Teach English Abroad: Samantha Sundermann’s Story

Teach English Abroad: Samantha Sundermann’s Story

For more info on what Samantha is currently working on, head over to www.shinecentres.com

Samantha Sundermann completed her training at XploreAsia and spent 6 months teaching in Myanmar before returning to Canada. Despite returning home, she was able to use the connections she made whilst being an XploreAsia teacher to continue to help children in Myanmar get access to a higher level of education. Read about her unique experiences in her blog post below:

Samantha with her TESOL class receiving her teaching certificate at XploreAsia

After several years of traveling for work and constantly being on the move, I finally decided it was time to stay in one place for a while. When deciding what I wanted to do for career, I thought back to what has always sparked my curiosity. Teaching English abroad is something that I have always been interested in, and now was the time to give it a shot.
 In 2015, I went home, saved up some money and did some research on how to teach English abroad. Through my research, I found XploreAsia and signed up for my TESOL course.  After being granted my certificate, I went on and taught in Tachileik in Myanmar for 6 months.  It was an incredible experience that I wish could have lasted longer but unfortunately, I had to get back to Canada for work.
In Toronto, I have been working for Shine Dance Competitions for the last 5 years.  Shine, is a company that hosts and organizes children’s dance competitions in Southern Ontario and Quebec.  Shine is a great company that lets me travel during off seasons to have new experiences (such as teaching English abroad) and then come back to Toronto when the dance season begins.  For several years, Shine was planning to offer underprivileged kids an opportunity to access a higher education through online learning.  I was absolutely thrilled when they asked me to take charge of this project and I already had my first location in mind!

Assistant teachers with our class in Tachileik, celebrating their last day of Nursery 1

Tachileik is a small but fast paced town in the north of Myanmar with lots of stories to tell.  One of the most loving places in town is a small orphanage.  Some of the teachers who were teaching before me would go on the weekends and teach the kids English.  They invited me along one weekend and I was absolutely moved by the experience.  It was my first-time meeting kids in an orphanage and experiencing their way of life.  We arrived while the kids were in the middle of mass.  Hearing their voices in song was beautiful.  They saw us come in and knew it meant it was time for their English lesson.  They quickly finished mass and were ready to be taught.  Their enthusiasm was infectious.  They laughed and shouted throughout the lesson on animals.  It was so inspiring to see a young generation so eager to learn.  Although, I didn’t make it back to the orphanage as often as I would have liked, I was motivated to bring Shines’ project to these kids.
I contacted my friends in Myanmar who were equally as excited by this project.  They instantly started researching how to get internet to the orphanage.  Our company, Shine Dance Competitions, in partnership with Response I.T., arranged to provide all the computer equipment for the project, among other things, and I started researching how to get the computers to the orphanage.  After months of researching different methods to send the computers to Myanmar, I reached out to Mike (XploreAsia’s Managing Director) for help.  With some luck, Mike happened to know the easiest route to get computers to Yangon.  From Yangon they were then sent on a bus to Tachileik.  We are so grateful for the team of people who helped get this project off the ground.
Teach English Abroad: Mass at Orphanage

Mass at the Orphanage

Teach English Abroad: kids at the orphanage ready to learn!

Orphans during class time

Currently, the orphanage has internet access and 2 teachers who go on the weekends to teach the kids how to use the computers.  For now, the kids are using websites to improve their English.  As the children become more proficient, we will start talking to them about what other topics they are interested in learning. One of the teachers at the orphanage is a native English speaker, and the other is a native Myanmar speaker.  This is convenient because when the kids don’t understand the programs on the computer, they can ask in their native language but still have an opportunity to speak English as well.  Through many education oriented websites, the kids can learn anything they want. In countries such as Thailand, where these websites are offered in the primary language, the children can start taking any courses they want.  However, due to there being less options in Burmese, we encourage the improvement of their English language skills to give them more choices in what they want to learn online. Learning English will also help to create more career opportunities for them in the future.
The goal for this project is to let the kids learn new skills to help their community.  They can learn anything from Tree Planting, to Rocket Science.  We want to encourage these kids to enjoy learning and improve their current living situations.  Currently, we are looking to expand the project within South East Asia, targeting a few different countries.  Once we have a few solid facilities, we will begin to expand in each country where our project has proved successful.

