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April 2, 2022

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Beloved Thai ‘granny professor’ forges bridge of cross-cultural friendship

THE distance from Chiang Mai to Beijing is nearly 3,000 kilometers, and Kuapan Nakbubpa never imagined that she would one day throw herself into educational work in a place so faraway from home.

The 77-year-old Thai assistant professor has been working in China for 18 years since she retired in 2005. She now considers Beijing her second home and spares no effort to spread knowledge here.

Kuapan started teaching in Beijing Foreign Studies University in 1992, during the late winter and early spring in the Chinese capital, yet “it was much colder than the coldest time in Chiang Mai.”

“I love teaching so much,” said the Thai teacher, adding that she was so excited that she woke up at 3am on the first day of the new semester this year, and kept teaching for four hours straight that morning without taking any break.

“I don’t feel tired at all,” she said.

The thin and silver-haired professor seems no different from any ordinary old Chinese lady except that she knows little Chinese, nor does she know anything about a mobile phone or computer. Her teaching “weapons” are only chalk and blackboard.

Though being a “low-tech” teacher according to Kuapan’s self-mockery, she tried everything to get her class on track, such as learning Chinese pinyin and using English expressions and gestures to communicate with her Chinese students.

Kuapan recalled that when she first arrived in Beijing, she inevitably encountered some difficulties in life, including language barriers, but there was always someone to lend a helping hand.

“It is the kind help from teachers and students at Beijing Foreign Studies University that has supported me in Beijing for so many years,” Kuapan said with emotion.

In the eyes of students enrolled in the Thai major at the university, Kuapan is like a “perpetual motion machine.” She always arrives in class earlier than students and can even lecture through a two-hour class without rest.

Kuapan is more than willing to spend her spare time tutoring students, to the extent that her students jokingly call her residence their “second classroom,” as it is where she teaches them everything from pronunciation, word combination, sentence-making, dialogue, speech and composition, to thesis writing.

Whether it is day or night, weekdays or weekends, Kuapan welcomes students whenever she has time.

“My spare time is not that important. If students make progress, I will be happy,” she said.

Most students realize how lucky they are to have such a dedicated teacher and prefer to affectionately address Kuapan as “granny,” which is to the foreign professor’s delight, as she considers every Chinese student her own child.

Kuapan is also trusted by teachers of the university. Whenever they encounter any problems related to Thailand or the Thai language, they can always turn to the knowledgeable “granny” for help.

Kuapan also answers questions even for graduates on the phone, which she calls “after-sales service.” With her tireless cultivation, the graduates are now active in various fields such as diplomacy, journalism, education, economy and trade.

Kuapan also contributed to the compilation of Thai literature textbooks and dictionaries, all of which have won her many awards from the Chinese government, such as the Friendship Award for 2005, the title of “the most favorite foreign teacher of Chinese students” in 2014, and the 2016 International Educator in China Award.

No matter how many awards she has received, she still considers herself “an ordinary Thai teacher,” and her only reason to stay in China is “for the students.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kuapan has not been able to return to Thailand for more than two years. Given her advanced age, she plans to return to her hometown next year.

“I won’t just walk away. If teachers at Beijing Foreign Studies University need to name freshmen in Thai, they can contact me one day in advance,” Kuapan said.


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