Campus News

Comfortable with being uncomfortable

On the eve of graduation, a two-time recipient of the Carolina Family Scholarship for children of University employees reflects on her time at Carolina and abroad.

Jenny Suwanmanee wearing graduation gown.
Jenny Suwanmanee, a two-time recipient of the Carolina Family Scholarship and double major in business and global studies, will graduate on May 15 after participating in enriching University programs, working with students, faculty and administrators who share her global interests and creating her own opportunities.

As someone who likes to dive headfirst into new situations, Jenny Suwanmanee was primed for the challenge.

She stepped from her flight to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport with only minutes to purchase tickets and board a train to Rotterdam to begin a semester studying abroad. Slicing through the crowd, she followed signs, bought tickets and jumped on the train without a hitch. Her time in the Netherlands was off to a great start.

That’s just what Suwanmanee, who will graduate from Carolina on May 15, does.

As a two-time recipient of the Carolina Family Scholarship, the double major in business and global studies has made the most of her college experience: studying abroad, seeking out students, faculty and administrators with global interests and creating other opportunities.

The Carolina Family Scholarship is a $2,000 need-based scholarship awarded annually to children of full-time University employees. Recipients use the funds to study at any UNC System institution or community college. The scholarship, made available by the Employee Forum, is renewable for a maximum of four years of undergraduate study.

Suwanmanee’s mother, Thipparat Suwanmanee, is a molecular biologist who works as a research associate in the UNC Gene Therapy Center. She brought her daughter from Thailand to Chapel Hill in 2006, which primed the young girl’s ability to navigate new places. The young Suwanmanee took English as a second language classes in elementary and middle school while soaking up American culture. Since then, she has combined her curiosity about others with a knack for immersing herself in new cultures, countries and languages.

“I’ve integrated in Jenny an attitude of giving back and thinking bigger than ourselves,” Thipparat Suwanmanee said. She often recites a saying — “We drink from the well we did not dig; we are warmed by the fire we did not build.” — to remind her daughter to leave a place better than how she found it.

“I aim to hand Jenny three gifts — education, independence and freedom,” Thipparat Suwanmanee said. “I am a single parent, and the road to achieve such a goal is not easy. Having a professional career in science and generous support from UNC’s academic programs have enabled me to provide such gifts to my daughter. I was humbled to see Jenny thrive academically; she spent countless nights in the library to prove her competency in deserving a seat in UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.”

The Carolina Family Scholarship is one of Carolina’s many resources that have enabled Suwanmanee to make the most of her college days. She received the scholarship for the 2018-19 academic year and again for 2019-20.

She’s also received the Edmund B. Ross III Merit Scholarship and two merit scholarships from the business school for study abroad. In summer 2019, she enrolled at Denmark’s Copenhagen Business School and in spring 2020, she took classes from the Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands.

“When the scholarships add up, it makes a really big impact,” she said. “Even if somebody receives only one or two scholarships, it goes a long way, especially with all the expenses that college entails. Just covering textbook costs is still something that makes a large difference in the life of a college student.”

The exposure to how other countries operate and how their citizens think dovetails nicely with Suwanmanee’s global studies focus on Asia and its international politics, nation states and social movements.

“I want to work in the private sector and explore that area more after graduation,” she said. “Global studies is a great addition to business because in today’s world, business touches everything. We’re in such an interconnected world that you have to understand how the world works and how it functions to be a working individual and a person who can help contribute to society.”

Not only has Suwanmanee immersed herself in other countries, but she’s also taken language courses at Carolina to prepare for a global career. She’s mastered five levels of Korean and studied Dutch for over a year. Add English to the Thai she learned from her mother’s side of the family and Chinese from her father’s side, and Suwanmanee is up to five languages that will enable her to continue navigating the world.

Suwanmanee seems to connect naturally with others, especially those who share similar interests. She worked with Sherri Carmichael, assistant director for Kenan-Flagler’s GLOBE program, to launch the school’s Global Topics Speakers Series, which allows students to tell their stories and features guests such as Barbara Stephenson, Carolina’s vice provost for global affairs and chief global officer.

During the past four years, Suwanmanee’s outlook fit well with Carolina’s mix of resources and opportunities for students to find their passion and prepare themselves for the future. She encourages students to comb through websites, talk with people and build up a network to help find opportunities and scholarships.

“Carolina has a lot of resources that one might not know about,” she said. “You have to do research and search for opportunities and scholarships. There’s plenty out there.”

With all the study, travel and interaction with people, one key lesson resonates with Suwanmanee.

“The biggest thing was I learned how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” she said. “There were many moments where I had to challenge myself to figure out how to function in societies that are very different from typical American life. From the culture to daily life, the way things functioned over in Europe, it’s very different. It’s fascinating to learn more and integrate myself into a new culture.

“It’s surprising how many things you can learn about a different culture just by diving headfirst into it and going to a different place.”