Mingalaba!This is one of two Burmese words I know, and it means “Hello.”
Here are a few things I’ve done in the past week that I never thought I’d do:
1) Direct a staff meeting.
2) Say to my roommate: “Remind me to put oranges on the shopping list for the maid.”
3) Have dinner with a Burmese man and chat casually about Aung San Suu Kyi and the upcoming elections.
4) Cheer out loud when opening my gmail account takes less than 3 minutes.
I’ve been in Myanmar a week but it feels like months already. Let’s start from the beginning.
I love this city. LOVE. I feel like I’m irritating my roommates because I comment at least 5 times a day on how wonderful Yangon is. It is green, beautiful, run down and old, traditional, slow paced yet hectic… I don’t know how to describe it really. It just feels 100% real.
Most people here, men and women, still wear longhis and thanaka. A longhi is a traditional floor-length skirt made out of a single piece of fabric and wrapped around the body. Men will sometimes tie this up under their knees to make shorts. Thanaka is a white paste for the face and arms that acts both as a decorative product and a sunscreen. My Burmese students come to school everyday with delicate swirls and patterns of thanaka on their face and arms. Everyday I see women walking the broken sidewalks or dirt roads of the city, with thanaka on their faces, balancing massive baskets of fruit or vegetables on their heads with one hand and holding their longhi in the other. It’s a beautiful sight.
Also, the landscape of the city itself has a very unique feel. Due to economic sanctions, there are no western chains in Burma and little development either. Tourism is just starting to take off, so the people here haven’t seen too many foreigners. Everyone on the street stares at me when I go out, and it is not a “look at the foreigner!” stare like Thailand, but a (friendly) “What on earth are you doing here?!” stare, as if they can’t understand what a person like me would come here for.
I’m working at an international school, teaching kids who already speak a decent amount of English, as a full time classroom teacher for a group of 13 4-year-olds. I have 4 teaching assistants that I am responsible for managing and directing. (Yes, that is 5 teachers for 13 students.) This is not your average ESL job; it’s got a lot more responsibilities and expectations, and to be honest I’m feeling a bit stressed and underqualifed for my position. Friday I held my first “staff meeting” and couldn’t believe my assistants were actually taking me seriously.
Also, I learned last week that 1) I am the youngest teacher here for the summer program, and 2) over 450 people applied for the 25 positions they offered for the summer. This sets the expectations bar pretty high for me, and it is stressing me out a little. I’m hoping things will get easier in time, and I’m really glad to get this experience and learn through it, but I’m worried about doing a bad job and the school wondering why they hired me. I really can’t complain, though—the school has all the books, materials, and curriculum ideas I could ever want, and I’ve got 4 Burmese assistants who are incredibly helpful, hardworking, and fantastic at their job.
The upside of being the youngest and one of the least experienced teachers here is that I am meeting a lot of awesome people who have been teaching for a long time in places literally all over the globe. It’s exciting to meet some of the other teachers, in their 30s, 40s, even 60s who have made a career out of teaching around the world and have been successful at it. When I was younger I would tell people I wanted to “travel the world and get paid for it,” but didn’t think it was really possible. I’ve met people here who have been teaching and traveling for years, and that is inspiring to me.
My roommates are also great. I’m living with 2 other girls in an apartment just north of the city center. We get along well, and it’s nice to have people to hang out with in the evenings after work and do things with on the weekends.
My students are really sweet. (Except one, but no need to go there…) Their names are a bit of a problem, since most Burmese people don’t take English nicknames like the Thais do. My students names are: Tin Nyan Zwe, Pooja, Poo Poo, Zin Ko Ko, Min Thet Kine, Sim Meyn Ken, Thefsalin, Romana, Moe Saint Saint Dwe, Moe Zet Nyi, Su Yati, and two more that I can’t remember at the moment. Their level of English is really impressive, and I’m always reminding myself to speak to them normally and not in the baby-sentences I got used to using in Thailand.
Finally, the staff and administration at my school have gone out of their way to welcome and take care of us. How many 24-year-olds can say they live in a rent-free apartment, with all utilities paid for, have free transportation to and from work, are given 3 free catered meals a day, and have a full time maid to do all of their cleaning, shopping, and laundry?
I feel like I have pages more I could write and tell, but this is getting super long already. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to post pictures at all while I am here, since the internet is so slow. I’m just thankful to have access to my blog at all, honestly.
Anyhow, more later. Thanks for reading!