First time students see computer set up

Students on the bus home from school in Tachileik

At the moment, we are building a website to promote this project.  When we acquire sponsors, we can grow at a quicker rate. Additionally, we also need to find contacts in different countries who can supervise the project for us and who also want to teach English abroad.  We will be posting blog updates about how the projects are running and eventually we would like to have the kid’s blogging about their own experiences!

I am very grateful for the opportunity XploreAsia gave me to meet new people and teach English abroad. I am excited to continue working with Shine to expand this wonderful project.  We are now working with XploreAsia to set up computers for the kids at the Pala-U Orphanage, in Thailand. I cannot wait to see what is to come! For more information please contact me at: sam@shinedance.com

www.shinecentres.com

If you want to teach English abroad, apply here.

Teach Abroad in Myanmar!

If you’re looking to teach abroad, the dynamic Asian country Myanmar can offer something truly unique. XploreAsia has been sending teachers to Myanmar for the past couple of years and we recently caught up with one of our graduated TESOL course students Kai Hallberg to talk about his adventures in the country’s former capital Yangon.

Myanmar

The Kids Learning About Winter Clothes

Hi Kai. After finding out about XploreAsia, what made you decide that Myanmar was the right place for you to go teach?

I had my heart set on Myanmar for a number of reasons. Mainly, I knew it would be an interesting time in history to come, and I wanted to experience the rapid social/economic/cultural changes that are occurring here. I wanted to explore a new place where the culture and society would be far removed from what I am used to.

When I arrived in Yangon, I found that the city is stuck in the past in some ways but leaping into the future in others. This juxtaposition seems to apply to everything. Fashion, transportation, music, technology, infrastructure, you name it.

What have been the highlights of your experience teaching in Yangon?

The staff and teachers at my school really helped make it a great experience. They were kind, welcoming, and supportive from the very start.

Some of the best times for me were with my adult classes. I really enjoyed our conversations about how things are changing in Myanmar, and what young people care about/are concerned about here.

Another highlight for me was morning assembly time with the preschool. It’s too cute watching a bunch of 4 to 5-year-olds try to stay still for 5 minutes during “meditation time”.

Teaching in Myanmar

What does a typical day as a teacher in Myanmar look like?

I started work 9:00 am and I would usually grab breakfast at a nearby tea shop on the way. The day ended at 5pm, but my schedule changed based on the time of year. For the first several months, I spent the morning with the preschool, which usually consisted of a morning duty (e.g. gate duty or assembly duty), followed by an hour of lesson time. After lunch, I taught two adult classes: one at Aung Tha Pyay, and the other at NELC. During this period, I had some downtime between classes to plan lessons.

My schedule during summer school (March to May) was very different. These three months busier as my school was flooded with young-learners from government schools. I had 5 or six almost back-to-back classes every day and it was definitely my most challenging period as a teacher. During this time, lesson planning had to be done outside of work hours as I had many more classes to teach.

What do you do in your free time here in Myanmar?

Eat, play soccer, go drinking, watch movies; pretty much what I would do anywhere else. I also travel outside of the city as often as possible to see more of the country.

Teach abroad Myanmar

Experience a unique Christmas in Myanmar

What would you say to people who are looking to teach abroad and are considering Myanmar?

Do it. But if you come, you have to learn how to roll with the punches. One piece of advice given to me during my orientation week has particularly stayed with me: “things aren’t always as they seem.” There will be miscommunication, mistakes, and stressful times, for sure. However, if you learn to be flexible, understanding, and patient, I promise the experience of being here in Myanmar is well worth it.

Check out our website to find out more about teaching in Myanmar. If you’re looking to teach abroad, find out more about our internationally accredited TESOL course and the other locations you could be heading over to soon with XploreAsia.

Life as an English Teacher in Myanmar

Life as an English Teacher in Myanmar

We caught up with Rachel and Amy, two of our teachers currently working in Myanmar. They share their experiences of living, working and teaching in Myanmar, sharing their advice and answering questions you might have about teaching opportunities in Myanmar.

How did you find out about the program and what made you decide that Myanmar was the right place for you to go teach?

I was initially attracted to Myanmar as a place to experience a culture that was relatively untouched by Western influences. After some research, I found a program that taught the TESOL course and paired teachers with schools in Myanmar.

In which city did you teach?

After completing the TESOL course in Yangon, I was placed at the Nelson International Education Center in Tachileik, Myanmar. Tachileik is a border town near the northern most point of Thailand in Shan State, Eastern Myanmar. For those who are interested in a completely immersive experience, Tachileik is the place for you. With a population of roughly 55,000, I was 1 of 10 foreigners. Almost no one speaks English in Tachileik besides those connected with the school and the only “comforts” of home are a semi-westernized coffee shop and a few restaurants with picture menus. This all makes for an intense, but fascinating learning experience.

