Baylor 'Thais' to teaching abroad

June 3, 2004

When Alathea Sloan woke in the morning, her first sight of the day often would be of a scaly face. Lizards, like sweltering summer afternoons and street vendors, are common in Thailand, where she spent most of last year teaching as part of a unique program for Baylor graduates.

About 64 million people live in this South Asian country that is roughly twice the size of Wyoming. In Bangkok and Sloan's former home in Lampang, gold-leafed Buddhist temples dot the cityscape and the purr of motorcycles is ubiquitous. From her townhouse, Sloan, BA '03, enjoyed mountainous views and could walk to Yonok College, a private, four-year institution, where she taught four classes a day in English, American culture, psychology and linguistics.

The 22-year-old daughter of Baylor President Robert B. Sloan Jr. grew up in Central Texas and earned her degree from Baylor in religion and literature as a University Scholar. Moving halfway around the world brought challenges as she struggled to converse in a foreign language and visited towns where many had never seen a white person. She once locked herself out of her apartment and had to yell for help from the roof using the only Thai she knew -- words for "hello" and "thank you."

Sloan learned of the Thai teaching program in her senior year from classmate Blake Pearson, BBA '03, and they both ended up teaching at Yonok. It was a decision, though, that took much consideration and prayer, Sloan says.

"It showed me a lot about following God's will and being obedient. After I made that decision [to go to Thailand], everything else was so easy. Once you're obedient, [God] takes care of [you]," she says. "My whole life there [was] a quiet time. I was constantly learning things about myself."

Sloan, who returned to the States in March, is one of 74 Baylor graduates who have taught in the 15-year-old program that grew out of a friendship between Kay Mueller, senior lecturer in sociology, and Anghkab Punishithi, the director of the Chitralada Palace School in Bangkok. The sociology professor met Punishithi on Mueller's first trip to Thailand in 1990, and Mueller later encouraged Punishithi to send her daughter to Baylor's Hankamer School of Business to earn a master's degree. Later, Mueller mentioned to her Thai friend that she noticed that most of the English teachers at the palace school were British. She asked Punishithi, "Have you ever thought of hiring Baylor graduates to teach American English? Because it is more widely spoken." The dignitary responded favorably, and a plan was formed.

Since then, the program has grown from two Baylor graduates teaching in the palace schools to 13 -- eight in palace schools, two in public schools, two at a Presbyterian school and one in the honored position of special envoy to Her Royal Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn at the Crown Princess' school.

Mueller says she believes Baylor graduates have been so warmly received by the Thai because so many possess the spiritual gifts of love and appreciation for cultural differences. "I warn them that the success of our program rests upon their behavior, that they have good morals and provide examples of moral leadership, care and compassion, and know that they are responsible to have a good work ethic," she says.

Baylor graduates interested in the teaching program come from many academic disciplines. An informational meeting is held each spring in which Mueller asks two questions: Do you like warm weather? and Do you like rice? "If they can't answer 'yes' to those two questions, I tell them this is probably not the best situation for them," she laughs.

Over the next few weeks, the process takes a more serious turn. Candidates review a booklet compiled by Mueller on Thai culture and a list of rules for those teaching in the schools, which include that women must wear skirts that come below the knee and men must wear ties in the classroom. No gum chewing, smoking or drinking is allowed on school premises. Mueller then does an extensive interview with applicants willing to commit a year to teaching abroad.

In exchange for teaching an average of four classes a day, instructors receive lunch, a monthly salary of about $380 and a monthly utility allowance-- enough for them to live comfortably, Mueller says. Housing and medical services also are provided.

Thailand is primarily a Buddhist country, but it is very tolerant of other spiritual traditions, Mueller says. Students are taught about Buddhism, Christianity and other religions and Western and Eastern history. Although teachers may not proselytize in the classroom, Mueller says the actions of the Baylor instructors often speaker louder than words. "We have Baylor graduates representing Christianity from a Christian school, teaching at the King's school, a Buddhist school. Our teachers continue to be an example of the Christian lifestyle," she says. "We need people who have strong morals and care very deeply about other people, [who] love working with children and who will not be indoctrinated and will not indoctrinate."

Baylor's relationship with Thailand extends beyond the teaching program and dates back to the late 1970s, and again began with Mueller. She and a former professor in the School of Education, Dolores Coker, befriended a student from Lampang, Thailand, who was earning his doctorate in education at Baylor. "He was going to establish a university just like Baylor, and [he asked if] I and Dr. Coker would come over and teach. I remember saying 'Sure,' like it wasn't going to happen," Mueller recalls.

But to her delight, she was provend wrong. Nirund Jivasantikarn, EdD '80, converted to Christianity while attending Baylor. He returned to Thailand and founded Yonok College in 1988, working closely with his mentor, Baylor's former president Herbert H. Reynolds. The Thai college has the largest Christian student center in the country, and Mueller says many students have become Christians through this ministry. "In Thailand, teachers from Baylor are encouraged to start Bible studies, and several at Yonok have used the student center to do so," Mueller says.

Today, Baylor participates in a student and faculty exchange with Yonok, a Baylor in Thailand summer study abroad program -- offered through the University's Center for International Education -- and operates the teaching program. Students benefit from Baylor's long-standing relationship with the Thai monarchy and receive a guided tour of the palace, admission to other sites normally closed to tourists and the use of a royal van for transport.

According to Mueller, Baylor is the only university in North America with such an intimate connection with the South Asian country. "I'm very thankful for the special relationships that Baylor has [with Thailand]," she says. "It's something that everyone can benefit from -- our staff, our former students, our present students who want to earn some more credit and our faculty who want to teach."

For additional information about teaching in Thailand or any of Baylor's programs in the country, contact Mueller at (254) 710-6235 or the Center for International Education at (254) 710-2618. More about Yonok College can be found at