Six years ago, Phimphatsorn Khunmom arrived in the United States from Thailand with her mother and sister to live with her mom’s new husband, a Santa Rosa nurse. Her ability to speak English was rudimentary at best. She didn’t know the customs, had no friends and, with a school year approaching, she had almost no time to figure it all out. She just wanted to go home.
Now, the senior at Piner High School is a top student in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics program, the president of the school’s chapter of a health sciences career club and was selected to intern at Kaiser Permanente in a job shadow program. And she speaks English fluently.
“It was really hard at first,” said Khunmom, 18, who goes by Pim. “For a long time, I wanted to go back to my country. I would hide — I didn’t think I would ever be able to fit in.”
The girl who didn’t want to stay is, her teacher s now say, a role model for other students.
“What I admire most about Pim is her humble excellence. She excels with ease, is intelligent, hardworking and dedicated, but she presents herself so honestly and genuine that there is never anything but admiration from her peers,” said Judy Barcelon, who is Khunmom’s adviser for Health Occupations Students of America. The group encourages and assists young people who want to pursue careers in health care. “She has struggled with family issues like the rest of us, works to help support her family and keeps herself focused on the future.”
It’s a future that Khunmom hopes will lead to a career as a nurse, just like her stepfather, James Anderson, who is a registered nurse at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and spent many years working in the emergency room at Sutter Hospital.
“I really like the idea of being able to help people,” she said. “As a nurse, I could do that. My goal is to one day work in a third-world country helping sick people.”
Considering how far she’s come in so short of a time, it’s not hard to imagine Khunmom succeeding at anything. But there was a time when she had serious doubts, a young girl all alone in a strange land.
Two or three months after she came to live in Santa Rosa, she met a girl named Sheena, and the two became fast friends. They have been inseparable since. Khunmom’s family practiced English at home, and she read books and watched a lot of TV, but it was her best friend who really made the difference.
“She helped me out a lot,” Khunmom said. “We didn’t speak each other’s language, but she found a way to communicate with me. She was the one who would always try to explain things to me.”
As her English skills improved, Khunmom began to excel in school. As a sophomore, she was won a spot in the highly competitive Summer Healthcare Institute where she was able to learn various facets of the health care field. She took field trips to area hospitals and watched doctors and nurses at work. Only 20 students from Sonoma County were selected to participate.
While she remains focused on her career goal, Khunmom has also made a mark at Piner as a member of the badminton team. She and her doubles partner, Megan Poulson, advanced to the second round in the North Coast Section championships.