When Tami Heyler, of Nauvoo, was younger, she met a missionary family at a summer camp who told stories about Thailand and sang songs in Thai. A few years later, she saw them again.
"Twice I had this little subliminal message of 'Thailand, Thailand,' " Heyler said recently during an interview via Skype.
She kept up correspondence with the Thai family, who helped her apply for a job as a special needs consultant for extension services at the Grace International School in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Tami Heyler, 25, a native of Nauvoo and graduate of Liberty High School and Mansfield University, works with a home-schooled missionary families in Thailand who have children with disabilities. She started working there Sept. 1 and will stay until June 1.
"Why not apply?" she said. "If I get it, this is where I'm supposed to be. If not, then I'm not. It was great to see everything fall into place."
Members of her church - St. Paul's United Methodist in Nauvoo - and even complete strangers, helped support her so that she could go to Thailand sooner than expected.
Heyler, 25, works with home-schooled families who have children with disabilities. She started working there Sept. 1 and will stay until June 1.
NAME: Tami Heyler
HOME CHURCH: St. Paul's United Methodist, Nauvoo
HIGH SCHOOL: Liberty High School
St. Paul's United Methodist Church, Nauvoo
MISSION FIELD: Works with home-schooled families who have children with disabilities
START DATE: Sept. 1, 2011
Work on Heyler's typical day starts at 7:30 a.m. and continues until 4 p.m. Eight people work in the extension services office.
On Fridays, she works with both of her regular students.
The student she works with the most has mild mental disability.
"We do a lot of more like life skills kind of work, as opposed to academic work," she said. "Math class is telling time and understanding you need to use your watch to keep track of time and how much time you have left. Time awareness."
She also works on job awareness with him, helping him to articulate what he does and does not like.
"If he sees or hears a job, he can say 'I don't like to do this. I like to do this.' At the beginning of the year, it was a big thing. He didn't know what he liked and didn't like."
Heyler meets with him two times a week and when she's not there, his mother also helps him with things such as cooking.
Heyler focuses on reading with her other student.
"It's really great to see the changes in the students," Heyler said. "We're tracking reading."
To monitor his progress, she made a graph in September to track his accuracy and time.
"He's improved," Heyler said. "Here's actual data saying that you are getting so much better."
When not teaching her students, she does basic consulting with the families of students at the school for missionary students.
This has been Heyler's first time out of the country.
"It's very different here," she said. "I like it a lot."
One of the ways it is different is the way people respond to each other, especially in cultures.
"You want to react in the way American people act," Heyler said. "You can't do that here. You'll offend people. It's a very passive way of reacting. They have a saying, 'it's OK. Everything's OK.' They'll just say that and they'll walk away. They'll think about the situation. I'm not sure that's how people in America react."
The phrase "Mai Bpenrai" means it's OK and doesn't matter.
Keeping positive relationships is important in Thailand. It is considered very bad to lose friends or break relationships.
While working in the country, she has kept a Thai lesson notebook to study the language.
"It's a very different language, Thai language," Heyler said. "You can say the same word with a different tone. A high voice, a low voice, makes it a different word. It's almost musical to listen to the way they talk."
Heyler started learning the language when she reached the country. Not being fluent in it is not really a problem.
"Because the school is an international school, there are so many different nationalities of students," Heyler said. "They must pass an English test to get into school. They must speak at a certain level. A lot of the students also study Thai. They have to take it for a number of years."
Since the students she helps are home-schooled, they do not have to take Thai.
While the language has not been a challenge for Heyler, she had a problem with homesickness. She arrived in September and by November was ready to return home.
"It was difficult just being away from home," she said. "I never did that before."
After graduating from Liberty High School in 2005, she went to Mansfield University for music education and a master's degree in special education.
"Even when I went to college, the college I graduated from was half an hour away."
Heyler waited to do the tourist attractions of Thailand until her mother visited. One of the things she most enjoyed was riding an elephant.
"It was scary," Heyler said. "I was afraid of the elephant. It feels like you're going to fall off. ... They have a basket on the elephant that you sit in. When the elephant walks, it tips back and forth."
In her free time on the weekends, Heyler relaxes and goes out to eat with her friends.
"I saw a movie once," she said. "Everyone says you have to see a movie in Thailand."
Tickets come with assigned seating.
"After previews and before the movie starts ... everyone has to stand up and listen to the song that is representative of the king. You can't talk."
The movies are those played in America a while ago. Heyler saw 'The Lady,' the story of Aung San Suu Kyi as she becomes the core of Burma's democracy movement, and her relationship with her husband, writer Michael Aris.
English is spoken with Thai subtitles, but sometimes they would speak Burmese in the movie, so there were English and Thai subtitles.
When Heyler's mission comes to a close in June, she plans to return to college in Mansfield.
"I'm excited to come home," Heyler said. "It's great being here. I love it here. My sister said 'What's wrong with Thailand that you don't want to stay here?' Nothing's wrong. I love it here. I just wish it was in Pennsylvania. I'm ready to be home with my family."
She is applying to her alma mater, this time for a master's and certification in the reading specialist program.
"That is my current plan, but I am still hoping that a full-time job in either music education or special education will pop up," she said.
Her mission work is not yet complete, however. She plans to be involved with local mission work and maybe some short-term mission trips in the future.
For more information about Grace International School in Chiang Mai, Thailand, visit gisthailand.org.