How would you describe your typical day?

 As a teacher, a van would pick me and my fellow teachers up at around 8 am, and we would leave school around 5 pm. I was responsible for a group of students between the ages of 11-15 with almost no English experience. I taught them English and Math and did not follow a set curriculum. My single focus was to build up their confidence levels to be comfortable speaking in conversational English. While this is a generalization, I would say that students in Myanmar are among the best in the world in terms of their respect for teachers and willingness to learn. I was warned that I had some “trouble-makers” in my class, but every student I had was unbelievably sweet and unique.

What have been the highlights of your experience teaching in Tachileik?

 Observing the rapid changes in each students English ability was pretty amazing. NIEC Tachileik has only been open for a few years, but many students are already passably fluent. As a native English speaker, you will be frequently asked to take control of situations even if you are new and unsure of yourself. 

Besides wanting to travel, I came to Myanmar to test out teaching as a profession. I really fell in love with teaching here, and I am now back in Chicago pursuing a degree in secondary education. This was definitely a great experience to get my feet wet in the profession, and to meet a lot of incredible people in the process.

What do you do in your free time in or outside of Tachileik?

 When I wasn’t teaching, I spent a lot of time reading, wandering the streets, eating tea leaf salad, and wrangling feral cats. I also spent time perfecting my Burmese with phrases like “Don’t put peanuts in that” and “One fried rice to-go, thanks.” I also went to Bangkok every 70 days to renew my business visa.

Is there anything that you would like to tell prospective teachers thinking of coming over?

 My advice to prospective teachers would be to have an open mind about trying new things, to not take yourself too seriously, and to just go for it!

Amy:

How did you find out about the program and what made you decide that Myanmar was the right place for you to go teach?

 I found out about the program through Greenheart Travel.  I decided to choose Myanmar because its a fascinating country and is undergoing interesting times.  When I was an undergrad, I had the opportunity to some research projects about the country and the region, and from then on, I knew I wanted to go there at some point in time to experience and witness the changes.  Also the fact that the program offered the TESOL certification courses and also job placement afterwards was a plus.  I was actually selected to join Peace Corps to volunteer in Eastern Europe, but opted for this program because I wanted to go to Myanmar.  Though I’m an American, by roots, my parents are from Southeast Asia and going to Myanmar was my calling.

What made you decide that Myanmar was the right place for you to go teach?

I decided to choose Myanmar because its a fascinating country and is undergoing interesting times.  When I was an undergrad, I had the opportunity to some research projects about the country and the region, and from then on, I knew I wanted to go there at some point in time to experience and witness the changes.

Also the fact that the program offered the TESOL certification courses and also job placement afterwards was a plus.  I was actually selected to join Peace Corps to volunteer in Eastern Europe, but opted for this program because I wanted to go to Myanmar.  Though I’m an American, by roots, my parents are from Southeast Asia and going to Myanmar was my calling.
Also the fact that the program offered the TESOL certification courses and also job placement afterwards was a plus.  I was actually selected to join Peace Corps to volunteer in Eastern Europe, but opted for this program because I wanted to go to Myanmar.  Though I’m an American, by roots, my parents are from Southeast Asia and going to Myanmar was my calling.

Describe a typical day in your life as a teacher here…

 A typical day as a teacher in Myanmar, well, my experience was a little different compared to my cohorts.  I had the opportunity to teach in Lashio for one month, and then in Pyin Oo Lwin for about four months.  In terms of the daily routines as a teacher, I taught a wide range of students, from pre-schoolers, teens and adults.  It’s quite a unique teaching experience to have such a wide range of different age groups to teach.

In Lashio, things were a little more convenient because I actually lived at the school, so transportation was not an issue.  Maybe because I have an easy going personality, the accommodation was fine to me.  I had blocked schedule and breaks in between lessons, so that was nice.  The school’s staff and local teachers are phenomenal and always willing to help.  They literally fed me everyday with delicious home-cooked Myanmar food.  In the morning, I would go to the playground and play with the pre-school kids, during my breaks I would do a run-through with my lessons before I teach, then there’s grading papers/workbooks, and then plan for the next day or week ahead.

