This past summer, four Living Education alumni had the opportunity to serve the Living Church of God Foundation in Thailand. Charles Austin, Kaleb Johnson, Ellie McNair, and Harmony Talbott traveled to Mae Sot, Thailand, in early June, where they helped to teach English to more than 400 Thai children at the Thesaban Tambon Mae Ku School. We caught up with them to ask about some of the challenges, rewards, and surprises that met them on their adventure.
Ellie and Harmony were housed by Church brethren in Mae Sot, enjoying daily communal meals and interactions with God’s people. “While staying there, it was nice to have various meals together and watch the kids play during the evenings after school finished,” Ellie said. “Even with the language barrier, it was comforting to know there were those of like mind nearby.”
Harmony also highlighted the significance of meeting the local congregation members. “I enjoyed meeting the brethren in Mae Sot,” she said. “We often hear of congregations all over the world, but until you visit those places, it doesn’t fully sink in how vast and diverse the Body of Christ is. It’s encouraging to see that despite our different backgrounds, we have the common goal of striving to be part of God’s kingdom.”
For Kaleb, the Thai cuisine presented both challenges and rewards. Adjusting to the spicy and rice-heavy diet was tough initially, and he occasionally craved American food—but, over time, he adapted. In addition to culinary challenges, Kaleb and Charles faced an unexpected sleeping arrangement—a former hospital meeting room with windows on all doors, which flooded the room with light at night. “However,” Kaleb said, “all of this was manageable.”
Charles remarked on the friendliness of the people and their willingness to communicate in English, which made the adjustment smoother. The teaching experience, initially daunting, turned out to be manageable, thanks to the dedicated local teachers. “The teachers who were already there did a very good job leading the class,” Charles said. This collaborative approach, with local teachers translating, effectively bridged the language gap.
Ellie emphasized the uniqueness of being part of Living Education’s inaugural group of alumni teachers in Thailand. After arriving, they shadowed Thai teachers, assisting them in their classrooms. “As the weeks progressed,” she said, “we each settled into a routine of teaching the same students each day and developing tactics and methods to assist the teachers with their lessons.”
Harmony found herself grappling with the language barrier. This obstacle, however, turned into an opportunity for understanding, as it “helped me sympathize with the students who struggled,” she said. “I could understand their frustration in trying to learn something so foreign.” This immersion in a culture far removed from her own gave her unique insights into the struggles faced by her students. Interacting with both school staff and students, especially the first-graders, was particularly rewarding for her as she witnessed her students’ joy in the learning process.
Teaching was also rewarding for Kaleb, who found satisfaction in building relationships with Thai students and teachers. “I learned so much about how to maintain control of a classroom, keep a pace of learning, and to use as few words as possible while being as clear as possible,” he said, “which is especially important when the students do not speak much English!” He concluded confidently, “I will always remember and value this once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Charles concurred, adding that “the teaching was the most rewarding part. To work with the little kids, to see them getting English and having fun getting it—it’s like a proud-father moment.”
Exploring Thai culture and landmarks was also a significant part of the experience, from visiting temples in Bangkok to touring the Grand Palace. The four alumni also ventured to Chiang Mai, where they explored cultural sites such as the Royal Botanical Gardens and the night market. A highlight was their visit to an elephant farm. “Elephants are kept by the Karen people, who traditionally used them for heavy lifting in their jungle villages,” Ellie shared. They had the opportunity to care for, wash, and even ride these majestic creatures.
The dedication of these alumni to serving the Living Church of God Foundation, as well as their openness to experiencing a new culture, exemplify the spirit of godly service that made this opportunity truly life changing.