I’m already a few months into my second year contract in Shan State, Myanmar and it’s become home – a slightly frustrating at times home, but a home nonetheless. I live and TEFL in Taunggyi, Southern Shan State, in a smallish but ever-growing town surrounded by misty mountains. Outside my town are the greenest landscapes I’ve ever seen with roads that are forever being repaired, which are perfect for quiet road trips – you can sometimes go hours without seeing anyone.
I work for an international school here, they have 6 branches in Yangon and one in Taunggyi. After teaching in summer schools, language centres and public schools around Asia and Europe it’s a nice change. I feel this school encourages and supports me to be the best teacher I can be. Of course, working for a school with more funds means I can dream bigger without worrying how to fund it! I teach pre-school and run a drama club with students from grade 7 -10. All the students are wonderful, funny, smart and kind – and their level of English is incredible.
When you read about Myanmar you will of course read about how kind and welcoming the local people are. I’ve never encountered a more gentle, neighbourly, and giving community. My landlord often picks fruit with me from his garden, and if you get stuck in the rain an umbrella and a smiling face will surely appear. You are warmly welcomed into homes and families and someone always says “good morning”. When accidents happen both people apologise and sort out costs without an argument and someone always offers you a ride if you look tired!
However, this being said – and just like most other countries – each community isn’t perfect and I’ve met a lot of men who are less than charming to women. This can range from some taxi drivers, who can be inappropriate, to cases as serious as rape, which is one of the biggest issues in Shan state – it’s not everywhere but always something to keep in mind. An unseen, and highly taboo topic I’ve often seen in action are monks mistreating animals, kicking cats etc – animal cruelty is not something many admit to. Sometimes it’s good to keep in mind, like any country, Myanamar has good and bad aspects.
Myanmar, as a country to travel, is the best. There are many possible ways to travel while keeping to a budget. The night busses connect the country, and if you’re not up for bumpy, long drives there are flights – unfortunately, at a much higher price. The beaches down south are perfect; the waterfalls up north are incredible and everything in between … breathtaking! There is always so much to see and do that your weekends are most likely to get filled up pretty quickly. Especially with more and more areas becoming accessible to foreigners. Each state has its own beauty and locals are eager to share their own unique culture and food with you. The fresh produce at the markets are out of this world (think avocados bigger than your head!).
So with great weekends, lots to see and do, and amazing people, Myanmar is a dream – but like any country it has its downfalls. Immigration can be hit or miss. Getting the visa is easy but registering in your local township can be tricky. Most companies will do this for you, although I tried by myself last month. I turned up with all the correct paperwork, my passport and prepared for a long wait. I was made to wait an hour and was then rudely sent away by a man with a gun and no explanation. The next day someone from Myanmar went back with my paperwork and it was sorted. Things like this happen frequently, no reason and no logic. Some days you can roll with it, some days it grinds your gears…
I feel like Myanmar has been one of my favourite homes, partly due to my school, partly to the amazing scenery but largely due to my friends and neighbours. I’ve grown as a teacher but also as a person, and I can’t wait for the next year coming up ahead.