Kendrick Nikornpan: Reflection from Thai-Americans in the Thai American National Internship Program
I firstly want to thank P’Ep here at the embassy for referring me to this program. I want to thank Temiloluwa Adeyemi, Alec Bohlman, and Christina Durham from USAI for their efforts to make the program as smooth as possible. Mary Sue Bissell and the rest of the administrators at USAI for making USAI so great, a truly incredible think tank and institution that harbors intelligence, culture, and widespread hospitality for aspiring foreign service workers. And lastly, I want to thank both the staffers at the congressional office of Congressman Eric Swalwell for their generosity and kindness in making me feel like one of you, and the staff at the Royal Thai embassy specifically P’Gift, P’Mo, and P’Peak for their incredible hospitality and guidance throughout this week, as well as His Excellency, Mr. Ambassador. I’m sure that one day one of us will return here with the intention of strengthening US-Thai relations.
My name is Kendrick Nikornpan, I graduated from Suffolk University, 2020 from Boston but originally from the State of Maine. Like a couple of my cohorts here, I was originally accepted into the TANIP program in 2020 but because at the height of the pandemic I was deferred into this year’s program for 2021. Regardless I persevered through 2020 like many of us and made it here eventually. My time in the TANIP program was both bizarre and a blessing. Bizarre because the pandemic has changed numerous things around DC which certainly aren’t the same as normal times. But a blessing, because I had the ability to be on capitol hill with a tremendous opportunity to experience what few can during a pandemic.
I always say to people that the best times are the ones that have no expectations. Having heard about DC’s happy hours and reputational receptions, I had no clue if any of that were happening anytime soon. Fortunately in the weeks progressing, I was able to go out with both my friends from my congressional office as well as with my TANIP cohorts. Even having an opportunity to attend USAI’s wonderful outdoor reception meeting and greeting many wonderful staffers on the hill. Even having a brief time with our sister program, the IMPACT group. And last but not least, having the most amazing opportunity to meet honorable members of congress including my own congressman at the office I was placed in. I knew that coming to DC during the pandemic was definitely bizarre. I knew that things weren’t going to be normal, but as some would say, in situations like these we must make the most out of them.
During orientation facilitated by USAI, joined with our sister program, IMPACT, we had a swath of speakers talking to us about the Hill, various institutions, and other organizations that have connections to USAI. But the one speaker who spoke out to me the most pertaining to my assigned internship was Ken Nealy who was the previous chief of staff of Barbara Jackson Lee who told us that a long lasting impact to the office we were assigned comes from the work and dedication that is given to the elected office every day. I mean that by the constituents the office serves such as writing letters, responding to constituents requests, and even for my case, answering the numerous phone calls coming from constituents and non-constituents. While the majority of calls weren’t too pleasant, it gave me a valuable aspect about listening to the passionate individuals who truly cared about this nation and about the office in which they represent the constituents. Other work pertaining to the office was also attending briefings for the legislation team such as writing up memos regarding important discussions for possible policy, keeping up with constituent correspondence through our office-constituent interface called indigov, and even running to grab our congressman a cup of coffee. No matter how big the task or how small, to me, everything is important. Assisting the Congressional office “Leg Team” with their tasks to our interests was a pleasure because I could really understand the grind and labor it takes to serve the people. Having that relationship in the office is essential and as such, I gave my effort everyday with enthusiasm to the office without question. Surely tiring, because of my prior lack of knowledge of assisting constituents in an environment that serves the people, but also fulfilling knowing that even with that lack of knowledge I made someone on the other side of the phone call feel that their voice is heard.
For the time I spent with my amazing fellow co-workers at my congressional office. I won’t forget the experiences we had from walking down the halls of the capitol building, other congressional offices, and the libraries of congress. And for my Thai-Amnerican intern cohorts, I won’t forget our after work meet-ups, hangouts at one of our general spots or Urban Thai restaurant, coupled with brutal clowning sessions of one another, but also fantastic walks throughs here at the Royal Embassy, the counselors office, at the Mr. Ambassadors’ residence, or just between ourselves. Getting to understand the important work that is done here. Furthermore, whether we are graduating college, or continuing on with higher education, while we part ways I’m comforted by knowing that the memories we share are inseparable. I remember a time when I was very young, my family would visit the Thai temple in Queens, New York which was one place at a time I called a community till we closed the gates one Sunday evening for the last time. Being so far away from those whom I would consider like me, I thought for a while as a child I couldn’t imagine myself to be around others that shared similar experiences like myself, or have the urge to return to the homeland to serve the country in some sort of way. Yet here we are, to have a group of diverse individuals who share similar backgrounds, similar family structure, but also blend so well with each other is a blessing in itself. I’m truly blessed that I have Tahi-Americans like me who are inspired and determined to make significant strides. To have an impact on the relationship between these two great nations. Besides the aspirations of becoming the next in line diplomats, political figures, and academic scholars, in the short amount of time we’ve spent with each other, we’ve become the closest of friends.
As a Thai-American, and being here to support US – Thai relations, my hopes for the future are for a stronger connection in congress, organizations, and institutions that support representation and advocating for minority image. During my time on the hill, I rarely saw any of Asian descent and even less specifically Thai-Americans. My hope is that me as well my other cohorts being here encourages other Thai-Americans to take part in programs such as TANIP or others to further strengthen US-Thai relations. Because we, being at our respective offices, we are that relationship.