Sharing Insights Across Borders on Building Strong Alumni Communities

Calvin Tan, President of the Teach For Malaysia Alumni Association
The author (in red) with Teach For Thailand alumni Giraffe, Phoom, Praew (via video call), Pailin, Mew, Poob, and Jay at the meetup in Teach For Thailand’s office in Bangkok

In December, the President of the Teach For Malaysia Alumni Association, Calvin Tan, was invited to travel to Bangkok and engage with Teach For Thailand around how to organize their own alumni network. The following are his reflections on the experience:

The visit grew naturally out of connections made at the second Teach For All Asia-Pacific Alumni Gathering in 2019, where over 100 network alumni from 12 countries congregated in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to foster connections and learn from each other. Among the attendees was Phoom Pentrakul, a Teach For Thailand alumnus from their 2017 cohort. Phoom and I had great conversations—from sharing stories about our teaching experiences to discussing local delicacies in Thailand and Malaysia! One of our chats revolved around what our alumni experience has been like, and how to build meaningful and engaged alumni communities. We kept in touch after the gathering, and the idea for my visit came about during our ongoing online discussions.

Going to Bangkok to meet with Teach For Thailand alumni was my first time making an intentional visit to another network partner, and I didn’t know what to expect. I was curious to understand the Teach For Thailand alumni experience, and to learn how similar or different our organizations are from each other. Phoom requested a simple, informal sharing of how the Teach For Malaysia Alumni Association came to be: how the community self-organised nationally, and the initiatives we've undertaken to foster ongoing connections. Essentially, we planned on a free-flowing session of exchanging ideas.

While sharing our stories and reflections, I noticed key similarities between our two alumni communities: both are still in the process of shaping and developing the identity and defining features of their community.  We talked about highs and lows in reaching out to alumni, and how to keep as many as possible engaged with each other and the wider post-fellowship experience, given the community’s diverse needs, locations, and interests. We also discussed how to define what I call the ‘So what?’ needed to get and keep alumni engaged. And I was interested to learn that so many Teach For Thailand alumni have chosen to work for NGOs and social innovation organizations. This seems like a natural pathway for alumni to extend their impact, and it's encouraging to know that so many have been able to enter this vibrant sector.

I believe one should take any opportunity for regional and cross-border sharing that presents itself. Not only do you have the chance to build new relationships with people of different cultures, but such connections challenge your mindsets and expand your horizons. You gain insights about how to approach common issues and situations, and it builds appreciation for our interconnected global community. Even simply sharing stories and learnings is valuable, as those can inspire new actions and simple wins. For example, I shared how having an alumni-focused Instagram account has helped keep the Teach For Malaysia alumni community in the know about happenings and stories—which led to Teach For Thailand alumni launching their own Instagram account soon after!

I learned from this experience that it’s great to expand one's comfort zone by making new connections within the global network. Experiencing how much we have in common has made me curious to explore other Asia-Pacific alumni communities, in order to help make sense of the issues and challenges we face.

I’ve stayed informally connected with Teach For Thailand alumni through social media, where we catch up and share useful resources. We’re exploring ways to exchange knowledge between our alumni communities based on specific themes and subjects of interest. I definitely aim to continue travelling and connecting informally with other Teach For All network alumni in the Asia-Pacific region once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.

Learn more about participant and alumni impact in Teach For All's Asia Pacific region in this video