Pensiri and her Korean friend.
Pensiri is the first Thai student to make it to the finals of this Chinese-language proficiency competition. She says that's probably because doesn't give up too easily. The competition was first held on a national level on June 23. Thai youngsters have been taking part in this competition for six years now.
She only had month to prepare for the competition, even though other students were given a whole year. This was because there were no volunteers from her university and she had to step up. After all, sheis a top student with a 3.97 grade point average and has been studying Chinese for seven years now.
And, Pensiri says, she did not let the difficulty of the task at hand deter her.
"What place I got wasn't important. I knew I had to do my best because I was representing my university," says Pensiri, a fourth-year student at the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce.
In the national competition, contestants had to give two speeches in Chinese - one on "Olympics 2008" and the other on a topic given later. They also had to be able to answer questions about the mainland and its culture. Pensiri said that to prepare, she started reading books about China and drafted a speech about the Olympic torch - how it brings friendship and unity.
"I never thought to look beyond what I was taught in class until the competition. Then I was pushed to develop my knowledge. At least, I got to read a lot more," she says.
She beat representatives from about 10 universities in Thailand before making it to the finals. She said that she had to rewrite her speech with help from her lecturers for the finals.
"After the national competition I learned that I had to improve my speech, make it more natural so the audience would understand my feelings," says Pensiri, who once thought she hated the Chinese language but is now falling in love with it.
She was competing against representatives from 52 countries, including the US, France, Indonesia and South Korea. The world competition was divided into two rounds, the semi-final and the finals, which were broadcast live on television.
The competitors had to battle for hundred points, of which 60 were given for the speech, 30 for the quiz and 10 for performance. Though Pensiri had the same topic for the speech in the finals, she had to remember the answers to some 400 questions sent by the Chinese Language Council International in China for the quiz. The questions were about Chinese economics, history, politics and culture. Only two of these 400 questions were picked and each contestant had 10 seconds to respond. For the performance section, Pensiri chose to sing a song in Chinese.
"I don't worry too much about anything and told myself before leaving that 'I had the chance to have fun and open my views in China'. I never thought of awards or going through to the final round," she says.
However, being faced by all those competitors scared her a bit and she nearly quit.
"If you look at them from the back and listen to their voices, you would think they are Chinese. They were so smart and their accents were so great. I started to worry and nearly walked out," she explains.
However, when her aunt, who accompanied her to China, said, "if you are depressed, we can go back to the room, pack our bags and go home", she changed her mind.
"I don't know what happened after I heard those words. I just knew I couldn't go home because I hadn't completed my duty."
So, she decided to spend some time on her own and calm down before her turn. "Almost 20 judges were staring at me, looking for faults in me. But I continued smiling."
Finally, her name was announced. She was one of the 20 finalists.
"I feel like I have achieved something. There's nothing to worry about anymore. I can handle things better," she says.
Pensiri has won a language scholarship in China along with a month-long field trip to the 2008 Olympics.
However, she doesn't believe the win made such a big difference. She just considers it a great experience.
"If I think I've been successful, I'll feel like I'm standing at the same place and haven't moved forward. Others will outpace me.
"I think I should win a friendship award, though," she laughs. "I have made many friends and they plan to visit Thailand this December. I'll be their guide."
Her world is clearly wider now.
But she remains humble.
"There are many things I still have to learn."
By Suwicha Chanitnun