 In Pyin Oo Lwin, I lived with a family, but had a separate section of the house to myself.  I would ride a bicycle that the school provided from my house to school every morning.  Depending on the route I took, it would take me 15-20 minutes to get to school.  The routine is similar to the Lashio school, just the living accommodation was different and I needed a form of transportation to get to school.

How would you describe Lashio?

 Lashio is literally like a city in the clouds.  You’re so high up in the mountains.  Every morning, I would wake up around 5am just to see the sunrise, the clouds rolling and the fog carving around the tall mountains.  It’s breathtaking.  Lashio is located close to China, so you get a lot of great Chinese influences in the cuisines.  There are plenty of pagodas to visit, the famous large market and also the local hot spring.  Transportation, the form of taxis you’ll have access to are tri-wheeled motorbikes (kind of like Thailand’s tuk-tuk).

Pyin Oo Lwin is a nice quaint town.  It has an interesting history, being the summer capital during the colonial period when the British colonized Burma, so you can see a lot of the old British (Tudor style) houses and buildings scattered around town.  Transportation, you have the option of motorbike taxis or horse carriages.  It’s a beautiful town where east meets west, but in terms of centuries ago.  You won’t get many western amenities here like you would in Yangon.  This town is famous for its botanical garden and also its damson wine. Oh! And for coffee lovers, there’s great coffee here.

What do you do in your free time in or outside of Lashio?

 In Lashio, I think my short time-frame there was somewhat of a blessing. During my free time, I’d workout (sometime running back and forth on the school’s roof) or go hiking up to the 2500 year old pagoda trail (taking the steps route or the dirt route).  I was able to persuade some of the school’s staff and teachers to join me.  On occasions, the local teachers would invite me to go to the market with them or they’d take to visit a pagoda.  I’ve literally paid my respects to all the pagodas in Lashio.  I only did the hot spring once.  It rained a lot during the month I was there in Lashio.  I think the icing on the cake of the experience was when I was invited for lunch to one of the local teacher’s family’s home.  It was my first time ever being in a local Myanmar home and to see how they lived modestly and such.  The entire experience went by fast and definitely learned to make the most of everyday.

 In Pyin Oo Lwin, during my free time, typically, I just ride my bicycle around town and grab lunch or coffee with some of the school’s staff.  On my days off, I would sometime volunteer at the nunnery to teach English or help with art and crafts activities.  Sometimes, the school staffs would take me to visit pagodas or go to Ruby Mart (it’s the only supermarket in town that’s fairly new).  I’ve had the chance to watch some Myanmar films at the theater there, pretty interesting experience and I highly recommend it!  There are also some good hiking trails out there.  I haven’t done the popular one where you can hike to a waterfall yet, but I heard that one is well worth it.  There are two famous caves with pagodas there too.

 In terms of doing the more touristy experience, I’ve been fortunate to go on trips with the schools that I’ve taught at.  The school staffs pretty much organize the trips and I just tag along.  So far, I’ve been to Mandalay, Monywar, Sagaing, Goteik Bridge, Bagan and Yangon.  Most of these trips entail paying homage to pagodas.  I also enjoy ancient architecture and how beautifully Myanmar has been able to preserve its traditions and culture, so it’s great being able to witness it.

What have been the highlights of your experience teaching in Lashio?

 For both Lashio and Pyin Oo Lwin, the highlights would be to be able to experience life at the local level and immersing oneslef in the customs and culture.

Is there anything that you would like to tell prospective teachers thinking of coming over?

 Be open minded, flexible and willing to help/learn.

Thank you Rachel and Amy for sharing your amazing experiences teaching in Myanmar and sharing your wonderful experiences with the XploreAsia family. Read more about teaching abroad in our blog posts and teaching programs!
A huge thank you to Rachel and Amy for sharing their experiences as teachers in Myanmar with us! For more information on the teaching opportunities in Myanmar click here. The TESOL course is taught in Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar and the perfect place to immerse yourself in the culture of your new home. You can also experience Myanmar as a volunteer with XploreAsia

What Living and Volunteering in Myanmar is Really Like

What Living and Volunteering in Myanmar is Really Like

Our Volunteer in Myanmar program offers the unique opportunity to truly feel immersed in a wonderful culture whilst making a difference in a local community that will embrace you as one of their own.

Angella Busacker is a XploreAsia alumni who spent a few months in Myanmar volunteering as an English teacher. The following interview was conducted earlier this year and tells of her experience whilst on the program.

 

Why did you want to volunteer in Myanmar?

