Myanmar

How Teaching English in Myanmar Has Changed My Life – Michelle’s Story

Ntobeko Ntombela

Ntobeko Ntombela

June 12, 2019

With so many of our team having taught English abroad, we know how daunting the thought of leaving your life back home can be. This is why we are constantly seeking new ways to make your transition to your new life as smooth as possible. When it comes to teaching English in Myanmar, there aren’t too many people as experienced as Michelle is; she’s spent the past six years teaching in Asia, most of it in Myanmar. We chat to her about her experience and how she made the leap from her home in the UK to one of the world’s least known destinations.

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Tell us a bit about where you’re from and what you were doing before Myanmar?

My name is Michelle Ferguson and I am from Southampton in the South of England, I have been in Asia since October 2013. Before coming to Myanmar I was teaching in the north of Thailand for two and a half years.

When did you arrive and why Myanmar?

Michelle Ferguson - Teaching English in Myanmar

How every birthday should be celebrated.

I originally came to Myanmar in 2016 for three months to teach the summer school here. I have now been here for just over three years and I have loved every minute of it. I originally decided to teach in Myanmar because I wanted a change from Thailand and wanted to experience another culture.

How has the country changed since you arrived? 

Myanmar has changed so much in the short time that I have been here, the first time I arrived in Myanmar the electricity wasn’t very stable, one day we would have it and then the next day we didn’t, now the electricity still isn’t stable but we do have electricity every day, but not always for the whole day.

How has Yangon changed?

Yangon has developed at such a fast pace, there are so many new shopping centers and condo buildings. The number of cars has increased a lot over such a short period of time.

Tell us about the different schools you’ve taught at – how are they different?

I have taught in three different schools since being in Myanmar, my first school was a language center in a small town called Pyin Oo Lwin, it was beautiful and the weather was amazing. This town used to be where the British people lived, due to the cool weather, so the buildings are very colonial. The town is surrounded by beautiful waterfalls and mountains, I really recommend you all to visit if you have a chance.

The school was nice, I was teaching for three months to cover the summer school program. The schedule was busy but so much fun and the students were learning everything that I was teaching instantly, I immediately fell in love with the town, school, students and the teachers. I still go and visit whenever I get a chance, even though I was there for three months I have made some amazing friends that I know I will keep for the rest of my life. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming, I knew after one week that Myanmar was where I wanted to be!

Michelle Ferguson - Teach English in Myanmar 2

A school trip to plant trees in front of the tallest Buddha statue in Myanmar.

After this I moved to teach at an international school in Monywa, this town was completely different from my previous town, it was busy and dirty, however, the school, students and teachers were always amazing and so helpful.

I remember when I first arrived in the town, I was sat at the bus stop that was dirty and busy and I just remember thinking “Why am I here? Is it too late to go back? I could just get on the next bus out.” But, then my boss turned up with a huge smile and was apologizing for leaving me there for so long (it must have been 5-10 minutes). They then packed all of my things into their car and they took me for lunch, they took me to the new shopping center (about 3 months old) for a chicken burger. We chatted and ate for ages and I just felt so comfortable being there and knew that I had made the right decision.

I stayed at the school for two years, teaching all levels from pre-school to adults. I mainly taught primary grade English and Geography and would fill in when the school needed me to. The students there were so sweet and so clever, they amazed me every day with their knowledge and their ability to learn. It was a very busy job, due to it being an international school, I had to keep the standard of teaching at the highest level I could, but it was so rewarding to see the students develop so much and I have made some amazing friends in the town and the school.

I can’t imagine how my life would be now if I had just got on another bus when I was waiting at the bus station. The best decision I have made is to stay in Monywa and teach at that school, even though living in the town wasn’t always easy; the people and the school made it so much better.

Michelle Ferguson - Teaching English in Myanmar 6

Pictures from our walk to the waterfall.

My current school is in Yangon, completely different to anything or anywhere I have ever been before, the city is busy and dirty, but once again I am always met with the big friendly smiles from the Myanmar people. They are so friendly and go out of their way to make your life easier. My current school has given me a lot of opportunities to learn new things and ways of teaching. This school is another language center, but here we are teaching a lot more adult classes and different kinds of English, such as business and IELTS. I have recently become the teaching supervisor and I am enjoying the opportunity to learn new skills and develop my teaching styles.

Teach abroad destination Idea: Myanmar!

Despite the slow political change, the country is fast becoming one of the go-to places in Southeast Asia. Described by many as the hipster Thailand, it’s creeping into a lot of people’s bucket list. No degree is required to teach English in Myanmar and earning potentials are high. Teachers typically earn $700 – $1200 USD per month and with extremely low living costs, it’s the perfect location to fully immerse yourself into a new culture. Check out our video below on what life is a like teaching English in Myanmar:

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What are the strangest things that have happened to you in Myanmar?

One of the strangest things that happened to me actually happened last month while I was visiting Pyin Oo Lwin. My friend wanted to take me to a waterfall she hadn’t been to before, she had a guide that told her it was an hour walk to get to it but we all wanted to go. We left really early in the morning as another friend had to work in the afternoon so we wanted to spend as much time as we could at the waterfall as possible.

