June 1, 2001 - Arlington Morning News: Philanthropy lies at the Corps of it all

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By Admin1 (admin) on Friday, December 28, 2001 - 9:56 pm: Edit Post

Philanthropy lies at the Corps of it all

Read and comment on this story about Poranee "Pam" Kingpetcharat pictured above and her decision to join the Peace Corps at:

Philanthropy lies at the Corps of it all*

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Philanthropy lies at the Corps of it all

Woman leaves posh lifestyle for volunteer work


By KATHY A. GOOLSBY / Arlington Morning News

Two years ago, Poranee "Pam" Kingpetcharat had a firm grasp on financial success.

Just four years out of college, she was living in Los Angeles and making a six-figure salary. Her wardrobe included $30,000 worth of suits enough to wear a different one every day for three months.

There was just one problem.

"I wasn't really happy," said the 1991 Arlington High School graduate.

"Commercialism in the United States tells you if you do this or have that or go on this vacation, you'll be happy. You do it and realize you were happy in that moment, but what really sustains you is the relationship you have with your family and close friends."

Ms. Kingpetcharat quit her job with Merrill Lynch and moved home to Arlington. She paid off all her debts and gave her car to one sister and her suits to another.

And she joined the Peace Corps.

On Monday, she will leave for a two-year stint as a community information technology instructor in Guyana, a tropical country on the northeast coast of South America.

The transition from her high-income job in municipal bonds to the Spartan conditions that await her as a Peace Corps volunteer is not as big a leap as it might seem, said Ms. Kingpetcharat, 27.

"I sat down and looked at my life and thought, 'What makes me happy?'" she said. "And what makes me happy is helping people."

Her desire to help others comes from her parents, Somsak (Sam) and Sirikule (Sarah) Kingpetcharat, who immigrated to the United States from Thailand in the early 1970s. They have always encouraged their three daughters to volunteer, which they believe helps people more than monetary donations.

"To give money is not very lifelong," Sirikule Kingpetcharat said. "To give someone education, to help them stand up on their feet, that lasts longer."

Pam Kingpetcharat began volunteering at age 12 in a local Teen Court program. Her mother, an intensive care nurse, suggested she volunteer as a candy striper at Arlington Memorial Hospital as a way to look into medical professions.

"When I was a juror at Teen Court, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer," Ms. Kingpetcharat said. "I was just trying out different perspectives."

She eventually attended Reed College in Portland, Ore., where she earned a bachelor of arts degree in economics, a field she was introduced to at her parents' store, Lotus Oriental Grocery in Arlington. Ms. Kingpetcharat was only 6 when she learned to price items and add tax while working at the store, which her family owned for 10 years.

Everyone was expected to work at the store and help out at home, but Ms. Kingpetcharat preferred TV to chores and family obligations.

"It was horrible, because when you came home from school, you didn't get to go outside and play," she recalled. "You had to do your homework, take a bath and eat dinner with the family. But when I got to college, I realized they had taught me to be self-sufficient."

Ms. Kingpetcharat admits she resented her parents while she was growing up, a feeling rooted in her first three years of life. When her father was studying engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington and her mother was working two jobs, they felt she would be better cared for by her grandmother in Thailand.

Ms. Kingpetcharat remembers little about her three years in Thailand, but she does know that her grandmother spoiled her. And when she returned home, she had a baby sister to compete with.

"I think we had some problems for a period of time when she came back," her mother said. "I think it was only last year she came to understand how much I love her and why we had to [send her to Thailand]."

When she finished high school, Ms. Kingpetcharat tried to distance herself from her family by choosing a college in Oregon. And when she graduated in 1995, she took a job in Washington, D.C., under Alan Greenspan at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.

"She wants to fly away from home, as far as she can get," Mr. Kingpetcharat said.

But it was while she worked as a research assistant in Washington that Ms. Kingpetcharat began her journey back to her roots. She began to feel that collecting data on unemployment, inflation and other areas was too far from reality.

Her next job, at Merrill Lynch, at least allowed her to drive past some of the schools she was helping, she said. And despite working 80-plus hours a week, she found time to volunteer.

"I was getting closer to where I wanted to be, but I wasn't completely fulfilled," she said. "I found the most fulfillment while volunteering, so I decided to turn it on its head and make that my job."

She moved back home and applied to the Peace Corps. While waiting for her application to be processed, she worked at Accenture, a Dallas consulting firm, where she developed strategies to merge management and finance into the company's help desk.

Her technological skills, combined with her business background, impressed Kathy Carson, who was Ms. Kingpetcharat's recruiter at the Dallas Peace Corps office.

"Her computer and finance background are skills we're really needing," Ms. Carson said. "Pam stood out because she had a sense of self-confidence and exhibited the fact that she's not money driven. Peace Corps volunteers don't get rich doing this."

Ms. Kingpetcharat will be one of three information technology instructors in a pilot program in Guyana, where the minister of education is trying to incorporate technology training into the high schools. Before starting work, Ms. Kingpetcharat will have three months of in-country training.

She knows that the country has a large East Indian population and that English is the primary language. Other than that, she plans to arrive without any preconceived ideas about her home for the next two years.

"I want to walk in with a clean slate. I've learned that it's my expectations that govern my emotions," Ms. Kingpetcharat said. "If I expect something and it doesn't happen, I would be disappointed. But if I don't expect it and it happens, wouldn't I just feel happy?"

Her parents, who are already planning to visit her in Guyana in December, fully support their oldest daughter's newest adventure.

Ms. Kingpetcharat hopes to earn a doctorate degree some day but isn't planning anything specific beyond the Peace Corps. She hopes to make lots of friends in Guyana and leave behind some of her knowledge and skills.

"And also the reality that Americans aren't all one type of people," she said. "We're Asian Americans, Thai Americans, too. We [she and her sisters] were raised to see ourselves as international citizens, not just United States or Thailand. I want the way I look at the world to be tempered by every person's individual world."

Staff writer Kathy A. Goolsby can be reached at 817-695-0324 or kgoolsby@dallasnews.com.

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