I wanted to go to Myanmar particularly because it had been closed-off to the rest of the world until relatively recently and it’s still quite untouched and wild in many places.  I wanted to go there before it becomes overrun by commercialism, western food, and hotel chains. 

Having recently emerged from their hermitic existence, the Burmese people are very eager to catch-up with the rest of the world.  I felt compelled to help them in this endeavor and teaching English was an ideal option for me given I already had a Master’s Degree in TESOL.

Volunteer in Myanmar
Volunteer in Myanmar
Volunteer in Myanmar

Do you feel your time there had an impact on the people?

Absolutely.  I am very proud to say that there are now several Burmese children who can speak a few words of English, can sing a couple of English songs, and have wonderful memories of having a lot of fun learning English through music and movement.  (Even my driver, with whom I bonded during our several hours in the car, just sent me an email yesterday saying, “Hello Teacher, we miss you very much” 🙂 🙂 🙂 So yes, there’s no question I had an impact there.

Would you recommend anyone else to do this  program and why?

Teaching English to Burmese people (particularly to the little monks, nuns, and children in the countryside) was exceptionally rewarding.  They live in extremely basic conditions, have little resources and rarely have the opportunity to be taught be a Western native English speaker so they are extremely appreciative when they have one. 

In addition, in general, teachers are extremely highly respected in Myanmar (as in most Asian countries); for a Western teacher, this is a rare experience (unfortunately).  It was wonderful to walk into a classroom and already know that I would be automatically accorded this level of respect and therefore, could concentrate my time and energy on actual teaching and most importantly, having fun together

What is so great about teaching in Myanmar?

There were two things that made my teaching experience particularly special. Firstly, the children were absolutely wonderful. They were extremely respectful and well-behaved so I was able to focus my energy on teaching rather than disciplining or maintaining order.  They were very eager to learn English and found my presence as a Western teacher such a special event, that they listened to my every word, watched my every movement and engaged fully in every activity.

Secondly, teaching in monasteries and nunneries exposed me to a very special, very important part of Burmese culture which no ordinary tourist is normally privileged to see.  I felt honored to have been so welcomed in such culturally and spiritually important places, places far off the beaten path in the countryside while providing a service to the community.

Volunteer in Myanmar
Volunteer in Myanmar

For more fun photos of Angella’s time in Myanmar check out her instagram @Angellab33

The XploreAsia Blog – Teach Abroad – A Myanmar Adventure

The XploreAsia Blog – Teach Abroad – A Myanmar Adventure

An English Teaching Adventure in the City of Gold - Yangon, Myanmar

Justin Ruhe

 

“Hello Sir, how are you today?” A thick Myanmar accent rang from far in the corners of my perception. I stood mesmerized by the reflection of the setting sun underneath the glistening golden bell of Schwedagon Pagoda,

                                    “Hello Sir. Sir, How are you today?” There was that voice again, but this time closer.

It took every ounce of my power to break away from the sight of the gleaming temple towering over me, but finally, like a bug tickling my the top of my skin, those far off words had travelled through my ear canal and into the registration area of my brain.

Someone is talking to me.

“I’m doing quite well,” I think I said.

I don’t remember exactly, but what I do remember was the mischievous smile of the chubby-cheeked monk standing in front of me. He commented on the clarity of my accent, and asked me what I was doing in Myanmar. What am I doing?

                  Wait, what was I doing?

Staring at this giant landmark I had seen endless pictures of on travel blogs and newsfeeds? Trying to get over my irking irritation at the lady at the front of the temple who took my shoes out of my hand, and threw them in a locker before telling me about the 2,000 Kyat storage fee? Trying to find a way to pack as much authentic Yangon culture into two days of jetlagged travel as possible?

                  We continued with the small chat, my thoughts marathoning way ahead of the actual words coming out of my mouth. A suspicious feeling was eating at the back of my brain.

It was clear the monk wanted something, but it was impossible to tell just what it was. A million tripadvisor scams montaged in my head.

Myanmar, Schwedagon Pagoda, adventure, teach abroad

The incredible Schwedagon Pagoda, even more beautiful in the evening!

“Am I a teacher?” He asks.

Ok, now we’re getting kind of personal. I’m supposed to be on vacation here, but yes, actually I am a teacher back in Thailand.

There was a flash of excitement in the monk’s eyes. I could feel it coming. The inevitable wind-up, and…pitch!

“Oh that’s wonderful,” I think he might have said.

