Myanmar

What it was like for me teaching English in Myanmar – Jordan’s story

Ntobeko Ntombela

Ntobeko Ntombela

December 6, 2018

Myanmar is now one of the top teaching and travel destinations in southeast Asia. Ever since it opened its doors to the world, just a few short years ago, it’s quickly becoming the name on every traveler’s lips. The country is developing extremely fast, thus having a huge need for English teachers.

We at TravelBud love to share travel stories from our participants as well as other teachers we think you might find interesting. With most of our team having taught English abroad, we understand how daunting the thought of heading to Asia and leaving your whole life behind is. This is why we constantly seeking for new ways to make your transition to your new life as smooth as possible. For anyone wanting to travel or teach English in Myanmar, We chatted to Jordan from Australia who’s currently teaching English in Myanmar, she covers every single aspect of what it’s like to be an English teacher in Myanmar.

What’s your typical day routine like?

“A typical day for me? There is really no such thing as a typical day in Myanmar! It sounds super corny and cliche but every day here is like an adventure! I work 5 days a week, 3 days are spent with preschool students and 2 days are spent teaching young learners’ and adults.”

With preschool I’m not just a teacher, I’m pretty much a babysitter except I have awesome and loving people at my school that get to do all the dirty work (feeding, toilets, cleaning up accidents etc.) so that means I spend most of my time attempting to teach and playing with the kids!

I’m based at a family owned and orientated school, so there is a great sense of community and the school really has a good family vibe to it! At first when I arrived I was thinking how I am going to handle 3 days a week with these little monsters but they have all grown on me and now those 3 days are actually my favourite days of the week.

Young Learners are pretty much primary and high school students taking extra English lessons, these lessons usually take place on a Saturdays and Sundays (it’s crazy most of my students go to school 7 days a week, sometimes attending 3 different schools).

In my adult class the ages of the students range from 16-45 years, we focus on listening and speaking with activities such as games, presentations, debates and singing.

I love these classes, it’s a really relaxed and fun environment so I think it makes the adults feel safe, comfortable to grow and expand, not only their English skills but their confidence and general knowledge. 

It’s really rewarding to see adults learning, developing and improving so that they are able to voice their opinions and have a meaningful conversation. Also teaching adults is a great opportunity to make new and local friends! 

Anyway, so a general work day for me starts at 8:30am. I’m at the entrance of the school, meeting and greeting my students and their parents. After an hour or so we start our day with circle time, which consists of singing, dancing and the good morning song. Then we practice our English by taking turns to introduce ourselves, then the students do an exercise of asking and answering questions.

Then we talk about the day of the week, the weather, a letter of the week, shapes etc. Our school has a monthly theme so we pretty much try to create activities that incorporate our monthly theme. We alternate what we teach each morning from math, science, story time etc. The children also attend Karate and dance classes.

We then have lunch followed by nap time around midday (for the kindergarten kids). After nap time we usually complete another activity such as colouring or arts and crafts before we have time in the library just before heading home! 

What do you love most about Myanmar?

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Today my heart is feeling a little heavy, last night I said my goodbyes to one of my dearest friends here in Myanmar. Thank you for the past few months of friendship, for always helping me, the day trips, showing me around, welcoming me into your home and introducing me to your amazing family and friends! It’s such a bittersweet feeling as I’m sad your leaving but I’m also so excited for you and this new adventure which starts today! I know Melbourne will love you and I’m so happy I’ll get to see you again when I’m home. Good luck with your studies and living out this dream you have had for 12 years. I can’t wait to hear all about your experiences. All my love and best wishes xx #Myanmar #Burma #Pagoda #xploreasia #teachabroad

A post shared by Jordy Guy (@jordankguy) on

The people for sure, they’re so friendly, kind and loving! Honestly whenever I walk down the street I’m greeted with smiles and people shouting out hello. The locals love to practice their English, even if they can only say “hello, how are you”. Its so funny sometimes they greet you with “good morning” in the evening.

What was your perception of Myanmar prior to living there & has it changed ?

Myanmar is completely different to what I imagined before arriving. It’s really not like any of the surrounding Asian countries I’ve visited, some people say it’s like taking a step back in time before Asia was filled with tourism.

The people here are so kind and friendly, when I first arrived, the people offered to help me and I was thinking what are their intentions? Like how much are they going to try to charge me for this? But they’re just so generous and sweet, they’re happy to help out of the kindness of their heart! 

This was a big shock to me, how people who don’t have much will still give you all they can. 

I packed so much as I envisioned I would be living in a small, rural town where I would know most people in the neighborhood, but here I am in the largest city in Myanmar, Yangon!

When I was completing the TESOL in Thailand I was told a school in Yangon wanted me to work for them. I was a little hesitant once I found out how big Yangon actually is. I’m really not a city person, I come from a small beach side town in Australia. 

It’s hard to explain but Yangon isn’t like any other city I’ve been too, don’t get me wrong, it’s busy but the people are so friendly amongst all the hustle and bustle that it makes it easy to find a little bit of peace!

The street where I live is converted into a market in the mornings, some stalls will stay open all day with food and street vendors open until the night. 

https://www.instagram.com/p/BkmWd4Djsae/?taken-by=jordankguy

In Yangon you can be at a huge shopping mall then within 5 minutes feel as though you’re in a smaller village, the circle train is a great way to see and experience what Yangon is really like as it does a lap of the whole city.

What’s there to do and see?

There are so many shopping malls in Myanmar, I regret packing so much as you can get almost anything you’d really need here and at a great price! (Most of the local stores have clothes and shoes that are only really small in size, but luckily they have western stores too).

