Pattarapong Niyomchat from Nakhon Si Thammarat was determined to live and study in the United States when he first went there as an exchange student. This week, he encouraged a young Thai schoolboy to hold tight to his dream of becoming a member of the US army and urged him to even dream bigger but never to give up halfway.
A little boy’s response to a school question paper in Thailand, this week, ignited a fascinating and lively debate on the importance of following dreams after he wrote he wanted to become a soldier in the US army. The social media debate that followed the airing of the boy’s response led to many of the up to 100 Thai nationals, already deployed in the US military, to come forward in a show of support for the schoolboy. In particular, a heartfelt message of both example and encouragement came from former US Army Sergeant, Pattarapong Niyomchat, from Nakhon Si Thammarat province who was that boy not so many years ago.
A former Thai veteran of the US military reached out, this week, to a young schoolboy who became the subject of national debate in the kingdom after being told by his teacher that his dream of becoming a soldier in the US army was unrealistic.
The boy’s ambition was stated in a class paper asking students to write down what they would like to be when they grew up.
The response came to question 2.1 in the school questionnaire to which the boy had written: ‘a soldier in the US Army’.
The question paper, which appeared on social media, showed the teacher’s red ink and a note to the Thai boy explaining that his goal was unattainable.
School boy’s response created a social media storm
The boy’s answer and teacher’s response became a social media hot topic as Thais debated first the merits and demerits of the US army but also whether the teacher had been right or wrong to squelch the boy’s ambition.
Among those taking part in the debate were actual Thai members of the US armed forces in the United States and at bases worldwide as it turns out the boy’s ambition was not so far fetched after all.
MAVNI programme, started in 2008, was a key route
Thai US forces members sent social media videos and messages to the boy.
As well as a substantial and thriving US Thai community and diaspora across America particularly in California, there is also a growing number of Thai students who are opting to study in the United States and who used to be able to, once legally resident stateside, qualify under what was known as the MAVNI programme which unfortunately was frozen by the Obama administration in 2016.
Started in 2008 under US President George W Bush, the programme allowed Thai students or anyone legally resident in the United States to apply for citizenship and membership of the military without it being necessary to be declared a long term resident.
Father put Thai student on the right track to the US
Among the Thai US army members and veterans was Nakhon Si Thammarat born Pattarapong Niyomchat, a young man from a modest background with little or no English whose own dreams of living and studying in the United States were stirred by his father’s vision that as a high school student, he should become an exchange student between Thailand and America.
The spark of hope and germ of a dream drove Mr Pattarapong to apply and be accepted for a similar programme.
He had originally had a dream of being a doctor and studying at Siriraj Hospital until this opportunity came in front of him, urged on by his father.
The visit to the United States and several university campuses was enough to make the high school student determined when he returned to Thailand, to learn English better, get the grades required and somehow engineer the support and the right programme to come to study in the USA as a graduate student.
Enlisted in the US army from college
This led to Mr Pattarapong learning the self-discipline to work his way through college, keep down a job at a Chinese restaurant until he attained higher than average grades and even go on to a more prestigious university and postgraduate learning.
This is the route that led Mr Pattarapong, through the Mavni program, to enlist in the US Army where he served in a transport unit for three years and later in South Korea for one year.
Former US Army sergeant who made it all the way from a Thai classroom to the United States Army via American university campuses gives stirring advice
Speaking from the heart to the young Thai schoolboy, this week, Mr Pattarapong said: ‘If you want to be a US soldier, ask me if you can go to be a US Army. I will say that if you really focus on it, yes, because your cost is not high. When you go, you go alone, you will go alone, you will do everything.’
The Thai army veteran who has now left the US military service, after being promoted to the rank of sergeant, explained that his experience in the US army, while rewarding, was also an invasive and challenging one.
He explained that to attain a goal in life, one often had to set a target even higher and certainly not give up halfway there.
He quoted a well known American motivational speaker, William Arthur Ward, who passed away in 1994: ‘If you can imagine it, you can achieve it, if you can dream it, you can become it.’
He said he saw it on a wall while visiting his friend’s house in the United States and it helped him to get through the tough and arduous task of becoming a United States Army soldier.
Teacher comes in for criticism from a top pediatric doctor who says dreaming is a right for children
Meanwhile, the teacher who helped bring the story to light, it must be remembered, has been squarely criticised online where social media posts like Mr Pattarapong’s have been liked hundreds of thousands of times and shared over twenty thousand times this week as the story hit a nerve with the Thai public.
One contributor was a well known Thai pediatric doctor in haematology and a professor, Dr Worawut Chayprasert, who runs a popular Facebook page encouraging Thai children to dream of becoming doctors. He questioned the actions of the schoolboy’s teacher in the story.
Declaring that children had a right to dream, the doctor said ‘a dream, a childhood passion that wants to become a dream’ should be nurtured in all Thai children.
Dreams sometimes cited as ‘delusional’
He said only with dreams can children learn and be ‘motivated to take action’ in working towards goals which, in turn, is the path to giving life meaning.
He said, very often in Thailand, such thinking was cited as ‘delusional’ and discouraged.
From a classroom survey in Thailand, in recent days, to the country’s huge social media jungle online, it seems as if quite an important lesson has been aired, debated and maybe for some, learnt.