Osaka YMCA
International School

Amy and her Grandma
Amy Pothong

Amy Pothong

Amy is a passionate counselor and educator with over 18 years of experience in the field of mental health, early childhood, and secondary university support. She enjoys reading, eating and traveling. She adores her two children Harper and Fenton, who are both happy students at OYIS, though she recognizes self-care and the need for time away from them.

My homecoming wasn’t some moral or spiritual victory. I had managed to escape where others couldn’t and I was lucky. I also worked really hard. I took advantage of the opportunities. All of it was in the shadow of my childhood traumas, the ones I carried around with me and dealt with the hard, and only, way: slowly and steadily and with the help of loved ones.
Amy in the arms of her big sister.

My dad was killed while on duty as a highway patrol officer near Lamphun, Thailand when I was 8 years old. The police ruled my father’s death a suicide but I can remember cigarette burn marks on his body at the funeral. My parents were divorced long before that and I had been mostly raised by my grandparents in the nearby province of Phichit.

In Thailand, in the eyes of society, a girl without parents living with her uncle and grandparents is destined to either be a waitress, a prostitute, or both. When I was 10, my mom, who had been working for several years for the government in Maryland, was finally able to get visas for my sister and I. We moved our lives to the US.

Moving to America was hard for me. I didn’t speak a word of English and was thrown into elementary school. I had my patented Thai-school-girl bowl cut and weighed about as much as a feather. I can remember being in gym class and the captains picking teams for volleyball. 

One of the captains was Filipina and I thought that she would be nice to me because she looked like me, but instead she said something along the lines of, ‘I don’t want her, she can’t even speak English’. Although I didn’t understand her exact words, I knew they weren’t nice so I threw her on the ground. I was in the Principal’s office the next day with my mom who pointed out their failure to properly integrate me. I was taken out of PE and put into music.

Amy as a feather-sized girl.
amy resilience
Amy's resilience pays off!
Once I got my English down, I thrived. Those around me failed to realize the opportunities they were afforded. I eventually became an honor student and got a tennis scholarship to Towson University in Baltimore. My mom helped me move into the dorms at age 16. By age 20 I had graduated and been accepted to Johns Hopkins University. At that point I had quit tennis and was working three jobs to pay the bills. Two years later, and still not old enough to drink, I graduated summa cum laude with a Masters of Science in Clinical Community Counseling.

Since then I have worked in the mental health field in a lot of different settings, and was even a licensed Montessori teacher for a while, but still had a nagging desire to return to the country I was from. With the amount of student loans I was carrying around, however, this proved no easy task. Eventually, in 2014, I was offered a job as a school counselor at an international school in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The job was located just five hours from my hometown of Phichit and my grandparents who helped raise me like I was their own.

My homecoming wasn’t some moral or spiritual victory. I had managed to escape where others couldn’t and I was lucky. I also worked really hard. I took advantage of the opportunities. All of it was in the shadow of my childhood traumas, the ones I carried around with me and dealt with the hard, and only, way: slowly and steadily and with the help of loved ones.

overcoming trauma
Amy and her older sister, all grown up.
I started a private practice and realized the extent of the trauma that the women of my country were going through. Thailand is not a culture to openly accept and work through things like I learned in my life in America. In Thailand, you bottle up your emotions, keep them to yourself and hope they will go away. Recognizing and expressing emotion became a core mission in my counseling. It still is today.

But my work in trauma goes way beyond just Thailand. Everyone has their own experience and you can’t predict what will be traumatic. Something simple and easy for one person can be incredibly difficult for another. And all of this isn’t to say that Thailand doesn’t have ways to cope. Strong family ties, religion, and a culture of general acceptance towards the nastier things of life are aspects of my cultural heritage that I’m proud of. What I want is my cake and to eat it too. I want to have strong connections with friends and family and also to get people to open up about their feelings, to not consider themselves weak when life throws something at them they just can’t seem to get over.

So talk to someone you love and trust. Talk to a counselor. We’re here to help, even if we were supposed to be a waitress instead.

Note: Traumas come in all shapes and sizes. Something that seems so mundane may leave a huge impact and something that is quite big may not leave a long lasting impression. It is important to consider not only empathy but compassion as well when we talk about our experiences.

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