From refugee camp to U.S. Marines

Kyaw Lay enjoys some time with his friends. The refugee from Thailand has a bit of advice for those who wish to close our borders to those who need refuge the most: “Immigrants are people who want to escape hardships so they are willing put in more work than people who grow up with the privilege because they don’t know the hardships an immigrant may face.”

From a refugee camp in Thailand to Utica, N.Y., Kyaw Lay has traveled a long road in the last 18 years. He’s now ready to graduate from high school and looks forward to his next step in life – becoming a U.S. Marine.

You were born in a refugee camp in Thailand. Do you remember what it was like there?

It’s a bad place to grow up in because the condition is unsanitary and with little technologies or medicine to help people from disease. 

Your family came to the United States in 2008. Was it a difficult decision to leave their native land?

It’s was difficult because there are many things and food that are not in the United States (as they were in Thailand), and when we first came we didn’t know what it would be like in the United States, what the language and the food will be like.

Your family settled in Utica. What do you think about our city and what are your thoughts about living in the United States?

I think the city of Utica is the best place to live because it’s diverse with many nationalities, cultures and foods. My thoughts of living in the United States is that it’s a great place to live in because there’s no civil war going on and you are given an opportunity to learn and start your own business or the careers you want to do.

Has it been a difficult transition for your family?

It was in the beginning, but as time goes by we got use to it.

Do you have any advice for those who wish to close our borders to different immigrant groups?

My advice is that immigrants are people who want to escape hardships so they are willing put in more work than people who grow up with the privilege because they don’t know the hardships an immigrant may face.

You like to cook? How did you end up getting interested in that?

I like to cook because cooking is like art, and the taste of the food is amazing. I ended up getting interested in cooking by watching people cook and learning from them.

After you graduate in June from Thomas R. Proctor High School, you are going to boot camp and become a U.S. Marine. Why did you decide to join the military?

I decided to join the military because I want to experience what it will be like and I want to serve the country. After the military, I will use the 9/11 GI bill to attend college.

What does your family think of that decision?

My parents approve of it because it’s something I always wanted to do growing up.

You’re a parishioner of Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament and sometimes sing with a group in your native language. What does our parish mean to you?

The parish is a place where I can be close to God and pray.

How has faith affected your life?

Faith affects me by giving me an opportunity to help others and see and experience new places that I will never imagine I could see.

What are your plans for the future and what do you hope you can accomplish?

To become someone big in the future who could help the environment and the people.