My brother Jonah and I grew up hearing stories about the student missionary life from our family members. Our dad and uncle were student missionaries together in Majuro, while our aunt and uncle served in Pohnpei together. They shared their experiences about surfing and crazy teachers in the islands of the Marshall Islands and Micronesia. Since then, both of us always talked about serving together. Even our younger sister would have liked to join us, but this was her first year out of high school.
Because of my dad’s stories of serving in Majuro, we originally signed up to go to Majuro together. It was only after learning that it was required to serve as an SM that I got the COVID-19 vaccination, which set back my eligibility for the booster shot. We found out the day before Jonah was set to fly to Majuro that I would not be able to enter the Majuro until I received my booster dose in January. We were staying with family in Hawaii when the SM coordinator gave us a list of different islands and told us to get back with her by the end of the day. We had to quickly pick from a bunch of different islands that we had never heard of.
We called around to our family and friends, asking for their input, and we eventually decided on Kosrae. Jonah had a strong conviction that this was the island we needed to go to, and I felt like it was the best island because we were told that there was a principal and his wife running its K-8 school. My dad had taught at small two-teacher K-8 schools in the past, and I felt that it was something that we could handle. It was only after we arrived on the island that we found out that the school was grades K-12, that there was no principal, and we would be teaching all of the major subjects for junior and high school.
There have been many challenges at school. The most prominent being that we are extremely short-staffed. We have an acting principal who also teaches, however, we need more teachers. Jonah has taught four levels of English, three social studies, two sciences, Bible, PE and a homeroom.I have covered five levels of math, three branches of science, Bible, culinary arts and health. We have also faced problems with not having paper, internet, and books to teach from. All this combined makes it very difficult to teach some subjects.
We have had no working washing machine at the apartments, but the pastor and his wife have allowed us to use their washing machine; otherwise, we have learned how to do our laundry in buckets.
We have been without power multiple times and did not have internet for the first four months on the island. It made calling home much more difficult as we had to walk down to the beach to use a church member's internet to call home.
Now that the internet is working, we try to have a group call at least once a week. The different time zones causes some inconvenience, but we still talk individually through social media – sending memes and fun videos just like we did when we were away at college.
Our family back home has been incredibly supportive and helpful. Our parents are both teachers as well as many of our uncles and aunts. They have helped fill in the supportive role that a principal usually would – directing us and giving us advice on how to handle situations in the classroom. They have also shared digital resources, such as sending pictures of lessons from teachers' additions or pointing us to websites that we can use.
They have also helped us out financially. Being a student missionary is a great financial burden that makes taking the time off from school much more daunting. We are still trying to raise money to pay off the cost of coming out here, but our family has helped donate a lot of what was needed. Specifically, our Aunty Desire has made it possible for us to serve here without worrying about trying to save part of our stipend to pay off the debt, and for that we are extremely grateful.
Being a student missionary has given me a taste of the fulfillment that teachers always talk about. I love seeing my students figure things out and leading them to their independent “aha moments”is extremely satisfying. I completely understand why my dad and both of my uncles changed their majors to become teachers.
To recharge, Kosrae has everything that you would expect from a tropical island. From snorkeling and hiking, all the way to shipwrecks of pirates (yes, I am serious), Kosrae has it all. Personally, Jonah and I grew up in the water, and while the coral is a bit sharp and the waves a bit sketchy, we have enjoyed surfing and bodyboarding in the tropics as much as the swells will allow.
While we have been here, we have received multiple care packages from our school as well as parents and friends. There are often things that remind us of home that we just can't get without someone sending it to us. For example, I wear a size 15 shoe and all of the flip flops that I brought broke. However, the exact week that my last flip flop broke beyond repair, Lake Union Conference sent a Christmas care package to us that included a pair of very nice flip flops that I have been using to teach every day. Sending things to student missionaries can be expensive, but even if they are outside the United States, their school often has a U.S. P.O. box that can receive Amazon shipments.
Another thing you can do to help a friend serving as a student missionary is to just keep in touch. There may be a huge time difference so you can’t talk all the time, but being able to send messages back and forth on Instagram, even in the middle of the night, helps keep the connection alive.
I am extremely grateful to have my brother out here serving with me. Just as my family has been supportive, having him out here as someone who I know and am comfortable around has made my experience 1000 times easier. If anyone is able to serve as a student missionary, I would highly suggest going with a sibling. Being able to go out together and experience this amazing year of excitement and challenges has brought us closer together and made the experience of being away from home easier and the entire adventure more enjoyable.
I am hoping that my students will be able to go to college back in the States. I know some of them are even looking at going to Southern Adventist University, so I might see them when I go back to school. Others are looking into military careers. If they serve for four years, they gain US citizenship and a way to gain access to the wider world outside this small island. I see a bright future for my students in whatever path they take. They are very smart and motivated, and I wish the best for them in their future careers.
If you are thinking about taking a gap year off or a year studying abroad, I think being a student missionary is exactly what you should do. Taking a gap year is expensive with the added stress of student loans, while a year abroad is very expensive. Yet, serving as a student missionary gives you the ability to step outside of your comfort zone and unlike a gap year off, since you’re technically still enrolled in school, you won’t accrue interest on your federal student loans. And like a year abroad, you can deeply experience another culture and develop relationships that will shape the rest of your life.