Naree Ketudat: Experience as a Thai-American Second Generation in Washington

My name is Naree Ketudat. I am originally from Boston, MA but currently live in New York City. The U.S. Asia Institute and The Royal Thai Embassy were nothing but helpful and accommodating to us throughout the summer. I want to give personal thank yous to the USAI crew including Maddy, Isabelle, and Marysue, the staff at The Royal Thai Embassy including the Chargé to The United States, and my newfound friends and mentors in the Office of Congressman Eric Swalwell. Throughout my time on Capitol Hill, I met so many people who respected USAI and the TANIP Program, and I feel honored to have been a representative of them and the Thai-American community.

I graduated from New York University’s Steinhardt School in 2017, where I received my Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance. After two years of creative diligence and self discovery, I knew that I wanted to make a career shift into an area of public policy. I was hesitant to apply to TANIP when it first came across my radar. I asked myself, “Am I qualified for this?”, “Is it ok that I didn’t study politics in school?.”, and the most intimidating questions of all, “Am I Thai enough?”. These questions aside, I took the leap and it paid off.

After being accepted into the TANIP program, I was then offered an internship position in the office of Congressman Eric Swalwell. Due to the California Congressman’s trajectory this past year, you can imagine how excited I was to work in such an impactful office. Though I was not directly involved in his presidential campaign, the interaction that we had with the campaign process was inevitable. Everyday in the office was spent organizing hundreds of press clips, attending congressional hearings and briefings, and speaking with not just constituents, but concerned citizens all over the country. My experience in this office was extremely unique, as Swalwell was not only running for president, but was an outspoken member on the current president, and sat on both the House Judiciary and House Intelligence committee–to committees dealing directly with The Mueller Report. On my very first day, our Chief of Staff brought me to a House Judiciary hearing, which was a political nerd’s dream. I had so many similar experiences to this one, and the excitement of The Hill never faded. Working in this fast-paced office truly made me want to stay in D.C. and possibly pursue a career on The Hill. I even ended up extending my time as an intern in his office, and began the search for a new job on Capitol Hill.

In our week spent at the Royal Thai Consulate, I was able to witness how Thais living in the U.S. renew passports, Thai IDs, and how travelers from around the world obtain Thai visas. As a duel citizen, this process was something I had never thought about, and I realized how lucky I really am to be able to enjoy both nations equally. I even found my physical Thai citizenship application from 1995, which was truly a special moment. A few weeks before we started at the consulate, we were able to have lunch with the current Chargé D’affaires, Boosara Kanchanalai, and her team from The Royal Embassy. Ms. Bossara Kanchanalai welcomed us with open arms and talked to us all about our experiences and goals. I felt so accepted by them all throughout the summer, and I was so grateful to have been a representative for them. In the coming years, I hope future TANIP interns can be in contact with them, and maybe even spend their final week interning at The Royal Thai Embassy.

I wouldn’t have initially felt comfortable working on Capitol Hill or in the consulate without spending my first week in D.C. with USAI. Our USAI liaison, Isabelle, escorted the four TANIP interns to close to fifteen meetings with different hill staffers, government workers, and private sector employees. We met with lobbyists, legislative associates, think-tank researchers, press directors, and so many more. I continue to stay in contact with many of them to this day, and learned how important networking and communication

is in D.C. I know that the special people that we met during this first week will continue lead me through my future as a professional. Maybe one day, I can be the one speaking with the TANIP interns! The first week taught me the structure of new industries that I had never heard of, and gave me the confidence to feel like I belonged.

The idea of “belonging” was a theme for me when I first came to D.C. I was so scared that I wouldn’t belong with my fellow TANIP interns,being that I don’t look Thai, but also that I wouldn’t belong in my congressional office because I was Thai. I have always struggled to connect with my Thai identity and finding where I belong. Thank you Natalie, Nan, and Phet for making me finally feel like I belong as a Thai. The three of them are some of my first Thai friends, and I know that they will be forever in my life. Whenever the four of us came together, fears of feeling like an outsider never came true. In the beginning, I often felt the need to explain why I was in the room, but towards the end they all gave me the confidence to feel like I was meant to be there. I am very proud of them all and cannot wait to see what they accomplish in the future.

Thai-Americans are meant to be involved on Capitol Hill. It is clear everywhere we go, that Thai values go hand-in-hand with American values and that both communities can learn from each other. I feel more connected than ever to my Thai roots because of the TANIP program, and I know that I will continue to bring this newfound sense of self with me in my next steps as a professional.