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Biking, banking, cooking: what does a year of language and culture study look like for a new missionary?

What does the first year of an OMF missionary in Thailand look like?

If you join OMF long-term (for 4+ years) then you live in Lopburi, a small town about 2 hours north of the capital city of Bangkok, for about one year. If you join OMF for a shorter term, then your time in Lopburi is adjusted accordingly. While living in Lopburi you study the Thai language and culture at the Lopburi Learning Center (LLC), in a program that OMF calls Daniel Training. The name comes from Daniel in the Bible, who spent his first years in Babylon studying their language, culture and history. God used this time to equip Daniel for godly, wise and influential service in a foreign land.

This time of Daniel Training in Lopburi is important so that missionaries can feel at home in the culture, and so that they can learn the language well enough to carry out their roles. The first year also involves several “field trips” to different regions of Thailand in order to explore where you will be placed to serve. After the first year you will then move to your area of ministry.

So what has this first year looked like for me?

When I first arrived in Thailand I was picked up at the airport and taken to the OMF Bangkok mission home where I had a couple of meetings with people such as the field director and finance manager. This time in Bangkok allowed me to get to know the people in the office, as well as to understand how different things worked in OMF Thailand.

A few days later I was taken up to Lopburi. The Daniel team helped me settle into my house, which was in a Thai neighbourhood, near the language school. In Lopburi we had a full week of orientation with the team.

Bikes, banking and beginning language study

Some things we did during this orientation included going to get a bike (my primary mode of transportation), opening a bank account, exploring the nearby market, exploring public transportation to the nearby mall, and many other useful things.

The next week we met with the language advisor, who helps run the language school. I came in already knowing some Thai, so I had an assessment with the language advisor and one of the Thai teachers. Based on the assessment they started me out in the appropriate language module for my level.

Every week we would get our schedule for classes. Each student has two 50 minute classes every day. Outside of class you are able to do additional review in the study rooms at the school.  The teachers are really great, and are able to use the appropriate vocabulary with you based on your level. They also love just having conversations with you. These classes are one-on-one, so they moved at my own pace. If I felt like we were going too quickly through something I could ask to slow down a bit, which was great. The Thai language has its own alphabet, and it is also a tonal language, so individual teaching was very helpful!

After I finished each module I would have a check, with the language advisor and a teacher, to see where I was at in my language and allows you to see how you are doing with things such as comprehension, pronunciation, sentence structure, fluency, and vocabulary.

Getting to grips with Thai cooking

There are certain modules that you are required to take, but there are also some that you can choose based on your interest. Two such modules are the kitchen module, and the official communication module.

In the kitchen module, you learn all about different Thai dishes, the names of the ingredients in Thai, and how to make them. At the end of the module, you choose two dishes that you want to make with your teacher, go with her to the market to get the ingredients, and then head back to your house to make the dishes together. I really enjoyed cooking with my teacher! You can find out more about my cooking module on my blog.

In the official communication module, you learn things like how to solve problems with your water or electric bill, how to get car insurance, and how to get your driver’s license. You then have to choose two official things to go out and do on your own. One thing that I chose to do as part of this module, was to get my Thai driver’s license. It was quite a different experience from getting my license in the USA. In particular, I noticed that they put a very large emphasis on making sure you aren’t colour blind!

Moving on from Lopburi

Over the course of my year in Lopburi, I got to know the town pretty well. Lopburi is known to tourists as monkey city. This is because the old town area has…monkeys! The monkeys are able to roam free around the town, though they typically congregate in two temple areas. I used my bike to get most places, like LLC, and several coffee shops and restaurants that I frequented in my area. However, you can also take a mode of transportation called a songthaew, which is a pickup truck with two benches in the back and a roof over it. I would take a songthaew to places that were a bit further away like the shopping malls, which here in Thailand are kind of a one stop place that have everything: restaurants, grocery stores, movie theater, electronic shops, ice cream, coffee shops, play places for kids, and more!

I have just now finished up my year of learning in Lopburi, and have moved down to Bangkok. I will continue to study Thai, though at a reduced pace as I start my ministry, and will return to Lopburi every couple of months to do my language checks. This first year has had a lot of ups and downs, but the Daniel team in Lopburi really does a great job of supporting you and helping you as you adjust to living in Thailand. Additionally, the learning center has a great program that helps you acquire the language and culture skills you need to feel at home in the culture, and help you in future ministry work.

If you’d like to read a bit more in depth about some of my experiences in my first year, you can check out my blog:

Christina Stidham

Will you pray for Workers in the Harvest Field?

  • Pray for missionaries in language and culture study to persevere through some of the more difficult aspects, especially language study which is often a challenge.

  • Give thanks for those who provide the Daniel training. Pray for them to know God’s encouragement today.

  • Pray for new missionaries as they move on from dedicated language and culture study to their ministry. Pray they would be life-long learners in order to build deep friendships and share the gospel effectively.

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