When an Identity Crisis Leads to Open Doors

Words: Eliana Chow ’21 and Grant Dutro ’25

Wheaton College Graduate School TESOL master's student Jenny McLamb

Jenny McLamb M.A. ’24

Jenny McLamb M.A. ’24 and her husband first decided to move overseas when she was pregnant with their second child. For seven years, the couple worked among indigenous peoples in countries such as Mexico and Peru, before transitioning to teaching English at a language center in the Middle East. McLamb recalls struggling to learn the language of the region, which was not common enough to be taught on learning platforms like Duolingo or Rosetta Stone.

In an effort to further her own learning, McLamb began taking asynchronous second language acquisition courses through Wheaton College’s Institute for Cross-Cultural Training, which a friend recommended. Several coaching courses and life changes later, she and her husband unexpectedly found themselves moving to and settling in Panama. This transition posed a major identity crisis for McLamb.

“I was doing so much in the Middle East,” she said. “I was homeschooling my four kids, who are now enrolled in a local school. I was a language coach, and then I was not.”

Yet McLamb consistently points to the grace of God in all challenging circumstances and looks back to recognize how that series of trials proved deeply formative for her faith.

“I was in a sad place, and God in his graciousness showed me that I was none of those things,” she said. “Instead, my identity is found in how I was chosen before the foundations of time to be a daughter of his. That has been an expensive lesson.”

During this untethered chapter, as she and her husband sought answers and a new path forward after life as they knew it was upended, McLamb reached out to Dr. Lonna Dickerson, a professor in Wheaton’s TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) master’s program who McLamb initially connected with through the Institute for Cross-Cultural Training. In addition to providing spiritual support, Dickerson suggested McLamb pursue her master’s through the Wheaton College Graduate School and see how God would multiply that work. McLamb was skeptical.

“At first, I wasn’t sure about pursuing the degree because of its emphasis on teaching English,” McLamb admitted. “I was more excited about the ‘speakers of other languages’ side of it. But the more we began our work in Panama, the more we recognized the real need for English language skills among the communities we’d begun collaborating with.”

This collaborative work is bearing fruit. McLamb and her husband currently work with several local organizations in Panama and are planning to launch a Latin American service training center. The center will bring together a wide swath of organizations to equip and encourage Latin Americans for service around the world. The center will primarily function through an 80-day training course that can be completed either online or in person. Early on in the planning stages, McLamb discovered how English’s utility as a global language was crucial to working in multicultural contexts like theirs. This sealed her interest in Wheaton’s TESOL program. After applying for and being named a Billy Graham Scholar, which confirmed God’s blessing over the opportunity, McLamb joyfully jumped at the chance to go back to school. “I love learning and the smell of pencils,” she said with a smile.

Now in her final semester of the program, McLamb affirms how the TESOL classes are equipping her with the technical and relational skills she needs to develop for her own work teaching English as a second language. “One of the most valuable things about the program is the faculty’s ability to contextualize based on their students’ needs,” she said. “I’ve had to create my own lessons for classes, and I’m so excited to do that in real life because you get to tailor them to your unique context.”

The degree is fully accessible to remote learners like McLamb, and she emphasizes how the program’s smaller size fosters strong relationships. “I feel known,” she said, and she eagerly looks forward to the day when she can visit Wheaton’s campus and her TESOL connections in person.

With her upcoming graduation in May 2024, McLamb and her husband continue to prepare for their training center in Panama, which is expected to launch the following spring in March 2025. She expresses deep gratitude for her time in the TESOL program so far, giving thanks above all to her Lord and Savior who led her through every unexpected pivot to this point.

“God gives us good things and wants good things for us,” she said. “Every good and perfect thing is from him. It has been such a gift to get to do this program. Now we can transition to the center.”

To learn more about the M.A. in TESOL and Intercultural Studies at the Wheaton College Graduate School, visit