By Libby Hopkins

The Brandon Rotary Club welcomed Panuwat Kositworawut, an exchange student from Khon Kaen, Thailand this past August. Panuwat, or “Not” as he likes to be called, is part of the Rotary Youth Exchange program and is staying with his host family, Mike and Tammie Hebert, of Lithia, for one year. They are thrilled to have him and be a part of the program.

“The exchange program is a well respected program and it’s sponsored by the State Department, so it’s like Not’s a mini ambassador for Thailand,”Hebert said. “I think he is very brave to come to a new county.” The Hebert’s son is currently a schoolteacher in Thailand and they were pleased that the Thai community accepted their son and made him feel welcomed, so they wanted to return the favor by accepting Not into their home.

The Rotary Youth Exchange program  promotes diplomacy through cultural exchange. More than 8,000 students from nearly 100 countries participate in the program each year. High school students aged 15-18 may apply for the program which provides students with the opportunity to spend a year in another country to learn the language, discover the culture and develop their own personal skills.

Not is attending Newsome High School and he is very interested in playing football even though he is 5 foot 6 and weighs 130. “I had never played football before, but I asked the coach if I could and he said to watch for a week and then the next week I could play,” Not said. School is very different for him as well; in Thailand he attends an all-male boarding school that is supported by the King of Thailand. “He has to give up a year of school to come here and nothing that he learns will transfer back to his school,” Tammie Hebert said. “He is here for the cultural experience, but we told him he still has to do well in school.” Mike Hebert said the one thing he wants Not to learn while he is here is the English language because he will have more opportunities when he returns to Thailand if he can speak English. Not wants to learn as much as he can while he is here in the states. “I want to learn English and about the culture and play football,” Not said. “I want to be able to take over my father’s business someday.” Not also wants to become a member of the Rotary club in his home country.

For more information on the Rotary Youth Exchange program, visit the Rotary International Website at


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Libby Hopkins has been a part of the Brandon community for more than 30 years. She is a graduate of USF with a degree in journalism. She has been a freelance writer for The Osprey Observer Newspaper since 2008. She also the Executive Director of Center Place Fine Arts and Civic Association. She is a dog mom to her rescue dog, Marshall. She loves being a part of the Brandon Community and she loves sharing positive news about our community.