Jing Jing Piriyalertsak (C ‘23), from Bangkok, Thailand, first set foot in the United States during New Student Orientation freshman year. Ever since, she has definitely made her mark on campus. As writer for Penn’s oldest satire magazine Punchbowl Magazine, Jing Jing writes satirical pieces on dialogues she overhears on campus and “really bad puns,” but most importantly has found a community among her fellow writers. When she’s not in International Relations classes or engaging in policy discussions at the Perry World House, she’s running her International Relations meme instagram account @ir_unchained or embarking on SEPTA adventures with her friends all around Philly.
Name: Jing Jing Piriyalertsak
Hometown: Bangkok, Thailand
Major: International Relations
Minor: Classical Studies, History, Comparative Literature
Activities: Perry World House Student Fellows, Pennsylvania Punch Bowl, Gryphon Senior Society, Benjamin Franklin Scholars
What’s it like going to college across the world?
It's an adventure. I always knew that I wanted to use college as an opportunity to go into a new environment and then just figure out where to go from there. I thought going across the world and putting one or two oceans (depending on which side of the world you fly around) between myself and everything I knew would be the best opportunity for growth.
I constantly ask myself whether most of my growth at Penn has come from being in college or just living in the U.S. because I had literally never come to the U.S. before coming to Penn. My first time setting foot on these shores was NSO. I think, since coming to Penn, I've learned to trust my own thinking. At Penn, I've learned multiple modes of thinking that have allowed me to trust my judgment and how I comprehend the world and in turn, better understand how the world comprehends what I think.
What prompted you to get involved in Pennsylvania Punch Bowl? What do you love most about writing for the magazine?
For people that don't know, Pennsylvania Punchbowl is Penn's oldest satire magazine. It's actually also one of the oldest satire magazines in the country. It was founded in 1899. I went to Punchbowl because a friend that I had met at NSO was going to that activity and I just followed her there and it stuck around. It was just a really chill and fun atmosphere compared to the rest of the pre–professional stuff going on at Penn. By junior year, we became co–editors. It’s been a nice ride.
I mostly just write really bad puns. My favorite things to write are satire pieces on dialogues at Penn so you know those devil's advocate you find in your recitations or just the general BS that Penn sends out through its so–called official announcements. My favorite part about this is that by writing satire, it allows me to more critically think about the society and the greater world that I live in and why people talk the way they do and why I react the way I do.
Tell us about your interest in International Relations.
I came to Penn as a History major concentrating in economic history because throughout middle school and high school, my favorite thing to read was The Economist, mostly because they have really punny titles and I thought it was really funny that they use that about world affairs. I came in as a history major and then I realized that I didn't want to commit to taking that many classes in a single department. I was also interested in learning about world events through an interdisciplinary lens. So I've taken classes in the comparative literature department, the economics department, and Wharton. Basically, I'm just really fascinated by chaos. The world is a very chaotic place and International Relations was the best way for me to understand that.
What is @ir_unchained?
@ir_unchained is my International Relations meme account that is in no way affiliated with the Penn International Relations Department. It may be followed by people in the IR department including some of the lecturers and the professors, but it is in no way officially affiliated with the Penn IR department. I think that International Relations is kind of a depressing thing to study, especially now, because the world is just a depressing place sometimes. I really enjoy comedy and I really like policy research. So I decided to combine the two things I love most—policy and memes—into one thing.
How did you choose your three minors (Comparative Literature, History, and Classical Studies) and why do they interest you?
I didn't actually plan these minors. I only literally realized I could get these minors last semester because I came into Penn as a history major and took a lot of history classes, so the history minor just came naturally. With Comparative Literature and Classical Studies, I did not expect to take that many classes in those departments because I came to Penn being very sick of the basic Western canon formed with old white men. I remember telling my pre–major advisor, when I first came to Penn, that I didn’t want to study anything that happened before the invention of nuclear bombs. But, I took a class in my sophomore year called History of Literary Criticism taught by Rita Copeland, which goes from Plato through St. Augustine through Foucault and Said. I just fell in love with the idea of trying to understand how we understand text because ultimately everything we understand comes from text and words. I'm just obsessed with words. I also just think it's funny to tell white people that I think their culture is really exotic and that's why I study it. So that's another reason why. Overall, I’m interested in how humans have understood ideas, and I think it all just ties together.
Can you tell me about your involvement in the Perry World House?
Perry World House, besides Punchbowl, is my favorite thing that I do on campus. I started as a fellow in my sophomore year and I've kept with it since. It gave me the final push to become an International Relations major because I just loved the policy discussions and I was so inspired by the speakers that they bring to campus. We get to talk to a lot of the speakers that they bring in and interview them for research projects. That's just been incredibly significant for how I progressed as a student and just how I think about the world in general.
Where on campus have you found the best sense of community?
I’ve found a community in many little pockets on campus. I've tried to find new communities every single semester on campus, which is a challenge since I think at Penn, a lot of people get comfortable with the social circles that they formed. Punchbowl is one of my communities. I also find community in random groups of friends that congregate together. My favorite thing is when I'm talking to one of my friends and then someone will come along that I know and I'll say hi and then it turns out my friend will say hi as well even though we're in completely different places. Honestly, I think I find community in the unexpected.
What are some of your favorite things to do in your free time?
I really liked to make oddly specific playlists. Also, since quarantine. I've been compiling a list of over 200 puns.
Since you’re a senior now, when you look back at your time at Penn, does any particular moment stand out?
This past spring break definitely stands out. I just got back from Geneva with Perry World House. We visited the UN and other organizations there and every time we got out of a meeting, we would just immediately discuss what we thought of the speaker and ask each other questions about whatever the speaker had just said. I think those are my favorite moments because it's what I expected college to be about. Just a lot of intellectual learning and questioning those who come before you.
My whole mission at Penn is to take big questions and try to break them down into sentences and modes of thinking that are accessible to myself and others. I think one of the problems we have is that we tend to be intimidated by ideas that seem scary, but I think everyone should at least try or have the chance to encounter them and try to understand them for themselves.
What’s next for you after Penn?
I’m going back to Thailand to find myself. I feel like that’s a very American college thing to say. I know I’m going to some form of grad school at some point, but I want to spend some time fixing my head back on before I do.
No–skip song? “Hey” by Pixies
Favorite book? “Bluets” by Maggie Nelson
Early bird or night owl? Early Bird
Favorite spot for food near campus? Yunnan rice noodles in Chinatown.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? I've been to 23 countries and I’m trying to figure out which one would be my 24th. I'm not going to name a specific place, but I would really like to be in a forest or somewhere in the woods.
Give us your best pun: An anthropomorphic allegory for healthcare access: Animal Pharm
There are two types of people at Penn… People who complain about not having anything to do in Philly and people who use SEPTA regularly.
And you are? Definitely SEPTA. I also collect SEPTA merch. That’s how big of a SEPTA fan girl I am.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.