From exchange student to Finnish-Thai book translator

33-year-old teacher and translator, Kunthida Rungruengkiat. Photo: Nadja Dam Jensen.

What started as a fascination of snow and Santa Claus turned into a career of working with the Finnish language for 33-year-old teacher and translator Kunthida Rungruenkiatbetter know as Ida, from Thailand who has translated several books from Finnish to Thai.

When 16-year-old Ida told her Thai parents that she wanted to go to Finland for a year as an exchange student, her parents could not really agree on whether it was a good idea or not.

“I told them it was completely safe and they should not worry about me going for a year,” tells Ida.

Her father agreed on the idea, but her mother thought it was better for Ida to stay closer to home, and was not at all fond of the idea.

The conflict on whether Ida should be allowed to go or not ended up with her parents not speaking to each other for a week. But regardless, Ida was going to Finland.

Lost with map and compass
Ida always wanted to go on exchange in high school. Her reason for choosing Finland was firstly her fascination with Santa Claus and the snow.

“I’d seen snow in Canada before, but not enough.”

One of the first things Ida learned when she moved to a small Finnish town of just 3000 residents, less than the number of students in Ida’s previous Bangkok High School, was that she never really knew silence before.

“It sounds very Scandinavian, but what I in Bangkok thought was silence, was really not.”

The next thing she learned was how to use a map and a compass. Orientateering, where you with a map and compass run around in a forest or elsewhere to find control points, is a very common activity in Finland, but not something Ida had experience with from Thailand at all.

As she on one of her first days of high school, after arriving in Finland in August, found herself standing with a map in one hand and a compass in the other, she had to admit that she had no idea how those things worked.

“The others were quite surprised that I had never tried it before, but we just do not do that in Thailand. That’s also how I made my first friends,” says Ida, and the confusion that luckily had a happy ending.

From Kunthida to just Ida
Life in Finland was in many ways different from what Ida had been used to in Thailand. In Thailand it would be normal to just go to the mall and hang out with friends all the time. But in Finland people met in different ways; often out in nature, where they could play sports, or they just had a spot where they would meet and hang out.

It was in many ways a much quieter life than what she was used too, but luckily her host family was very active, taking Ida around Finland to experience the beautiful nature and the more lively cities.

The many adventures together brought Ida very close to her host family, who also came up with calling her the more Scandinavian name Ida, instead of Kunthida. Even today, they are like another family for Ida, who still calls her Finnish host parents ‘mom’ and ‘dad’.

“Scandinavian people have pictures of their children in their homes. I am one of those pictures. Both my mom and grandmother in Finland have them,” says Ida.

The Finnish Snow White book translated to Thai. Photo: Kunthida Rungruengkiat.

Learning the Finnish language
Although quite different from her mother tongue, Ida quickly picked up on the Finnish language. Already around Christmas on her exchange year she was able to keep up with everyday conversations.

But it did not stop there. Six years later, Ida came back and studied in Finland, where she also took advanced Finnish classes.

Today she has translated several books from Finnish to Thai. Among them is the ‘Snow White’ trilogy by Salla Simukka, one of the titled ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ for young adults, which show a darker side of life in Finland. Ida said she liked that book so much that she basically begged to translate it.

“Reading it, I recognized a lot of things in the book from when I was a teenager I Finland 17 years ago. It is really fun to sort of go back.”

Sharing Finland
Although Ida recognises some of the dark stuff, and remember spending time locked into her room almost like a hermit during cold winters, she mainly has good memories and experiences with Finland, experiences which she wants to share.

Ida was the one who came up with the idea of the Finnish Embassy in Bangkok celebrating SF100 at the Bangkok International Book Fair as guest of honour, and worked closely with the Embassy to set up everything.

At the Finnish pavilion literature, design and much more was shared with the many book fair visitors. The good education system of Finland was also a big focus point. Having experienced how it works first hand, as well as having done thorough research on Finnish education, Ida tries to promote their system of education in Thailand. In her job as a teacher she also tries to share her experience with her students and implement some Finnish ways.

A year as an exchange student turned into a lifelong connection to Finland. Ida says she goes back to Finland every year, where she often meets her Finnish family, who has also visited in her in Thailand. Someday, she might want to move back there again, back to the true silence and the snow.

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