He produced a card, one for me, and one for Krissy. He told me about his conversational English class, and invited me to go the next day at 9 AM.

“This isn’t a scam is it?” I asked, feeling dirty for even asking a monk that question.

“No scam, see you at 9 am! The address is here. We’ll even make breakfast.”

Krissy and I shared a look…

What have we got to lose?

Myanmar, traffic, locals, adventure, teach abroad

Similar sights in Thailand..

Flash forward to the next morning, we hailed a cab and I greeted the driver with an optimistic grin and a heart full of adventure. Two seconds later we’re beeping and swerving our way through the chaotic mess of roadway that is Yangon.

Reassuringly, about every five minutes our cab driver would study the address on the monk’s business card, and then shake his head. My grin grew wider each time, eventually turning into an uncomfortable cheek-splitting smile I continually flashed at Krissy with the same manic certainty the cab driver insisted he knew the way.

I promise we won’t be human-trafficked today! I smile at Krissy.  

One hour of beeps and bumper hugging later, and we had reached a destination. A destination I was fairly certain wasn’t my intended destination.

“There?” I said, looking where the man’s outstretched finger pointed.

He smiled and nodded. I had expected a temple, or a Learn English sign or something, anything but the shoddy and unimpressive house in front of us.

I started to protest, pointing at the business card again, but it was too late. The cab driver reached across me to open the passenger door. He was clearly done with the goose chase.

So Krissy and I hit the street, not sure whether to feel adventurous, scared, or irritated by the fact that we were obviously in the wrong area, with nothing to guide us but a misleading business card.

I look up to see a group of old ladies on the porch staring right at us.

Quick, engage Thai diffusion mechanism!

I smiled as wide as I could, and walked up to them.

Through a song and dance that looked something like disco-directional charades, I was able to get my point across and the kindhearted ladies pointed us off into a new direction.

Well, this is the best we’ve got, and we’ve already come this far.

We walked through stony corridors, past sewing shops, beetlenut huts, and more than few wily street mutts.

We were both feeling a little downtrodden by this time. It was already past nine o’ clock, and we were late for the English class, or scam, or wherever the hell we were going.

I checked the card again, and started paying attention to the addresses on the walls around us. The cab driver had surprisingly gotten us pretty close. The numbers on the walls were just a few off from the address on the card.

The numbers ticked up one by one as we moved down the street, and before long, we found ourselves standing at the gate of a modest temple.

So much for a welcoming party, I thought, tiptoeing into the ghost-like courtyard.

Helllllooooo! It’s the nervous foreigners who are 45% certain they may be abducted and have their organs stolen today…

english class, teach abroad, Myanmar, adventure, XploreAsia

Our Class!

And then the assault happened—four puppies came out of nowhere, viciously jumping up and licking our knees.

It didn’t take long for Krissy to dote on the dogs.

I tried to find someone who could tell me where the conversation class was, but other than a few wide-eyed monk children who spoke zero English, and apparently didn’t understand my hand gestures, there was no one to be found.

After looking a bit like a lost parking lot surveyor, I finally spotted a senior monk. It wasn’t the monk from Schwedagon, but at least it was someone.

Feeling a glimmer of hope, I tried my best to communicate with him.

Fairly certain he didn’t understand anything other than hello, the monk replied.

“3 o’ clock.”

Then he waved goodbye and shut the door of the small building he was standing in.

Are you kidding me?—was just one of the frustrated phrases that came into my mind at that moment.

I headed towards the gate feeling confused, and cheated.

“Any luck?” Krissy asks, stroking a couple of pups.

Just as I’m about to say, No, I’m a failed adventurer, let’s get the hell out of here and drown our sorrows in a bowl of curry, a group of young men and a monk approach us.

I show the monk the business card, and we chat for a minute in a language of grunts and gestures. I’m beginning to think the monk at Schwedagon was nothing more than some ancient Nat my jetlagged mind had created.

Then this new monk in front of me smiled, and led us to a huge flatbed truck. He motioned to the back.

This is it, I smiled at Krissy. I can hear my grandpa’s overprotective advice flashing like a red alarm in my head—you’re heading straight towards Isis headquarters!

We jumped in the back of the truck, and the vehicle peeled out of the road. It wasn’t long before we were on a major roadway, sliding around the back of the truck-bed like penguins in greased high heels.

Are monk affiliates even allowed to drive this fast? I think, clutching the metal handles.

