You’re Going Where?!
We now have a week left in America before we set off for Yangon, Myanmar. The mere mention of living in Myanmar is so utterly unfathomable to most people that it’s probably best to explain a little bit of the story behind our decision to expatriate and attempt to introduce our soon-to-be home.
A Little Bit of Background
I grew up overseas and have been fortunate enough to call places like Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, and China “home” for periods of my life. As a result of that unique upbringing, I’ve come to love venturing to new places and taking in new sights, foods, and smells.
In 2015 I moved to the Northwest with my then-girlfriend, Breanna. We packed up our cars and drove west from Michigan eventually (and luckily) finding jobs near Olympia, Washington, which became our home for the next two years. Life in Washington was awesome; we couldn’t get over the seemingly endless stock of mountains, trails, and cities to explore.
Although we filled our weekends and vacations with trips up and down the west coast, there was still this itch to get out and do something new, something totally crazy. We began looking into options.
In February, I attended an international teaching fair in Cedar Falls, Iowa and, unbeknownst to us then, that decision would soon set a flurry of events into motion. After the first day of the job fair, the following events happened in rapid succession over the course of a few weeks:
- I signed a two-year teaching contract to teach social studies at the International School of Myanmar
- I bought a ring and we got engaged in Minneapolis, Minnesota
- We were married in front of a handful of friends and family in Big Sky, Montana at the top of a mountain in a ceremony that was dubbed the “Eslopement,” as we skied down the mountain in full wedding attire afterwards
Rationale for Going Overseas
Like Andrew and Caryn, we are commonly asked why we’re going overseas. Admittedly, it’s tough to sum up our rationale in a single, succinct justification. The easiest explanation is that we also wanted to mix things up and seek out adventure. I won’t get too much into our reasons because they are strikingly similar to Andrew and Caryn’s reasons, which are much more eloquently elucidated in Andrew’s blog post from a few weeks earlier.
Now that I think about it, our two adventures have had quite a few parallels and we have consistently remained a few weeks behind in deciding to go overseas and in all of the planning that accompanies this decision. Maybe there is something to be said for the old cliché that great minds think alike? Or perhaps it’s more likely that unoriginal minds enjoy taking their creative counterparts’ ideas and running with them.
Another common question has to do with our choice in destination. Out of all of the countries available, how did we choose Myanmar? The easy answer is that the International School of Myanmar was the only school to offer me a teaching contact, so our options were pretty limited. But, I had actually gone into the job fair with Myanmar as one of my top choices for destinations.
In 2014, as I finished up a year of teaching English in China, I decided to tag along on one more trip before heading back stateside and accompanied my father at an international education conference in Yangon, Myanmar. Before that trip, I hadn’t heard much about Myanmar and honestly wasn’t too sure how or when it stopped being referred to as Burma.
While my dad was busy with the conference, I was able to wander around Yangon and was fascinated by its gilded temples, laid-back feel, and amazing food – which was a mixture of Thai, Chinese, and Indian food. We traveled up north by overnight bus to Bagan, the site of the ancient Pagan Kingdom, and were blown away by a landscape speckled with ancient temples that stretched as far as we could see in any direction. Although we only spent a week in Myanmar, I was determined to return and promised that I would come back to explore the rest of the country. The living room in our apartment in Washington was adorned with a picture of Bagan’s landscape to serve as a daily reminder of this promise.
Info About Myanmar
In divulging our plans to friends and family, we’ve found ourselves faced with a lot of questions about Myanmar. In an attempt to address a few of these questions, I’ll break things up into a few key categories and attempt to share information from my experiences there and from my own preliminary research (which consisted of reading through our Lonely Planet guidebook and a few websites).
As everyone knows, social studies teachers are only good for showing movies and coaching sports, so Myanmar doesn’t usually receive coverage in the classroom. But in all fairness, Myanmar was closed off from much of the outside world for most of the second half of the 20th century. It has only recently popped up as a must-see destination on the Southeast Asia backpacking circuit.
I’ll highlight a few of the major events in Myanmar’s history in order to provide a little bit of a basic understanding.
The ancient Pagan Kingdom is thought of as the early foundation of modern Myanmar, uniting the region and adopting Buddhism in the 11th century.
It was after a series of wars ending in 1885, that the British officially took control of Burma as province of British India. The British would rule until the Japanese invaded and occupied during World War II. And although initially supporting the Japanese as a savior from British colonialism, the Japanese were harsh and the Burmese army would eventually team up with the British to drive them out.
Shortly after World War II, during the breakup of the British colonial empire, Burma would get its independence. This newfound independence would be relatively short-lived, as the military would seize power in a coup d’état in 1962.
The military would remain in power and the rest of the 20th century would be turbulent with anti-government protests and longstanding civil wars with ethnic minority groups. In 1989, the military regime would rename the country “Myanmar.” And in 1990, following large protests, the military held elections for the first time in nearly 30 years. Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party would win in a rout, but the military refused to acknowledge the results and, instead, placed her under house arrest, where she would remain on again and off again until 2010.
In 2015, however, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party would win enough seats to form a government and she became the country’s state counselor.
This is a very cursory rundown of Myanmar’s history. For a more in-depth look at Myanmar’s history, I would recommend checking out BBC’s timeline of events.
Myanmar is bordered by Thailand to the east, China to the north, and Bangladesh and India to the west. The Himalayan mountain range stretches across the very northern tip of the country. The country has picturesque, untouched beaches and islands along the southern strip of land that tails down towards Malaysia.
Myanmar has a tropical monsoon climate, which means that we can expect high heat and high humidity throughout most of the year. For the most part, temperatures will range between 70-90°F with a hot season between February and May and a rainy season between May and October. We’ve been told to bring a reliable pair of knee-high rain boots for wading through the flooded streets that come with monsoon-like rains.
Buddhism is by far the majority religion in Myanmar, as almost 90% of the population identifies as Buddhist. The country contains prominent Buddhist temples, statues, and sacred sites.
We’ll be able to paint a more vivid picture of Myanmar once we arrive, so stay tuned for updates about life in Yangon, complete with our initial thoughts and reactions.