There is so much to see and do here, the orientation course that runs in Myanmar covers so many awesome activities! Some of my highlights would have to be the circle train, which is a train that travels through various areas of Yangon, giving us the opportunity to see where we would be living and what sort of living conditions some people live in.

It’s a great reminder to be humble and grateful when starting out in Myanmar, as life here is very different to life in western society.

I also loved the Teacher Q&A where all the new teachers arriving had the opportunity to ask the foreign teachers that have been working here any questions they liked about working in Myanmar.

This is done to get an honest and raw insight to what it is really like here. The language lessons with local staff member Sam, were a great introduction to basic Myanmar and of course the beautiful Shwedagon!

There are honestly so many different types of bars, restaurants, night clubs.There is something for every type of budget, there are really fancy lounges and there’s a lot of backpacker types of bars.

What’s the teaching environment like?                     

Everyone I’m friends with teaches in a different type of work environment, there is no real norm! In private/international schools where we work, it’s really dependent on the individual schools.

Why did you choose Myanmar ?

Why not?! I feel like Myanmar is so new to tourism, it’s the perfect time to visit as it’s almost untouched compared to many other countries in Southeast Asia. Myanmar is also developing and changing rapidly so in 5 years time I’m sure Myanmar will be much more advanced and westernized than what it is now.

So I think now is the perfect time to experience a true, authentic and unique country, it really isn’t like anywhere else I have ever been. You have the opportunity to embrace the culture and really make a change, with education and empowering the young as they’re the future of Myanmar.

How did you find out about it?

I went to high school with a girl who taught in Thailand for 2 years, so I was intrigued. I have always wanted to do something like this but I was constantly making up excuses and reasons for why I couldn’t; from relationships, to not having enough money, to having to take time off work while trying to progress in my job role etc.

Making a stand and deciding to do this had been such a rewarding and fulfilling choice, I haven’t looked back since booking my TESOL and handing in my resignation!

Do you regret choosing Myanmar ?

No, of course not! I’m so glad I’m here.

Although I’m so happy I completed the TESOL course in Thailand for Songkran (the water festival) as it was such an awesome experience celebrating with 100 others completing the course alongside me. Some of which have now become great friends and travel buddies.

How’s the language barrier situation?

Honestly communication is mostly body language. It’s not as hard as you would imagine when you dive in head first. Some days I find it challenging not knowing what others are saying but it’s definitely manageable!

Accommodation, what is it like?

In western society we are super spoilt! Accommodation was a little bit of a shock to me as some people say it’s similar to Thailand but really I think it’s completely different. (Unless you have a lot of money to spend on accommodation)

The accommodation is simple and basic but it has everything you need!  We have our own rooms with aircon, kitchen, shower, toilet and living room. 

It’s highly unlikely you’ll be living in accommodation similar to what we have the privilege of living in at home. But we aren’t teaching abroad to have the same comforts as what we do at home (otherwise that’s where we would be teaching).

We get to experience what real life is like in Myanmar! My room mate and I are the only foreigners in our apartment block. Western comforts are available but you get to really live like a local, and experience life how they do! Have you ever gone without running water for 4 days? I have… and I survived! 

Also Myanmar has plenty of power cuts, so good idea to pack a power bank/portable charger. If not they’re super easy to purchase once you’re here! Schools usually have back up generators but our apartment certainly doesn’t.

How rural is Myanmar actually?

Myanmar is the largest country in South East Asia, I’ve been lucky enough to do some travelling and exploring on my days off so it’s been great to checkout and see a variety of different areas and towns. 

Everyone I know and have met here has worked in towns where there are shopping centers, malls, doctor clinics, restaurants etc. Although if you want to get out of the hustle and bustle you don’t have to travel far to visit rural areas. 

I have traveled to and seen some rural areas which are beautiful to experience, it’s nice to see how some people still actually live in small huts, in the places I have visited that are usually by small lakes and rivers, like little fishing towns, these areas are beginning to become familiar with tourism. 

We see you living a very exciting life (as based on your Instagram). How are you able to live such a life in Myanmar?

I’m not here to save money, I’m here to embrace the culture and see as much as I can while living here. I make enough money to live pretty luxuriously (Myanmar luxuriously) within reason and travel

I can treat myself to western meals, go shopping, get my hair and nails done as well as travel. But often I eat food where the locals eat, drink where the locals drink too. I’m not staying and dining at 5 star fancy hotels, but I’m not missing out of anything! It’s all about balance!

Money, how much do you make vs what you spend?

I earn 1,200,000 kyat ($760 US) per monthMy accommodation is about 335,000 kyat ($215 US) per month including utilities (I live in the largest and most expensive city here too, keeping that in mind).

When I first arrived I used to catch the bus often but now i just use Grab (like Uber) because it’s rainy season so I don’t get wet waiting at the bus stop plus it saves travel time which gives me more time to sleep in!

So now I catch Grabs to work and the public bus home which is always fun! Honestly I actually like it, it’s always entertaining and so cheap!

I also have a really good data plan here that I pay for monthly and I have a good balance of local and western foods throughout the month, if you eat local you can save so much money! I still have money left over for drinks, nights out and to travel!

Are you enjoying your experience there?

Of course, I love it here! Myanmar is my home away from home now. It was just the other day I was on my visa run in Thailand and I was actually missing Myanmar!

I’ve actually convinced one of my friends (my roommate from the TESOL) living in Thailand to move to Myanmar with me once her contract ends. So we will both work an extra 6 months than we planned before travelling Asia together!!

Jordan is from a small beach town in Australia, after much hesitation, she finally handed in her resignation and headed to Myanmar to teach English and travel through Asia. She’s fully immersed herself to the Burmese culture, not looking back and even plans to extend her stay by another 6 months.

To follow more of Jordan’s story:

Instagram: @Jordankguy

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