We flew under large buildings, over bridges, and through dusty streets with vendors walking and hawing every which way. Then I felt the truck come to a screeching halt. We sat parked in front of an unmarked three story building sandwiched in the middle of a packed downtown street.

And what do you know, there was the monk from Schwedagon! He led us into building, and up an elevator that looked like it could have been the set for a horror movie.

Krissy and I walked into the classroom, a long room with a decayed whiteboard at the front, and long wooden benches and tables layering the space. Like a lot of Myanmar, everything had this dusty antique feel to it.

Krissy and I each sat at a separate bench, and it wasn’t long until droves of local Myanmar people sat around us. Even though they were from all different ages and professions, one thing was very clear—these people were desperate to learn English. There must have been over 50 people in the room.

lunch in Myanmar, locals, adventure, teach abroad

Getting to know our new friends whilst sharing stories

Question after question came, some of the talkers more outgoing than others. We chatted about America, Thailand, my job, their jobs, my favorite things, their favorite things, love… They painted my face in Tannaka powder, gave me a Myanmar name, and wrote a list of foods that I could take to local restaurants.

I asked them about restaurants in the area near the end of the lesson, and a couple of the students agreed to take Krissy and I to a local food shop around the corner. Nothing could have made me happier.

I had gone out on a limb to sample the local food, doing a point and prey at more than enough Myanmar-script menus since I had been in the country, and while some of the dishes had been delish, some had been a pallet challenge.

Now I felt safe with our new tour guides ushering us into the beautiful world of local Myanmar cuisine. We chatted some more about food, dating, and our guide’s love of Eminem’s music.

Feeling full and humbled, Krissy and I paid for the meal and thanked our guides for the amazing experience.

Our new friends offered to take us to Maha Bandula Park, where both the Independence Monument and Sule Pagoda were situated.

We tried our best to politely decline, feeling like we were intruding on their day. But the young guides assured us we were the furthest thing from an unwelcome intrusion. They aspired to work as tour guides, and they warmly welcomed the chance to have us be some of their first tour-goers.

Once again I was flabbergasted with just how motivated these new friends of ours were to learn English. They walked us around the park, and explained the history of the beautiful area. They showed us the sights, and after a while we thanked them and went our separate ways.

The boys asked us to come back and teach another class at the school that night, but we already booked a bus to Inle Lake.

As I stood in the shadow of Independence Monument, feeling the hot sun on my face, I immediately felt a sense of intense gratitude. Admiring the landmarks of Myanmar had been a great experience, sure, but it was but a sliver compared to the immense headfirst dive into the local culture this chance conversation class had afforded me.

I took a deep breath in and embraced the warm blossoming sensation of gratitude spreading through me. Teaching English has allowed me to experience so many amazing opportunities.

It’s easy to lose track of the human nature that unites us all, but its experiences like these that keep me humble, and remind me of the things that are truly important to me in life.

Teaching is one hell of a way to meet the world.

This is the life!

Justin Ruhe

XploreAsia Education Supervisor

www.jaiguytravels.com

Teach Myanmar – Making a Change

Teach Myanmar – Making a Change

Why I Chose Teach Myanmar?

Teach Myanmar Blog

Me busy at work setting up the concession tent in Adelaide, Australia

After traveling the world since 2012 I decided to slow down and stay in one place for a bit longer than usual. As I was traveling with a circus I would always stay in a city for about two months which was long enough to get to know a few people and the area but not long enough to feel settled. Although I loved being on the move and seeing so many new places it seemed like the time to see what it felt like to stay still for a while.

In March of 2015 I quit my job, went home to relax, save up some money, and to plan my next move. After I felt like I was home long enough I booked a flight to Iceland and Germany. I wanted to get into the world again.

The Journey to Teach In Myanmar Begins

Just before I set off I found XploreAsia and decided it was time to truly challenge myself and applied to be an English teacher in Myanmar. To head somewhere I had never been and go in completely alone.   While I was traveling for work I was joined by about 120 people each time. Any time I had a vacation there was always someone to take a trip with me. I would always meet solo travellers and find their stories so interesting I knew that I had to give it a shot.

Teach Myanmar: An Introduction!

Teach Myanmar Blog

A downtown street of Yangon. The streets are bustling during the day and beautiful at night

I left Germany after two weeks and headed to Yangon, Myanmar. I still had to go to Thailand to complete my TESOL course but I decided to dip my feet into Myanmar to have an idea of what I would be going back to. As I left the airport a girl from China came up and asked if I wanted to split a cab downtown. Perfect! I had some company for the next hour after a very lonely 24 hours of traveling.

