By Brian Lee TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
STURBRIDGE — A 31-year-old native of Thailand is making the most of her opportunities here.
Rosarin Mafoo of Chaing Rai is a student in an adult international studies program, and through it, was able to become part owner of a Thai restaurant in Attleboro.
Ms. Mafoo has been living in Sturbridge since April 2008, when she became an au pair nanny for a local family. That opportunity ended in 2010, but her host allowed her to remain in the home so that she could pursue her studies. After that, Ms. Mafoo said, she decided to change her visa status to an international student and started to study English full time.
Ms. Mafoo went to a couple of schools before she enrolled at the Computer Systems Institute on Mechanic Street in Worcester in early 2013. She joined more than 150 students from 90 countries at the institute, an English-as-a-Second-Language and skill-building program that also offers customer service and hospitality industry programs. It opened in the city in 2012 and also has a site in Charlestown and five in Illinois. According to Kenneth Jobity, campus president of the Worcester and Charlestown campuses, the students are a driven group who have amassed a cumulative grade point average of 3.25 on a 4-point scale during the past two quarters.
Mr. Jobity said Ms. Mafoo is “one of the best students you can have in the classroom. Academically she’s been successful. For the most part, her overall attitude and persona is just great.”
After completing the yearlong ESL program, Ms. Mafoo enrolled in hospitality industry, requiring her to be in class 10 hours a week until September and to hold a job.
Through the program, Ms. Mafoo said, she learned what she needed to open Sala Café in Attleboro in September. She is one of three partners who took over the business after the previous owner retired. They picked the location, she said, because it’s across the street from a hospital and is in a neighborhood of factories and office buildings. Attleboro has no other Thai restaurant, she said.
Mr. Jobity said Ms. Mafoo “took exactly what we taught in the classroom and applied it to her professional life.” Ms. Mafoo said the harsh winter made for a difficult first several months, but business began to increase in March. To cut down on all the driving, Ms. Mafoo, who previously worked at a Thai restaurant in Putnam, Connecticut, said she is sharing an apartment in Attleboro with one of her business partners. Lack of familiarity with local regulations and not having much money to invest were the trio’s biggest obstacles in the beginning, she said.
Prior to opening, Ms. Mafoo said, she used to sell some of her belongings — mostly women’s clothing bags and shoes — online as a means of becoming more business-minded. It helped her communicate with customers in the United States “to see how they talk about business” and “to see how doing business in the U.S. was, as a hobby.”
Ms. Mafoo said she came to America because she viewed it as a land of opportunity and wanted to improve her English. In today’s world, she said, English is used everywhere, including her home country. But in Thailand, she didn’t have the chance to speak English daily. She said she told her parents and sister, who’s three years older, “I’ll go there and try, and if I can’t, I’ll just come back.”
Asked if she’s here to stay, after opening the restaurant, she said, “I’m not sure about that yet. As long as there’s still something for me to learn, and an opportunity for me to start to do things here, I’ll try to do it as much as I can.” She said she has a secondary interest of hotel management and eventually would like to pursue that field as well. Ms. Mafoo said she also has a fulfilling social life here in the States. “Especially the first two years, when I was an au pair,” and studied just part time.
“I did a lot of hanging out, traveling, site-seeing,” she said. “I love road trip. I’d call up many friends to get together and rent car or cars to go to Washington, D.C., Niagara Falls, or fly over and rent a car.”
Her Sturbridge host, John Howland Jr., was also complimentary, noting that, besides checking the oil in Ms. Mafoo’s car, she’s taken care of most things on her own. “She’s somewhat quiet, but very hard-working,” he said. “It’s not like I show her how to do stuff. She figures it out through the Internet and just her gumption to get it done.” He added, “She can stay here forever.”