Sangtongdee said.
Face-to-face interactions were just what Sangtongdee needed to excel in learning the language. As a graduate student on campus, "I prefer to study in class because I have an opportunity to talk to learn ... how to interact with a professor, with a friend, with the presentation in the front of the class," he said.
Sangtongdee was thrilled to have the opportunity to study abroad. "One day, I got the letter from my office," he said. "They said I had eligibility to get a scholarship to pursue the master degree in IT."
While he applied to a handful of schools, he chose SNHU after doing his research. "New England, particularly New Hampshire, is the best place. It's a quiet place," he said.
He made quite the impression at SNHU's commencement ceremony in May. Donning his Thai police uniform, he answered many classmates' questions about his suit, covered in shiny silver ornamentation. Nevertheless, the attention he drew from others at graduation paled in comparison to that which he received from his family for his ultimate achievement - his master's degree.
"I finished," he said. "I make my wife, my family and my parents - and I know my country - very happy because I grabbed a success. I got an accomplishment."
As for his post-graduation plans, Sangtongdee and his family will head back to Thailand - after a few more months in the U.S., soaking up experiences he wouldn't have at home. "I will spend the last of my time to learn about culture, everything," he said. "And then I will be back in Thailand to spend a lot of knowledge I got from you all and go up in my duty in Thailand."
SNHU won't be forgotten any time soon, however.
"I will be keeping in touch with my friends and my professors," he said. "One day, I will be back again to spend a life here. I can't wait until to that time to come back again and see each other with my friends or my professors."
Summer is here and that - hopefully - means a few more free hours to use catching up on some reading. We asked people across SNHU what they're reading this summer and what they recommend.
Refugees are not the hopeless faces often featured on the news. They are hardworking, talented people who are smart, able, and can pursue higher education if given the opportunity.
Timothy Woodward grew up in a small town in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. He earned Bachelor of Arts degrees in film and writing in California and an MFA in Fiction from SNHU.