Some people dream all their lives of spending time living and working in an exotic foreign country; others — like Kendall Rice, a 2008 graduate of Spring Hill High School — find themselves doing so almost on a whim.
Rice recently returned from spending eight months in Bangkok, Thailand. While there she worked as a teacher at the Palace School, where her students were members of the royal family and children of high-ranking government officials.
“I loved everything about it,” Rice said. “It was an absolutely wonderful adventure in an incredibly gorgeous place.”
Rice hadn’t really planned on teaching over
seas after she graduated from Baylor in May 2012, but several of her friends had applied for the program, and she decided to go ahead and toss her hat into the ring, too. Almost before she knew it, she’d been offered a position to teach in Thailand.
In Thailand, she lived in an apartment with seven other teachers who were recent graduates of Baylor. It was about 45 minutes away from the school where they taught; a van delivered them to and from work.
“The biggest adjustment was the heat and humidity,” Rice said. “Even though I’m from Texas, I wasn’t prepared for the temperature and conditions there.”
While some buildings in Bangkok do have air conditioning, the school where she taught was cooled by open windows and fans. She also had to adjust to wearing skirts and closed-toe shoes while working.
“I didn’t speak any Thai before I went over and, while I learned a little, even after being there for eight months I’m not very good at it,” Rice said. “It’s a tonal language, which means the same words can mean different things, depending on the tone of your voice when you say them; so that makes it more difficult to learn than many other languages.”
She co-taught third grade English with a native of Thailand named Nammon. Rice said Nammon’s last name was so long and difficult to pronounce that, even though they became close friends, she never knew quite how to spell or say it.
“Nammon spoke fluent English, so she could help me if I ran into problems getting a concept across to the kids,” Rice said. “The children were well-behaved, but the classrooms in Thailand seemed like organized chaos to me at first.”
Getting used to living in Bangkok, which has a population similar in size to New York’s, was also quite an adjustment for a woman who’d spent all her life in either Longview or Waco. However, being able to meet Thai people and become immersed in their culture was worth any inconvenience, she said.
“They are the most genuine, accommodating culture I’ve ever been a part of,” Rice said. “They are very respectful of other people’s beliefs and willing to help anybody, including foreigners, in any way they can.”
Although Thailand is a primarily Buddhist nation, Rice said she never felt persecuted or intimidated because of her Christian faith. She was cautioned, however, that her role as a teacher couldn’t include any attempts at evangelization.
“Thai people are very spiritual and very family-oriented,” Rice said. “Foreigners are welcome to visit the temples, which are beautiful and tranquil, without being required to take part in the rituals or services going on there.”
The only time Rice said she felt deeply homesick was at Christmas. The holiday isn’t celebrated much in Thailand and, to the extent that it is, it’s purely a commercial gift-giving occasion with virtually no mention of the religious significance. The country’s main festival is Songkran in April, which was beginning just as she was leaving to return to the United States.
“While I’m planning to spend the next couple of years teaching in East Texas, I also hope to teach abroad again at some point,” Rice said. “It was an incredible experience.”