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Comfortable with being uncomfortable

As someone who likes to dive headfirst into new situations, Jenny Suwanmanee (BSBA ’21) was primed for the challenge.

She stepped from her flight to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport with only minutes to purchase tickets and board a train to Rotterdam to begin a semester studying abroad. Slicing through the crowd, she followed signs, bought tickets and jumped on the train without a hitch. Her time in the Netherlands was off to a great start.

That’s just what Suwanmanee does.

The double major in business and global studies made the most of her college experience: studying abroad, seeking out students, faculty and administrators with global interests and creating opportunities. Today she is working for Procter & Gamble as a key account manager in customer business development in Bangkok.

“Graduation day continues to serve as a beautiful memory and culmination of my time as a Tar Heel, and is a day I would not have experienced without my mom and grandma,” says Suwanmanee. “They have sacrificed and supported me greatly to help me to reach that day.”

Her mother, Thipparat Suwanmanee, is a molecular biologist who works as a research associate in the UNC Gene Therapy Center. In 2006 she brought her daughter from Thailand to Chapel Hill, where she took English as a second language classes in elementary and middle school while soaking up American culture.

The move to Chapel Hill primed her ability to navigate new places. She has combined her curiosity about others with a knack for immersing herself in new cultures, countries and languages.

“I’ve integrated in Jenny an attitude of giving back and thinking bigger than ourselves,” Thipparat Suwanmanee says. She often recites a saying — “We drink from the well we did not dig; we are warmed by the fire we did not build.” — to remind her daughter to leave a place better than how she found it.

“I aim to hand Jenny three gifts – education, independence and freedom,” Thipparat Suwanmanee says. “I am a single parent and the road to achieve such a goal is not easy. Having a professional career in science and generous support from UNC’s academic programs enabled me to provide such gifts to my daughter. I was humbled to see Jenny thrive academically; she spent countless nights in the library to prove her competency in deserving a seat in UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.”

Many of Carolina’s many resources enabled Suwanmanee to make the most of her college days.

She is a two-time recipient of the Carolina Family Scholarship, a need-based scholarship awarded annually to children of full-time UNC employees. The Business School awarded her the Edmund B. Ross III Merit Scholarship, the Frank Ervin Young, Jr. and Mae T. Young Undergraduate Business Scholarship for a semester-long exchange program with the Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University in the Netherlands, and a study abroad scholarship to take summer classes at Copenhagen Business School.

“When the scholarships add up, it makes a really big impact,” she says. “Even if somebody receives only one or two scholarships, it goes a long way, especially with all the expenses that college entails. Just covering textbook costs is still something that makes a large difference in the life of a college student.”

The exposure to how other countries operate and how their citizens think dovetailed nicely with Suwanmanee’s global studies focus on Asia and its international politics, nation states and social movements.

Suwanmanee enjoying a Dutch delicacy during her 2020 exchange program experience.

“I want to work in the private sector and explore that area more after graduation,” she says. “Global studies are a great addition to business because in today’s world, business touches everything. We’re in such an interconnected world that you have to understand how the world works and how it functions to be a working individual and a person who can help contribute to society.”

Not only did Suwanmanee immerse herself in other countries, but she also took language courses at Carolina to prepare for a global career. She mastered five levels of Korean and studied Dutch for over a year. Add English to the Thai she learned from her mother’s side of the family and Chinese from her father’s side, and Suwanmanee is up to five languages that will enable her to continue navigating the world.

Suwanmanee seems to connect naturally with others, especially those who share similar interests.

As a global programs specialist in the Undergraduate Business Program (UBP), she worked with Sherri Carmichael, assistant director for UNC Kenan-Flagler’s GLOBE program, to launch the School’s Global Topics Speakers Series, which allows students to tell their stories and features guests such as Barbara Stephenson, Carolina’s vice provost for global affairs and chief global officer.

During the past four years, Suwanmanee’s outlook fit well with Carolina’s mix of resources and opportunities for students to find their passion and prepare themselves for the future. She encourages students to comb through websites, talk with people and build up a network to help find opportunities and scholarships.

“Carolina has a lot of resources that one might not know about,” she says. “You have to do research and search for opportunities and scholarships. There’s plenty out there.”

At UNC Kenan-Flagler, Suwanmanee was a member of the Dean’s Advancement Council and Carolina Women Business. She was a UBP student ambassador, a Carolina T.E.L.L.S. English-as-a second-language tutor, and a Refugee Community Partnership volunteer.

After graduation she had an internship with the National Basketball Association’s summer leadership program, working in global content and media distribution. In October 2021 she joined Procter & Gamble as a key account manager in customer business development in Bangkok.

With all the study, travel and interaction with people across campus, one key lesson resonates with Suwanmanee.

“The biggest thing was I learned how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” she says. “There were many moments where I had to challenge myself to figure out how to function in societies that are very different from typical American life. From the culture to daily life, the way things functioned over in Europe, it’s very different. It’s fascinating to learn more and integrate myself into a new culture.

“It’s surprising how many things you can learn about a different culture just by diving headfirst into it and going to a different place.”