Family, teachers, friends mourn the loss of an exchange student who drowned in the US


PHITSANULOK, Thailand – In July last year, Sirawich “Jo” Chantaburanan, 18, a Matayom 5 student of Phitsanulok Pittayakom School English Program excitedly left for the United Sates of America for the Rotary Club exchange program. In few weeks time, he together with the other 7 Thai students who took part in the program was due to return home.

But a tragic accident on Tuesday, June 6, will send Jo home much earlier than expected to a heartbroken family, teachers, friends, and classmates. He drowned while trying to save his friend at a beach in North Carolina.

Carl Hill, coordinator for local Rotary International Youth Exchange in Pennsylvania, said  Chantaburanan went out into the water on his boogie board to urge one of the other boys to come back toward the shore. While the other boy he tried to save came back safely, Chantaburanan was taken by the riptide and disappeared.

Peerawas Chinarakbamrung, one of Jo’s best friends in school who has also been an exchange student in the US, said the news was definitely shocking and heartbreaking. “At first I could hardly take that my best friend was gone and I was still hoping that the rescuers will find him alive. Last night, when the news confirmed that Jo’s really dead, I was totally devastated.”

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On Thursday, tributes from family, teachers, and friends flooded Chantaburanan’s Facebook page.

“We had been through a lot of things, whenever it was good or bad but you were always there for me,” Nattanit Chalermwisutkul said in a post. “We made a lot of great memories together that I won’t be able to forget. I still can’t believe that this is the truth. The thing that you have done is the bravest thing I had ever seen in my life. I’m so proud of you and I’m sure that everyone is proud of you too,” he added.

Natthanit is also an exchange student in the US coming from Phitsanulok Pittayakom School. 

Jo’s host father also paid a tribute in a statement which said, “he didn’t know life could be so bright until Jo came into his life” and added: ” He taught me wisdom and patience through his own grace. He was the brightest light my eyes ever witnessed and will try to hold his light inside me until my last day.”

In a post on its official FB page, Phitsanulok Pittayakom School’s ASEAN Center posted: “Today, we mourn as we learned the tragic news of Jo’s sudden demise. He will always be remembered as one of the most polite and sweetest students by his teachers and best friend among his peers and classmates. His smiles and his positive attitude towards others will always be cherished.

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Lorenzo Caballes, Jr.
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Lorenzo Caballes, Jr.

Lorenzo is a full time English Language Teacher to high school students in Phitsanulok. He reads and travels for self-enrichment. He also writes at where he shares his struggles and joys of being a teacher in Thailand for almost a decade now.