Weekly Local Biography

  Jacquelyn Suter

It would be incorrect to label Jacquelyn Suter as a ‘rebel without a cause’ but she is a woman with a need to apply her talents in a positive way, but at this early stage in her Chiang Mai involvement, is unsure of her future direction.

She is American, born in Houston Texas, the only child of a barber. “I came from a distinctly uneducated squarely middle-class family,” she said. With that kind of background, it comes as no surprise that when she was 19, a young man came into her life who could take her away from the squarely middle-class. “He was a high energy person, interested in the arts and travel,” she said. This was enough to spark the latent needs in the young Jacquelyn and she teamed up with this exciting young man. “There was no option such as living together in those days, so we got married.”

Not only did they get married, but they moved from the warmth of Texas to the cold of Chicago, where her husband studied for his graduate degree. It needed neither a behavioural psychologist nor a crystal ball to predict that this was not the recipe for 50 years of marital bliss. “After six years, the marriage fell apart. I say that when my marriage ended, my life began.” He went to New York City and she went to California!

There, in those pre-Arnold Schwarzenegger Californian days was an environment where young Americans could try to ‘find themselves.’ Jacquelyn was one of them. “It was a wild and crazy place. It was excitement and intellectual stimulation, music and rock concerts. I was a part-time hippie.”

The other part of the time, she worked at the University of California Berkeley. After four years of rock concerts and intellectual stimulation, Jacquelyn felt that it was time she put her own intellect to good use. She became a Berkeley undergraduate, choosing the relatively new field of computer science as her major.

Jacquelyn found that instead of being all-consumed by computer science her love of the humanities returned, enrolling for courses in history, art, literature and philosophy.

She finished with a B.A. and a Masters in Rhetoric, and was enjoying academic life so much that she decided to go on to complete a Ph.D. She was able to get scholarships and took herself off to Paris to do Film Theory and Communication for 12 months.

On her return, she found that the American economy was changing. “I was poor, tired and burned out. I asked myself, do I want to go through to the PhD? Ultimately the answer was, no.”

Taking stock of her position, it was time to begin work. The interest in computers that had led her into the hallowed halls of academia was returning, so she went to Silicon Valley and got an entry-level management job in the young IT industry.

Looking at this from the outside, I think that Jacquelyn’s entry into the exciting world of IT, was probably very similar to her introduction to the exciting world of California. It was an industry that was ‘happening’ and growing, apparently unchecked, in all directions. It would have suited a one time ‘part-time hippie’ very well.

In fact, this was the case. Over the next 20 years Jacquelyn worked for all the big players in the IT stakes. In her last five years there she had risen to become a manager of her company’s Asian business partners for service quality. It was a job with responsibility and excitement, taking her to almost all countries in Asia, and was not without its financial rewards. Stock options were available for the high flyers, and Jacquelyn was there amongst them. “Before the bubble burst in 1999, you could see your stock escalating. At one stage (on paper) I was worth more than one million US dollars. You could watch the value doubling every year, thinking ahead and saying to yourself, it will be worth millions of dollars when I retire. But the bubble burst. The stock didn’t go down overnight, it was slowly going down. A reasonable response would have been to sell out (then). But those of us in the industry couldn’t believe that it could go down. You keep thinking that it is going to turn around.”

The factor that brought truth to the cold light of day were the lay-offs. “When the industry was going bad it was ruthless. We had to do two or three people’s jobs. I was stressed out and commuting two to three hours a day. After 20 years, I thought I am not having fun any longer, so I got out.”

Again Jacquelyn retraced her steps, this time back to teaching, but she could see that she would not be able to live at the standard she wanted on US teachers’ pay. With her knowledge of Asia she decided that Thailand would be her place. She liked the people, the stability and the climate, and so she made the move and here she is.

Her first year here, Jacquelyn taught Business English Communication at university level, but this year she is studying Thai and, well relaxing! Next year she will enter the work force again, looking for challenging and interesting opportunities in Chiang Mai. Jacquelyn has become interested in Thailand’s desire to enter the global economy and is fascinated by what she sees as that desire, on the one hand, and the strong traditional culture on the other. How do the two come together?

Like us all, she has found that the Thailand you see on the surface, and the ‘real’ Thailand can be contradictory, but again like us all, she will come to terms with Thai reality. Both good and bad. Another interest is consumerism and how this affects women. “I’m not sure at this point, but I’d like to be able to work with women in some way.”

I am sure you will, Jacquelyn, but just go ‘cha-cha’ for a little while!