Myanmar, also known sometimes as Burma, is a country which has only recently opened its doors to the outside world. After a coup in 1962, the military ran the country under strict rule until 2011 when the junta was dissolved and a relatively freer and fairer democratic system was put in place. Over these almost 50 years, the country all but shut itself off to foreigners, advances in technology and social development stalled creating something of a time-capsule.
It’s a country full of ancient historical sites, a rich, unique culture and stunning natural scenery. What’s more it’s just recently started accepting English teachers, so if you’re after a truly culturally immersive experience as somewhat of a pioneer in a brand new teach abroad destination, do yourself a favour and check out teaching English in Myanmar.
We were lucky enough to get a chance to interview Leah who’s been teaching and living in Myanmar for a while now to find out what her experience has been like.
Nick: Hi Leah, thanks so much for taking the time to answer a few of our questions, I know as such an exciting but new program everyone considering it has plenty of queries about it. It can be intimidating being a pioneer in a country.
Leah: No worries at all! Happy to help!
N: First, tell us about where you’re from and what you were doing before moving to Myanmar.
L: I’m from Melbourne, Australia where I worked as an emergency relief teacher and a service manager at a home improvement store.
N: Wow, the home improvement store must have been a bit different to what you’re doing now! What made you want to up and leave and head over to what is definitely a very unusual destination?
L: I had always wanted to live abroad and always wanted to teach. So why not do the two together? In my home city it can be difficult to get full time teaching work as the competition for jobs is quite high. I also knew deep down that I wanted to teach ESL abroad. Living and working abroad while experiencing a new culture like Myanmar’s sounded like an amazing opportunity!
N: Well that makes sense! I’m sure it was kind of intimidating making this leap, so can you tell me a little about getting over to Myanmar, doing your TESOL course and all that? I understand that you started before the course was offered in Myanmar, so how did that all work?
L: I first travelled to Hua Hin, Thailand to complete my TESOL course and that was heaps of fun and was a great chance to meet people all in the same position I was in. However, at that time I was the only one in my group going to Teach English in Myanmar and so was also the only one not staying in Thailand. When I got to Mandalay, Myanmar where I was placed to teach, I was greeted by a teacher from the school at the airport and taken to my accommodation.
N: It’s great to hear you didn’t have to figure everything out on your own! Can you tell me a little more about the accommodation you were organised?
L: I later found out that in Mandalay, it is really hard for foreigners to get short term accommodation. I initially stayed at the new school building that would be opening later that year. It was a nice safe building and I was given a room with an ensuite, fridge etc. It had everything I needed. But later I chose to move and stay at a hotel that was closer to the school I worked at.
N: I’ve heard this from other teachers, the accommodation situation is rather unusual in Myanmar, but I’m glad to hear you figured it out and were able to find something which suited you best. Now tell me a little about your school, what was it like and who did you teach?
L: It was a language centre in Mandalay. I taught all levels, kindergarten, preschool, young learners (as it was summer the centre offered young learner classes to kids between 6-14) and I also taught an adult class for the teachers.
N: Wow that’s quite a spread! Was it only English you were teaching?
L: Mostly English with a focus on reading, writing, listening and speaking. Sometimes though, I would also teach some maths and science classes for preschool kids, so not very intense stuff, but the school wanted the kids to get used to learning a range of subjects in English.
N: Okay, so what did a typical day look like for you?
L: I would work on average from 8.30-7pm everyday, but between 11:00am-3.30pm I didn’t have any classes and was given that time to eat lunch and bond with the office ladies at my school and also plan for the adult class in the evening which was my favourite class, but required a lot of preparation.
N: So, in retrospect, what were you most nervous about going over and how do you feel about it, now that you’ve been there for a while?
L: I wasn’t really nervous about anything that I was aware of, I had a few hard questions from students, especially about grammar and tenses and the rules surrounding them. I would have to look up the answers and explain to my students that we don’t get taught grammar in that way so it’s hard to explain it. I have since gotten better at teaching grammar, but there is always a student that wants to know “Why?” To make the students understand the difficulty I would ask them to think about if they were to teach me Burmese grammar. Then they got it!
N: Haha, well that makes sense, so are you learning any of the language? And what else do you feel you’ve learned/grown in since you’ve been abroad?
L: I’m loving learning a new language and a new culture every day. Its great! I’ve changed in so many different ways, mostly I have noticed that in this country I want to be out meeting people, I am not worried about having bad days or having to deal with angry aggressive people like back home anymore. Every day I walk to work and am greeted by smiles and even though the standards of living here are quite low, everyone still seems happy and loving.
N: That’s wonderful! There’s nothing like a bit of travel to give you some perspective and find your own happiness. Speaking of travel, where have you traveled to since you’ve been in the country?
L: I have done a bit of travelling, not as much around Myanmar as I should have by now though! We have to do a visa run trip every 10 weeks, so I have been able to incorporate my visa run with a holiday many times. I have been to Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong and even Europe. I’m from Australia, so much most of the world is now a lot closer than it was before.
N: So I believe your story has progressed rather uniquely, in that you’re no longer a teacher, but are still living in Myanmar, correct?
L: That’s right! I am now the senior manager for the language school and placement company I came to Myanmar through in Yangon, the economic capital of the country. So, I plan to stay here and work in this role for as long as I am meant to.
N: What an incredible success story! I’m sure everyone is thrilled to have you. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me and tell me about your experience, it’s really going to help so many future teachers in Myanmar.
Interested in teaching English in Myanmar? We’ll send you more info!