I met Jenny or Jenjira Staldemann, a young half-Thai-half-Swiss badminton player, in August 2019 at the Badminton World Championship in Basel. At the time, Jenny volunteered to coordinate for our Ambassador and Embassy staff to go support Thai badminton players at courtside at the event.
When I first saw this young lady, somehow I felt immediately intrigued to find out who she was because she was one of the top-ranked Swiss badminton players, and yet spoke perfect Thai, looked very Thai, and carried the signature “Thai Smile” on her face.
So I recently reached out to Jenny to get to know more about her and her life as a Swiss badminton player. The interview was indeed interesting as it gave me a reflection of the life of hundreds of half-Thai kids living in Switzerland. As this year marks the 90th anniversary of Thailand – Switzerland diplomatic relations, I also hope that this story can represent the close people-to-people relationship between our two countries.
Here is the excerpt from my interview with Jenny, Jenjira Stadelmann.
So, Jenny, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Yes, my name is Jenjira Stadelmann, or Jenny. I am 21 years old. I am a Swiss national badminton player, currently ranked no. 2 in Switzerland in women’s single, no. 3 in women’s double and no. 6 in mixed double.
But you are Thai? How did you manage to become a Swiss badminton player?
“I am both Swiss and Thai. My father is Swiss and my mother is from Thailand. I was born in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and lived there with my parents and an older brother until 2016, when I moved to Switzerland to pursue a career in badminton.“
How did you get into playing badminton for the Swiss national team then?
My family is a sports family. Our parents always support us with sports. My brother was a football player and so was I. Then I tried many different competitive sports, such as swimming and track and field, and I fell in love with badminton. It was during 2016 that I came to Switzerland for a summer vacation with my Dad. I was just 16, going on 17. My Dad signed me up to a badminton camp at Sportschule Appenzellerland. I attended this camp for 5 days and was scouted by a badminton club. They offered to sign me to the club and we decided to take the offer and I moved to Switzerland that same year with my father. My mother and brother still live in Thailand now.
You grew up mostly in Thailand so was it difficult to adjust to the life in Switzerland in your first few years?
Yes, it was a bit difficult for me. When I moved to Switzerland, my family decided to put me up with a host family and back then I spoke no German so I had to take German lessons. After 6 months of learning German, I stopped communicating with anyone at school. The school called a meeting with my coaches, language teachers, and my family, and found out what happened. It turned out that I was too afraid to speak because I did not want to be embarrassed when I made mistakes. But after that things got better and I became more comfortable speaking the language.
Can you tell me your experience training to become a Swiss national badminton player?
Yes, it took a lot of training, although I was fortunate that I first started out in the junior circuit and became no. 1 in Switzerland very quickly. Maybe it was because there were not so many players back then. At the professional level, though, there are many good players and a lot of competition to be at the top. So today I have to train very hard full-time from Monday – Friday, 4-5 hours each day. It is tough but I do it for the love of the sport.
What do you like about the sport and what are your most memorable badminton moments or events?
I love badminton because it is the kind of sport that requires you to use all parts of your body, and most importantly your brain. I have been competing in a lot of tournaments both in Switzerland and internationally. My best results came last year at the Swiss National Championships when I was runner-up in singles and won women’s double title for the second year in a roll. I feel very proud of myself that I have worked hard to get to where I am.
What do you think is the most important factor for your success in your badminton career?
“My family, definitely. Without their support I would never have gotten here. I owe everything to my family and those around me who have given me tremendous support all these years.“
Do you think your Thainess contributes a lot to your success as a badminton player?
Yes, for sure. I consider myself very Thai. My mother taught me to always smile even in the face of difficulties. So I can always stay positive no matter what situation I am facing. I also think being respectful to others is also a Thai quality that has helped me to be where I am today.
Finally, what are your plans for the future? How long do you plan to play badminton and what are your other professional interests?
“I want to keep improving and playing badminton until I no longer can. After badminton, I would like to do something that involves animals and forest. It has always been my dream to work with nature.”
Jenny’s story is just one of many more stories of half-Thai-half-Swiss children, who live in a mixed culture environment in Switzerland. It has made me confident about two things. First, that Switzerland is a welcoming and tolerant place for those who work hard and contribute to the society. Second, thousands of Thais, including those of Thai descent, who live in Switzerland are contributing greatly to the Swiss society. They are therefore considered as our ambassadors who will help to nurture the Thai – Swiss relations for many more generations to come.
I am proud to be working at the Thai Embassy in Bern to help support and strengthen the Thai community in Switzerland, and pleased to be part of the celebrations of the 90th anniversary of this special friendship.
Royal Thai Embassy, Bern