MSU grad’s on a mission


Nathan Kimmons

Nathan Kimmons Photo by: Dispatch Photo


Tim Pratt



STARKVILLE -- The city of Chiang Mai is a sprawling metropolitan area in the northern mountains of Thailand.


The climate is hot and humid, the food is spicy and fresh, and for much of the past year, a former Mississippi State University student has called the region home.


Nathan Kimmons, 23, graduated from Mississippi State with a degree in marketing, but instead of going into a related field, Kimmons decided to move to Thailand, where he teaches and preaches in a town right outside of Chiang Mai.



Kimmons is originally from Brookhaven and has been back in the U.S. for the past two months while his students are on break, but he will be leaving for Thailand again before the end of May to prepare for the upcoming school year. He spent some of his time in the U.S. this spring visiting Starkville, where he still has friends who attend Mississippi State.



How did you end up in Thailand?


I went to MSU for four years and got a degree in marketing, which has nothing to do with teaching, obviously. But I had offers to go to Thailand probably three years ago for a church out of Big Sandy, Texas. So last year they asked me and I was like, "Yeah. Why not? I''ll go to Thailand." I didn''t know a whole lot about what the program was. It''s called Legacy Foundation. It''s a Christian outreach thing where we teach English and we teach the Bible and we teach leadership, several different things. It''s a three-year school, so the students are about the junior college level. We require a high school equivalent or so. It''s kind of different over in that part of the world. It''s all free to them and they come and live at the compound for about three years and they cook, they do all the laundry, they work on the farm, stuff like that.



How big is this place?


It''s pretty small. It''s only like 20 students or so. We only have three teachers.



How difficult was it to communicate when you first went over there if you didn''t speak the language?


I can speak a little Thai now. You know, enough to order food and have fun and meet people. It was pretty difficult at first. It''s not so much just the language barrier, too. It''s really a cultural thing. Being white, they expect you to make decisions and be the head of the stuff that''s going on. It''s really kind of weird. One of the first things that happened when I got there was, this guy who is like 40-something, I had just got there and didn''t know what was going on, and I drove with him to buy a truck. And he wants me to make a decision on whether he should buy this huge truck or not. Like a really old beat-up truck. I didn''t know what was going on at all. I eventually got out of it and told him not to buy the truck and waste his money. They just thought I''d automatically know if this truck was a good buy. It''s a $9,000 investment. I''m like, "I don''t know. I don''t know anything about cars."



So the town you were in, was it a big city? A small town? What was it like?


I lived about 10 kilos away from the second largest city in Thailand, called Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is up in the north, kind of in the valleys surrounded by a bunch of mountains. So it''s kind of more of a backpacker-type city. Up there they have elephant rides and jungle excursions and stuff around there. They have backpacking and hiking through the mountains, tons of waterfalls and stuff like that. Bangkok is more of the partying, the prostitutes, you know, the things you see on TV a lot. In the south it''s party central, too. But they also have mountains and beaches and it''s so beautiful. I''m planning to visit the south as soon as I go back there.



Have people been pretty welcoming over there?


Yeah, man. You feel really safe. You can walk around at 2 a.m. and not be scared. There''s virtually no crime, really. They love foreigners. Tourism is like their No. 1 industry so people there are really friendly to everybody.



Do they have a lot of the same stuff over there as they do over here, or is it completely different?


It''s a lot of the same. If you go into the city, they have like five Starbucks there. So if you want to go and pay for it, it''s really expensive. A lot of the tourists that are too scared to try local stuff go to McDonald''s and they go to Starbucks and stuff.



How is the local food?


That''s all I eat and I never got sick one time in nine months. It''s really spicy for the most part. They like to laugh at foreigners who come in and think they can eat spicy food. I mean, I really like spicy food so I don''t mind. It''s also a lot of rice and noodles and stuff. There''s not much cheese or milk. They have it, but it''s really expensive because they don''t really eat cheese on any of their foods. They know the people who are going to buy it are foreigners and they can afford it.



Have you tried anything exotic or something you had never heard of before?


I don''t eat pork or any kind of seafood, pretty much, except for fish, so I didn''t try a whole lot. I had some fried grasshoppers and I did have some bee eggs that I didn''t know about until after I ate them, or bee larva.



What religion are you affiliated with?


It''s no particular organization. It''s just like the Church of God where people accept the Sabbath and all the holy days and stuff. The guy who runs it used to be with the Worldwide Church of God long ago. It''s pretty much his brainchild. It''s called Legacy and him and his wife have been running the show for seven years.



How long were you over there?


I was there for nine months. I got there right when school started and left right after it ended. I was there for one school year. This year I''m going for 11 months. I''m going back a month earlier and staying a month later to get some extra traveling in.



What was the hardest part about being over there?


Being away from all my friends and everything. I met some cool people over there and had a great time, but it''s still not like hanging out with the people who really know you and have known you for a long time. We called each other our default friends, the teachers there, because they were the only other white people around. That sounds really bad out of context, but we ended up living together and doing everything together, so we kind of have to.



Are they all from the U.S. or are they from other countries?


They''re all from the U.S. and we kind of stick together. We kind of keep a professional distance between the teachers and the students. We can''t really get too buddy-buddy with them. It''s more of a class culture. Teachers are really, really high up in their class. Even people who are older than me have respect toward me because they''re my students.



What do you personally get out of being over there?


It feels good to be helping people, I guess. I don''t look at it like people need to pat me on the back or anything -- "Oh, you''re saving the world one English student at a time." I''m glad to be teaching, but I''m more interested in the Bible side of it.





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