Supervisor: His name is Mr.Thani and his last name is 18 letters long “Jermwongratanachai”
Receptionist: OMG! Let me see your ID. How do you pronounce that!?
Supervisor: He is a Fulbright Scholar from Thailand.
Receptionist: Wow! Awesome! ...
Above is a conversation I heard when my supervisor introduced me for the very first time. This was the start of my year long tenure in the United States. During this time I attended and presented my work at international conferences in New Orleans Louisiana and Louisville Kentucky. I also conducted part of my research at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Islands, New York. During those professional trips, I had the honor to meet many famous scientists, researchers, and professors. Surprisingly, as I was being introduced, I discovered that four of them were Fulbrighters. My supervisor introduced me not only to the people in academia but also to his family and friends, and even the receptionists at the airport and hotel. Most of them knew what Fulbright was, while the rest amazed with my last name. This brought to light the integrity and weight the Fulbright name carried. My supervisor, having worked with Fulbright scholar/students before, treated me very well. Seeing the lineage of people that carried the Fulbright name created a large amount of pressure. The weight mounted quick after my arrival to the United States as I had to keep up with the work load while dealing the shock of a new culture.
The first two months were the most difficult where hard work in a laboratory became my daily-life. My “everyday-life” changed when I met my good friend Will. He was my colleague at the Center for Applied Energy Research at the University of Kentucky where I conducted my experiments. We usually talked together at work and found that soccer was our favorite game to play. During this time he played on an indoor soccer team called “Turf Burn” and invited me to join his team.
“Indoor soccer is quite different from the soccer you have played because the field is surrounded by a wall, of which you can use to do a real “wall” pass. It is a very fast paced great game.” Will said.
I did not fear such weird game, on the contrary, I became excited and yearned to see how this game is played. I accepted his invitation and Will asked his team captain, John, for permission. He allowed me to play in the next game, which was the last game of the season. There were 5 days to get my body ready for the game. Will acted as my coach explaining how to play and any tricks, while I fitted myself by jogging. When game time came, Will picked me up and took me to the field at 11.00 pm, which was the very late game. I was nervous before the game, and this was diminished when I met other squads and began playing. As expected, this game being my first, I played my best but we ended up losing. It was not a good start for me, however, there was a glimmer of light as I got praise from my partners and captain. There was a chance that John would allow me to be part of his team in the next season as Will pushed for it.
Eventually, good news came as he allowed me to play for the next season. I went to the store and bought brand new soccer shoes, socks, and shin guards. I was on the team “Turf Burn” as a striker. During my first season we obtained mostly losses and draws. However, the next-to-last game I was able to score my first 2 goals and we finished with our first victory of this season. This was repeated in the last game of the season where we won and I contributed by scoring again. Will was really glad that I could handle the game and play with others. My partners were also happy to play with me and I was now a part of the team. We continued playing for the next 2 seasons. The second season was better, but wonderfully the third season (my last season) was the greatest of all as we were champions. I was told that my overall improvement and understanding of the game was outstanding. We had a great team, played well together and this allowed us to win. That was the greatest farewell match for me. We were all happy and this was one of my fondest memories. The Friendship I received at the field was worth more than the championship. Thank you Will for bringing me to be part of this spirit.
by Thani Jermwongratanachai, 2012 Fulbright Junior Research Scholarship Program