Anyway, we were walking quite slowly on the way of taking photos and just generally messing around. It took us 3 hours to get to a tiny waterfall and the guide told us that we had to go up a little bit to see the big waterfall and we would continue this way and head back to the car, it would be quicker than the way we came. So with this information, we all agreed and continued on our way.

About 20 minutes later I cut my toe open (because I was wearing flip flops of course) and my friend had to cut her coat up to make a bandage for me. We continued on our way and it turns out that the walk was 100% not quicker, we had to climb up a mountain that had no path, and I felt like it was a scene from a movie where the plane crashes and the characters have to find their way home with no clue where to go.

At some points on the climb, I did think that I was going to die, overall it took us 12 and a half hours. Once again the kindness of the Myanmar people made the day so special, they helped me so much and encouraged me to keep climbing when I just wanted to give up, they all shared their water with me even though we didn’t have enough to share. Although it was a horrible day it was a great experience and has made our friendship so much stronger.

Michelle ferguson - Teach English in Thailand

Pictures from our walk to the waterfall.

Another memorable day, was my first birthday in Myanmar, I was teaching at the school in Monywa and they had planned a big surprise party, the whole school was there ready to sing to me and wish me a happy birthday. They had two cakes and all of the students were there to sing to me, they then said a prayer for me and I had to feed all the students cake, one by one (over 300 students) the students then started putting cake on my face (apparently this is a birthday tradition in Myanmar) it was really a memorable day for me.

Explain to us what the culture shock was like in the beginning

Michelle Ferguson - teaching English in Myanmar

Graduation day at the International School in Monywa.

When I experienced the culture shock, it wasn’t as extreme as I expected, I guess I just kind of got homesick and the thought of going outside to get food just seemed like a difficult task, I remember thinking “I wish I could snap my fingers, go home and eat without sweating and then come back when I feel better” but I had a good friend in the town who came and forced me to keep going out and doing things and I guess it just kind of went away after a while.

Another person who really helped me is my “Myanmar mum” she took me under her wing and took care of me, she would cook for me every day, making sure I ate breakfast before I went to school. She made me so welcome in her home and told everyone we met that she is my mother, she really has become another mum for me and I talk with her as much as I can.

What’s your favorite Myanmar season and why?

My favorite season would have to be the cool season (around December and January), it is nice to go out and not be sweating for the whole day! I love the hot season (around Feb-May) when I am not at work but when working its nice to be a little cooler! The worst season is by far the rainy season (from around June to October)! Everything floods, traffic gets crazy busy and it takes a long time to get across town.

What’s the biggest misconception people have about Myanmar?

Michelle Ferguson - Teaching English in Maynmar

Graduation day at the International School in Monywa. The young Burmese ladies looking beautiful in their traditional attire.

I think the biggest misconception about Myanmar is to do with safety. I know that Myanmar has its issues and some parts of the country aren’t safe, but the places that foreigners can go are very safe and the people here really want to look after you as much as they can, I personally feel safer in Myanmar than I do at home.

What impact do you think teaching will have on the whole country?

I think that teaching in Myanmar will help the whole country because this is the next generation, they will need to be able to use English well to be competitive in any job market. As Myanmar is a recently new country to the global market, I feel that the more English that they have the better it will be for the whole country.

What can’t you get enough of in Myanmar?

The one thing in Myanmar that I will never get bored or sick of in Myanmar, is the friendliness of the people, I know I have gone on about this a lot but they are really the nicest people I have ever met. They have given me so many great experiences just by spending time with me and sharing anything they have, this often isn’t very much, but the fact that they are willing to give me anything they have is crazy to me. For example, the teachers I worked with earn considerably less than me, but would often take me for dinner and refuse to let me pay or even split the bill. This is just a small example but I think it shows the level of their generosity.

Tell us about the food, have you adapted your tastebuds to suit the country?

Michelle Ferguson - Teach English in Myanmar

My Myanmar mum making betel nut that she sells for a living.

The food in Myanmar is very good, and you can get so many different kinds of foods so its hard to get bored! One thing that is still difficult to get used to is the amount of oil that they use in their food, the taste is amazing but it can be easy to get put off when you see so much oil go into one dish! One thing that I really love no matter the weather or my mood is the tea leaf salad, I never thought that I would enjoy eating pickled tea leaves, but trust me its amazing!

Where do you see Myanmar in the next 5-10 years?

I honestly don’t know where I would see Myanmar in the next 5-10 years. I know that it is going to develop at an amazing speed and that things are going to get better for the people, I also believe that they will keep their traditions, such as clothing and food, as they are so proud of their history and traditions. I really hope that the country can keep these values and stay true to themselves but I also really hope that the country develops well so that the people have a better quality of life.

Fancy reading about another one of our teachers in Myanmar? Check out Jordan’s Blog

Interested in Teaching English in Myanmar? We’ll send you more info!

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