University of South Carolina

Alumnus finds life calling for teaching, life abroad

By Glenn Hare, hareg@mailbox.sc.edu

Flooded rice paddies and views of the rolling foothills of the Himalayan Mountains as well as the occasional elephant are parts of Stephen Keefer’s daily commute to work. As a teacher at Grace International School in Northern Thailand, Keefer is adept at driving around Asian elephants that block the road from time to time. 

A 1992 graduate of USC, Keefer has returned to Columbia, the place where his calling for life abroad was started. 

“I was a junior majoring in history and education, taking Dr. Ron Atkinson’s African history course when the spark to go to Africa was ignited,” Keefer said. “It made absolutely no sense. The only foreign travel I’d done up to that point was a family trip to Canada. But there was this internal motivation that told me, I had to do it.” 

That semester, Keefer decided he would student teach in Africa. With help from Atkinson’s deep knowledge of the African continent and supportive staff members and faculty in the College of Education, he was able to split his student teaching assignment between Eau Claire High School here in Columbia and the American School of Yaoundé in Cameroon, located in Central Africa. 

Two months in Cameroon greatly expanded Keefer’s view of the world. The experience profoundly challenged him personally and spiritually, and placed him on a journey that continues. 

“I came away with a renewed passion for life and a renewed passion to serve. From that experience, I knew I wanted to be an educator for families who were overseas doing Christian aid work, and whose children needed their educational needs met,” he said. 

Since receiving his degree, Keefer has taught history and coached sports at Christian-based international schools for more than a decade in Southeast Asia — first in the Philippines and, currently, in Chiang Mai Provence, Thailand, at Grace International School. 

The school is a residential Christian academy for children from all over the world whose parents are missionaries throughout Asia. 

“I love teaching at Grace,” he said. “I know that I’m supporting work that goes far beyond the classroom, and every single day is rewarding.” 

During his yearlong furlough in Columbia, Keefer is working part time in USC’s Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, helping to access fraternity recruitment, education and leadership training. 

“Fraternity life was an important part of my experience at Carolina,” Keefer said. “I took advantage of leadership opportunities available at the time. I learned the importance of personal responsibility, time management and people skills. Being in the Greek system helped to shape and mold me into the person I am today.” 

In several months, Keefer, his wife and three children will end their home assignment in America. They will pack their belongings. They will say farewell to life-long friends in Columbia. And they will travel back to Thailand, returning to a life’s work that was sparked here on campus and where dodging 10,000-pound pachyderms is part of daily life.

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Posted: 03/26/13 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 03/27/13 @ 8:58 AM | Permalink