He was granted a private scholarship to study English and other
foundation courses in preparation for graduate school, but
Anusorn Kunanusorn felt like he was in jail rather than in
college. He was the only Thai person at Illinois College in the
United States, and the only way he could communicate in his own
language was to write letters or read. But Illinois College had
a lot of experience with foreign students, and he soon found
himself living with an American couple, two professors, both of
whom held doctorate degrees. And he soon found himself thinking
of them as his American mom and dad.
His “dad” was a musician, and his
“mom” was a linguist. Anusorn learned to speak English
quickly and quite well. His adopted home was highly organized.
Meals were served at 7 a.m., 12 noon and 6 p.m. sharp. No junk
television was allowed – no bad movies, no soap operas, no
shoot ‘em up cowboy shows. The family talked about everything,
and Anusorn soaked it all up. He soon discovered that his German
mom’s aunt had won a Nobel Prize in biology and her uncle had
been awarded the same prize in chemistry. He says that he was so
impressed that his knees went weak! Obviously he thrived.
He was born in Chiang Mai. His family had
come from Lamphun so that their children would have better
educational opportunities. He attended Prince Royal’s College,
then entered Chiang Mai University and graduated with a degree
in economics. He taught at Payap University, and was happy to
have the opportunity to study abroad. He learned English in
Illinois, and stayed in the U.S. to complete both a master’s
and a Ph.D. in finance. Finance seems to run in the family. His
Thai-Chinese father was part of the traditional Chinese banking
He completed both of his graduate degrees at
the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi. How he got
to this tiny town was a mystery to me, so I asked. A friend, an
educator, had studied there. She recommended it for a variety of
reasons. It was not too expensive and the climate was good, it
didn’t get either too cold or too dry. Most importantly,
though, Anusorn didn’t like big cities. He reasoned that in a
small town, you aren’t distracted so you study. And he wanted
There were thirteen other Thai people at the
university, most studying education and political science. And
even though he had studied at Illinois, he was not prepared for
the southern United States’ obsession with football. On
Saturday afternoons, the whole campus came alive with massive
traffic jams, tailgate parties, music blasting out of the
stadium and the cheers of the crowd. He learned about crawfish
and barbeque, but still went to neighboring Memphis, Tennessee
every month to buy Asian groceries. He became an expert tour
guide for visitors, showing them Beale Street and its jazz clubs
and Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley. Back in Oxford, he
witnessed a Ku Klux Klan parade. He had good professors. As he
neared the completion of his studies, he had some lucrative job
offers. When it was all over, though, degrees in hand, he came
home to Thailand and went back to Payap to teach.
In 1991 he was a Fulbright scholar and taught
in Washington State for a year. He was the only Asian professor,
but his business courses were always full. APEC and ASIAN were
unknown to American students, and he was determined to add Asia
to their vocabularies. Back in Chiang Mai again, he organized
his university classes for study tours in the United States.
At Payap he gradually rose through the
academic ranks until he became the Vice President of Academic
Affairs as well as Planning and Development. When his mentor and
friend, Dr. Amnuay Tapingkae retired, he, too, left the
university for Bangkok and a very lucrative contract.
A luxurious condominium and a car and driver
were part of the perks. It was a lifestyle that many would envy.
But Anusorn doesn’t like big cities, and he missed Chiang Mai.
Most of all, though, he knew that big business was not for him.
So when the search committee at McKean Rehabilitation Center
called him, he was happy to leave it all and come home. We’re
glad he did. That was ten years ago, and he had his work cut out
McKean was not a hospital at that time, but
was classified as a special treatment unit for the treatment and
rehabilitation of Hansen’s Disease, leprosy. Leprosy was still
highly stigmatizing. The disease had long been curable through
the use of an antibiotic regimen, and the staff had developed
both surgical procedures and prosthetic devices to help overcome
the disabling effects of nerve damage.
Anusorn set about upgrading everything to
meet the Ministry of Public Health’s requirements as a charter
hospital. Being a charter hospital would mean insurance
reimbursements, qualification for government funding,
recognition of staff and important credibility. The staff did
such a good job that when the Ministry sent its inspectors, they
accredited sixty beds instead of the anticipated thirty. Little
by little, step by step, Anusorn has worked with staff and
outside agencies to solve the financial stressors at what is now
known as McKean Hospital. As a finance person, he knows that the
hospital must become a sustainable institution to survive.
Dr. Anusorn Kunanusorn says that it’s time
to eradicate the stigma of leprosy. To do that he encourages
tours. One local guide leads bicycle tours and cycles through
the grounds with entire groups. He knows the history so well
that no staff has to accompany him. But staff can arrange tours
for other groups. And your understanding of McKean Hospital and
its history will help eradicate the misperceptions about leprosy
that still abound. When you’re there, don’t forget to stop
by the gift shop for a sample of the lovely crafts made by
former patients. You will be amazed.