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Faustine Sonon

Q&A: CAES Student interns in Bangkok

Faustine Sonon a CAES food science and technology major, interned with the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand last summer. He worked on a project that incorporates essential nutrients into foods for impoverished children. In this interview, he shares some of his experiences and offers advice for students who are considering studying abroad.

Faustine, you were an undergraduate certificate student and fulfilled your international internship requirement this summer. Where did you go and why?

I went to Bangkok, Thailand, for an internship with the Asian Institute of Technology. I didn’t really know what I was getting into, but my mom went to Thailand when she was a grad student and I‘ve always wanted to go.

How was living in Bangkok?

I lived in the Philippines for seven years and knew what Southeast Asia was like. Even though I didn’t know the language, I was able to get around fine.

What are some of the work-related activities you did in the internship program?

Most days I would go into the lab and help with a fortification of foods for impoverished individuals project. We would put essential nutrients into foods for kids (mostly babies) who don’t eat enough. We also focused on how to make these fortified foods cheaper.

How do you feel this experience helped you toward your career goals?

I’m a food science major so working in the lab was relevant, but I really enjoyed learning about different types of food from all over the world. In the same way we like Southern food in some parts of the U.S. and Cajun food in others, I’ve never thought about how other countries have different preferences based on geographical location. It was surprising how different Thailand cuisine is in the northern part of the country than the central and southern parts. I’m really getting interested in marketability of different foods in different areas so this experience was great.

After being back in the U.S. for half a year, what do you miss the most about Thailand?

I definitely miss slowing down. One day I ran into a friend from school and he invited me to his home in Fang, which is a small town surrounded by beautiful mountains and farmland. Fang is a place not many outsiders go because visitors don't really know about it. It was extremely relaxed and everyone only knew the traditional Thai way of life--only spoke Thai, food was strictly Thai, and so on. Nothing was Westernized or commercialized at all.

Is there one big takeaway or realization that has impacted you the most?

I learned how to adapt. Due to the changing political situation in Thailand at the time, my trip wasn’t fully planned and confirmed until two weeks before I left. I honestly didn't know too much about where I was going and the culture. The biggest thing I learned was how to talk to people, not necessarily verbally, but how to understand them. If something was weird, understand why it was acceptable for them and it may not be for me but that's OK.

What advice would you give someone who is considering studying abroad?

You are probably going to have a similar situation like this in the future where you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into, and you’re going to have to take a jump or risk because it can be so rewarding. My main concern was money and I wasn’t sure how much I was going to need to get through. You just learn how to spend wisely, and it forces you to be smart.

Also, don't be judgmental of how you think things should be. If your expectation is different from reality just go with it.

Was it worth it?

Definitely worth it. If I could go back I would do it again.

Do you feel you have any changed perspectives?

I do, a lot actually. One of my favorite things was meeting people from all over the world, especially people from Europe. We (as Americans) can be really self-centered sometimes, and that’s just not the case for a lot of people. I also learned how to respect a lot of different mindsets, even if I didn’t necessarily agree with them.

Published February 17, 2015