Kal Phan

Kal Phan, born in Laos, escaped to Thailand, high school principal for Sacramento City Unified School District and currently living in Sacramento, California.

Video Timeline

Note: To listen to a specific clip, move the slider on the video to the designated clip time listed below.

00:00 Introduction

00:41 – Clip 1
Kal explains his name, a shortened version of his given name. His name Sei originates from China and is a prefix given to ethnic minorities originally from Thailand.

01:53 – Clip 2
Explains that he lived in Laos until he was 10 years old. When he was 1, his family had to escape from communists to the Burma/Thailand border. Farming was much different than in their homeland.

09:38 – Clip 3
Remembers that his parents did not express fear of communists to their children nor did they inform them of their escape plans.

10:17 – Clip 4
Describes his birth village as a 2-hour walk from the Mekong River, which was seen as an obstacle. It took three attempts to escape. Having few belongings made it easier to pack and attempt to escape. Kal’s dad took charge of a group of 30-40 fellow villagers.

21:46 – Clip 5
Describes first refugee camp and having to build their 20′ X 20′ hut for 12 people. Camp located near lake, which was very unsanitary due to mosquitos and led to many deaths in camp. He remembers a funeral a day, including his grandmother’s.

26:47 – Clip 6
Explains Thai government didn’t want political refugees as part of Thai community, so kept them confined to camp. Talks about his first experience with education and learning Thai.

29:34 – Clip 7
Talks about that even without modern day luxuries, he and his family were self-sufficient in Laos. But in the Thai refugee camp, they were completely dependent on food distribution, etc.

37:03- Clip 8
Recounts staying six months in the first refugee camp. While in second camp, his uncle was able to go the U.S. because of his high-ranking position in the military. Explains that Mien people had no concept of outside, modern worlds and feared coming to America, based on folklore myths. Describes his family’s journey from Bangkok to U.S. (Alabama), through sponsorship of his uncle.

42:25 – Clip 9
Explains how the Mien people used a lunar calendar instead of a birth certificate to determine their ages. Kal therefore registered for school as a “15 year old.” Due to limited learning opportunities in refugee camps, he was placed in a 3rd grade class. Describes his journey to California –  and high school – and on to U.C. Berkeley.

46:35 – Clip 10
Recalls how the district curriculum specialists took interest in his family while he was in 3rd grade (Alabama) where he found math to be easy because there was no language difference. However, he realized that he always got the problems wrong because he couldn’t follow the instructions.

58:51 – Clip 11
Remembers how he would stay up until 2 a.m. studying. His parents didn’t understand why he was doing this because of the differences in culture. He further recalls how his aspirations grew in high school and that listening to the morning announcements, read by a Vietnamese student, inspired him to move past his goal of just learning English and to create his own path to college.

1:04:31 – Clip 12
Explains the difficulties he had in supporting his family while on welfare and at the same time wanting to live the “life” at U.C. Berkeley. Also mentions difficulties he faced from being in the country for only five years.

1:10:54 – Clip 13
Reflects about being undecided as to what he wanted to do after college. He majored in Asian Studies due to his interest in Mien people. It was his Southeast Asian Studies professor who suggested that Kal become a teacher.

1:17:15 – Clip 14
Describes how his parents were on welfare and worked as janitors, but would never allow them to go hungry. He also describes the educational paths of his sisters and their successful careers.

1:18:55 – Clip 15
Explains the diversity of student populations, and the abilities of individuals to motivate themselves, which is often overlooked by educators.

1:22:20 – Credits

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