Driving through downtown Yangon was VERY overwhelming! There was nothing that looked familiar. As it got darker I had no idea where I would eat as I couldn’t read any signs!

When I arrived at my hostel there was a small group sitting in the common area talking. They introduced themselves to me and took me out for dinner. They had a local friend who stopped at many street vendors picking up food for us to try. I don’t think I have ever been welcomed into a country so quickly. After dinner we went to the bar street. It was packed with locals all enjoying some music and a relaxing evening. It was shocking how few foreigners there were.

The generosity of the locals is incredible. I have never met such giving, loving and happy people. Everything that happened in those two weeks that I spent in Yangon made it harder and harder to leave but now I couldn’t be more excited to head back to Myanmar. Now that I know I will be placed 16 hours from Yangon I can’t wait to see what this new community is like. Luckily it is only a 4 hour flight to Yangon so I will be visiting often to see the new friends I have made there. Before even stepping into the TESOL course I knew this was the best decision I could have made.

TESOL in Hua Hin, Thailand

Currently I am in Hua Hin, Thailand taking my TESOL course. The XploreAsia team does a fantastic job to push you into the Thai culture and the unique atmosphere of Hua Hin. One place we were taken during our orientation was Rescue Paws. This organization truly inspired our class. Most of us from Canada and the USA aren’t surrounded by stray dogs. If there is a dog on the street at home you assume it’s a lost dog, you take it to a shelter and they will look after them. The last time I was in Thailand I noticed the abundance of stray dogs, but it just seemed liked it was a normal part of life here. It never crossed my mind to help or try to make a change. Seeing so many different cultures I always made the mistake to just accept what was going on as part of the locals’ life and leave it like that.

Making a Difference in Thailand

Teach Myanmar information

Some stray puppies we found near a school in Hua Hin.

Jaco who is the Managing Director of Rescue Paws has an entirely different way to see it. The team that began Rescue Paws knew that stray dogs where a problem and they had to do something to help. By founding Rescue Paws they aimed to spay and neuter as many of these dogs as possible, not to harm the current population but to help it from increasing. His team will take in any dogs they see who are really sick or injured. They will take care of these dogs until they are healthy and then they will put them up for adoption or tag them and release them. Rescue Paws takes care of everything when someone wants to adopt one of their dogs. Everyone in the class started talking about who they wanted to phone at home and convince them about getting a new dog.

Seeing Jaco and his teams love for these animals was amazing. There is a pack of dogs who live near their office which they call the temple dogs. As Jaco walks through the street they all come running to greet him. You can feel he has made a difference in the lives of these dogs. After speaking to Jaco I realized he was very much on the same path as me many years ago. Traveling and then decided to try his hand at teaching. Since he began teaching he has remained in Thailand for 5 years. He has started this incredible organization and inspired many people. He told us of his future plans for Rescue Paws and they only need $5000 to make their next big move to build an adoption centre and more kennels. We have started a crowdfunding campaign for the duration of our TESOL course to see how much money we can raise for them. Please follow the link and make whatever donation you can.   https://www.crowdrise.com/helpingrescuepaws  If you’re reading this blog you have either been through an XploreAsia TESOL course and met this amazing group or you are thinking of heading this way. If you’re reading this article after I have finished TESOL but you still want to donate to Rescue Paws please do so through their website.

Teach Myanmar Blog

Me during my last trip in Thailand at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. I stayed overnight volunteering to feed and bathe the elephants.

Making this jump has been nothing like what I expected. Thailand is the first country I have come back to since traveling. Usually I get somewhere and I’m always on the move. I need to see and eat as much as I can before I take off. I made it from the islands of Thailand to Chiang Rai in 3 weeks and loved every minute of it! This time I feel like I have spent most of my time just talking to everyone I meet and enjoying listening to their experiences. Everyone I have met have been so welcoming and encouraging. I can’t wait to see how the next few months play out. Meeting the XploreAsia and Rescue Paws team has been an amazing opportunity. Seeing all these people who came over to teach and now just haven’t been able to leave. Knowing how I felt after only two weeks in Myanmar I won’t be surprised if you still find me there in two years!

Teach Myanmar blogSam is from Toronto, Canada.   She has been traveling for the past few years through 18 different countries. Now she is very excited to begin her adventure teaching in Myanmar.

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