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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

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